The Tillsonburg Thunder battled back to defend their own 'barn' Saturday evening at the Kinsmen/Memorial Arena.
"That's a key," said coach Jim Baxter following a come-from-behind 7-4 WOAA Senior Men's Hockey victory over the Milverton Four-Wheel Drives. "Make sure people know it's not going to be easy coming in here."
Tillsonburg's Chris McGuffin put the final nail in the Drives' coffin, winning a footrace to tap home an empty-netter with 33 seconds left on the clock after a deflected Mike Findlay clearing attempt bounced off the left post and sat inches from the goal line. But it was Adam Wallace who had made the result semi-official 59 seconds earlier, banking an insurance marker home off a Milverton defender after stepping into a slapshot from the blueline, on assists to Nathan Peacock and Brad Streib.
"Stepped in, hit the D-man, got the right bounce on it," said Wallace, who was one of seven Thunder players to find the back of the net Saturday.
"We've got a good team this year with depth," he said. "Everybody brings something to the table. It's good to see we're starting to gel and getting goals."
Tillsonburg entered the third period trailing 4-3, but Devin Homick belied his checking role with a sniper's goal, cutting through the middle onto a Shane Balcomb lead pass and driving in on the left wing before finishing high to the far side 2:06 into the frame.
"Closed my eyes," laughed Homick, who buried the puck under the crossbar, over Milverton goalie Tyler Huston's shoulder, glove side.
"More of a defensive guy," confirmed Homick, who was on a line Saturday with Balcomb and Terry Lammens. "But we had a pretty good combination there, a lot of speed."
Ryan Gaertner one-timed home what would stand as the game-winner at the 5:27 mark of the third, assisted by Peacock, who was initially denied by Huston on a breakaway. Peacock stayed with the play however, digging into the left corner for a centring pass to Gaertner on the lip of the Drives' crease.
Tillsonburg's Brad Jones had opened scoring 3:16 into the game, assisted by Balcomb. Brent Freeman replied for the visitors 1:39 later and Milverton went ahead 2-1 2:29 into the second, courtesy of Andrew Whalen. The Four-Wheel Drives exited the period a goal to the good after a late second-period scoring flurry: Dennis Dewar and Terrian for Milverton; Jason Skinner (from McGuffin and Adam Vandepoele) and with 18 seconds left on the clock, Kevin Galerno (Peacock and Gaertner) for the home side's third power-play marker of the night.
Ben Thomas turned aside 22 of 26 shots to earn the victory for the Thunder while Huston was good on 41 of 48 shots he faced.
Tillsonburg did head into the third down a goal, but after weathering a 10-minute lull to open the game, Baxter felt the Thunder was in a pretty solid spot.
"I knew we had a good chance," he said. "In the second we were outscored 3-2 but outshot them 19-8. He's (Huston) a good tender, but he played out of the world the first half of the game."
"Everyone battled back hard, was competing," said Wallace. "We got good bounces in the third period and it worked out in our favour."
And although it is early in the season, Homick says early indications are the squad is already beginning to work well together.
"We've got a good core group of guys," he said. "Picked up a few that will definitely help. It already felt good tonight, you can feel it in the room, everybody gets along."
Getting along, and working together is vital, Baxter concluded.
"This is Senior A, not pro, but you know what - it's good hockey. If we're not on the same page, we're not going to win games. That's any sport, any league."
The Thunder are back on home ice this Saturday (October 12) for a 7:30 p.m. face-off against Monkton.