Third Of Season Gone – A Look At The Mid-West – by C. Scott Holland

Traditionally this conference is close at the top with the bottom half being greatly separated. Almost every season this conference has a new top team and often several teams will contend for a number of seasons then fall as they rebuild. It’s much like a ferris wheel where one starts at the bottom, heads to the top and then returns to the starting point.

The 2015/16 season is no exception to the Mid-West’s past as a couple of recent contenders now find themselves struggling as the effort to regroup.

KITCHENER DUTCHMEN – After having finished second last season, the Kitchener Dutchmen and coach Greg Bignell are riding the superb work of rookie netminder Luke Richardson. The 16 year-old has posted a 10-0 record along with two shutouts, a 1.90 gaa and a 91.9 save percentage. Furthermore spare goalie Cossimo Lazzarino is 6-1-0-1 and holds a 2.57 gaa. Some pretty good numbers for a pair of rookies. The Dutchmen have the third-best powerplay in the conference and sit right behind Listowel and Stratford in that department while their penalty-kill is second behind Brantford. The offense has exploded for 89 goals and if one compares this to Caledonia who have beaten lower rung teams by huge margins a couple of times, this, by far, is as potent an offense. Strong defensive work has allowed only 40 goals in 18 games and with the hard work of vets Adam Kawalec, Connor Cole, and Alex Demrovsky it’s not any wonder they hold a good lead over second-place Stratford. Nothing really needs to be addressed here.

STRATFORD CULLITONS – The once powerful Stratford Cullitons, who have undergone some massive changes the last few seasons, are showing their strength again. Head coach Dave Williams has five 20 year-olds, seven 19 year-olds and one 16 year-old. This is a veteran squad with plenty of experience and only six rookies. Hayden Broomhead (15 g., 20a.), Tyson Baker (19 a.) and Jared Nash (18 a.) have formed the nucleus of the offense while rookie Jack Scanlan has shone with 8 g. and 10 helpers. Rookie netminder Carson Poulin has a respectable 6-1-1 record with a 3.80 gaa. Stratford has a superb powerplay and offense in general, but defensively they should be able to trim some of their goals against. Having picked up vet defenseman Anthony Kostovos from London was a good addition but Kostovos has only played eight games. Whether due to injury, work or school, the Cullitons need Kostovos’ defensive wok in order to better themselves and the sooner he’s in their lineup the stronger Stratford will be.

LISTOWEL CYCLONES – The Listowel Cyclones have shot up to hold down third-place after finishing seventh last season. Coach Jason Brooks has amassed an adequate offense but has a defense which could trim some goals against. Still having a 10-6 record puts the Cyclones in a fairly good position at this juncture of the season. Jamie Huber (11 g., 14 a.) and Brady Anderson (8 g., 10 a.) form the main offense. The team has three 16 year-olds and five 20 year-olds including five-year vet Ben Shelley. This team’s surprising rise may be due to its Mid-West best powerplay and the fact that they carry only four rookies. The vast amount of previous Junior B experience on this squad makes them a tough competitor and a team which will bear watching if Brooks can get his defense playing better. With Stratford just ahead of them and Guelph breathing down their neck, Listowel must continue to get both consistent goal production and defensive work in order to remain a top team.

GUELPH HURRICANES – The Guelph Hurricanes have spent several seasons towards the bottom of the pack but this season head coach Peter Crosby has assembled a squad composed of twelve 20 year-olds which form the main core. The good news for Crosby is all that experience has meant a better team and a higher position in the standings. Unfortunately, no matter how they fare the rest of this season, they will have to rebuild a good portion of the team next season. The team has two 16 year-olds, one of which is goalie Christian Propp who is 6-1 with a 3 gaa. The other half of the goaltending duo is Jordan DaSilva, a veteran netminder, who holds a 3-5-1 record along with a 3.91 gaa. Cameron Stokes’ 10 g. and 11 a. pace the team’s offense while vet Ryan Migliaccio has provided 10 helpers. One of the team’s pluses is having two vets (Migliaccio and Sebastian Stangherlin) who have played in the GOJHL for five seasons.  One of their biggest downfalls is having a total of 11 rookies and is probably the main reason why they have permitted the opposition to score 57 times. If the defense can help reduce the goals against and have vet DaSilva begin playing a higher calibre of hockey, this team will be one to watch. For a team with twelve 20 year-olds on it, Crosby needs to get the vets on the same page and working more efficiently.

CAMBRIDGE WINTERHAWKS – The Cambridge Winterhawks haven’t shown many reasons why they will be anything more than an average team. They began the season under head coach Steve Hodson who stepped down after compiling a disappointing 3-6 record. Dan Fitzgerald has been the head coach since mid-October and through seven games he has slightly righted the ship. Under Fitzgerald the ‘Hawks are 4-3 and have scored 26 and allowed 21. Fitzgerald has 13 rookies plus four 20 year-olds and two 16 year-olds. Goalie Owen Savory has far outshone vet Scott Patton – in 10 games, Savory is 4-3 with 17 ga and a sterling 1.99 gaa for a 94% save percentage. Perhaps Savory can inspire Patton to improve his play. If Patton doesn’t improve it will be hard for Cambridge to maintain their position since strong goaltending is a key to success. The addition of defenseman Jake Wyse (from Guelph) and forward Sebastian Giordano (St. Catharines) are key acquisitions and should help. This team has only notched 46 goals and needs to put up some numbers. Alex Mutton and Scott Del Zotto lead the ‘Hawks with 6 goals scored each. While the defense has shown signs of improvement lately, Fitzgerald must get either a power forward or create a line that has some kind of consistent punch. It is the only way Cambridge will go anywhere this season.

BRANTFORD 99ERS – The Brantford 99ers have been a team that longs to reclaim their glory years, but head coach Scott Rex has a massive job ahead of him in order to get back to the top. This team has five 16 year-olds and while that bodes well for the future, it does not help the current team too much. It is certainly a statement that Scot is building this team for the future. Add the fact that there is only one 20 year-old on the roster and a total of 11 rookies equals a good main reason why they haven’t scored much and allowed too many goals. Rookie Kyle Walker is among the team’s scoring leaders with 9 g. and 6 a. while vet Gary Polillo has 11 a. and Christian Polillo has 8 goals. Among the positives is vet goalie Will Rawski, who despite being 5-6-2, has obtained two shutouts and has a very good 2.33 gaa. If the 99ers are to improve they need to better their abysmal 37 goals scored for. Their 56 goals allowed is not as bad as many other GOJHL teams have permitted yet it is still an important factor to address.

BRAMPTON BOMBERS – The Brampton Bombers have finally made some headway under new coach TJ Clark. A handful of 20 year-olds (5) and a large number of players who should return in the next few years, this is a team that can look to the future. The vast majority of the players on this team are rookies. Actually about three-quarters of the team are rookies and while that is a contributing factor for their exceptionally high goals against (76) it does have some merit. It is obvious they have no outstanding offense and combined with two rookie netminders, it explains why the have the totals they do. While this team certainly could use some extra veteran experience to help the large number of rookies, they could also use a solid goaltender. Rookie goalie Jason Rhynold is getting his feet wet having played 14 games and carrying a 5-9 record and 4.09 gaa. But his Achilles’ heel may be the 467 shots his defense has allowed on him. He has faced far too many pucks and yet has kept his gaa below five. A fairly good indicator that he is only going to improve as a goalie as he gets accustomed to each of his opponent’s scorers. This team is a work in progress and will be something to watch in the future if Clark can keep them together.

ELMIRA SUGAR KINGS – After being at the top of the heap last season, the Elmira Sugar Kings, under the tutelage of coach Jeff Flanagan, are presently mired in 8th place. They entered the current campaign with 11 Jr. B rookies of which only one is a 16 year-old. But Flanagan has a good mixture of youth and older players with five 20 year-olds and another five 19 year-olds. Veteran Zac Coulter has notched 14 g. and added 12 a. to pace the team while Ethan Skinner is the big set-up guy with 21 a. While the high number of rookies suggests a high turnover from last season and a look towards the future, their biggest downfall has really come from established goalie Liam Conway who has a 1-8-1 record and a 3.85 gaa. Those numbers should be much better for a veteran netminder. Back-up Mike Black hasn’t fared well either thus pointing the way to an inexperienced defense. However, Conway, who has six shutouts to his prior credit, should be doing a better job between the pipes. Lots of work to be done here by Flanagan and his players.

WATERLOO SISKINS – The Waterloo Siskins who were a top contender last season sit in the cellar. Head coach Todd Hoffman has only two 20 year-olds and just one 16 year-old plus a crew of 11 rookies including main goaltender Mitchell Datz. Top team scorers Gary Mantz (10 g.) and Nate Schnarr (10) account for half the team’s goals scored. But even with the veteran presence of two former West Conference players in Anders Adzija and Josh Slegers (both previously with from St. Thomas Stars), any kind of improvement will aid the defensive department. Help can be added in many other areas too. While rookie goalie Datz has played in 14 games and has a 3-11 record with a 3.52 gaa his defense could cut down the number of shots faced. Thus far 359 have come his way and back-up goalie Bailey DeGasperis has only seen action in two contests (a horrendous 5.48 gaa and 84.5 save percentage). Like Elmira, the Siskins have a dozen rookies and that translates to plenty of mistakes, as well as a huge learning curve. While they battle Elmira for the the bottom rung, the good news is that neither they, or Elmira, have approached the depths once shown by the the Buffalo or Pelham franchises. This is a team that will fare better in future seasons.

(Photo credit – Stratford Beacon Herald)

C. Scott Holland is an accomplished author, a former Western Jr. B Hockey League statistician and is recognized as the West Conference’s and GOJHL’s historian. A lifelong resident of Leamington Scott was a journalist for the now defunct Leamington Post for 26 years and currently writes for the Southpoint Sun. Among the books he has authored are: 75 Years: A History of the Leamington and Erie Shores Golf Course; A Century In The Making – History of Heinz Canada 1909-2009; Leamington Flyers 1992/93-2011/12 Platinum Anniversary Special Program; the Western Jr. B Record Book 2003/04 and 2005/06 editions; as well as updates of both the West Conference and GOJHL Record Books. He was been a member of he Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 27 years and served many years as a board member, statistician, press box announcer, and scorekeeper among other duties. He has been named the West Conference Volunteer of Year and a Windsor-Essex Sportsperson of Year award. He resides in Leamington with his wife Susan.

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