By Pat Payton
St. Marys Lincolns’ second-place aspirations got a boost last Friday night with a 6-3 victory over the visiting Chatham Maroons.
An estimated 600 spectators on ‘Girls Rock the Rink’ night watched Lincs (21-7-3-3) move to within five points of Leamington Flyers, who currently hold down second spot in the Western Conference standings.
“Tonight’s win was huge,” Lincolns’ coach Trent McClement told the Independent. “All these games against teams that are below us are games we have to win. We have to set a precedence. Our league is tough and every team is tough to play against. We have to come every night with a good game plan, and be intense and ready to go.
“That’s just how it has to be if we want to be in second place. That’s how hard this league is. Leamington doesn’t lose to too many games. If you want to be in the same conversation with these top teams, you have to win all these games.”
Two for Kuznik
Special teams took the spotlight in last Friday’s win as Lincs clicked for three powerplay goals and a shorthanded marker. Forward Kyle Kuznik, who was named St. Marys’ player-of-the-game, scored twice with the man advantage while Ryan Brown fired the other powerplay goal. Jacob Bloomfield (shorthanded), Ethan Lamoureux and Quinton Pepper also scored for the winners, while Thomas McLatchie and defenceman Brayden Hislop contributed two assists each.
Kyle Fisher, Lucas Fancy and Dallas Maurovic replied for Chatham.
A key turning point in the game occurred in the second period. Lincolns’ captain Cayse Ton was assessed a five-minute major for boarding at 2:27, but Maroons scored just once while holding a 5-on-3 man advantage–tying the contest 1-1. “We did a good job killing it,” Brown said.
The tide then turned in Lincs’ favour midway through the period as Brown and Kuznik scored powerplay goals–less than two minutes apart–to put the home team up 3-1. Bloomfield’s shorthanded tally (his seventh) came late in the period, putting St. Marys ahead 4-1. It also proved to be the game winner.
Coach McClement said Lincolns’ strong special teams performance was the difference in the game.
“Special teams are huge, and our powerplay has kind of come to life in the last 15 games,” he said. “I think we’re at 28 per cent proficiency since that one Chatham game (Dec. 15), and are penalty-kill has been good all year. Special teams are something that wins games in the playoffs, and they certainly helped us win this game tonight.”
Both teams scored twice in the final 20 minutes. After Pepper’s goal at the 8:09 mark, giving Lincolns a 6-2 lead, Chatham replaced starting goalie Kevin Linker with Bryce Walcarius.
Another Lincs’ standout was goalie Kyle Curtin, who made 29 saves for his 14th win of the campaign. He was particularly sharp in the middle frame as Maroons held a 16-8 advantage in shots. Chatham coach Tyler Roeszler said every time his team got close, Curtin would shut the door.
“It was just like a couple of weeks ago when we played St. Marys at home, their goalies play extremely well,” Roeszler said. “Tonight, it could have been different if their goalie doesn’t make the big saves for them.
“But give St. Marys credit, they have a really good team. It’s nice to see them back to the level they were 10 to 15 years ago when I was playing against them. St. Marys has a good group of forwards, a defence that keeps everything in front of them, and very good goaltending.”
Huge weekend ahead
It’s another big weekend ahead for the Lincolns as they play the first and second-place teams on home ice, Jan. 10 and 11. Lincs host the front-running Nationals Friday on ‘Paul Vanderspank Banner Night’ and Leamington on Saturday. Both contests start at 7:30 p.m.
“We’re kind of gearing up for the playoffs even though they’re still a few weeks away,” McClement said. “We have these two big games, back-to-back, and they’re both at home. It’s kind of a measuring stick, and they will show us where we’re at. We’ll find out areas that we need to fix.”
–Leamington (26-7-1-2) pulled seven points up on St. Marys again with a 3-2 double-overtime win in LaSalle last Sunday. Lincs, however, have two games in hand on the Flyers.
–Last Friday’s win improved Lincolns’ record to 3-1 against the fifth-place Maroons (14-13-1-6). Chatham has played better since a coaching change put Roeszler back behind the bench.