Story By Sam Laskaris / Photos by Chris Archer
Following a 25-day forced layoff, Clarington Eagles’ star netminder Alex Lepizzera returned to action on Tuesday.
And it was as if he never missed a beat as Lepizzera stopped all 24 shots he faced to backstop the Eagles to a 3-0 road victory over the Lakefield Chiefs.
Clarington scored a goal in each period in the Provincial Junior Hockey League (PJHL) match, which was held at the Lakefield-Smith Community Centre.
Officially, Lepizzera has now earned back-to-back shutouts.
Prior to last night, the 21-year-old puckstopper had last played a game on Nov. 18, when he blanked the Little Britain Merchants 4-0.
Lepizzera, however, was one of 10 players ejected in that match following a massive brawl late in the third period. He was assessed a five-game suspension for his involvement in that fracas.
“I felt pretty good,” Lepizzera said of his return between the pipes. “In the second period I was peppered with a lot of shots and by the end of it I was pretty gassed.”
The Chiefs did outshoot the Eagles 24-23 on the night. The second period was the busiest one for Lepizzera as Lakefield had a 14-8 shot advantage.
Lepizzera though didn’t have much work to do in the final 20 minutes as the Chiefs only had four shots on net.
Despite his lack of work in the final frame, Lepizzera, who now has an impressive 1.46 goals-against average in 11 appearances this season, said he was indeed thinking of earning a shutout.
“Obviously right now when I’m going into the third period (and haven’t been scored on) I feel I’m going to get a shutout,” he said. “It’s not a matter of if or how. I just feel I’m going to get it.”
Lepizzera added despite his long wait between games, Tuesday’s encounter was approached like any other.
“It takes a few first shots to get into it,” he said. “I need those first few saves to get into the game.”
Tuesday’s outing was also a memorable one for Eagles’ 17-year-old rookie forward Hayes Bell, who scored his first junior goal.
“It felt great,” Bell said of his third-period marker. “Just after that I felt I was skating looser and with more confidence.”
Bell joined the Eagles this season with the hopes of honing his game at the Junior C level. He had originally hoped to suit up in the Junior A ranks with the Pickering Panthers, members of the Ontario Junior Hockey League.
When he didn’t crack the Panthers’ roster, Bell, a 6-foot-3, 185-pounder, agreed to suit up with the Eagles instead.
Though he had earned four assists in his first 13 appearances with Clarington, Bell had not found the back of the opposition net until Tuesday’s outing.
“I was starting to get frustrated,” Bell said. “Without production, I wasn’t getting the ice time I wanted.”
Bell said his confidence level not only improved with his goal versus the Chiefs but also by playing in the PJHL Prospects Game this past Saturday in Orillia.
As for the Eagles’ newest acquisition, forward Brady Darrach, he continued his point streak with his new club.
Darrach earned an assist on Bell’s goal. He now has six points (three goals and three assists) in his first three games with Clarington.
With the win, the Eagles improved their record to 13-5-0-2, good for second place in the PJHL’s Orr Division standings.
Like the Eagles, the 14-7-0-0 North Kawartha Knights also have 28 points. But the Eagles are technically in second place since they have played one less game than the Knights.
With the W, Clarington also moved to within three points of the division-leading Merchants, who are sporting a 15-4-0-1 mark.
The Eagles have a busy week as they’ll play twice more.
For starters, Clarington will host the North Kawartha Knights on Thursday. That match, which will be held at the Garnet B. Rickard Recreation Complex, has an opening faceoff scheduled for 7:20 p.m.
The Eagles will then hit the road on Friday to square off against the Uxbridge Bruins. Game time at Uxbridge Arena and Community Centre is set for 7:45 p.m.
Additional game photos by Chris Archer: