A Look At The Golden Horseshoe – by C. Scott Holland
Having one-third of the regular season gone, it appears that the Golden Horseshoe is much the same as it has been the past several seasons. Nearly a clear-cut top four and bottom four. Very little on the way of surprises but there are some teams which have improved or slumped compared to previous seasons. One thing is apparent with nearly every team in this conference – they have become more dependent upon veteran players and the majority of the GHS teams have quite a few 20 year-olds.
CALEDONIA PRO-FIT CORVAIRS – One of the strongest teams in the GOJHL over the last half decade has been the Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs. Like in their past two championship seasons, they have exhibited the strength of solid offensive and defensive work. Yet unlike other years, they appear to have more evident weaknesses. One of the biggest additions to this team is captain Tait Seguin who played several seasons with the OHL London Knights. He joins a squad that is loaded with 20 year-olds – 13 of them to be exact. That in itself is a wealth playing experience, yet coach Mike Bullard has gutted seven players from this team already and they lead the GOJHL with goals scored. and have the number two powerplay which is running at almost 27%. Their penalty-kill is not as strong as in the past and stands at a rather mediocre 81%. A high number of penalties taken (600 thus far) has translated into four players with 40 or more pims and another handful not far off that mark. Veteran goalie Mark Sinclair has played 15 games and is 13-1-1 with two shutouts and a 2.01 gaa. He remains a top GOJHL goalie but back Zach More has only been in two contests – he will need more time to become a superb reserve. This team has thrived on the GHS’ weaker teams and needs to play much better teams more often so they don’t start falling into offensive or defensive lapses. However the biggest problem for Caledonia has been their 2 OT contests where they’ve tied one and won one. Only the St. Catharines Falcons have managed to beat them. Other than the revolving door of adding players, their penalty-kill could improve slightly, but even if it doesn’t, they will be a tough team to conquer. No team has ever won three consecutive Sutherland Cups since the trophy’s inception in 1934 – motivation in itself enough to separate this franchise into a realm with no equals.
ANCASTER AVALANCHE – A pleasant surprise in the early part of this season has been Ryan Kuwabara’s Ancaster Avalanche. Despite the untimely death of their captain Luke Zupan, this team is becoming a tough competitor. The bulk (eight) of this team is 19 years-olds which gives many of them another year of junior eligibility. But the more surprising element is that they have five rookies who all are blending in quite well. Superb offensive numbers with Ben Hughes leading the way with 12 g. and 13 a. while Ryan Cox has 8 g. and 11 a.. The only drawback with Ancaster is their goals against. They’ve allowed 44 which works out to be about 3 per contest which although not great is adequate enough for them to win as long as they score more than that. Goalie Matt Calas has done a great job between the pipes and back-up Cole Ceci has proven himself capable as well. Their powerplay is superb and is at the top of the GOJHL and the penalty kill is third overall. Other than tightening the defense a tad during regular play, the only improvement they need is to have defenseman Cole Nagy cut down on his penalty minutes. The Avalanche have even sent notice to Caledonia (via a tied game) that they will be a hard opponent throughout the regular season and playoffs.
WELLAND CANADIANS – The Welland Canadians under former NHLer Keith Osborne really lack only one thing – a more potent offense. It’s a wonder they are sitting in third with only 41 goals scored. If they were in any of the other two conferences they would be towards the bottom of the heap. With seven 20 year-olds and the same number of 17 year-olds they have a good mixture of vets and youth. The Canadians have played far too many one-goal games and have been fortunate to win most of them. While offense is the main concern vet goalie Chris Janzen and back-up Brandon McCorriston have shared equal playing time. Both have posted respectable goals against averages so that speaks volumes and shows their defense is doing the proper job. They need to inject some life into the offense because outside of vet Jack Fitzgerald and Nathan Ferris, no-one else has stepped up to fill the void. If they are to remain in the top half they will need to address that situation.
ST. CATHARINES FALCONS – Few would expect to see the St. Catharines Falcons sitting in fifth place, yet they aren’t that far out of third. They have played 6 less games than front running Caledonia. If they can convert those 6 games in hand into 12 points they will trail the Corvairs by just 2 points. The Falcons have already jettisoned eight players who don’t fit into what coach Frank Girhiny perceives as a highly competitive team. The Falcons have nine 20 year-olds and are one of the older teams in the conference. Also they have a good core of seasoned vets among which is Tyler Hildebrandt, Broderick Kelly, Cole Langan, Brandon Cercone and Tyler Jackson. Jackson is the current career leader in several categories including points (170), goals scored (74) and assists (96) plus he is second in penalty minutes (392). While the Falcons’ offense hasn’t been as explosive as in previous seasons, it is their shining defensive work and goaltending which has kept them in the thick of things. Goalie Joel Horodzieczyk, a 20 year-old, has a 6-1-1 record and allowed just 9 goals for a 1.14 gaa and a whopping 95% save percentage. The team has permitted only 17 goals in 11 games and furthermore boasts the number one penalty-kill in the GOJHL with a 94.23% .Their top scorer is Nicholas Dozzi who has 10 g. and 8 a.. The lone other bright spot is the fact that they are the only club to have beaten Caledonia. They will have to find some potent offense to compliment Dozzi, which should boost their ability to win games and get them into the top half. Even if they don’t make it into the top four, this team could be one to pull off an upset come playoffs.
NIAGARA FALLS CANUCKS – The Niagara Falls Canucks aren’t too far out of being a top four team either. But they have clearly surrendered far more goals than is necessary to become a clear contender. Work needs to be done improving their defense and thus far they have had trouble topping teams like Ancaster, Caledonia and St. Catharines. Vet defenseman Sean Farquharson has supplied much of the background which has led to goals. He has 12 assists. The Canucks have many contests which have been decided by one goal and main goaltender Joseph Murdaca could certainly fare better with his skills. Murdaca’s 3-7 record and 3.69 does not reflect that of an outstanding main netminder, yet some of his numbers may be from inconsistent defensive work. For a team that has ten 20 year-olds, coach Frank Pietrangelo needs to get his vets providing better leadership and having stronger powerplays which are running at 15% efficiency. Shoring up the defense and getting better goal production will aid the Canucks greatly and give them a shot at knocking off the stronger teams in this conference.
FORT ERIE METRORS – The Fort Erie Meteors are a team gearing up for the future. They have four 16 year-olds and only two 20 year-olds which leaves them with lots of inexperience. That lack of experience is shown by the 72 goals against they have allowed. They have scored 53 times being led by Holden Garlent’s 12 and Daniel Singer’s 10 while Anthony Passero has 15 a. and Ben Evans 12. But outside of those four players offense is few and far between and only four GOJHL squads have a lower penalty kill. The recent acquisition of Manny Manns from St. Catharines should begin to help them in the offensive department but the main concern for coach Rob Hubbert will be getting his young defense playing solidly. Despite the split the goaltending duties, it is clear that one of them needs to start coming up and playing consistently. This team is a work in progress and no great expectations are really expected this season, but perhaps the next few seasons will reap the results of hard work from this particular campaign.
THOROLD BLACK HAWKS – Of all the teams in this conference Thorold may have the most diverse mixture of players. Seven 20 year-olds, nine 19 year-olds and a pair of 16 year-old rookies. Like Fort Erie the main emphasis with the team lies with its offense, defense and goaltending. Not enough of anything to merit a strong season. Their defense is their main downfall. They’ve allowed 70 ga and that is a clear reflection that this mainly older team has to provide better all-around defensive work. Rookie goalie Fraser Kirk has shown that he will be a top goalie in the future. Even with sophomore Josh Astorino between the pipes this team needs to stop more pucks. An extremely high number of penalty minutes (500) can be attributed to overly-aggressive play and too much time spent on the penalty-kill. Too many missing ingredients but if some of them are added by season’s end they may manage to move up a notch.
PELHAM PANTHERS – The Pelham Panthers are beginning to look more like the Buffalo franchise of a few seasons ago. They just don’t have the knack to win games. Coach Paul McLean has his hands full with four 16 year-olds and only five 20 year-olds. Leadership and experience are huge factors contributing to a horrendous 0-13-3 record. They have the conference’s third highest penalty minutes with 412 and the GOJHL’s worst powerplay and penalty-kill. Some positive signs have been shown with three OT losses but the Panthers youthful squad has to cut down their goals against and find some kind of offensive power if they are ever to escape the basement. In general, they need everything – discipline, goal scoring, defense and goaltending. But where does one start? Not having an abundance of experienced vets like other teams in the conference, any kind of defensive or offensive improvement would be a modest beginning. They lost their top 2 goal scorers from last season – 33-goal man Anthony Sorrentino is playing with the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (QMJHL) and Riley O’Connell, who found the back of the net 23 times, is with the Western Conference’s Strathroy Rockets. In any other conference they would not make the playoffs. Sadly, this team will make playoffs and exit quickly to the top team. A blessing for this club could be the return of the bulk of these players next season unless a mass exodus occurs.
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.
He can be contacted at email@example.com