A crowd of nearly one thousand jammed The Plex to see their Saugeen Shores Winterhawks get back on the winning side of the coin.
The Winterhawks scored four unanswered goals to take a 5-2 victory over the visiting Georgian Bay Applekings on Friday night.
It was a special night on many fronts, as the team recognized the first of the co-winners of the 2023 Doug Wood Community Service Award, honouring Richie Buckland for his selfless act last winter when he turned in found money at The Plex so it could be returned to its rightful owner.
Despite his busy schedule, Santa Claus took some time to stop by and drop the puck during the ceremonial opening face off, and stuck around to say hello to the many kids in attendance.
Once the game puck dropped the action got underway, the Winterhawks took control early and rarely let up as they dominated the expansion Applekings.
The Winterhawks peppered Georgian Bay goalie Allan Menary early and often, but it wasn't until there were just seven seconds left in the period that the puck came out front to Justin Donnelly to make it 1-0 Winterhawks, from Lauchlin Elder and Josh Hopkin.
Winterhawks starting goalie Eric Peicheff wasn't overly busy, as the Winterhawks outshot Georgian Bay 20-5 in the opening frame, but he came up with the saves when called upon.
The second period started out much like the first, with the Winterhawks dominating, only to have Menary turn them aside repeatedly.
The Applekings found some momentum late in the second and used it to take the lead, first on a bouncing puck that deflected past Peicheff at 14:56, then again just over a minute later to stun the near-capacity crowd, taking a 2-1 lead.
A late second period power play helped the Winterhawks get back to even, when Miles MacLean stepped in front the top of the circle and fired a shot past Menary to knot the score at 2-2 after two.
Donnelly and Elder assisted on MacLean's equalizer.
The Winterhawks came out again with purpose in the third period and took the game by the neck.
Chad Jones scored what turned out to be the game winning goal when his blast from the point deflected off a Georgian Bay defender into the net at 4:08 to give the Winterhawks a 3-2 lead, with an assist to Elder.
The insurance marker quickly followed when Dan Zweep sent Justin Marlowe in alone just 46-seconds later.
Marlowe beat his ex-teammate Menary with a low shot to make it a 4-2 Winterhawks lead.
The Winterhawks kept the pedal down and didn't give Georgian Bay much oxygen as the clock ticked down, and Curtis Johnston put the exclamation point on the board with a power play marker with just over two minutes remaining.
Zweep and Andy Fracz assisted as the Winterhawks completed the 5-2 victory.
Peicheff made 20 saves for the win as the Winterhawks outshot Georgian Bay, 48-22. Elder was named The Wismer House Player of the Game with three assists.
The win moves the Winterhawks to 9-5-1 on the season, moving into sole possession of third place in the Ontario Elite Hockey League standings.
A big meeting awaits them next Friday night, December 29th at The Plex, as the second place Creemore Coyotes come calling.
It's a must-win game if the Winterhawks are to have any hope of catching the Coyotes as we head into the final month of the regular season.
It will also be Minor Hockey Night. Saugeen Shores Storm teams are encouraged to attend and show us their spirit. The team that impresses us the most will receive a practice with Winterhawks players.
Game time at The Plex is 7:30 p.m.