The Dunny's Additional-Entry Atoms, with a half-dozen players feeling under the weather, took one on the chin from Strathroy in front of an impressive and supportive crowd that exceeded 200 Saturday night at the arena, losing 3-1 in the final game of the best-of-three OMHA series that sends the Rockets on to the provincial quarter-finals and the Rock to the Shamrock League playoffs.
After winning Game 1 last Sunday at home 3-1, Dunny's lost a nail-biter Wednesday night in Strathroy, 3-2, setting up this coin-toss of a rubber game.
Ironically, the Strathroy coaches pointed to their lone goal in the first-game loss as the turning point of the series. Netminders Johnny Olar and Jordan Kats had narrowly shut out the Rockets twice during Shamrock League regular-season play, and St. Marys had yet another shutout on the brink in Game 1 when the visitors scored with a minute remaining.
It didn't impact the result of that game, but according to the Rockets' brass, it took the monkey off their players' backs and their focus turned to winning instead of just trying to score a goal.
In Game 3 Saturday, Rockets scored the opening goal with just under a minute left in the first period, but seconds later, linemates Craig Klomp and Brady St. Louis's backchecking sent in Rhett Lucas on a breakaway, and he drilled a wrist shot into the top right corner that rippled the mesh with just 25 seconds remaining.
Players play with heart
Despite six of their players missing school with illnesses the day before, Dunny's played with all the heart they could muster, but strong scoring chances by Carson Brookshaw, Tristan Connolly, Scott Munro, Matt Chambers, Austin Brookshaw, Brandon Kittmer and Jack Hutton were thwarted by a rather hulking Strathroy goalie.
Kats was very solid between the pipes, and the defensive core of Doug Plain, Jaxon Valcke, Rhett O'Hara and Jamie Gibson played very stingy. Klomp went out every shift like the Stanley Cup was on the line.
After a scoreless second period, Rockets scored on a pair of beautiful passing plays, the game-winner midway through the final stanza, and then the victory sewer-upper with just three minutes remaining.
"After the game, the coaches expressed to the team that they have nothing to regret, they played their hardest, and every single player did everything the coaches asked of them," coach Chris Connolly said.
"We assured them how proud we are of them, and that we saw their heart and determination from start to finish. Every one of them should be proud of themselves and their teammates for the way they represented St. Marys minor hockey and the Town of St. Marys.
"As coaches, I cannot adequately express how appreciative the coaches are for the opportunity to coach this group of boys. It is a true pleasure!"
Dunny's overall record now stands at 26-14-1, with the upcoming Shamrock League playoff matches yet to be determined.
Rockets force deciding game
In Strathroy last Tuesday, Feb. 6, the Dunny's Atoms out-played and out-shot Strathroy in Game 2 of their best-of-three OMHA series, but the Rockets came out on top in the category that counts, as the scoreboard read 3-2 in favour of the hosts when the final buzzer sounded.
St. Marys took the first game of the series, 3-1, last Sunday, Feb. 4.
Rhett Lucas, who was stoned four times in the opening game from point-blank range, raced in from the opening face-off and beautifully set up Craig Klomp all alone in front. The save rebounded out past the face-off circle, and Jamie Gibson promptly blistered a slap shot from 30 feet out that rippled the mesh and gave St. Marys perhaps an exhale that they ultimately couldn't afford.
Rockets proved that they have no quit in any of their players as they tied it up before the first recess and took a 2-1 lead during the second stanza.
Early in the final period, with netminder Johnny Olar keeping Dunny's in the game, Lucas came to the rescue again. Rhett O'Hara cleared the puck and Lucas burst down the right side coast to coast, firing from the face-off circle into the top left shelf to knot the score 2-2.
From there, the Rock out-chanced the hosts, but just couldn't get it across. Late in the game, a Strathroy rush resulted in the game winner--sending the series back to St. Marys.
"We approached the game with the right mentality, treating it like it was a 'Game 3,'" coach Bryan Hutton said.
"Afterwards, we told the guys that they played a solid road game on a wintry school night, and that we proud of their efforts. I feel good about playing the deciding game back on our home ice."
Note- Strathroy now moves on to play the winner of a three-way series between Wallaceburg, Mooretown and Petrolia in the OMHA quarter-finals.