Article by Sam Laskaris / Photos by Chris Archer
***UPDATE*** The Saturday Little Britain/Georgina game has been cancelled.
The Clarington Eagles have taken over top spot again in what is shaping up to be a two-team battle for first place in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Orr Division.
The Eagles captured their season-high ninth consecutive victory by registering a lopsided 7-0 triumph over the host Georgina Ice on Friday.
Clarington improved its record to 19-5-0-2. And with the two points the Eagles earned from the match, held at the Georgina Ice Palace, they leapfrogged over the Little Britain Merchants, who are sporting a 19-6-0-1 record.
Both squads have six regular season contests remaining. And the two clubs will square off in a rather significant match on Sunday in Little Britain.
That game, which has an opening faceoff set for 3:30 p.m., will be held at the Little Britain Arena.
The Merchants, however, could conceivably be in first place in the divisional standings before the start of that battle. That’s because Little Britain is also hosting Georgina in a Saturday night game.
Friday’s tilt versus the Ice was never in doubt for the Eagles, who outshot their hosts by a whopping 68-16 count. In fact, Clarington had more shots in the opening period (17) than the Georgina squad had over 60 minutes.
It was also Dads’ Night for the Eagles’ players, as their fathers travelled to and from the game on the team bus.
“He comes out to most games,” rookie forward Hayes Bell, who had his most productive game for the Eagles scoring once and adding a pair of assists, said of his dad. “It’s definitely special though having all the dads with us. It brings everybody together and it gave us an extra gear out there for sure.”
Another Clarington rookie forward, Jordan Shaw, also had an impressive night, as he scored the first two goals of the game, his ninth and tenth of the season.
“It put a little pressure on the bus,” Shaw said of the presence of the Eagles’ fathers. “We didn’t want them to be yelling and screaming at us if we didn’t play a good game.”
Despite the fact the Ice is occupying the cellar of the divisional standings, the Clarington club did not fare well during its last trip to Georgina. The Eagles had to settle for a 4-4 overtime tie against the Ice back on Nov. 12.
Clarington only managed to secure a single point in that game as Shaw sent the game into OT by scoring with just one second remaining in the third period.
“It was talked about before the game,” Shaw said of the Eagles’ last visit to Georgina. “And we knew we had to come out strong against them.”
The only thing that really went wrong for the Eagles on Friday was the fact their backup goalie Tyler Ryan was supposed to get the starting assignment. But he strained his groin in the warmup, which forced Eagles’ star puckstopper Alex Lepizzera into action.
Despite the short warning he’d be facing some rubber against the Ice, Lepizzera responded by earning his sixth shutout of the year.
Lepizzera, who has notched back-to-back shutouts and three in his last four outings, is now sporting a miniscule 1.18 goals-against average in his 17 appearances this season.
Friday’s outing also saw the return of Eagles’ rookie defenceman Nolan Matheson. He had been unavailable for duty after being slapped with a lengthy 11-game suspension for his involvement in a brawl against Little Britain back on Nov. 18.
“He played really well and he’s glad to be back,” Eagles’ head coach Dean Baumhauer said of Matheson, who played a regular shift and then earned some additional minutes in the third when the club opted to rest some key blueliners.
Baumhauer was also pleased to see solid performances from the majority of his players and also singled out the efforts of 2004-born Bell as well as rookie defencemen Ty Harris and Owen McKinnon, who also have 2004 birthdates and are among the youngest members of the club’s roster.
Matheson was also born in 2004.
Following Sunday’s matinee in Little Britain, the Eagles will then gear up for their next home game. That will be this coming Thursday (Feb. 24) versus the Lakefield Chiefs.
The opening faceoff is scheduled for 7:20 p.m.
Clarington will also have a rare Sunday night home game this month. That’s because this past Thursday’s match against the North Kawartha Knights, which was postponed due to inclement weather, has been rescheduled for Feb. 27 at 7:20 p.m.
Additional Photos by Chris Archer: