St. Marys Lincolns and London Nationals appear to be continuing where they left off in last year's playoffs. Five games in that memorable quarter-final series--won by Lincs in seven games--were decided by just one goal.
The rivalry between the two Western Ontario Hockey League teams looks to be alive and well after Nats defeated Lincolns 5-4 and 4-2 in a home-and-home exhibition series this past weekend.
Lincs, who carried a four-game winning streak into the weekend twinbill, now find themselves with a 4-3 pre-season record.
St. Marys coach Merlin Malinowski gave Nationals full marks for the two victories.
"I was very impressed with the work of the London team," he said after Sunday's home-ice loss. "Again tonight, they just kept coming and coming, and chasing guys down, and chasing loose pucks.
"London beat us both nights, and they were well-deserved wins. London worked very hard against us, and we have to learn to match that kind of work ethic every night."
'A little lethargic'
Malinowski described his team's effort this past weekend as "a little lethargic."
"We just didn't have the same jump and snap against London that we had in earlier exhibition games against teams like Strathroy," he said.
"But sometimes you have to give your opponent credit; they make you play that way. I try not to get too high or too low about exhibition games. I see some good stuff out there from players, and we just have to work hard at practice (this) week and get ready for (this coming) weekend against St. Thomas."
Lincs respond on smaller ice
In Listowel last Tuesday, Lincolns scored a powerplay goal in each period en route to a 6-4 win over the Midwestern League Cyclones.
"Listowel called us earlier in the day and warned us that they were dressing their team," coach Malinowski said. "I kind of thought we'd get spanked, but our kids played well.
"It's kind of a tough rink to play in; it's small. And that's one of the things that impressed me the most, the way a lot of the kids responded to the smaller ice surface. There are a couple of rinks in our league, Petrolia and Sarnia, that aren't very big."
Upcoming: Lincolns' final two exhibition games are this weekend against another league rival, St. Thomas Stars. The teams play Friday in St. Marys and Sunday in St. Thomas. Both are 7:30 p.m. starting times.
Lincs open their 48-game regular schedule Sept. 14 in Sarnia. Their home opener is the following night against Petrolia at 7:45 p.m.
NATIONALS 4 - LINCOLNS 2
(Sunday, Sept. 3 in St. Marys)
The game- Tom Cardiff's goal with just 1:42 to play snapped a 2-2 tie and proved to be the winner. The Nationals' winger beat Lincolns' goalie Matt Russell with a rising slap shot.
Shaun Clinton added an empty-netter with just 20 seconds to play.
Period scores- Lincs led 2-1 after the first period; teams were tied 2-2 after 40 minutes.
Goal scorers- Veterans Tom Cardiff and Shaun Clinton each scored twice for London. Rookie defenceman Greg Noyes and former National Aaron Whitcomb replied for St. Marys, both on powerplays.
Eleven vets dress- Lincolns dressed 11 returnees for the game.
Penalty picture- Nationals picked up 20 of the 35 minor penalties. Both sides were issued a fighting major in the third.
Shots on net- Lincs out-shot Nats 24-21. Bryan Hince played the first two periods for St. Marys, and Russell the final 20 minutes.
NATIONALS 5 - LINCOLNS 4
(Saturday, Sept. 2 in London)
The game- Mike Sharpe's deflection goal, with just under six minutes to play, snapped a 4-4 tie and gave Nationals the win.
Earlier in the contest, Lincolns held leads of 1-0, 2-1 and 4-3.
Period scores- Teams were tied 1-1 after the first period; 4-4 after 40 minutes.
Goal scorers- Forward Shaun Clinton had a pair of goals for London. Former National Brenton Kemp, Mike McLaughlin, Aaron Whitcomb and rookie Joe Van Quathem scored for St. Marys--all on powerplays.
Ten returnees- Lincs dressed 10 veterans, including both goalies, for the game.
Penalty picture- Nats took 19 of the 29 minor penalties, with the majority of the infractions coming in the first 40 minutes.
Shots on net- Lincolns held a 32-22 edge in shots. Back-up Matt Russell played the first two periods for St. Marys, and Bryan Hince the final 20 minutes.
LINCOLNS 6 - CYCLONES 4
(Tuesday, Aug. 29 in Listowel)
The game- After falling behind 1-0, Lincolns scored three goals in a span of 4:34 late in the first period to grab the lead for good.
Cyclones closed the gap to a single goal on three different occasions, but could get no closer. Mike Rutherford's powerplay goal, with just over four minutes to play, clinched the win for Lincs.
Period scores- St. Marys led 3-1 after the first period; 5-3 after 40 minutes.
Goal scorers- Jeff Pickel fired a pair of goals for Lincolns, with the singles to Aaron Whitcomb, Dave Chessell, T.J. Van Engelen and Mike Rutherford. Chessell also collected three assists for a four-point night.
Veteran Dennis Dewar had a pair of goals for Listowel.
Trio clicking well- "The Aaron Whitcomb, Brent Kemp and Mike Rutherford line is really playing nice hockey," coach Malinowski reported. "They're gelling really well, and getting comfortable with each other."
Whitcomb, who centres the line, is an extremely good puck-handler.
Penalty picture- Cyclones took nine of the 15 minor penalties.
Shots on net- St. Marys out-shot Listowel 29-23. Matt Russell and Evan Groenestege each played 30 minutes for the Lincs.