Strome takes his shot
All Matt Strome wanted was a look. And he got it.
The 19-year-old Hamilton Bulldogs winger was a last-minute addition to Game 3 of the Canada Russia Series in Sarnia Thursday. He replaced injured Niagara IceDogs centre Akil Thomas on the Team OHL roster.
“It’s an awesome opportunity,” said Strome, who was left out of Hockey Canada’s summer showcase — the first stage in the selection process for the national junior team. “I was extremely happy when I got the call yesterday and now I get a chance to prove people wrong.”
Strome, who is third in Bulldogs scoring with six goals and 13 assists in 17 games, joined longtime teammate Mackenzie Entwistle on Team OHL. The latter is also in the lineup for Game 4 in Oshawa Monday.
Strome will be back for each of the Bulldogs’ weekend road games, at Kingston on Friday and at Peterborough on Saturday. Entwistle will only play Saturday.
Like the summer showcase, the six-game Canada Russia Series is a part of the identification and evaluation process in advance of the world junior championship. The tournament gets started on Boxing Day in Victoria and Vancouver.
Finally. The Flint Firebirds have a win.
The OHL’s basement dwellers ended a 17-game drought with a 7-4 win against the Sarnia Sting on Wednesday. Jake Durham, a former Bulldogs prospect, led the way for the Firebirds with a hat trick and first star honours.
The 1-16-1-0 Firebirds were just one loss short of tying the streak set by the 1995-96 London Knights, who started the season with 17 straight regulation losses, going into the school day matchup. The team’s play by play voice, Dominic Hennig, described that stretch as an everything-that-could-go-wrong-did-go-wrong scenario.
Fuelled by everything from injuries to suspensions to work visa snafus, the Firebirds dropped 12 straight games in regulation before picking up their first point of the campaign in an overtime loss to Sarnia in late October. Then they dropped four more.
At times, they were dressing as few as 14 skaters. And they had
forwards filling holes on the back end, where they either were or are missing several key players, including former Bulldogs Fedor Gordeev and Riley McCourt. The latter, who was sent to Flint for Nic Mattinen last year, has been sidelined since late September with an injured shoulder.
“That’s a tough way to start, and I don’t think they’ve been able to get their traction back yet,” said Troy Smith, a Hamilton native and the bench boss in neighbouring Saginaw. To make matters worse, the players have also had to adapt to a new coach in the wake of Ryan Oulahen’s abrupt resignation last month.
Like McCourt, former third overall Bulldogs pick Connor Roberts — who was dealt to Flint last November for Nick Caamano and Ryan Moore — was not in the lineup for the team’s lone win. He, too, has a shoulder injury.
As bad as things may be for the Firebirds, they didn’t come close to matching the longest losing streak in OHL history — 28 games, set by the Kingston Canadians in 1987-88. The 1998-99 Mississauga IceDogs hold the record for the longest winless streak at 34 games.
Blues, or back
Robert Thomas watch has officially ramped up.
The former Bulldogs star has now suited up in nine games for the St. Louis Blues this season — the most he can play under NHL rules and still be sent back to Hamilton without burning a year of his entry-level contract.
Despite Thomas registering his fourth assist of the season in a win over Carolina Tuesday, head coach Mike Yeo told Jim Thomas as the St. Louis PostDispatch the 19-year-old’s play wasn’t as good in that game as it had been in other recent contests.
“I actually thought last game was a bit of a step back,” Yeo said. “Watched some video with him today. Obviously he made a nice play to get an assist there, but the complete game has to be there to be a centreman in the National Hockey League.”
Yeo also told the Post-Dispatch’s Thomas the advent of Game No. 10 has likely put pressure on the centreman to make something happen.
“I think that it’s kinda normal, something we tried to warn him against, but you get an opportunity like that, now you think, ‘OK, now I gotta go get points,’ ” he said. “Next thing you know, other parts of your game start to slip.
“You start to lose sort of your defensive focus or your competitive level, and next thing you know, not only are you losing those things but then you don’t have the puck as much, too.”
If he were to be returned to Hamilton, Thomas would have an immediate impact on the already-thriving Bulldogs offence. He would also be among the best — if not the best — 200-foot player in the OHL.
The Post-Dispatch’s Thomas writes that Yeo has made it clear that any call on the rookie’s status is general manager Doug Armstrong’s to make. The next game for the Blues is against San Jose on Friday. Yeo reportedly plans to have Thomas in the lineup.
Matthew Strome suited up for the OHL team Thursday in the Canada Russia Series.