The Paris Mounties worked to shed memories of their November slump with a four-point weekend in the Niagara and District Junior Hockey League.
Following a 6-3 victory over the Navy Vets on Friday night in Woodstock, the Mounties hung on for a 4-3 win over the Simcoe Storm on home ice on Saturday.
“That might not have been a systematic game, but it was a gutsy effort,” head coach Erich MacKinnon said after Saturday’s win at the Brant Sports Complex. “To see guys coming off looking like they can hardly breathe, it always tastes better when you have to work for it.”
The Mounties built a 3-0 lead that held through most of the game, only to watch the Storm charge back in the final five minutes.
“That seems to happen against this Simcoe team,” centreman Mitch Atkins said. “We are a young team and it comes with experience. Eventually, we will learn to close out leads like that and shut them down.”
The win helped close the distance in the standings between the Mounties and the West Division’s second place Norwich Merchants. The gap had grown considerably in recent weeks as the Mounties suffered a six-game losing streak that started on Nov. 17 and was only snapped with the win in Woodstock on Friday.
“It’s that November grind,” MacKinnon said. “It’s easy to fall into a bit of a hole as things become too routine.”
The losing streak coincided with the loss of forward Brandon Verasamy to a head injury. Verasamy was among league leaders with 30 points in 19 games when the team shut him down.
“He played for a bit through the injury, but we decided to shut him down to be safe,” MacKinnon said. “He is rehabbing now and hopefully will be back in the lineup soon. It takes a huge hole out of your scoring, but it was great to see other guys step up with an opportunity they might not otherwise have.”
One of the players to seize opportunity was Ian Fowler. He scored a hat trick on Saturday and was in on all four goals to help down the Storm.
Fowler started the scoring just 46 seconds into the game when he threw a puck toward the Simcoe goal from the corner that bounced off the shoulder of Storm goaltender Alex Gegeny and dribbled into the net.
But the Storm recovered quickly and controlled much of the first period, even while shorthanded on two occasions.
But it would be Paris to strike again at 10:37 into the second period, when Fowler received a pass high in the slot from Cole Cummings. His slap shot rebounded onto the stick of Kyle Bezruki in front of the net and Bezruki buried the goal to make it 2-0.
Cummings and Fowler hooked up on another goal five minutes later when Cummings streaked down the wing and centred a pass that Fowler flipped into the back of the net.
The Mounties continued to press in the third period when Cummings dug up a loose puck in Simcoe’s corner and sent a pass to Derek Warner in front of the net. Warner, playing his first game with the Mounties, looked like he was going to one-time a shot, but fooled everyone by swinging the puck wide to a wide-open Fowler, who made it 4-0 with 7:35 left to play.
But the Storm weren’t finished.
After collecting a shorthanded goal with 5:30 left to play in the game and a power-play goal with 3:24 remaining, the Storm were charging the Mounties goal.
All looked good for Paris when the Storm pulled their goaltender with 1:46 left to play and accidentally put on two extra attackers. The too many men penalty should have been enough to end the game, but the Storm pulled their goaltender again to make it five-on-five and managed to get another goal with 1:30 remaining.
With the score 4-3 for Paris, the Storm got into more penalty trouble when Braden Walker took a double-minor for high sticking with 30 seconds remaining. The five-on-three advantage allowed the Mounties to ride out the clock for the win.
“Two points is two points,” Atkins said of the narrow victory. “Hopefully we can continue to spread the gap between us and Simcoe and work on catching the top two teams in the standings.”
The Norwich Merchants have an eight-point lead on the Mounties, while the first place New Hamburg Firebirds are 10 points up on Paris.
The Mounties continue a home stand at the Brant Sports Complex when they host the Aylmer Spitfires on Thursday at 8 p.m. and the Grimsby Peach Kings on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.