By Devan Mighton – Published in the LaSalle Post on Jan. 27, 2017
Photo: Nathan Savage cuts around the net just seconds before depositing the record breaking goal on Jan. 11. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
(LASALLE, ON) – Nathan Savage is on the prowl.
His team, the LaSalle Vipers, having just tied a hockey game late in the second, have all the momentum.
Their Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League opponent, the Strathroy Rockets, have been pushed back onto their heels and will not recover.
Early in the third stanza, Savage picks up a loose puck behind the opposition net, fed there by teammate Jasper Forgrave.
He sweeps to the far side of the cage and flips the puck past Rockets goalie Zack Weir on a wide wraparound.
The go-ahead goal stands as the game-winner, as his teammates pile on three more goals and rookie tender Dershahn Stewart turns aside everything Strathroy throws at him.
With the final buzzer, Savage makes GOJHL history.
The captain’s tally marked a rare event. On Jan. 11, Captain Savage became the all-time GOJHL leader in game-winning goals.
The previous record of 20 goals, which was set in 2010 by Jordan Gignac of the Stoney Creek Warriors, stood as a benchmark that had been rarely approached.
The last Viper to take a run at the record was Dylan Denomme who ended his Junior B career with 18 snipes in 2014.
Sarnia Legionnaires forward Jesse Drydak tied the all-time mark in 2012 but was unable to surpass it.
The record stood for almost seven years until Savage, a hometown boy playing for his hometown team, delighted the LaSalle fans at the Vollmer Complex with game-winning goal number 21.
Rewind five years.
On Feb. 8, 2012, a 15-year-old midget call-up, Nathan Savage pulled on the Vipers uniform for the first time.
“The first time was very exciting,” said the Vipers’ captain. “I was thrilled to play with the team I had watched so much as a little kid.” Adding, “my career has been a lot of fun for me; met a lot of great people.”
In his final year of eligibility, Savage took some time to remember some of his fondest memories from his stint that has already lasted over 220 regular season and another 56 in the playoffs.
“Lots of the guys I’ve played with have moved on with hockey, which is very exciting and cool to see,” reminisced Savage. “I think my favourite memory with the team was on the run to the  Sutherland Cup and we played game seven in Elmira. It was a great game from both teams, the most amount of people I’ve played in front of and it was just a great time.”
After a long run with his hometown team, the LaSalle native is now in the Junior B record book.
“Breaking the [game-winning goal] record is a big honour for me. I never would have guessed that I’d break any record,” said Savage. “I was very excited to learn that I had accomplished that, [but] it does make it easier when you play with the teammates I’ve played with.”
Vipers head coach Bill Bowler has been Savage’s bench boss since his first game in the GOJHL.
“To leave your mark on the league is something very, very special, and hopefully he’s got a few more [game-winners] in him,” commented Bowler of his captain’s record. “It’s really an amazing feat.”
A student at the University of Windsor, Nathan’s life is still an open book. He wants to keep playing hockey after he exceeds the junior age limit but has not fully decided to which side of the border he will continue his sports career.
“His consistency is second to none,” said Coach Bowler of Savage’s play. “I would consider him, maybe, a quiet leader. Because he’s so consistent, he lets his on-ice actions speak for themselves.”
The locker room, for Nathan, is like a second home. He has grown up a Viper.
“I’ll miss coming to the [Vollmer Complex] every Wednesday, that’s been my routine for five years now,” said Savage on graduating junior hockey. “I’ll miss playing for my hometown with the rink two minutes up the road; I’ll miss all the friends I’ve made – from players to coaches.”
Savage looks back to his younger self, that 15-year-old call-up, and has advice for the rookies and prospects coming up behind him.
“I hope to leave the rookies with the note that these five years fly by. You need to enjoy yourself the whole way along,” said Savage. “Winning is not easy in this league. You have to work hard every day you show up. But, most of all, you meet some really good guys playing hockey and you have to make sure you’re enjoying yourself.”
Bowler emphasized that Nathan Savage’s story with the LaSalle Vipers is far from over and his legacy with the team is still being built.
“Hopefully we can answer that better in a couple months,” quipped the coach when asked of Savage’s legacy with the team. “Guys that are consistent like Nathan, they’re just so hard to find.”