Wednesday, December 22nd, 2010


Merchants hold off pesky Navy Vets


WOODSTOCK-- The Norwich Merchants are putting together a special season.

The Niagara Junior C leaders became the first team to reach 50 points after last night's 5-2 win over the Woodstock Navy Vets. By comparison, none of the other 11 teams has yet to hit 40 points.

"We're happy with the first half of the season," Norwich assistant coach Jarrett Rose said.

Norwich's latest win -- its sixth straight after losing to New Hamburg -- was its 24th in 27 games. As usual, the Merchants are doing it with defence. The team has allowed more than two goals in only nine of its games.

Goaltender Matt McGonigle, who picked up his 16th win last night, actually saw his league-leading goals-against average spike from the 1.48 he carried into Tuesday's game.

"Our goal is two goals against and not letting in any more than two," Rose said. "For the most part we've done a good job."

For Woodstock (6-17-4), losing 5-2 was a moral victory and an indication of the team's recent improved play. Norwich won its previous three games in the Battle of 59 and outscored Woodstock 20-0 in that span.

"I'm glad it was a better game. It's good for us and (it's) good for them," Rose said. "The crowd was better too. All three of us (Rose, head coach Chad Paton and assistant Scott Roode) are from Woodstock and we want to see it work here."

The Navy Vets have played much better following their 9-0 loss to Norwich on Dec. 11. Woodstock played well despite losing in New Hamburg Friday, and looked sharp in its 6-2 win over Simcoe Saturday.

"If you group the last three games ... you can obviously see the guys are starting to believe in themselves and the systems," Woodstock assistant coach Ed Cook said. "When those two things come together, it's what we've been looking for."

Mike Brilhante, Curtis Logan, Cole Vinnai, Stuart Preston and Bryan Phillips scored for Norwich, which broke open a scoreless game with three goals in the second period to make it 3-1.

Chase Thornton and Derek Cowing each had a goal and assist for Woodstock. Travis Horvath picked up two assists.

It was Thornton's sixth goal and ninth point in his last three games.

"It's confidence and maturity in all parts of his game," Cook said. "He's recognizing he has a leadership role on the team and accepting and fulfilling that role like he needs to. It's quite admirable for a 16-year-old rookie. It's been fun to watch."

Neil Pittock was solid despite taking the loss. The Woodstock goaltender made his biggest save with less than three minutes remaining in the third period, stopping Vinnai on a breakaway to keep the score 4-2.

"The biggest thing was our compete level," Cook said. "Guys were willing to follow through with systems and not to over-respect the opponent. The previous three games we allowed Norwich to push us around on the ice. Guys are starting to push back."