The London Knights and the Flint Firebirds returned to action after the holiday break and battled all the way to a shootout on Thursday at the Dort Federal Event Centre.
Maurizio Colella scored the only goal in that shootout as the Firebirds edged London 3-2.
The game was not without its challenges for the Knights. Still missing Robert Thomas, Alex Formenton and Max Jones, who are away at the World Juniors, London gave up the first goal of the game in a first period that took just 26 minutes to play and then lost starting goaltender Joseph Raaymakwers, who left with an injury at 14:42 of the second period.
Raaymakers moved from his left to his right as a puck came across the edge of his crease and then stayed down after the whistle went. He got to his skates, but eventually skated off the ice with Knights’ athletic trainer, Doug Stacey and did not return. However, the initial prognosis was a positive one.
Jordan Kooy entered a game in which the Firebirds were putting a lot of pucks on net. Kooy stopped 16 of 17 shots after Raaymakers had made 28 stops on 29 Flint chances.
The Knights overcame the early deficit with second-period goals from Sam Miletic and Evan Bouchard, only to have the Firebirds tie the game on a power-play goal from C.J. Clarke in the third.
Despite losing out on the second point, Steadman looked at the 10-day holiday layoff as a factor for both teams.
“I think after the break, getting the guys back into it, you would love to get a big win, but Flint played well,” he noted. “They were pushing us hard and keeping us on our heels, so to come back and then get the lead and battle from there, that was a step in the right direction for us.”
Still, Steadman was quick to add that there are things London will take away from the game that the team will want to improve upon.
London will now face a Sarnia Sting team that was stung 5-0 on Thursday by Windsor as the teams meet in their annual home-and-home to end one calendar year and begin the next.
How the goals were scored
There was only one goal in a first period that took only 26 minutes to play. Jalen Smereck’s initial shot was blocked by Josh Nelson, but the puck came back to him at the left point and the Detroit native took advantage of three bodies in front of the Knights net and wristed it high into the net. Raaymakers didn’t see the shot.
The Flint lead stayed until the 15:52 mark of period two, when London’s Cliff Pu skated across the Firebirds’ blue line and dropped a pass to Sam Miletic. The Penguins’ prospect rifled a wrist shot off the post and in to tie the game.
Then, with just over a minute remaining in the second period, Knights forward Billy Moskal rattled a pass into the slot that Evan Bouchard caught up to and backhanded past 16-year old Luke Cavallin to put London up 2-1.
C.J. Clarke tied the game at 8:08 of the third period with a snap shot to the top corner from the right side of the London end on a Flint power play.
Maurizio Colella scored the only goal of the shootout.
Tied for number one
Bouchard’s goal gave him 43 points on the season, tying him with Sean Durzi of the Owen Sound Attack for most points this year by an OHL defenceman. Bouchard is in his draft year and continues to climb up the rankings.
Greyhounds get closer to 25
The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds defeated Saginaw 4-1 on Thursday. They have now won 21 consecutive games. The Kitchener Rangers hold the Ontario Hockey League record with 25. The Knights won 24 in 2012-13.
Team Canada and Team USA in the wild
It’s as close as meaningful hockey games can get to the pond. Canada and the U.S. will play the first-ever outdoor game at the World Junior Hockey Championship on Friday, Dec. 29 at New Era Field in Buffalo. The temperature is expected to feel like minus-14 C and there is a chance of snow. Buffalo could get as much as 2-4 centimetres during the day.
Canada is off to a 2-0 start with wins over Finland and Slovakia. Knights captain Robert Thomas, forward Alex Formenton and Victor Mete of the Montreal Canadiens have all seen significant playing time. Thomas and Mete each have two assists in the tournament.
The United States fell to 1-1 after being stunned 3-2 by Slovakia on Thursday. The U.S. is now facing a quick turnaround against Team Canada.
The deadline to trade overage players in the OHL will be Jan. 9. All other deals must be completed on Jan. 10. The overage trade deadline arrives 24 hours earlier so that teams do not find themselves over the limit of three, 20-year olds as they declare their final rosters as the trade deadline passes on January 10.
Happy New Year
London and Sarnia have met for a home-and-home series on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day every year since 2002. That amounts to 30 games over 15 years, stretching all the way back to when Dylan Hunter and Rick Steadman were players on the Knights.
The first game ended in a 5-5 tie. Since then, the Knights have won 21 times and the Sting have won just eight.
London currently has an eight-game winning streak in the annual series, dating back to 2013. The Knights have swept the two-game set on eight different occasions. Sarnia has just one sweep. It took place as 2007 turned into 2008. A young Steven Stamkos was a member of that Sting team.
London will be in Sarnia for a 2 p.m. puck drop on Sunday as a precursor to New Year’s Eve. Broadcast time on 980 CFPL will be 1:30. The teams will meet on New Year’s Day at 4 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens.