By Sam Laskaris
For the second straight game the Clarington Eagles managed to score just two goals against the Little Britain Merchants.
But as it turned out, those two scores were all the Eagles needed on Thursday night as they eked out a 2-1 victory over the Merchants in their 2021-22 home opener.
The Provincial Junior Hockey League contest was held at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex.
The Merchants had downed Clarington 5-2 in the regular season opener for both squads this past Saturday in Little Britain.
Eagles’ head coach Dean Baumhauer was pleased to pick up the two points in the club’s home opener, which attracted about 230 fans. Also, 20 Eagles’ alumni were honoured during a pre-game, on-ice ceremony, including the club’s new owner Kirk Kemp, a member of the 1978 Ontario championship squad.
“It was a good crowd and we want to keep fans coming back,” Baumhauer said. “There wasn’t much flow early on I thought because of all the penalties but our goaltender (Alex Lepizzera) played great. He’s the best goaltender in the league.”
Several other Clarington players also earned praise from Baumhauer for their efforts, including rookie defenceman Ethan Schoonderbeek and veteran blueliner Mitch Doyle, who has been named as the captain for this year’s squad.
“Both really stepped up,” Baumhauer said. “And both played big minutes and hard minutes, killing a lot of penalties in the second period.”
Baumhauer would obviously prefer the team’s offence kick it up a notch and start scoring a bit more.
“It’s coming,” he said. “We generated chances but it’s hard to win when you only score two goals. But to get the W, that’s a big win.”
Baumhauer especially enjoyed the efforts put forth by forwards Jacob Cavers, Nathaniel Stirling, Jordan Shaw and Brent Lace.
“It’s going to come,” Baumhauer said of the Eagles’ anticipated increase in offensive production. “It’s just a matter of getting our hands and understanding it doesn’t have to be the perfect shot – just get pucks to the net with some traffic.”
Doyle did just that early in the second period. While Clarington was on a powerplay he drilled a shot from the blueline which made its way past Merchants’ goalie Oliver Webster and into the back of the net.
Though Doyle was credited with the goal, it was later announced that rookie forward Leyton Aitken had tipped the puck into the net.
The Merchants tied the game at 1-1 with a powerplay goal of their own midway through the second period while they were enjoying a 5-on-3 advantage.
Veteran Clarington forward Joey Cole netted what proved to be the game-winning goal at the 17:39 mark of the second period.
Cole was able to capitalize on a rebound after Stirling had shown a burst of speed following a turnover but was denied on a breakaway.
Like Baumhaeur, Doyle also said Lepizzera’s efforts were a big reason why the Eagles were able to register the victory on Thursday.
“The guy leaves us speechless every night,” Doyle said. “He stands on his head and gives us a chance to win every single game. He might be shorter than everybody else in the league but I wouldn’t take anybody over him.”
Doyle also praised other team members who were able to key in on the Merchants’ top two offensive guns, captain Braydon Leeking and Riley Girard. The pair had combined for five points in the season opener but neither player scored on Thursday. Girard had an assist though on Little Britain’s lone goal.
“They are two of the best players in the league right now,” Doyle said. “The key tonight was just shutting them down. I think we did a great job of that.”
The Eagles return to action Saturday night with a road contest against the North Kawartha Knights. This tilt, which has an opening faceoff scheduled for 7:25 p.m., will be staged at the North Kawartha Community Centre in Apsley.
Clarington’s next home game is Oct. 14 versus the Lakefield Chiefs. Game time is 7:20 p.m.