Strome takes his shot

The Hamilton Spectator - - Sports - TERI PECOSKIE

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.

Fire­birds win!

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.

CLIFFORD SKARSTEDT EXAMINER

Matthew Strome suited up for the OHL team Thurs­day in the Canada Rus­sia Series.

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