Pat Payton, Gazette sports editor
BRAMPTON - Stratford Cullitons are losing games this season that they proabably would have easily won a year ago. But that veteran 2011-12 club had 10 players who were 20 years old. This year’s Cullitons edition doesn’t have that kind of experience. In the last seven games, Stratford has gone 1-5-1, but three of the losses were by one goal and another by a two-goal margin.
“Last year, I took those one-goal wins to the bank,” coach Phil Westman said after Cullitons lost an early 2-0 lead and dropped a 5-3 decision to the Bombers here Saturday night. “We had an experienced club last year, and we knew we weren’t going to let it slip. Now this year, we’re on the other side of that, and we’re letting those games slip . . . mainly because of our inexperience.
“I hate to keep making excuses, but we lacked that killer instinct and that finish around the net to make it 3-0 (Saturday). We had opportunites and we didn’t put them away. The other team gets some momentum and all of a sudden we start sliding confidence-wise.”
Stratford (5-5-1) is also dropping in the Midwestern Conference standings. After weekend action, Cullitons find themselves alone in sixth place, but they’re just one point behind Elmira Sugar Kings (6-6) and only two behind Caledonia Corvairs (6-4-1) and Listowel Cyclones (6-5-1), who are tied for third spot. Cambridge Winter Hawks (10-2) continue to be the class of the division. The first-place Hawks hold a four-point lead on Waterloo Siskins (8-5).
Winless streak snapped
On Friday night at the Allman Arena, Cullitons snapped a five-game winless skid with a 5-0 victory over the last-place Guelph Hurricanes in front of almost 1,300 spectators. Hurricanes (1-11), who underwent a major shake-up in their organization last week, are having trouble scoring goals. They have scored just 13 goals in 12 games. Cullitons, meanwhile, hadn’t been scoring a lot, either. They had just 10 goals in their previous five games, and coach
Westman was happy to see some pucks go in the other team’s net Friday. Three of his team’s goals came with the man advantage.
“In practice, we’ve talked about finishing drills, stay to the net and finish the play,” Westman said. “It’s those scrambles around the net that we weren’t banging home in the last few weeks. I think we were a little better at it tonight.”
Brampton 5 - Stratford 3
At the Powerade Centre Saturday night, Cullitons were leading 2-0 midway through the second period when goalie Nick Caldwell’s shoulder popped out and he was forced to leave a game for the second time in a month.
“He had that shoulder problem again,” coach Westman reported. “I felt bad for Joe (Metzger). He’s not expecting to play, and you’re up 2-0 and you have to go in (the net) cold. It’s a tough situation for any kid to go in there.”
After early second-period goals by linemates Ryan Watson and Andrew Barton (his eighth) gave Stratford its 2-0 lead, Bombers erased the deficit with three goals in a five-minute span late in the frame. After Brampton made it 4-2 at 5:14 of the third, a powerplay goal by Jared Culliton left the visitors trailing by just a goal with still over nine minutes to play. Watson assisted on the goal, his third point of the contest.
But that’s as close as Cullitons would get as Bombers’ Michael Darrigo scored his second of the night into an empty Stratford net with 34 seconds remaining.
Overall, Brampton out-shot the Cullitons 45-39, including 25-13 in the second period. Bombers (4-7) went into the game with a 1-5 record on home ice.
Stratford had newly-signed defenceman Josh Miller, 17, in the line-up for the first time. And with wingers Mitch Brooks and Mitch Vandergunst sitting out with suspensions, Cullitons called up Adam Zehr from the Huron-Perth Lakers ‘AAA’ Midgets. Both Brooks (Friday) and Vandergunst (Sunday) return to the Stratford line-up this weekend. Caldwell is also expected to be ready for game action.
Stratford 5 - Guelph 0
At the Allman Friday night, Cullitons opened up a 2-0 lead with a pair of goals just over three minutes apart midway through the second period. Dylan Wettlaufer, with his first of the season, and fellow rookie Ryker Killins, on a powerplay, were the marksmen. After successfully killing off a 5-on-3 Hurricanes’ powerplay midway through the third, Stratford left no doubt about the outcome as Ryan Watson, Trevor Sauder and Shane O’Brien (his seventh) all scored in a span of just 2:19.
The Watson and O’Brien goals came on powerplays as a frustrated Guelph team took the last five penalties of the contest--including a slashing major.
“Maybe the other team had surrendered a little bit at the point,” coach Westman said. “Honestly, I felt desperate all night. You lose five in a row, and I had to coach desperate tonight, but I was anxious to win.”
Captain Andrew Barton agreed with his coach.
“We needed that win tonight,” said the veteran centre, who collected four assists and now has a team-leading 16 points. “A few of those (recent) losses could have gone either way, but we just weren’t getting the bounces. Tonight, we started getting a few at the end. You have to just keep plugging away until it pays off.”
Caldwell (3-1) made 35 stops for his first shutout as Cullitons out-shot the visitors 40-35 and improved their record against the Hurricanes to 2-0. Killins, Wettlaufer and O’Brien finished the game with two points apiece. Stratford called up forwards Zehr and Quinten Haddock from the Huron-Perth Midgets.
This weekend: Cullitons have a couple of tough games against opponents ahead of them in the standings. On Friday, Cullitons host Caledonia, a team they’ve gone 0-2 against to date. Game time is 7:30 p.m. On Sunday, Stratford travels to the Galt Arena to play the front-running Cambridge Winter Hawks at 7 p.m.