WINCHESTER – It’s a pivotal stretch of games the Winchester Hawks currently find themselves in.
Running within the middle of the pack in the Martin Division, the Hawks spent the past weekend looking to get within striking distance of both the Ottawa Junior Canadians and the Embrun Panthers, while also putting some distance between themselves and the sixth place Char-Lan Rebels.
The storyline played in the Hawks’ favour, too, given that the Junior Canadians landed at the Joel Steele Community Centre Fri., Nov. 22 and Winchester then made the short trip to Embrun Sun., Nov. 24 for an afternoon matinee.
Friday night at home, the Hawks hung with the opposition through two periods as the count was deadlocked at 2-2 early in the third.
Eric Vitale (from Marco Haw and Kyle Fleming) continued to showcase his offensive prowess, putting Winchester ahead 1-0 in the first.
A pair of Junior Canadians goals in the second, the first from Nicolas Seguin and the go ahead marker from Janick Lacroix, lifted the visitors into the lead.
Captain Kyle Kuehni got the home club back into the contest 48 seconds into the final frame with an unassisted marker.
But, the well soon ran dry for the Hawks.
“Ottawa capitalized on a few of our mistakes in the third, and before we knew it the game was lost,” general manager Dom Menard said.
Griffin McGregor, William Fitzsimmons and Seguin with his second of the game ensured the Junior Canadians win.
Lucas Devries got the starting assignment in net for Winchester, turning aside 47 of 52 shots, while Conor Corrigan, stopping 41 of 43, posted the win.
Kuehni’s unassisted marker in the third earned him the night’s second star.
Both sides failed to convert on powerplay opportunities, though they were rare Friday night. In all, the game featured just six minutes in penalties, stemming from three infractions in the second period.
“[Despite the loss] it was an excellent effort against a very good hockey team,” Menard said. “The game really could have gone either way… I’m looking forward to playing them again.”
Missing out on two points two nights earlier had the Hawks looking for victory in Embrun Sunday afternoon.
Vitale again served as the table setter, getting Winchester a 1-0 lead late in the first period.
There was a breakdown in the second, however, as the Hawks miscues gave way to three straight Panthers’ markers. Tristan Taillefer, Jeremy Cyr, and Eric Skyba hit the scoresheet for Embrun.
“Sunday’s game was important on a couple of levels, with Char-Lan winning on Saturday night and the top half of our division starting to pull away,” Menard said. “We played well in the first, but had a lacklustre second.”
A late goal courtesy Colby Byrnes-Shaw (from Vitale) calmed the tumultuous waters for the Hawks heading into the third.
Winchester’s finesse was on full display in the final frame, yet the effort was routinely turned back by Panthers’ goaltender William Nguyen, one of the CCHL2’s best.
“The boys came out on fire and dominated much of the period, but we just couldn’t get anything past Nguyen – he was great again,” Menard said.
Vitale picked up a rebound off the boards midway through the period to pull the game even at 3-3 and Kyle Fleming buried the game winner with less than a minute remaining.
“Fleming’s goal was the result of a hard working shift, and it sealed a very important two points against a division rival,” Menard said.
Vitale’s two-goal, one-assist game got him the afternoon’s first star, while Fleming’s heroics were honoured with a third star acknowledgement.
Backup Cole Defazio got a bit of redemption in net, stopping 28 of 31 shots for the win and erased a poor performance a week earlier against the lowly Alexandria Glens.
Discipline was once again on display, as the Hawks took just two minutes in penalties, while the Panthers registered four.
News and notes
• The Hawks were noticeably short-handed Friday night against the Junior Canadians as both Graeme Buffone and Jacob Giacobbi each served the first of multi-game suspensions, and Byrnes-Shaw had work obligations.
• Menard acquired some backend help ahead of Friday night’s contest, bringing in defenseman Shayne Dickie from the Casselman Vikings. In 18 games with the Vikings this season, Dickie had two assists and 12 penalty minutes. The Brantford native skated in both games with the Hawks on the weekend.
• Affiliate players Dylan Holroyd and Nolan Gagnon both earned praise for their play in the weekend’s pair of games.
• Sat., Nov. 30 is the league’s roster cut-down deadline and Menard said, “some moves will be made.”
• With a three-goal weekend, Vitale now has 15 in 14 games played since joining the Hawks earlier this season. He also earned himself the CCHL2’s first star of the week thanks to his five-goal night against Alexandria Fri., Nov. 15.
• Winchester is in for a test tomorrow night (Thurs., Nov. 28) when the Hawks head to Ottawa to battle the Martin Division-leading Golden Knights. Friday (Nov. 29) night, the 0-20-0-1 Athens Aeros are in town. Puck drop is 8:15 pm.