St. Thomas first in the Conference winning three of first four games
September 19, 2022
By Rob J. Ross
ST. THOMAS - A glance at the top of the GOJHL Western Conference standings, is like looking up at the night sky. One sees stars.
It is early, only two weekends into the season, but the St. Thomas Stars are in first place with a 3-0-0-1 record.
Spencer Vandenberg scored a minute and eight seconds into overtime, to lift the Stars over the St. Marys Lincolns, 5-4, Sunday, at the Joe.
The Stars trailed 4-2, with under 10 minutes remaining in the third period, before their special teams took over.
Andrew Seminara scored on the power play, and Connor Snedden tied the affair, while shorthanded and just over two minutes left in regulation.
Vandenberg wasted no time applying what the 17-year old works on in practice, ending the game with his first goal in junior.
"That's my go to move. I fake and pull it back hand and it went in," said Vandenberg. "The boys don't give up. We were down two goals and we battled back.
We're gelling really well and it's a great group of guys."
The Stars had leads of 1-0 and 2-1, on goals by Brenden Cattrysse and Callum Snedden.
St. Marys scored three consecutive goals, for a 4-2 lead early in the third period.
Stars' goalie Wyatt Sloetjes made 38 saves, as St. Marys outshot the home side, 42-23.
"It was chippy game. They were in our faces," Stars' captain Nick Houben said. "We didn't have a ton of shots, but once we started getting pucks to the net, we had quality shots. We had such high energy that carried over in to overtime and we knew we could finish it and get the two points."
St. Thomas opened the season with a 2-0 win at Leamington, Sept. 8. The Stars dropped their home opener, 5-4, in a shootout, to Komoka, Sept.9.
Similar to the St. Marys game, Seminara scored on the power play and Connor Snedden potted one shorthanded, during a 6-1 drubbing of the Sarnia Legionnaires, Friday, Sept 16.
"It's early, but so far we are playing so well together. We have a good group here and we can really do things," Houben said. "Since the first time we meant, we've been gelling so well. Before the games, throughout the games and after, it's just such a good environment here."
Houben replaces the graduated Tristan Roberts as captain.
"It's a huge honour," said the 18-year old, from a Stratford-area farm. "It's something that everyone looks up to and you inspire to be like the captains of the other years. You looked up to them and to have that role, it's huge. You get to lead your team and be a big part of how your team plays."
The Stars are on pace to achieve a goal for the first 10-15 games, giving a smile to the team's owner and general manager.
"If we can come out of there .500 or better, we'd be happy," said Joe Daniels. "We're a pretty strong skating team and we have some size too. If we can lean on some of the other teams, we may get off to a real good start."
The Stars will have to replace the scoring produced by Mathieu Paris, Oliver Bonk and Maddox Amaral, as well as Roberts.
Paris, who led the team with 20 goals and 40 points, and Bonk, who had a team high 27 assists, are now both with the London Knights. Amaral moved out west and is skating with the Humboldt Broncos, in the Saskatchewan Junior League.
"That was a lot of our scoring punch," Daniels said.
The Stars will look to returning players, Houben, Connor Snedden, Jackson Phillips and Jackson Dobbin.
Additions include Vandenberg, who hails from Dorchester, Seminara, from Dearborn, Michigan, 17-year old forward Holden Clark from Belmont and Jordan Medeiros, of St. Thomas, up from the Port Stanley Sailors, of the Provincial Junior League.
If the Vandenberg name seems familiar, it's because they're a family of hockey players. Parents Paul and Jennifer have Spencer, 17 years old, Marcus, 18, a goalie with the OHL Kitchener Rangers, Noah, 15, a forward with Waterloo minor-midget AAA and Sydney, 17, a forward with the London Devilettes in the Provincial women's league.
Nineteen-year-old Tristan Gerth and 18-year-old Brenden Cattrysse, lead the blueline, joined by 18-year old Cole Jenken, who played last season in Stratford.
William Nichol, who scored twice against Sarnia, is a 16-year old from Ottawa. The six-foot forward, is a Knights' 2022 third round draft pick, who scored 30 points in 30 games, for the Ottawa Senators AAA U18 team last season.
Sloetjes, who hails from Dutton, has been the starting goalie.
Daniels feels Houben is one to the lead this year's Stars.
"I'm real thrilled with our choice of captain," Daniels said. "A great kid. A great work ethic. He comes from a great background. His family are farmers. It's his leadership skills. We like guys who lead by what they do. He fits the role very perfectly. He's very positive. We don't really have an old team. We have no 20-year olds. We need someone to carry us and I think he'll do a great job."
Rob Coutts returns as head coach, with Luke Harvey and former Stars' player, Brady Elder, as assistants.
Elder replaces Mike Temple, who stepped down due to work commitments.
"It's good to have a young voice there to go with a young team,'" said Daniels, of the 23-year old Elder.
Special teams as always will be crucial for team success.
"It's to get the power play and penalty kill going. In our league it circles around that. If you can get your power play and penalty kill going, that can win you quite a few games early," said Daniels. "That's what we're pushing for at practice. Then ultimately, get the boys in game shape. That's the big push in the first month."
The Stars have two showcase games this coming weekend in Pelham, against Ayr and Hamilton. St. Thomas returns home to face rival London, Friday, Sept. 30.
"We just have to keep doing what we are doing and continue to battle hard for each other. That's the biggest thing,' said Houben. "We've been hard on the puck, first ones on it. We battle hard for each other and always stick up for each other. We have good chemistry on the ice for being so early. We're finding rebounds and working together."
More images on Instagram - hometownplay