By Dan McCaffery
The Sarnia Legionnaires all but wrapped up first place Saturday with a 3-1 win over the LaSalle Vipers.
With a Hockey Day in Sarnia crowd of almost 1,500 looking on at the Brock Street Barn, the home team scored three unanswered goals in the final frame to secure the victory.
While that was going on, the Leamington Flyers lost a crucial game in Strathroy.
As a result, Sarnia now sits eight points ahead of the second place Flyers in the race for first in the Western Jr. 'B' hockey loop.
With just five games to go in the regular season, the Legionnaires need only one more triumph (or one more Leamington loss) to mathematically clinch top spot.
The contest was a tight checking affair, with the Vipers playing a tiresome trap game, clogging up the middle for two full periods.
As a result, there were few scoring chances for the first 40 minutes and LaSalle was able to go into the second intermission with a 1-0 edge.
But Jesse Drydak tied the game before the third stanza was a minute old.
The explosive right-winger burst into the clear, deked goalie Jordan Dekort out of position and scored on a backhander.
Nathan Mater and Anthony Donati got assists on what was Drydak's 36th goal of the campaign.
At the six minute mark, Drydak made what might have been an even better play.
He came across the blueline by himself, with three Vipers crowding him.
Drydak patiently hung onto the puck until help arrived, then threw a perfect pass to Jason Teschke, who was alone in front of the net.
Teschke made no mistake, finding the back of the cage for the 21st time this season.
Once again, Donati had a helper on the play.
With time running out, rookie Daniel Nikandrov finished off a beautiful tick-tack-toe play with Teschke and Drydak to make the final score 3-1.
For Nikandrov, who missed much of the year with an injury, it was his 10th of the season.
After the game, winning coach Dan Rose said it was the first time all season that the Legionnaires had faced the trap.
Because of that, they were a little “rusty” when it came to implementing breakout systems designed to beat such a tactic.
In fact, the Legionnaires were continuously charged with icing as they tried to break through the wall of Vipers at centre ice.
"It was a good experience” because it might prepare the Legionnaires for similar situations in the playoffs, Rose said.
He added his players didn't get rattled when LaSalle took the lead.
"Our skill took over, we scored some pretty nice goals,” he said of the third period rally.
1. Sean Parker picked up up his 13th win in net, stopping 21 shots. The Legionnaires had 25 shots on goal.
2. Drydak was first star, Teschke second and Donati third.
3. The Legionnaires showed fine discipline, taking only one penalty all night.
4. Sarnia was missing Jeff Paulley, Spencer Bronzi, Brent Sauve and Louie Rowe to injury.
5. Midget callup Ryan Verbeek saw action for Sarnia.