It wasn’t easy, but the Soo Greyhounds winning streak is still intact.
Jack Kopacka scored the shootout winner as the Greyhounds edged the Guelph Storm 4-3 in Ontario Hockey League action at the Essar Centre on Saturday night.
The win extends the Greyhounds team-record winning streak to 23 games in the process.
Kopacka was held off the scoresheet in regulation time despite some chances late in the game but scored the lone shootout goal.
“He’s always been good in the shootout,” said Greyhounds Coach Drew Bannister. “He shoots the puck real well and it’s hard to read his release.”
For the Storm, the game comes as a learning experience as the team continues to battle the London Knights for positioning in the OHL’s Midwest Division.
“I’m proud of the way our guys handled themselves, especially after giving up a goal early in the third,” said Guelph Coach George Burnett. “It wasn’t pretty at times, but we blocked a lot of shots, we won more faceoffs than we did last week.
“We can learn some good lessons,” Burnett added.
It was the third game in three nights for the Greyhounds, who got off to a solid start in the contest after struggling in a 6-5 victory on Friday night against the Flint Firebirds.
“We competed a lot harder than we did last night,” Bannister said. “Guelph pushed hard and were physical on us.”
Greyhounds goaltender Matt Villalta made 38 saves and stopped all three Guelph shooters in the shootout, including former Greyhound Liam Hawel to seal the win.
“Matty was good tonight,” Bannister said. “We needed that game out of Matty with three games in three nights. Both goalies were excellent.”
Anthony Popovich made 39 saves for the Storm and two of the three Greyhounds shooters in the shootout.
“He’s been really good for us all year long,” Burnett said. “He was well-tested. Some of the point-blank shots he had to stop at the end when we broke down were pretty impressive. He gave us a chance to get a big point.”
Morgan Frost and Barrett Hayton had a goal and an assist for the Greyhounds. Tim Gettinger also scored in regulation time. Noah Carroll, a former member of the Storm, assisted on all three Greyhound goals.
Isaac Ratcliffe scored a pair of goals for the Storm while Givani Smith had the other goal in regulation time.
The Greyhounds, who improve to 32-3-2-0 with the win, will return to action on Jan. 4 on the road in Mississauga against the Steelheads. The game opens a three-game road trip for the Greyhounds.
The Storm will take an 18-13-1-3 record into action on Sunday in Sudbury against the Wolves.
Notes: Both teams were without players who are currently competing at the World Junior Hockey Championship in Buffalo. Conor Timmins and Boris Katchouk of the Greyhounds are competing for Canada while Dmitri Samorukov of the Storm is competing with Team Russia.
The Storm also played the game without forward Alexey Toropchenko, who was initially expected to play but was a late scratch due to illness.
The league saw four other games on the schedule on Saturday.
In Hamilton, Ryan Moore and Will Bitten had a goal and two assists each to lead the Hamilton Bulldogs to a 7-4 win over the Kingston Frontenacs. Matthew Strome added a pair of goals for Hamilton.
In Peterborough, Pavel Gogolev scored three times to lead the Peterborough Petes to a 5-4 win over the Ottawa 67’s. Tye Felhaber scored three times for the 67’s.
In Saginaw, Blade Jenkins had a goal and two assists as the Saginaw Spirit beat the Flint Firebirds 6-2. Kyle Bollers added a pair of goals for the Spirit.
In Owen Sound, shootout goals by Aaron Luchuk and Ben Hawerchuk lifted the Barrie Colts to a 4-3 win over the Owen Sound Attack. Hawerchuk had a goal and an assist for the Colts in regulation time.