The Sarnia Legionnaires and Strathroy Rockets combined to score only one goal over the first two conservatively-played periods, Thursday at Sarnia Arena.
But things opened up in the third as the two squads combined for six goals over the final 13-and-a-half minutes of the game -- resulting in a 4-3 overtime win for the Legionnaires.
The victory was crucial for Sarnia, which is battling with the London Nationals for fourth place (and home ice advantage in round one of the GOJHL playoffs). Playing at home, London clobbered Chatham 8-3 on Thursday to remain one point ahead of the Legionnaires in the Western Conference standings.
The Nationals have just one game remaining on their regular season schedule (Sunday in LaSalle) while the Legionnaires play twice more -- Friday in LaSalle (where they lost 9-3 on Wednesday) and Sunday in Chatham.
When it's over the Legionnaires will have played four games in five nights to conclude the regular season.
Neither team had many chances to score in a tentatively-played period of hockey, but the Rockets did get the only goal of the stanza, on the power play at 15:04. Strathroy outshot Sarnia 11-8 in the period
Similar to the first period -- in fact Strathroy outshot Sarnia by an identical 11-8 margin. The Legionnaires showed occasional flashes of snapping out of their lethargy, but couldn't keep up any sustained pressure.
It actually took over seven-and-a-half minutes of play for the first goal to be scored -- but the floodgates opened up quickly after that. The Legionnaires were pressing from the start of the period and were finally rewarded when Josh Kestner jammed the puck home at 7:32. A couple of minutes later Cody Trowell deflected one past Strathroy goalie Jack Moylan to make it 2-1. With all the momentum in their favour, it looked like Sarnia might ride out a 2-1 win. But Strathroy stunned the home crowd with a pair of late goals -- the last one, with exactly one minute left in the third period -- to take a 3-2 lead. However, there was more drama to come.
With 15 seconds left in the period, and Sarnia goalie Hunter Johnson pulled for the extra attacker, the Legionnaires' Jay Clarke won a face-off in the Rockets zone, defenceman Curtis Crombeen flipped the puck toward the goal and Riley Babkirk pounced on the loose disc and fired it home, to tie the game 3-3 with 10.1 seconds on the clock.
Clarke then set up Nathan Mater for the OT winner.
Said Coach Dan Rose:
"The guys kept working hard. … We were flat in the first two periods but we were still in the game.
"We played on the road last night and didn't have a good game," continued Rose, saying the team's confidence, or mojo, was fading, as happens to teams now and then. "It took us a while to get it back tonight … but the boys were determined in the third period.
"A win like that will get it back for us."
On the tying goal: "We had a face-off in their zone. We had a chance to draw up a play -- quite often those plays don't work, but it worked tonight."
On the quest to finish fourth in the standings: "It's important. It's important because we enjoy playing (at home).
"If we don't get home ice advantage in the first round … we'll have to win one on the read. But we want home ice advantage if we can and we want to finish fourth -- fourth is better (for our) team pride than fifth."