BY DAVE PAUL
With just seven-and-a-half minutes to play in Friday's OHL contest at RBC Centre, the upstart Sarnia Sting found themselves on the verge of achieving a three-game winning streak.
Instead, however, the Owen Sound Attack exploded for three late goals leaving the Sting on the wrong end of a 4-2 decision, and without even a point to show for a strong effort.
Sarnia held a 2-1 lead after the first period. Owen Sound's Gemel Smith actually opened the scoring, but Sarnia's Noah Bushnell (with his first OHL goal) and Nick Latta, with a last minute redirection from in close, gave Sarnia the one goal lead after 20 minutes.
The Sting clung to the one-goal lead throughout the second period and half of the third -- during which time they clearly outplayed Owen Sound, but were stymied by former Sting goalie Brandon Hope on several occasions.
Finally, the Attack began to press and were rewarded as their captain Zach Nastasiuk scored the tying and game-winning goals, steering the pinballing puck past Brodie Barrick. Kurtis Gabriel (from Nastasiuk, the game's first star) iced the game with an empty-netter with 16 seconds left to play.
While, it was difficult to watch his team let a potential victory slip away, Sting coach Trevor Letowski said the loss wasn't completely demoralizing.
"We certainly had chances to put the game away -- we just couldn't buy a goal," when we needed one, said Letowski. "It's a game that could have had a different outcome ... but we have to stay positive. We're playing the right way and giving ourselves a chance to win."
For Hope, the win over his former squad was gratifying.
"Anyone will tell you, it's always nice to come back to your old home and get a win," said Hope, who not only made some big saves to keep his team in the game when they trailed 2-1, but was also unbeatable after the Attack took the lead late in the third and the Sting began pressing to tie the game in the dying minutes.
"They were crashing the goal pretty hard ... trying to poke in a rebound," said Hope. On one stoppage, Hope joked he told the ref to 'blow the stupid whistle' a little sooner after he was joined by about half a dozen players in his goal crease, but refused to let the puck get past him.
"My D was doing the job ... they were putting guys on their butts. That's why there were so many players falling around me," said Hope.
For his 32 save effort (Sarnia outshot Owen Sound 34-24), the amiable netminder (who was always a popular member of the Sting when he was here) was named second star of the game and received a significant ovation (along with a couple of boos) when he acknowledged the crowd during the naming of the three stars.
"It's good to know there are people here who still care about you," said Hope.
The Sting still have a chance to make it a winning weekend when they travel to Saginaw on Saturday to face the Spirit. Game time is 7:11 p.m.
Notes: Sarnia is without winger Brett Hargrave. The former first round pick has left the team and requested a trade.