Special to The Standard
The Little Britain Merchants continued their midseason turnaround on Friday night, skating to a 3-2 victory on the road, at the Bear Den against the Uxbridge Bruins.
Having won both games last weekend, the Merchants were optimistic coming into the match-up, despite sitting in sixth place in the Provincial Junior Hockey League’s Orr Division, trailing Uxbridge by nine points in the standings.
According to head coach Geoff Field, the team has come of age in recent weeks, remaining a tight-knit group in spite of their early-season struggles.
“The biggest thing is that our players are realizing that, at this level, you need to play a sound system and that hard work is what really pays off in this league,” Field explained to The Standard. “It took a little longer than we’d have liked, but this group is really close and they’re having a lot of fun, We’ve turned it around because we’re doing it as a team.”
The Merchants got great effort from throughout their line-up on Friday night, in a rough-and-tumble game against the rival Bruins, that saw the teams whistled for 21 combined penalties.
The Bruins took a 1-0 lead into the dressing room, at the end of the first period, on a goal by Ryan Dunlop, assisted by Cristian Giorgio and Ryan Miehm.
However, the Merchants, playing their second game in as many nights, after a 1-0 loss to the Clarington Eagles in Bowmanville the previous night, rebounded in the second period, battling hard in front of both nets to keep the Bruins pinned to the outer areas of the ice.
Almost four minutes into the middle frame, Nick Thomas intercepted an Uxbridge clearing attempt, and found Nate Watson on the far side of the ice, for the tying goal. Less than three minutes later, Little Britain took the lead on the powerplay, when Billy Finney chipped the puck to Kyle O’Donnell deep in Merchants’ territory, and he found Mac West streaking into the offensive zone, before blasting a shot high past Bruins net minder Jake Joosten.
With tensions boiling over late in the second, there was a great roar from the crowd of nearly 300, when Bruins captain Brady Baker and Merchants forward Max Field engaged in a lively tilt, that seemed to light a fuse under both benches through the remainder of the period.
With both sides pressing mightily, for what would prove to be a pivotal goal, early in the third, it was the newly-signed Thomakos, playing his first career junior game in his hometown, that proved to be the hero, when he powered to the net on the powerplay to slam in a rebound, assisted by Aiden Renouf and Watson.
The boys in black and gold continued to claw their way back in the game however, and with just under nine minutes to play Aiden Reilly scored off an offensive zone face-off, assisted by Nick Sribny, to bring the Bruins to within a goal. Nevertheless, that would be as close as Uxbridge would get, with the Merchants penalty killers rising to the occasion late, to preserve a one-goal victory for Little Britain.
Following the game, Field praised the work of Thomakos, a Central Ontario Wolves product, signed by the Merchants in early-November, after spending the previous three seasons in the Junior ‘A’ ranks, splitting time between Stouffville and Markham.
“The big things that Nick bring to our line-up are tremendous skill, the ability to play in all situations and great chemistry. He has fit in well with the other guys in our room, and should be a big part of the Merchants’ plans over the next three seasons,” added Field.
The unpredictable nature of the Orr Division was on display the following night in Little Britain, as the North Kawartha Knights halted the Merchants’ winning streak, after a strong second period propelled the visitors to a 6-5 victory.
The Merchants were stocked up in the first period, rolling to an early 3-1 lead, behind goals from Thomakos, Skyler Andrus and Finney. Unfortunately for them, the tide would turn in the second period, with North Kawartha reeling off five goals to take a 6-4 lead into the third period. Thomakos had the lone Little Britain goal of the middle frame.
A powerplay goal in the third, by Watson, set up a frantic finish to the action, but the Merchants were unable to breach the Knights’ defence down the stretch.