Vipers look past recent slide

By Devan Mighton – Published in the LaSalle Post on Jan. 13, 2017

Photo: St. Marys’ Tristan Lewis (29) gets his tow on Daniel Beaudoin (43) of LaSalle’s late attempt at tying the game on Jan. 4.  DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST

After two losses to start 2017, one would hope that the LaSalle Vipers junior hockey club is done with shaking off the holiday rust. The Vipers, who have been on fire thus far during the 2016-17 campaign, rung in the new year with a home, 4-2, loss to the St. Marys Lincolns on Jan. 4 and a 5-3 defeat at the hands of the Leamington Flyers the following night.

The sky is not falling, though. LaSalle still leads the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Western Conference and did not lose the year’s opening games in any fashion that would be considered embarrassing.

In fact, the Vipers outshot both of their opponents but just could not find the timely goals that have augmented so many of LaSalle’s wins this year.

“Over the course of a long season, you’re gonna lose some games,” said coach Bill Bowler. “When you win games, there’s a lot of credit to go around and when you come up short, you wish things could have [gone] differently.” He added, “Sometimes it is their night.”

On Jan. 4, the Vipers’ first game back could not have started better. Early snipes from Manny Silverio and Daniel Beaudoin brought excitement to the faithful at the Vollmer Recreation Complex.

Despite outshooting the Lincolns in every period of the game, LaSalle found themselves snake-bit for the final 52-plus minutes of the game. St. Marys’ netminder Tristan Lewis stared down shot after shot, turning aside 43 of 45 chances in the match.

Before the middle act could end, the Lincolns had deadlocked the game at two. Visitor goals came from Riley Coome and Kenny Chisholm.

Although St. Marys had fewer chances, they had a knack for making them count. It seemed that every time the Vipers marched down the ice, they could not take over the slot and work the Lincoln’s goalie in close.

The shots from the outside could not connect either and St. Marys seemed to always be in the right spot to bust out with an odd-man rush, forcing LaSalle goalie Eli Billing into overexertion with one-timers and high percentage chances.

In the third, Chisholm netted the winner only two and a half minutes in. A late empty-netter from Bill Moskal sealed the Vipers’ fate.

Billing played well in the loss, knocking aside 27 of 30 chances.

“We just need to work harder; we didn’t play our game,” said a dejected Nathan Savage, captain of the home squad. “We just gotta get back to the basics and play better hockey,” later adding, “we can’t take anybody for granted.”

“St. Marys, again, played excellent,” offered Bowler, as his boys fell for the second time to the Lincolns this season. “Their goaltender [Tristan Lewis] was excellent and they’re a much-improved team.”

The next evening, LaSalle headed east to take on their chief territorial rival, the Leamington Flyers.

By the midway point of the game, the Flyers had built a 2-0 lead on blasts from Scott Florence and Nicolas Mainella.

Late in the middle stanza, the Vipers stormed back with goals from Brett Primeau and Zack Hoffman.  In the third, Leamington broke the game wide open, bringing the partisan crowd to their feet.

Before the 10 minute mark of the final act, Leamington’s Griffin Robinson, Brett Vorshuk, and Brayden Klemens each potted a goal to take a commanding lead.

LaSalle’s Chris Playfair added a late tally, but he and his teammates had not the momentum for a comeback.

Flyers goalie Noah Hedrick picked up the win in net, stopping 28 shots, while Billing took the loss, blocking 16.

“Leamington was a tough game; a tough building to play in and [the Flyers are] a good hockey club,” said Coach Bowler. “We like winning, but we don’t expect to win. We want to win every night, but you’re going to lose games.”

As the playoffs loom, many teams are turning into buyers or sellers as the trade deadline approaches. Chatham Maroons, a longtime rival of the Vipers is, as per usual, a buyer, making waves with the signings of Noah Bushnell and Jake O’Donnell from major junior and Brendan D’Agostino from the Thorold Blackhawks. The LaSalle camp is, so far, relatively quiet on the acquisition front.

“We like our hockey club,” said the coach. “We operate a certain way here in LaSalle, but obviously if there is a chance to improve our team we will. We’re loyal to the players that have been here and we like our group, but if somebody wants to call and give me a good hockey player, I’ll definitely listen or take him.”

The Vipers will be next in action on Jan. 18 as they host the Flyers at the Vollmer Complex, game time 7 p.m. Two nights later they return to the road for a meeting with the St. Thomas Stars.

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