By Devan Mighton – Published in the LaSalle Post on Jan. 27, 2017
Photo: LaSalle’s Kaelan O’Flynn (94) slips past the check of Leamington’s Brayden Klemens on Jan. 18. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
With 10 games remaining in their 2016-17 Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League campaign, the LaSalle Vipers seem primed for another deep playoff run.
Leading their conference through most of the season, the Vipers have lately added two more wins to their tally, cracking the 30-win plateau for the third time in four years.
In fact, if LaSalle only manages a .500 record through their final games, they will still tie their all-time franchise record of 35 wins in a season dating back to 1992-93, when they were called the Windsor Bulldogs (35-13-4).
The team’s all-time win percentage leaders are from 1972-73, when they were the Windsor Royals (34-6-2), but the ship has already sailed on beating that remarkable feat.
On Jan. 18, the Vipers pushed a little closer to their franchise win mark, dropping the Leamington Flyers, 4-1, in front of the LaSalle faithful in attendance.
The Vipers had a reasonably easy time with their cross-county rivals, out-shooting them 27-17.
LaSalle built up a 4-0 lead just past the midway point of the second with snipes from Manny Silverio, Jack Bowler, and a pair from captain Nathan Savage.
Despite a third period goal by Leamington’s Brett Vorshuk, LaSalle essentially cruised to the victory.
Eli Billing turned aside 16 shots for the win, while Connor Meyerink and Noah Hedrick split the defeat for the Flyers, blocking 23.
“It’s a great win,” said Jack Bowler after the game. “All the boys were going, everybody was contributing.” He added, “we worked hard the full 60 minutes and that’s what we’re going to have to do every game from here on out. [The games are] just going to get tougher.”
“I thought that was one of our better games,” said coach Bill Bowler. “Leamington beat us the week prior, and for us to rebound and win at home, and the way we … managed to play, it was a real big win for us.”
Before the match, Jack Bowler was honoured with awards from both the Vipers organization and the Sun County Panthers, his previous minor team.
Bowler was given the hardest working player of the game award for his play the previous week.
In addition, the Panthers organization presented him with the Mickey Renaud Memorial Award for demonstrating “determination, dedication, and leadership” during his time with Sun County.
“Everybody around here knows Mickey [Renaud] and know how good of a player he was, how good of a guy he was,” said the Vipers rookie. “I wasn’t expecting that, but to win the award is awesome just to be associated with Mickey.”
Renaud, for whom the award is named, was an alumnus of the Vipers organization, playing with the Tecumseh Chiefs during the 2004-05 campaign.
A local star, Renaud played three seasons with, and eventually captained, the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires. During his time with the Spitfires, he was drafted by the National Hockey League’s Calgary Flames in the fifth round in 2007.
With his whole life and a promising sports career ahead of him, tragedy intervened, taking him before his time and leaving the local region and entire hockey community in shock.
“[Jack is] like any 2000 [born player], he’s just trying to contribute and be a part of something, and I think he’s been able to do that on a veteran team,” said Coach Bowler, Jack’s father and a former coach of Renaud, himself. “Good for Jack … I think there is still a lot of growth still in his game, but I think with his work ethic and his teammates, and the leadership group, I think they’ll help him to become a better player.”
Not to be outdone, team leading scorer Liam MacDougall was also presented a plaque for his second Western Conference offensive player of the month honour for his play in the month of December.
MacDougall has compiled 26 goals and 58 points in 39 games played and was also honoured with the same award in October.
“We rely on Liam to generate offense, which he has done,” said Bill Bowler. “He can play any position, anywhere in the lineup, with any linemates and still find a way to produce and elevate his linemates.”
On Jan. 20, the Vipers picked up their fourth consecutive win with a 6-2 drubbing of the St. Thomas Stars.
On the road, LaSalle opened with a big first period, leading 3-1 by the buzzer. Silverio, Dede Cato, and Brett Primeau each scored for the Vipers, while St. Thomas’ Kevin Hu netted a goal for the home team.
In the second, the two foes traded a snipe apiece, Alex Turko scoring first for the Stars and Tyler Russell adding a power play tally midway through to retake the two-goal lead.
In the third, the Vipers pulled away with an early goal by Cale Allen and an empty-netter for Cato to cap off the win.
Billing picked up his second victory of the week with another 18 saves, while Dan Black and Cooper Seedott split the loss for St. Thomas, facing 33 shots.
“I thought we controlled most of the play and had more chances,” said Coach Bowler. “That doesn’t always mean you’ll win the game, but in that case, we were able to capitalize on a few of them.” He added, “I thought our special teams were really good [during the game], and it resulted in a nice win for our guys.”
In the meantime, LaSalle has added some new additions: Blake McConville, acquired from the Essex 73’s, and Jack Van Boekel, fresh off the boat from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.
McConville, a 16-year-old LaSalle native, put up 10 goals and 27 points with Essex leading up to his signing. McConville is a prospect of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves.
“We liked [him] in training camp,” said Coach Bowler. “We know him, [and with] the timing of it, we were allowed to use that last 2000-card and that’s why we added him…”
Van Boekel, a rock-solid defenceman who stands at a towering six feet seven inches tall, has spent the past three seasons in the QMJHL with Saint John and Val-d’Or.
“[He is] a big left shot, ’96-born defenceman that’s attending the University of Windsor,” said Bowler. “We were very fortunate to add him; a real strong stay-at-home D who, I think, has a lot of offensive upside as well.”
On both Van Boekel and McConville, Bowler explained that he “would have liked to [have added them] in September, but, because of circumstances, we had to wait and it was well worth the wait.”
The Vipers will be in action tonight as they travel to St. Marys for another battle with the pesky Lincolns. Sunday, LaSalle will host the London Nationals at the Vollmer Complex, game time 2:30 p.m.
As well, on Feb. 1 the Vipers will welcome the Sarnia Legionnaires for another home game at 7 p.m.