Tillsonburg Hurricanes' first home game of the GMHL junior hockey season Friday night was a homecoming party for Tillsonburg minor hockey grad Gray Sinden.
"It's nice to be back in Tillsonburg again," said Sinden, who played his final year of midget hockey with the Junior C Woodstock Navy Vets in 2015-16. "Especially scoring that goal back in front of the home crowd. Nice to get on the scoresheet and help the guys get a W."
Lincoln had charged ahead 2-0 with even strength goals in the first and second periods before the Hurricanes equalized, scoring back-to-back at 2:06 (Quinn Gaetz) and 1:02 (Victor Lilja-Iwanstam) of the second.
"That was huge going into the dressing room," said Sinden. "We pretty much took it to them after that. That was the turning point."
Sinden's third-period game winner came at 12:41.
"Mircea (Constantin) dropped it off to Knibbs (Chandler Knibb)... Knibbs took it out wide and saucer passed it to me, and I just took it between the goalie's legs."
Kyle Rarick made 13 third-period saves to earn the home opener victory giving Tillsonburg a 3-3 record after one full month on the road. Lincoln lost 11-2 to Kingsville Sunday, dropping the eighth-place Mavericks to 3-4-2 in the South Division.
"This was my first game of the year," said Sinden, 18, who started at Wilfrid Laurier University in the fall (criminology/law). "So the first period was a little rough, but after that, the second and third, got back in the stride and felt good back on the ice again."
After skating at the Hurricanes' tryouts in August with his younger brother Griffin, who is playing AAA minor midget in Cambridge, Grayden was offered a part-time (AP) position with Tillsonburg's new GMHL team.
"I'm just home for reading week right now," said Sinden, who will also be available next Friday for an 8:30 p.m. home game against Northumberland and Saturday at Komoka. "Home games Fridays and go wherever they go Saturdays. I said 'when I'm home I might as well strap on the skates and play with you guys.' It's whenever I can get back to town.... just kind of doing what I can."
Waterford's Quinn Gaetz started the Hurricanes' comeback late in the second, cutting to the net from the right wing to snap a top-shelf shot past Lincoln goalie Ruslan Sharafutdinov.
"I could see the side of the net," said Gaetz. "Their goalie was cheating to the right pretty much most of the game.
"That was a big goal for us - it got the boys fired up. The first period didn't go so well for us... we were flat after the first period. Then we got back to our systems and things started to go better."
One minute later Lilja-Iwanstam cut to the front of the net to chip in a pass from Ryan McDonald, who had beat Lincoln's Arthur Panchenko one-on-one at the Mavericks' blue line to create an odd-man rush.
"The second goal was definitely the one that really got us going," said Gaetz.
With four goals and four assists in five games, Gaetz is nearly on a two-points-per-game pace. The 5-foot 10-inch forward, drafted from Simcoe's 'on hiatus' Norfolk Vikings in the summer, is third in team scoring behind Knibb and Luke Fraser.
"Last year it seemed like it was unorganized," said Gaetz. "No one was really on the same page, everyone was skipping out on practice."
Management and coaching changed, he said, but the Simcoe franchise struggled to a 4-38-8 record.
"It was really kind of a mess," said Gaetz.
"This year it is so much better. It's a solid program here, everybody's on the same page, everybody's willing to do what they have to do to win."
Gaetz, who figures his own game has improved 100 per cent, credited his linemates - Brendan Blacksmith and Alex Primrose - for his early-season success and hopes to stay on pace to help the team win games.
"It's because of the people I'm playing with. We have a better selection of players here. Right from the get-go I could tell it was going to be a hell of a lot better than last year. Everybody on this team is hungry to win."
Constantin, a 6-foot 200-pound forward acquired by trade after a half-dozen games with Komoka, assisted on both the game-tying goal and winner, giving him four points in two games with the Hurricanes.
"I need more practice," said Constantin, 21, who was off the ice for six months following his 2015-16 season with Steaua Bucuresti in the Romanian Hockey League. "So I only have one month and one week on the ice."
A former captain of the Romanian WJC team, and prolific goal scorer in Romanian U18, Constantin said he tries to be more of a playmaker than just scorer.
"I try to have more assists than goals," he nodded.
Comparing the GMHL to his home league, Constantin said, "It is very good speed, better than Romania. Physically, the guys are not so strong because in Romania it was a pro league."
"It's definitely quality junior hockey, that's for sure," said Sinden, enjoying his - and Tillsonburg's - first GMHL home game. "I hope we get lots of kids out to watch, get hockey back in Tillsonburg again like it was when I was a kid."