By Dan Rankin
The monkey is off their back. The St. Marys Lincolns were winners again for the first time in a long time last Saturday night at the Shores Recreation Centre. St. Marys showed some more of that early-season resiliency, fighting back from a 2-0 deficit to win 4-3.
Much of the credit for the win can be attributed to the team’s top line of returning wingers Brent House and Graham Brulotte and first-year centre Nolan King. They combined for three of the Lincolns’ goals, including the game-winner at 14:57 of the third period. House leads the team with 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists) in six games; “How can you not be happy with what he’s done?” asked St. Marys head coach Merlin Malinowski. Brulotte trails House with nine points (four goals, five assists), while King sits in third with six points (1 goal, five assists).
“What’s nice about this group forward-wise is that they’ve been able to create offensive chances and translate it into more goals than I thought we’d be able to get,” Malinowski said. “They seem to be able to put together some offence – although lately it’s come from just one line, the King-House-Brulotte line. I hope we can spread that out a little more.”
Mike Tuffin also scored for St. Marys to tie the game at 2-2 late in the first period, assisted by Robert Clifford and Brennan Stapleton.
Early against Lambton Shores, it didn’t look good for St. Marys, as the Predators managed 15 shots on net in the first and led 2-0 less than three minutes in. “We hung in there after a bit of a slow start,” the coach said. “The team has shown that character, that they don’t get down.”
The second goal of the night by the Lincolns’ top line was scored by House at 18:36. That made it 3-3 heading into the second period. Lincolns goalie Ryan Langford stopped all 23 shots he faced in the final two periods on the way to getting the win.
“They seem to be resilient and keep coming,” Malinowski said. “It paid off.”
With three points accumulated in the standings, the Lincolns are already well on their way to passing last year’s historically low mark of eight.
Last season, when they had a winning percentage of .082, St. Marys managed 85 goals in 49 games – or just 1.73 goals per game. So far in 2015-2016, St. Marys (1-4-1), have scored 19 goals in six games (about 3.17 per contest), with a markedly improved winning percentage of .250.
“It’s a good group,” the coach said. “They work hard. If we tighten up a little better defensively, who knows? It’s so early in the season to know where you stand. You haven’t seen all the teams. It’s a very small sample so far this year. But it has been a pleasant surprise.”
Another promising stat for this year’s Lincolns is how few penalties they’ve taken. They have by far the fewest PIMs in their conference (72, 25 fewer than second-place London) and are in the top three for fewest penalties in the entire GOJHL.
“I don’t know what it is but the games we’ve played have been very easy for the referees,” Malinowski said. “Maybe it’s because it’s a brand-new team and we don’t really have any rivalries or animosity built up with other teams. It’s good. I like it that way. Hopefully we can keep that discipline going.”
The previous night in St. Marys, the Lincolns fell 2-1 to London. The Nationals’ Tanner Ferreira scored the eventual game-winner on a power-play at 6:44 of the second period, making it 2-0. The home team answered back in the frame’s dying seconds when Matt Grainger netted a goal on the man advantage, assisted by Ryan Martin. That was it for scoring, however. Paul Town took the loss in net, stopping 42 of 44 shots.
Malinowski said the team had released last year’s backup Tyler Beattie, in favour of Town and Langford. “One’s a leftie, one’s a righty, that’s always a nice combination,” he said. “We will let them battle it out. It’s been going back and forth and we think it’s a very healthy situation when you have two goalies competing against one another to get in the net.” Both currently have save percentages above 0.870%, with Town having a slight advantage in both Goals Against Average and save percentage (3.81, .899) despite a 0-3 record to show for it.
For their next challenge, tonight St. Marys will host Sarnia (2-2-1, prior to hosting Lambton Shores last night), another young team, who have so far looked a far cry from last year’s conference semi-finalist squad, when only Chatham scored more regular season goals. The puck drops at 7:30 pm. Tomorrow night, the Lincolns are on the road in Strathroy (3-3-1).
“It’s fun coaching this team,” Malinowski said. “We’ve got speed up front and young defenseman keen to learn. If we can get them up to speed and feeling confident about their game, maybe we can play with a lot of the teams in the league.”