Saturday was a statement game of sorts for the Outlaws, who welcomed the first-place Dayton Demonz into Airmen Pond.
And no statement was bigger than Nathan Oke's return to Williamsport.
In his first action with the team since taking a family leave, Oke scored in overtime to help secure a 6-5 win over the league-leading Dayton Demonz.
"I had a bunch of chances, but seemed snake-bitten there for a little bit," Oke said. "I just kept working at it and got a big one in overtime for us. It felt pretty good."
The game-winner was set up by Kevin Hamel, who made the ultimate sacrifice as he stopped a shot with his body. The attempt appeared to be the end for the Outlaws (18-3-3-14) after Chris Whitley fell and left the net unattended.
"Whitely came out to play him and the kid made a good play to get around him," Oke said. "Hamel then, being the guy that is, put the team in front of himself and made a big save for us."
"It was unbelievable," Outlaws coach Chris Firriolo said of Hamel's stop in overtime. "He's just a warrior. He battles and battles and battles. I wish I had 20 guys like him. The kid comes to work everyday."
Hamel's block also helped set up the game-winner, which came moments later when Oke tallied his first goal of the season.
"Oke came back and scored his first goal of the year, a big overtime goal," Firriolo said. "We should have beat them in regulation, but a win is a win."
The reason things didn't end in regulation was a suspect effort by the defense through the second period.
The Outlaws, who extended their home winning steak to eight with the win, made a habit of leaving Dayton (24-2-3-3) players uncovered in front of the goal. And it proved costly.
Brian Marks was the first Dayton player to exploit the Outlaws' suspect defense by slipping behind the defenders and sliding a nearpost attempt under Whitley's blocker.
The initial goal appeared to wake up the Outlaws as Chris Leveille, who scored the game's lone first period goal, cut across the Demonz net and beat Jeff Rose with a quick wrist shot. Leveille ran parallel with the blue line and snapped the shot through to restore the Outlaws two-goal advantage.
Although the goal restored a two-goal lead for the Outlaws, the defensive struggles continued and manifested themselves in the form of four unanswered goals by the Demonz to take a 5-3 lead into the second intermission. Lucas Schott, Ahmed Mahfouz, and Peter Cintala all tallied with similar goals taking advantage of the Outlaws lackluster effort on the defensive end.
"We just had too many breakdowns," Firriolo said. "This was certainly a character building game for us. We just need to keep moving forward."
In the first period of Saturday's game, after Oke was charged with a cross-check, Williamsport received a gift when an errant pass was intercepted near the redline. The attempt was quickly stopped when Rose used his stick to poke the puck away.
The shorthanded failure didn't last long through. Moments after missing the attempt Trevor Karasiewicz jumped in front of a puck inside the Outlaws zone and broke for the goal. Karasiewicz, who leads the FHL with 77 points and 63 assists, was stopped, but Chris Leveille was there to clean up the rebound and put the Outlaws ahead 1-0.
Of Leveille's six attempts on goal, three resulted in goals. Leveille managed to score once in each period, with his third period effort knotting the game a five apiece.
"Leveille had a hell of a game," Firriolo said. "Whitley came up and made some big saves at the end. Kevin Hamel was phenomenal down low toward the end."
Whitley stopped 29 of the Demonz 34 attempts in the game. And except for a soft goal he let in at 9:01 in the second period, the defense should be credited with the other goals.
"In the first period it could have easily been a two or three nothing lead. We kept them in the game at 1-0," Firriolo said. "They came back in the second and scored five goals. We go up 2-0. Then it's 2-1. We had a terrible second period, but we bounced back to answer the bell."