Pat Payton, Sports editor
ST. CATHARINES - Stratford Cullitons were less than a minute away from ending a four-game tailspin here Saturday night.
However, Strathroy Rockets scored the tying goal on a powerplay with just 53 seconds left in regulation time. Rockets held a two-man advantage at the time, with their goalie on the bench for another extra attacker.
After five minutes of scoreless overtime, Strathroy won the shootout 2-1 and the game by a 3-2 margin. The shootout needed eight players before it was decided.
A total of 13 games were played at the Seymour-Hannah complex as the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) held its annual Showcase Day. All 26 teams in the GOJHL faced an opponent from another conference.
The single point gained from the shootout loss leaves Cullitons in a fifth-place tie with Caledonia Corvairs. Both clubs are 4-4-1 in the Midwestern division standings. Rockets, meanwhile, are 4-5-1 in the tight Western loop, where only six points separate top to bottom.
Third straight home loss
On Friday night at the Allman Arena, Cullitons lost their third straight home game, dropping a 4-3 decision to the new and improved Waterloo Siskins in front of almost 1,100 spectators.
The outcome left Siskins’ coach Randy Harbach with a big smile on his face.
“We’re very happy with our start; we work hard and we don’t quit,” Harbach said. “We work hard at practices and at our drylands. The kids believe in themselves, and they go out and put in a solid effort.”
It was a feisty affair between the two long-time rivals, who combined for 70 penalty minutes. Four of the game’s seven goals came on powerplays.
“I like to coach aggressive, finish your checks and play hard,” Harbach said. “You try and play smart, but both teams took some bad penalties tonight . . . it’s just emotions.”
Cullitons’ coach Phil Westman was a little surprised, but not shocked at how Friday’s game unfolded.
“Waterloo’s got a feisty team, and they’re now 7-2 for a reason,” he said. “They might be better in a smaller rink like ours than they are at home (on the Olympic-size ice).
“Waterloo has different coaches, and a number of returning players. When you return a lot of players, they come in confident. Their team plays with confidence and feistiness, and that feistiness turned some pucks over tonight.
“I’ve said it before, and our guys have to realize this. Waterloo comes in here in front of a big crowd and they’re jacked up. They want to beat us, and our guys have to be ready to compete because we’re going to be everybody’s toughest game,” Westman added.
Strathroy 3 - Stratford 2
In St. Catharines Saturday, Cullitons held 1-0 and 2-1 leads in regulation time, and an early 1-0 edge in the shootout, but they couldn’t hold off the Rockets.
Two of the last three Strathroy shooters beat goalie Nick Caldwell to give Rockets the two points. Shane O’Brien was the only Stratford shooter to beat Gordie Weiss.
In regulation time, O’Brien gave Cullitons a 1-0 lead at 9:52 of the first period. Centre Andrew Barton assisted on the winger’s sixth goal of the season.
After Rockets’ Wes Baker tied it at 14:39 of the middle frame, a powerplay goal by defenceman Jordan Currie put Stratford back on top at 3:31 of the third. Assists went to Trevor Sauder and Jake Ryan.
Strathroy’s tying goal came with Currie in the penalty box for hooking.
“It was unfortunate because we had killed off quite a few penalties already,” captain Barton reported.
“It was a back-and-forth game. I thought for the most part we out-played them, but the bounces just haven’t been going our way. We just can’t seem to get anything to drop. I thought we should have won the game, but it’s just the way things are going for us right now.”
Overall, Stratford out-shot Strathroy 33-29.
Cullitons won’t have the services of rookie Mitch Vandergunst for the next three games. The big winger received a fighting major, plus an instigator and aggressor, early in the second period.
Waterloo 4 - Stratford 3
At the Allman Friday night, Cullitons held 1-0, 2-1 and 3-2 leads, but Siskins pulled out the win with two unanswered goals in the final 20 minutes.
Nick Caldwell, making his first start since leaving a Sept. 21 game with a shoulder injury, let in a weak powerplay goal by Waterloo’s Stephen Witluk at 2:35 of the third. Keigan Goetz scored the winner, snapping a 3-3 tie, with 6:39 to play. Goetz jammed it under the Stratford goalie after getting a couple of whacks at the puck from close range.
Coach Westman admitted being concerned after watching his team lose its fourth consecutive game.
“Absolutely,” he said. “I said to the guys at practice Wednesday, you lose four straight and you’re out of the playoffs. The way the league and the season is shaping up, I think Waterloo and a few teams could run away with it.
“You have to win at home and keep you home-ice advantage.
Cullitons held a 26-18 shooting edge over the first two periods, but Siskins finished with a wide 14-4 advantage in the third.
Mitch Brooks, rookie defenceman Ryker Killins and Andrew Barton scored for Stratford. Killins and Barton both fired powerplay goals in the second period as the home team demonstrated good puck movement with the man advantage.
Adam Campagnolo and Evan Buehler (powerplay) scored the first two Waterloo goals.
“We had a lot of good things about our game tonight, too,” Westman added. “We played with quite a bit of an edge, and we out-shot them over the first two periods.
“Really, all season, our powerplay has been snappy. Even when we don’t score, I thought we’ve been intimidating with our puck movement.
“And I thought we were mentally prepared to go tonight. It’s just little lapses here and there, and guys missing assignments. I think it’s just a growing thing with a lot of new players.”
This weekend: Cullitons hope to get back on the winning track with games against Guelph Hurricanes and Brampton Bombers this weekend.
Hurricanes (1-8) are in town Friday at 7:30 p.m., and then Stratford makes its first trip to Brampton’s Powerade Centre Saturday. Opening face-off against the Bombers (3-7) is also 7:30 p.m.