Big Ben strikes in net versus Panthers
It was night to remember for 16-year-old Fonthill native Ben Bonisteel.
Playing in the first junior hockey game of his career Friday night, the 6-foot-4, 200 pound goalie stopped 17 of the 19 shots fired his way to lead the St. Catharines Falcons to a 5-2 victory over the visiting Pelham Panthers in Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference action at the Jack Gatecliff Arena.
For his efforts, the affiliated player was awarded a hard hat and fake leopard skin cape (?) by his teammates, signifying player of the game honours.
The Grade 11 student at E.L. Crossley found out he was starting the game Thursday at 7 p.m. when he was called by Falcons head coach Tyler Bielby.
“He had all the guys in the room in on the call and they were all cheering me on when he told me over the phone. That was pretty special.”
Bonisteel said he had no trouble sleeping the night before his first start.
“I slept well but I was excited,” he said. “I have AP’d with these guys all year and they told me that they trusted me enough to give me the start and I was thankful for that opportunity.”
The Niagara North Stars minor midget AAA player and former Southern Tier Admirals wanted to show the team’s trust in him was warranted.
“I didn’t want to let the boys down and it was a fun night.”
Playing in front of his parents, grandparents and an aunt and uncle, he was mostly pleased with the start.
“I thought it was pretty good, but there is always room to improve, that’s for sure,” he said. “I am going to keep striving towards that but it is a night I am always going to remember, especially with this group of guys.”
His most memorable moment came at the start of the game.
“It was the first save and getting the nerves out,” he said. “I blockered out a long shot and you are always going to remember your first.”
Bonisteel is hoping it will be the first in a long career with the Falcons.
“I’m not sure what the future holds but I want to continue to pursue a junior hockey career and take it as far as I can,” he said. “I love this organization and they have done nothing but good things for me. I would love to be a Falcon.”
Bielby liked how Bonisteel performed.
‘There is an adjustment period and he made some really good saves off the rush and he seemed to be square to every shot he faced,” he said. “He’s got a bright future.”
The Falcons felt Bonisteel was well deserving of the start.
“Sometimes the game is much bigger than any individual and that’s what it was for us tonight,” Bielby said. “He is a teammate of ours and not just an AP. Every time he has an opportunity to practice he shows up, he’s ridden on the bus and he has sat on cold benches as a backup.
“He is a great teammate and it’s nice for him to get a shot tonight.”
The Falcons improved to 32-13-2-0 with the win while sixth-place Pelham fell to 17-27-0-3. It was a solid performance with the exception of a bit of a lull in the second period.
“I think we fought the puck at times tonight but we walked away with the two points and took advantage of our chances,” Bielby said.
Falcons 5 Panthers 2
BPSN Player of the Game: St. Catharines’ Xavier Drummond with a pair of goals.
For the St. Catharines Falcons: Drummond (23, 24); Joshua Urbshott (6); Noah Solinger (8); Noah Blakely (11).
For the Pelham Panthers: Hunter Godmere (14); Lucas Smith (6).
Game stats: Shots on goal: By St. Catharines on Nick McGowan and Tiago Rocha 13-14-7=34, by Pelham on Ben Bonisteel 8-8-3=19. Penalty minutes: Falcons, Panthers. Power plays: Falcons 0-2, Panthers 0-4.
Up next: The Falcons are at Caledonia Saturday at 7:30 p.m.