London Nationals hope third time a charm against St. Marys Lincolns’ tough defence
by Phil den Hollander
The first-place London Nationals have 22 wins and just four losses at the midpoint of their Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season.
But two of those four losses were to the resurgent St. Marys Lincolns, who beat the Nats twice at Western Fair Sports Centre – 5-4 on Sept. 18 and 4-3 in double overtime on Oct. 14.
Nationals head coach and general manager Pat Powers says there is definitely motivation to finally beat the Lincolns when they make their third visit to London Wednesday night at 7 p.m., but in the bigger picture, it’s just another regular-season game.“We use our season to help us prepare for the playoffs and if an opponent can help highlight some weaknesses that we have, then we still have 24 games to work on those weaknesses,” Powers said.“St. Marys highlighted a couple of things that we had to work on in our first two games and we feel we’ve worked on those things, so we’ll take the test that they provide (Wednesday) and continue to move forward.”
The Lincolns (15-5-1-3) are third behind London and Leamington in the Western Conference.The Nationals don’t make their first trip to St. Marys this season until Friday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 p.m.
Powers said the Nationals’ strengths are their skill and scoring, but the four-time defending Western Conference champions have some work to do when it comes to gutting out close defensive battles.
“We know St. Marys will continue to challenge us and we just need to go into games prepared to grind out a 2-1 win and not necessarily an 8-5 win,” he said.
Cal Davis leads the Nationals with 46 points (16 goals and 30 assists) and Michael Boushy is a close second with 45 points (24 goals and 20 assists).
Max Vinogradov has 19 goals and 22 assists, but the Nats have 10 other players who are putting up at least a point a game in Logan Mailloux, Cohen Kitely, Zach Sheedy, Evan Ilkos, Jacob Chantler, Josh Castle, Josh LeBlanc, Ryan Martin, Eric Guest and Henry Scott.The Lincolns don’t have anything close to the offensive depth or firepower the Nats have, but they play to their own defensive strengths.“You can’t run and gun with them,” Lincolns coach Trent McClement said. “You have to respect London’s offence. They’ve proven they can score goals and you just have to play total defence against them all game, take your chances when you get them and hopefully you are winning a 3-2 or 4-3 hockey game.”
Goaltender Kyle Curtin is also a big part of the Lincolns’ success this year.The 18-year-old from Georgetown has a 2.11 goals-against average and a .927 save percentage through 18 games.“Kyle Curtin has been our MVP this season,” McClement said. “He has a couple of wins against London and he had a game where we lost in overtime 1-0 to Leamington. When you are competing against those teams, with the offences they have, and keeping them to the low scores that we have, it’s definitely a good thing.”McClement said every game against London is a measuring stick for his young team, and he said they will definitely be tested again Wednesday night.
“They are going to be gunning for us,” he said. “You don’t go into London and beat them twice. They are going to want to run the score up on us this time.”McClement said when he came in to coach the Lincolns last year, one of his main aims was to keep the team’s goals-against under 200 for the season. The Lincolns finished last in the nine-team conference last year and ended up allowing 201 goals.This year, 24 games into the 50-game regular season, the Lincolns have given up 55 goals.McClement is encouraged by the Lincolns’ strides on defence, but admits there is room for improvement on offence.
Seventeen-year-old London native Mason Mantzavrakos leads the Lincolns with 13 goals and 17 assists, but St. Marys is getting most of its scoring through grit and tenacity.
“You look at London and how many goals they’ve scored (151 in 26 games) compared to how many goals we’ve scored (83 in 24 games),” he said. “We just have to score those dirty goals. We’re trying to throw pucks low, crash the net and bang in extra rebounds. . . . It doesn’t matter how they go in, they all count.”