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Late fireworks give London Knights a win to close out 2017

One teen seriously injured during a fireworks fight at Christie Pitts Park over the long weekend. Global News Files

Hang around a hockey coach a little while and you are probably going to hear them talk about going hard to the net.

It’s as small a concept as it sounds, but it can sometimes make the biggest difference.

With just over one minute left in the third period and the score tied 2-2, London Knights defenceman Evan Bouchard went hard to the Sarnia Sting net. As a pass came toward him, Sarnia forward Franco Sproviero did what he could to stop Bouchard from getting to the puck and was given a penalty for hooking.

The power play that followed produced the game-winning goal from Cliff Pu and the Knights celebrated a happy end to 2017 with a 4-2 victory over the Sting in front of 4,522 fans at the Progressive Auto Sales Arena in Sarnia.

Evan Bouchard had a huge day for the Knights with three assists and he was the one who got the puck to the front of the net on that late power play where Cole Tymkin batted it free. That allowed Pu to swoop in and left home his 15th goal of the season to give London their first lead of the game with 50.9 seconds to go.

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“It was a little bit of a scramble and I was just hoping it would pop out and I just tried to shoot high because I knew (Sting goalie Justin Fazio) was taking away the bottom of the net,” smiled Pu after the game. “I was pretty excited. I don’t usually celebrate like that, but against a pretty big rival with under a minute to go, it was definitely fun.”

Pu added an empty-netter at 19:46 to seal the game and London’s 19th win of the season and a share of fourth place in the Western Conference with the Saginaw Spirit and the Windsor Spitfires.

“It’s been good the past few weeks,” explained Pu. “With the guys gone [at World Juniors] everyone has stepped up the way they needed to and we have been picking up points.”

London has now picked up at least one point in seven of their last eight games. The only blemishes can be found in a loss to Sarnia on Dec. 15 and a shootout loss to the Flint Firebirds on Thursday.

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That game saw London goalie Joseph Raaymakers leave with an injury in the second period. He did not dress for the Knights on Sunday in Sarnia, ending a string of 24 consecutive starts. Jordan Kooy made his first since Oct. 15.

“Raaymakers is going to take a couple of days to rehab,” said Knights assistant coach, Rick Steadman. “We want to make sure his health is great so that he is ready to go for the rest of the season. We’re lucky to have [Kooy]. He’s been working really hard to get to this point.”

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Kooy made 33 saves in goal for the Knights and said he was pleased with the way the game went.

“I felt pretty good. It has been awhile since I’ve played a full game, so I was just trying to stay focused.”

London has now won nine consecutive games in the New Year’s series that has happened in London and Sarnia every year since 2002.

How the goals were scored

Philadelphia Flyers’ prospect Anthony Salinitri opened the scoring at 8:14 of the first period as he carried the puck down the left wing, got into the London zone and threw the puck at the net as Jacob Golden was fending off Drake Rymsha in front. The puck found its way in through a spray of ice chips for a 1-0 Sarnia lead.

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The Knights tied the game right off a faceoff in the Sting end at 13:49 of the first period as Billy Moskal won a draw to Harrison Cottam and the Burlington native ripped a low shot past Justin Fazio for his second career OHL goal and a 1-1 tie.

The score stayed that way until the late stages of the second period when Sarnia forward Jordan Ernst raced in behind the London net, grabbed a puck and worked his way out front where he turned and fired into a crowd of bodies and snuck the puck through to put the Sting back in front by a goal.

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Bouchard carried a puck deep into the Sarnia zone, six minutes into the third period, went behind the net and fed a pass out to Sam Miletic who fired high over Fazio to tie the game.

Pu buried the game-winner on a power play with 50.9 seconds to go, lying in wait to the left of the Sting net. The puck came free and he made no mistake and then let out a huge scream in celebration.

Pu found himself on a 2-on-1 with Alex Turko with under 20 seconds remaining. He tried to feed a pass across to Turko, but it went off the skate of Ernst and rolled into the Sarnia net.

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Bouchard out in front

Bouchard’s three-point afternoon moved him two points ahead of Sean Durzi for the scoring lead among Ontario Hockey League defencemen. Bouchard now has 45 points in 35 games and is just one point back of London captain Robert Thomas for the team lead.

READ MORE: Knights and Sting set to ring in the New Year again

Up next

The Knights and Sting will complete their 16th consecutive New Year’s home-and-home series on Monday in London at 4 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens. The Knights now hold a 22-8-1 advantage in the annual head-to-head matchup. The pre-game show will be on the air at 1:30 p.m. on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.