By Devan Mighton – Published in the LaSalle Post on Feb. 10, 2017
Photo: Alternate captain Eric Kirby returned to the LaSalle Vipers lineup after missing 43 games of the season due to injury. DEVAN MIGHTON / LASALLE POST
(LASALLE, ON) – Forty-three games is a long sit for any hockey player.
For Eric Kirby, watching his LaSalle Vipers teammates’ lengthy winning streaks and ascendance to the top of the GOJHL standings could be described as, simultaneously, a heart breaking and warming experience.
Kirby, whose season was taken out at the ankles by a serious off-season accident right before training camp, was thought to be done as a hockey player due to the nature of his injuries.
But on Feb. 1, donning a full face mask, LaSalle’s alternate captain made his return to the ice in a 3-2 win over the Strathroy Rockets at the Vollmer Complex.
Cale Allen scored twice, including the game winner, while Chris Playfair added one for LaSalle.
Vipers goalie ace Eli Billing was his usual dependable self, turning aside 20 attempts for the 3-2 win.
After the game, the attention turned to Kirby’s long-coming return.
“It was just good to get back out there and start to get into game shape,” he explained. “There were a lot of times that I never thought I would get to play again.
“Even in warm-ups I could have taken my equipment off right there and would have been happy with the night.
“I don’t think my smile came off my face once all night.”
Kirby, who was cleared to play for the previous weekend, came into the game just five games shy of the 100-game plateau.
“What Eric’s gone through and for him to be participating and being out on that ice is quite remarkable,” said head coach Bill Bowler.
“For the team, it’s a huge boost. Eric’s an excellent hockey player and will provide us with that boost. He can play in any situation and he’s a great addition at the end of the year.”
Playfair records hat-trick in 6-0 win over Preds
The Vipers took to the road last Saturday to meet the bottom-seeded Lambton Shores Predators.
In a game where LaSalle amply outshot their opponents, it took some late third period scoring from Allen and Playfair to keep the home team out of reach.
Manny Silverio gave the Vipers the lead just over 11 minutes into the first stanza.
Late in the second, Playfair sniped his first, followed by another from Silverio only 10 seconds later.
In the third, the Vipers continued to pelt away at Lambton Shores goalie Tynan Lauziere until the floodgates broke.
At the 10 minute mark of the third, Allen extended the lead to four, before Playfair blasted two more goals to complete his first Junior B hat-trick.
Going into LaSalle’s 6-0 victory over the Predators, team captain Nathan Savage, fresh off shattering the GOJHL game-winning goal record in January, was sitting at 198 career points with the Vipers.
Savage managed an assist on the final two Playfair tallies to achieve the 200-point plateau.
Dershahn Stewart was stellar in net for the Vipers, blocking all 33 attempts for the shutout.
“Great job by Stew,” quipped Coach Bowler after the game. “[It was] his first shutout in our league, so that’s a credit to him.”
At the other end, Lauziere was noble in defeat, turning aside 48 of 54 blasts from the road team.
Bowler was happy with his team’s performance.
“We played well and I felt we deserved to win,” said the coach, adding that he was also impressed with the “Johnny-on-the-spot” opportunism of Playfair, who always seemed to be in the right spot at the right time for the chip-in.
With the wins, the Vipers are edging towards clinching the first seed in the Western Conference.
After improving to a record of 34 wins, eight loses, and three regulation ties, only the London Nationals and Chatham Maroons have any opportunity to catch LaSalle before the season runs out.
The Vipers now take to the road.
Tomorrow night, they will head to Strathroy for a 7:30 p.m. match-up at the West Middlesex Arena.
No home game next Wednesday
There will be no Wednesday night game at the Vollmer Complex next week as the team will be in London that evening for a final regular season meet-up at the Western Fair.