Rodney Penney and Doug Hardiman each scored a pair of goals in a five-goal third period to propel the hometown Gander Flyers to an 8-1 victory over the Twillingate Combines Dec. 17, officially ending the first-half of action in the Central Newfoundland Hockey League.
The Flyers will enter the second-half with a league-best 10 points and just one loss on its record, while the Straight Shore Beothics and Combines are tied for second with six points apiece, and the Lewisporte Seahawks are close behind in fourth with four points.
The Dec. 17th game was as close to perfect as the Flyers will get this season. The team took only one penalty, and even chased the league's premier goalie, Tristan Watkins, midway through a one-sided third period.
Hardiman, who exploded with four goals and an assist in the 8-1 rout, believes the constant Flyers' pressure eventually caught up with the Combines, who noticeably slowed down as the game wore on.
"I thought everybody played well and we were all skating out there," said Hardiman after the win. "We kind of ran them down in the first period and it seemed like they were out of gas in the second and third, and that's when we poured it on. Of course, they took a few penalties and gave us a couple of power plays, which helped us out."
The Flyers scored one power-play goal in the game, a highlight-reel goal from the stick of Matt Strickland. With the Combines' Brady Watkins in the penalty box for roughing, Hardiman sent a hard, accurate cross-ice slap pass from the point to Strickland, who one-timed the pass by a fooled Watkins in what proved to be the eventual game-winning goal.
Not only did a constant Flyers' attack slow the Combines down, but Hardiman also feels the barrage of shots from every angle could have affected the play of Watkins.
"A few of the goals we scored early were bouncing pucks in front of the net, and we were able to bang it in," said Hardiman. "We got a little lucky early, and he probably was a little rattled, because we were shooting a lot of pucks at him...shots from a lot of different angles. With a goalie like that, it's important to keep him busy and to keep him guessing, and it seemed like we were able to wear him down a little bit."
The only puck that eluded Flyers' goalie Ryan Bradbury was a second-period goal from Kristian Greenham near the five-minute mark.
By then it was 2-1 Flyers, and the Combines wouldn't get any closer.
It's the second time this season the Flyers have defeated the boys from Twillingate, as Gander shutout the Combines 3-0 on Nov. 5.
The Combines have scored only one goal against the Flyers in six periods of hockey, which led Hardiman to say, it isn't hard getting motivated for a game against the only team who's ever raised the CNHL trophy.
"This is actually the first time I've played against them," said Hardiman of the Combines. "I knew they were the two-time champs of this league, so I was definitely up for this game, and everyone else was, too. It's been so-far-so-good against those guys, for sure. Hopefully, we can keep it going in the second-half."
After a scoreless opening period, Hardiman opened the scoring early in the second when he lifted a wrist shot over a sprawling Watkins to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Strickland gave the Flyers a 2-0 lead with his power-play goal with 4:46 left in the frame, and after Greenham cut the Flyers' lead to 2-1, Hardiman scored his second of the game to give the Flyers a 3-1 lead.
The third period was controlled by the Flyers. Penney and Hardiman scored goals 23 seconds apart to start the third to give the Flyers a 5-1 lead, scored another two goals 2:02 apart to give the Flyers a 7-1 lead, and Adam Power scored the game's final goal to secure the 8-1 win. James Keough recorded a game-high three assists for the Flyers.