It’s time to bring on the WOAA playoffs.
The Tillsonburg Thunder finished their senior men’s hockey regular season Saturday night at home to Monkton, who came to the Kinsmen Memorial Arena with 12 skaters and a goalie for a game that had no playoff implications for Tillsonburg. The Thunder, 5-2 winners in Milverton Friday night, already had fourth place and home ice locked up for their first-round playoff series against Petrolia.
“We’re rolling and getting ready for playoffs,” said Thunder forward Devin Homick. “It’s nice to get a win at the end of the (regular) season.
“We had a tight one with Tavistock a couple of games ago, lost in a shootout. But I thought we outplayed them. It was just a matter of scoring on our chances. In playoffs it’ll tighten up a little more, so we’re going to have to – when we get those chances – just try to bury them and make sure we shut them down.”
Tillsonburg 5, Monkton 3
Tillsonburg took a 3-0 lead Saturday on first-period goals by Shane Balcomb, Terry Lammens and Justin Salt (PP).
Monkton scored once each period with Andrew Vanvliet’s marker cutting into Tillsonburg’s two-goal third-period lead with 13 minutes remaining.
Thunder defenceman Brad Streib iced the 5-3 victory scoring an empty-netter with a backhand from centre ice after teammate Adam Vandepoele created a turnover along the boards near the Thunder blueline.
Thunder goalie Ben Thomas made 29 saves as Tillsonburg outshot Monkton 40-32.
Travis Lisabeth and Kevin Galerno assisted on Dwayne Blais’ game-winner in the second period.
“It’s been kind of tough, with work and everything, getting the five games in,” said Lisabeth, who signed with the Thunder just before Tillsonburg’s 5-3 decision over Petrolia snapped a four-game winless streak.
“I wasn’t having fun anymore and I was just kind of over hockey,” said Lisabeth, after two-and-a-half seasons with the Brantford Blast. “I was done with hockey all-together, I didn’t want any part of it.
“But I know Blaiser (Dwayne Blais), I played with him in the States. Kevin (Galerno), (Pat) Ouellet, they’re all friends, and I grew up with Terry (Lammens). I knew everybody else like (Shane) Balcomb and (Nathan) Peacock, just from growing up around here. It’s always nice to play with buddies, and close to home, it makes it fun again. So I said I’d give it one more year.
“Now it’s the time that matters, it’s playoff time. I think that’s one of biggest reasons I came and wanted play.”
Lisabeth has nearly 10 years pro hockey experience – from Mississippi to Cincinnati to overseas in Edinburgh, Scotland and Sweden.
“I think the top of my game’s past me now, so it’s just a matter of playing, having fun, and winning. I think we’ve got a great group here, we’ve got a great team. It’s just a matter of getting together, having a system, and buying in. We’ve got to minimize mistakes and I think we’re going to be fine.”
It’s the consistency that’s changed in his game, said Lisabeth, and that comes from not playing/practicing every day.
“It affects your game, your skill level. Your assets kind of fall to pieces, so it’s frustrating for me as a player. It’s really frustrating when you’re not as good as you once were. I think the biggest key is timing – the whole game is timing. You’re a step behind or you’re a step ahead, not in the right place at the right time. Or not getting the shot off as quick as you used to.
“But yeah, I think I’m still having fun, and like I said, playing with buddies makes a big difference.”
The Thunder have a 4-0-1 record since Lisabeth and goalie Ben Thomas were added to the roster, both coming over from the Allan Cup Hockey league’s Brantford Blast. Prior to signing them, Tillsonburg’s late season signings included two familiar veterans, Justin Salt and Blais.
“That’s huge,” nodded Thunder defenceman Mike Findlay. “Not that we were having a hard time scoring goals, but having those guys who at any time can put the puck in the net, it’s nice to have those guys back. Getting guys who are familiar with a lot of the guys makes it a lot easier.
“I think from the net out we’ve got a solid team now. We’ve kind of battled with that all year – now we’re solid right from the back-end right out to the forwards. Hopefully that will carry us all the way.”
Homick’s older brother, Darryl, played a season together with Lisabeth, now 32, on the Junior D Langton Thunderbirds.
“Back in his rookie year,” nodded Homick, adding with a laugh, “Yeah, that dates my brother, it dates me, it dates everybody.
“Travis is a phenomenal hockey player. He’s played some good hockey in his career – he played OHL, ECHL, in Europe – so he’s got the pedigree.
“When he gets out there he’s got a big body, a big presence. He can skate, shoot the puck, he’s an all-round player. Yeah, he’s one of those guys you love to add to the team, especially heading into playoffs.”
“I heard rumblings that he was coming,” said Findlay, “but to see that he was actually here – it was huge. He’s another one who at any time he can rip one top cheese. He’s got a cannon.
“But it’s funny,” Findlay laughed, “all his goals so far have been garbage goals. He hasn’t used his shot… yet.”
The first-round best-of-seven playoffs begin Saturday, Feb. 2 at 7:30 p.m. in Tillsonburg. Game 2 is in Petrolia on Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m., and Game 3 is back in Tillsonburg Sunday, Feb. 10 at 5 p.m.
“They’re going to be big, mean, nasty – like usual,” said Findlay. “They’ll be like that here, but it’ll be 10 times worse when we go to their barn. It’s smaller and they know how to play there. We have to be a little more cautious in their barn. We can’t expect to run-and-gun, we’ve got to get a little dirty. Muck and grind a little. But it’s playoff hockey, it’ll definitely come out in everybody.
“It’s more my style of hockey,” he grinned.
“It’s going to be a tough series,” agreed Homick. “They’re a tough team, they play hard, they’re physical. You’ve kind of got two contrasts – you’ve got our barn here, which is a big rink, then you go to their barn and it’s a lot smaller, tighter, an old barn. It’s two totally different game styles. Here you can come out wheeling, there it’s going to be more keeping it tight, lots of hitting.”
Homick is comfortable with the Thunder’s depth with a good mix of offence and defence.
“We’ve got such a good mix. We’ve skill players who are meant to put the puck in the net, then you’ve got guys who might not score, but who don’t get goals scored against them. And heading into the playoffs it’s nice to have two strong goalies and you can rely on either of them.”
“We were missing (Adam) Wallace tonight,” said Findlay. “But when we get him in there, we’ve got a pretty solid ‘D.’ Even when one of us isn’t here, the other guys are holding their own. As a ‘D’ corps, we’re looking pretty good.”