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February Stars are shining

 Stars are shining heading into playoffs


   Winning three of past four games has clinched St. Thomas a playoff berth


Sunday, February 17, 2019

Stars logo

By Rob J. Ross 

ST. THOMAS -  The St. Thomas Stars are looking like a playoff contender now.

Following a 13-game winless streak in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Stars have won three of their past four games, two by shutout, including a 1-0 win in double overtime over the Komoka Kings, Friday, at the Joe.

Stars' goalie Anthony Hurtubise scored the decisive goal, joining a small group of puck-stoppers and maybe making some hockey history himself.

For more on the goal, see Hurty scores.

For the Stars, on the verge of clinching a playoff spot, 10 points ahead of ninth place St. Marys, the win moved the team within a point of the seventh place Strathroy Rockets, in the Western Conference.

It is the Stars' best stretch of hockey since mid-November.

"We had a meeting and it was all about playing playoff hockey now," Stars' head coach Darren Kelly said. "The little things, the defensive assignments, winning face-offs and recognizing who is on the ice and shutting them down."

It took Hurtubise's remarkable goal for the win, but the Stars out shot Komoka, 47-27, including 11-5 right of the gate in the first period.

"We wanted to generate 40 shots on net and we did and we got the win. Although our goaltender scored the goal, we had had two breakaways in overtime, Kelly said. "Their goaltender (Nathan Young) played well. We're getting our chances. That's a good sign."

A week earlier the Stars blanked London, 4-0, backstopped by a 34-save performance by Hurtubise, before having a hiccup at LaSalle, on February 13th.

"It was a 2-2 game after one, then we had a couple injuries and one of our defencemen was sitting in the box for 12 minutes. That all kind of hurt us in the second period," said Kelly.

Hurtubise recalls the winless streak as a tough stretch, but the veteran was never giving up on the season.

"We were wondering when we were actually going to win a game. We had a lot of one goal games and a couple of ties. It was frustrating for sure. A lot of guys were injured during that stretch," said Hurtubise. "I've always believed in our team. I don't think our record shows just how good our team is. I think we can definitely make some noise in the playoffs."

A 7-4 win at Strathroy to end the skid on January 20th brought relief.

"It was a good feeling. We were due for one," said Hurtubise. "It felt good to be in net for the win too. It gave us confidence. Ever since that game we've been playing better every game."

Less shots on net is one improvement Hurtubise has noticed, a welcomed sight for any goalie.

"Our goalies are playing well which solidifies our back-end," Kelly said.

The Stars shuffled their line-up around the junior trade-line in January.



St. Thomas added via signing or trade forwards Ryan Brown, Brady Elder, Jeremy Marco and Brandon Cooper and defencemen Ryder Thususka and Jack Wieringa. The Stars traded forwards Thomas McLatchie and Adam Keyes, both to London, forward Brandon Speziale to Strathroy and assigning forward Ian Lutowicz, to the North Middlesex Stars, of the Provincial Junior Hockey League.

"We have an older team now. This year we have nine 20-year olds and five 19 year olds. They're understanding now that it's close to the end and they don't want it to end," said Kelly. "They're not worried about what happened in November and December. They're trying to prolong their year."

 The Stars are back enjoying the game.

"The boys are having fun when they're winning and it's a good dressing room feel," added Kelly. "We have two goaltenders who the guys can believe in and our defence is playing well."

The recently turned 18 year old Liam Fedak leads the Stars in scoring, with 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists), two more than Jake Robinson, who has a team best 14 goals. Sixteen year old forward Sean McGurn, a London Knights' draft pick, has nine goals and 24 assists.

After today at Chatham, the Stars will have three games left on the schedule, facing three of the top four teams in the West, at home against Leamington (2:30 p.m. on Family Day), at London, February 20th and hosting Sarnia (February, 24th, 7:30 p.m.).

"A good test for our boys going into the playoffs," said Kelly. "We're going to have to play one of those four teams to start, so having a confidence booster and momentum is huge."