Christmas can’t come soon enough for the Stratford Warriors.
With one more game in Cambridge until the new year, the Warriors are limping into the holiday break.
Stratford is 1-2-0-2 over its last five games, including Friday’s 4-0 shutout at the hands of Waterloo at the Allman Arena. The Warriors are still in first place thanks to a pair of games in hand on the surging Siskins, but they haven’t looked like the same team that surprised the rest of the Midwestern Conference and even themselves through a majority of the season.
“Maybe tonight we were looking too far ahead into the break, but being banged up – some guys are sick, and injuries – it wasn’t (our night) tonight, but that’s no excuse,” Stratford co-captain Dylan Lebold said. “That’s just unacceptable tonight.”
The team’s recent stretch has been a humbling experience that’s also giving the players a better appreciation of what it takes to win, Lebold added.
“You look at pro teams and they go through crazy stretches like that where they lose a few games. It’s the teams that find a way out of those grooves (that are successful). Maybe the break will be helpful for us. It’s unfortunate it had to come on a home night like that.”
Stratford was shorthanded before the puck dropped Friday, with Ryan Cullen, Evan Dowd, Zack Johnson, Clayton Lewis and Nathan Smilsky out of the lineup.
Health and consistency will be vital for the Warriors when the schedule resumes Jan. 4, Lebold said.
“I think it’s no secret anymore that we’re probably not the most skilled team in the league, but if we can outwork guys, let’s get back to that, let’s get back to grinding … and playing together.”
Owen Lane had a goal and assist for the Siskins, who have won three straight and eight of their last 10. Waterloo was in the same predicament as Stratford with several bodies missing the last time it visited the Allman Nov. 2.
“We’ve got our health back, and we made a few adjustments to some systems and they bought into those changes,” Siskins head coach Todd Hoffman said. “Defensive hockey won the game tonight. I thought our (defensive) side of the puck was real good and didn’t give them much opportunity at all.”
Hoffman alluded to being on the “right side of the puck” and controlling possession to keep pressure on their opponents.
“If we make sure we have the puck on our stick more than they do, then it limits their chances, and that’s exactly what we did tonight,” he said. “Get pucks deep, put pressure on their (defence) to give pucks away. They weren’t making good exits out of their zone, and we were able to capitalize on a few opportunities when they turned the puck over.”
Jack Chumley, Michael Keating and Brett Schaefer had Waterloo’s other goals. Siskins goalie Matt Onuska stopped 21 shots for his first shutout of the season.
Warriors goalie Zack Weir made 31 saves.
NOTES: Stratford called up forward Landon McCallum (Brantford midgets) and defenceman Reid Oliver (Waterloo midgets) … The Warriors went 0-for-6 on the power play, and Waterloo was 0-for-2 … Attendance was 1,001 … Next: Stratford is in Cambridge Saturday and then off until Jan. 4 when it hosts Brantford.