London Nationals face skilled LaSalle Vipers squad in GOJHL semifinal

The London Nationals made quick work of the Sarnia Legionnaires in the opening round of the GOJHL Western Conference playoffs, but they expect a tougher challenge from the LaSalle Vipers.

The Nats open their best-of-seven semifinal series with the Vipers on Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Western Fair Sports Centre after sweeping the Legionnaires in four games in the quarterfinals.

London has been off since winning Game 4 in Sarnia on Feb. 29, but the Vipers took the Chatham Maroons to seven games, after falling behind 3-1, and didn’t finish their series until Sunday night with a 5-1 win in LaSalle.

Nationals coach and general manager Pat Powers said the Vipers might take some early momentum into Game 1, but the time off was good for his team.“We had guys who were in midterm exams in university and college and Sarnia was a very physical series,” Powers said. “I’m sure the first period might be a little tentative, but I think we will get back into it really quick.”
The Nationals won all six regular season meetings with the Vipers, but LaSalle is also a physical team with more skill and speed than the Legionnaires.The Vipers didn’t have all-star defenceman Abdul Abouzeeni in their lineup when they fell behind 3-1 to the Maroons and they were missing veteran blue-liner Brad Vincent for Games 3 and 4.Abouzeeni scored 14 goals for 53 points in the regular season and Powers said the Nationals will have to limit the six-foot-one Windsor native’s options.“He’s shown that he can provide a lot of offence from the back end and he likes to be up on the rush and he makes really smart plays in the offensive zone looking for the open guys,” Powers said.
Vipers captain Jack Bowler is another player the Nationals will focus on. He scored seven goals with four assists in the Chatham series.The Vipers have other offensive options, such as their regular season leading scorer Stephane Crevier, 28 goals and 38 assists, and Spencer Paradis who scored three goals with five assists against Chatham.“They have a really deep roster,” Powers said. “They work extremely hard and they have a lot of guys who, if given the opportunity, can put points on the board for them.”Powers said the Vipers are a fast-skating team with no soft spots in their lineup. They are tenacious on the forecheck and the Nationals will have to make smart choices and simply outwork them to take the series.
Vipers coach and general manager John Nelson said the come-from-behind win over Chatham was a character builder for his young team.“I know our bench really matured as the series went on,” he said. “Guys were holding each other accountable positively and constructively and we really matured in that area.”Nelson said the Vipers will keep things simple against London with an emphasis on defence. They will also need to continue to get great goaltending from 17-year-old Matthew Sbrocca, who has a .926 save percentage in five playoff games.“London is a super-skilled hockey team and I think they are the top team in junior B hockey,” Nelson said.  “We have nothing to lose, so we are going to play hard, execute our game plan to the best of our ability and take every shift and every period one at a time.”
The Leamington Flyers and St. Marys Lincolns open their West semifinal series Thursday in

Western Conference playoffs

Best-of-seven semifinal

Wednesday: LaSalle Vipers at London Nationals, 7 p.m.

Friday: London Nationals at LaSalle Vipers , 7 p.m.

Saturday: LaSalle Vipers at London Nationals, 7 p.m.

Monday: London Nationals at LaSalle Vipers , 7 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18: LaSalle Vipers at London Nationals, if nec., 7 p.m.

Friday, March 20: London Nationals at LaSalle Vipers, if nec., 7 p.m.

Saturday, March 21: LaSalle Vipers at London Nationals, if nec., 7 p.m.