Through 12 games, the Nationals have just one blemish.
A single loss a month ago was mired in controversy. St. Marys was given credit for a tide-turning tally – despite the puck never actually entering the net – and it ruined London’s home opener.
Now, the Lincolns return Wednesday at 7 p.m., and the Nats will raise their 2018-19 GOJHL Western Conference banner at Western Fair. If London keeps on its winning roll, there is a good chance they will be hanging another one around this time next year.“I’m very happy with our start,” Nationals GM/coach Pat Powers said. “That one game we lost, if a couple of bounces went our way, then we win (and are currently undefeated). But there are a couple of teams that have been strong out of the gate and a couple others that are starting to play well, too.
“It’s going to be another tough battle in our conference this year.”
London, Leamington and St. Marys have built on their effective opening months. Both the Nationals and Lincolns look a little different than that previous meeting.
The Lincs bolstered the blue line by adding former Knights defenceman Riley Coome (three assists in four games). They also acquired 17-year-old Dorchester native Nathan Small (four assists in four games) in a deal with the Nationals for overage rearguard Ryan Martin, the former Erie Otter.“We didn’t want to give up Nathan,” Powers said, “but that’s the cost we had to pay. Ryan is a real stabilizing factor to our back end and a guy we can rely on in all situations. He’s been in our league before. He played in a real good Erie organization and he’s able to bring those lessons back and help us in a push.”
Every Junior B team can carry up to five players who have 68 games of OHL experience. Martin counts toward that total and so does former Kitchener Rangers forward Eric Guest, who has four goals and seven points in his first four games back with the Nationals.
“We were thrilled to be able to add a left-handed shot and skilled guy who will help us generate more offence on a consistent basis,” Powers said. “With Eric, it helps spread out guys through two power-play units.”The 19-year-old former Jr. Knight started the season in Caledonia, but the Corvairs found themselves in an OHL-heavy roster pinch when they signed London native Aidan Hughes, a former Sarnia and Oshawa goaltender.
Guest took a break from the game after leaving Kitchener last season, but told Powers he was motivated to perform well at the Junior B level this year. He played a handful of games for London as a minor midget call-up in 2015.
“I reassured him he would have that stability and opportunity with us,” Powers said, “and grow into the player he wants to be.”
He left a Sutherland Cup contender in Caledonia, but it’s pretty clear the Nationals have that kind of potential again, too.