Rookie Sharks found out while veterans were reminded that playing on again, off again hockey against the Essex 73’s seldom ends favourably.
Wheatley kept stride with the 73’s for most of a Wednesday, Oct. 10 home ice tilt, but a slow start and third-period lapses proved its downfall in a 5-3 loss. The 73’s took advantage of brief gaps left by the Sharks defense to score four times on nine shots in the third to maintain sole possession of third place in the Stobbs while Wheatley fell to 4-4-0-0.
The Essex forwards started the game with all guns blazing, keeping the home team’s blueliners on their heels for the first few minutes. Shortly after the Sharks killed an early penalty, however, their own offense began going on the attack. The 73’s managed to strike first when former Leamington Flyer Josh Pope-Ferguson took hold of a loose puck in the slot and backhanded the puck over a sprawling Catalin Morin.
The 1-0 lead stood for about 10-and-a-half minutes until Wheatley made the most of a two-on-one break. Outracing an Essex defenseman to take hold of a forward pass, Parker Boyle raced in on Connor Meyerink — another former Leamington Flyer — and fired a wrist shot at about waist height. Meyerink got a piece of the puck with his glove, but couldn’t stop it from deflecting upward and arcing into the back of the goal.
The 73’s outshot Wheatley 14-11 through the first 20 minutes, thanks in part to spending 2:51 on the power play.
The second frame offered a few scoring opportunities at both ends, but neither Morin or Meyerink would allow the 1-1 deadlock to be broken. The Sharks managed a shots on net advantage of 14-10 for a slim 25-24 margin in their favour through 40 minutes of play. Although Wheatley’s back end struggled at times to clear the puck, its defenders kept the slot clear of Essex puck carriers while allowing Morin an unobstructed view of the puck.
The 73’s took their second lead when Dawson Winchester chipped a pass over Morin and widened the gap as Curtis Jackson one-timed a feed from close range into the right side of the Wheatley goal. The Sharks bounced back with two goals in 38 seconds, starting with Delaney MacDonald tapping a rebound through a small opening between Meyerink’s pad and the left post. Mitch Lantin and Eric Prudence assisted. Sneaking past Essex defenders, Alixe Saliba took a pass from Drew Denomey and potted the puck into the short side of the goal. Braedon Caetano earned the other assist.
Pope Ferguson scored at ice level on a breakaway for the game winner before Michael Vieira chipped a shorthanded shot under the crossbar to finish the scoring.
Both teams were zero for four on the power play.
“We came out flat and gave them too much time and space,” Sharks head coach Josh Carnevale said of his team’s first 10 minutes of the game. “We had some bad breaks, but we responded. The biggest thing is consistency — we need more of it from top to bottom. Our leaders have to play like leaders. If they don’t we’re in trouble.”
Between a Saturday, Oct. 6 5-1 loss in Mooretown and last Wednesday’s home ice game versus Essex, the Sharks officially welcomed back defenseman Mitch Lantin while David Cooke was released.
“We’re happy to have him back,” Carnevale said of Lantin’s return. “He’s a fourth-year returning defenseman and we’re young back there. To have that kind of experience is huge for us.”
As part of an ongoing contest, youths will have the opportunity to design the Sharks’ goaltender masks for both Morin and Tristan Edmondson. Printed blank templates of the masks can be picked up at the next Sharks home game on Saturday, Oct. 13 (4:30 p.m. start) and must be completed and returned for the Wednesday, Oct. 17 game at Wheatley Area Arena. The successful entries will be selected during a following practice with the re-designed masks expected to be revealed for the Wednesday, Nov. 14 home game. Copies of the template can also be obtained electronically through the Sharks’ Facebook page.