How Teams Fared In January – by C. Scott Holland
As the stretch run gets into full swing and all teams play their remaining contests, let’s take a look at how everybody fared in the month of January.
Of all the teams in this conference Fort Erie had the most significant change, otherwise nothing has really changed. The Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs are still rolling, having a month with no losses and the Pelham Panthers remained mired in the basement not winning a single game. There were rumours rolling in the Shoe this month. Some insiders were indicating that Caledonia and Ancaster could be leaving the Conference next year and joining the fourth conference, centered around Toronto, that has been speculated for the past few years. A big reason the fourth Conference has never happened was a lack of quality applicants. With the addition of Caledonia and Ancaster and possibly five or so new cities jumping on board, they may be able to launch that fourth Conference. Buffalo is also rumoured to be rejoining the Golden Horseshoe after a leave of absence. Here’s a look at the month’s standings:
Caledonia 10-0 20
St. Catharines 7-2-1 15
Ancaster 5-4-1 11
Fort Erie 5-4-1 11
Niagara Falls 4-5-1 9
Welland 4-5-1 9
Thorold 4-6 8
Pelham 0-8 0
Caledonia continues to win thanks to some strong offense and a tough defense and goaltending which only allowed 1.6 goals per game. They have shown that they will be a tough club to conquer come playoffs.
St. Catharines still struggles at times when playing teams below them and has a rather high goals against of 31 yet their offense prove why they are the second best in the conference with 45 goals scored.
Ancaster has slipped since their hot start at the season’s start. They are maintaining third place going at a clip just above .500. Against the two squads above them in the standings they haven’t done well and will have to play extra hard if they meet either in playoffs.
Fort Erie had a record identical to Ancaster’s and is currently on a three-game win-streak. Their best contest was a 4-3 overtime loss to St. Catharines. They are showing signs of a better offense but gave up as many as they scored (35-35). The defense and goaltending will have to improve to have a good payoff run.
Niagara Falls did well to score 43 goals in January but they surrendered 49. Like Fort Erie, they played their best game of the month when they took a heartbreaking 5-4 double OT loss to Caledonia, but they still have to come up with ways to top St. Catharines and Ancaster if they are to have any kind of extended playoff run. The one bit of good news is that they have put up excellent battles against Caledonia throughout the season.
Welland had a record similar to Niagara Falls and three times they lost to Caledonia. This team either scores enough to win or just falls short. If they play a team of the same calibre in playoffs they will have a good matchup and a chance to win. However like other teams they will have to find a way to beat any of the top three along the way.
Thorold’s biggest problem was generating goals consistently yet in low scoring games they topped both St. Catharines and Ancaster in overtime games. For playoffs they will need to get more goal production and lower their goals against.
Pelham’s January performance was as dreadful as it has been all season. In eight games they managed just 20 goals while giving up 55. It will be a quick playoff exit for this team as Caledonia will no doubtedly thump them soundly. This team should start looking ahead to next season and pray they can make some vast improvement.
The LIstowel Cyclones, Elmira Sugar Kings and Waterloo Siskins all had excellent months, but it was Waterloo which made the biggest move. The Siskins have moved up from near the bottom of the pack to vying for a spot near the edge of the upper crust. Kitchener remains the top team showed why they are at the top.
Kitchener 9-1 18
Listowel 8-2 16
Waterloo 7-3 14
Stratford 6-2-1 13
Elmira 6-3-1 13
Guelph 3-5-1 7
Cambridge 2-7-2 6
Brantford 2-7-0-1 5
Brampton 0-7-0-1 1
Kitchener’s goaltending and defense has been keeping them winning and their loss was to the strong Stratford squad. The Dutchmen look to hang on to first and have a great playoff run.
Listowel has made a number of changes to their lineup this season and it is beginning to pay dividends. The only difference between Kitchener’s numbers and the Cyclone’s was a difference of three more goals against for Lisowel. Their two losses were to Kitchener and Stratford and nearly every game they played was close. This team will be one to watch come playoffs and could upset somebody.
Waterloo has finally had its team playing a better brand of hockey. They scored the most goals of all the conference’s teams in January but still have a touch of work to do on their defensive side. Like Elmira, they could prove to be a team that provides a playoff upset.
Stratford sputtered a bit against lower teams but still has excellent scoring and defense. Four of their contests were decided by only one goal yet they have managed to prevail. They will have to have an extraordinary run in February to beat out Kitchener for first but they are a strong playoff contender and one team that has plenty of veteran experience.
Elmira has fared well with teams of their own calibre or below them in the standings but will have to have a solid series against any of the top teams. Their offense has been clicking and their defense has improved greatly. This team could make the conference semis and might have an outside shot at the title.
Guelph has slipped to a losing record in January. They allowed more goals than they scored. The only team they haven’t had trouble with is Cambridge. The Hurricanes will have to rely on better offense and defense in order to survive even the opening round of playoffs.
Brantford allowed the most goals of any Mid-West team in January and were shutout in two straight games. The playoffs do not look good for this club as any of the top teams could whisk them away quickly.
Cambridge gained a couple of wins in January but will need to have an exceptional month in February just to make the playoffs. They aren’t far behind though and it is quite conceivable they could get into eighth spot. But no matter who gets that eighth seed, it will be a quick playoff exit.
Brampton floundered greatly but did manage a single point. Both their offense and defense need vast improvement. If they make the playoffs it will be a short series before they are eliminated.
Even though they took a tough loss at the hands of the LaSalle Vipers, The Leamington Flyers continued to be the best in the west. The London Nationals continued their hot pace as well while the Sarnia Legionnaires tied London in points and have now won four consecutive games. The LaSalle Vipers, who have added some veteran experience, had a short schedule and grabbed enough points top even Chatham. The Maroons were only a point behind LaSalle but have lost their last three contests. The St. Thomas Stars and Strathroy Rockets were next with St. Marys following and the Lambton Shores Predators grabbing a point from a tie and an overtime loss.
Leamington 8-1 16 pts.
London 6-1-0-1 13
Sarnia 6-5-0-1 13
LaSalle 5-1-1 11
Chatham 5-4 10
St. Thomas 3-3-1 7
Strathroy 2-5-2-1 7
St. Marys 2-5 4
Lambton 0-7-1-1 2
The Leamington Flyers ended January with three victories and all of them coming against teams which will be their main playoff competitors. The Flyers should have a fairly easy first round and then meet a tougher second round opponent. But no matter how one looks at this team, the fact that they have home ice advantage is huge. That’s where they thrive. They have almost clinched first-place in regular season for the third consecutive year and look to be a favourite to win the West playoff title. Their only real problem in playoffs might be the fact they do not score an abundance of goals. Rookie netminder Tyler Wall also continues to shine and could be a major reason why they have a shot at the Sutherland Cup.
London’s nemesis is Leamington but in January they also surrendered a few more goals (29) than they should. However their offense on most night’s generates enough to defeat most clubs. They should be fine come playoffs but a bruising second round could wear them out before getting to the final. Realistically they may have the best chance to gain a wild card entry to the Sutherland Cup playdowns.
Sarnia was a huge surprise in January. The club played 12 games – the most of any West team. The Legionnaires scored the most goals but still ended up giving up one more than their offense had amassed (48/49). Goaltending and defense is adequate to get them through the opening round but thereafter they are going to find it tough to advance. London, Leamington, Chatham and St. Thomas all handed them losses and those are the teams above them. They will need some fine-tuning if they are to advance past the second round.
The LaSalle Vipers appear to be a re-energized team. The addition of defenseman Nathan Veres, who had been out with an injury for most of the season, plus Daniel Beaudoin seems to have sparked a club that had a rather lethargic first half. The Vipers don’t normally give up many goals but in a recent contest they permitted St. Thomas 10. That is not a particularly good sign. They have been putting up some good battles and like last season, the Vipers are aiming for the playoff title. No matter where they end up in the standings any second round appearance will probably be a long one. Next to London, they may have the best chance to get into the final or advance via a wild card.
The Chatham Maroons have barely played above .500 lately. They engaged in a wild, last-shot-wins contest vs London and had a high scoring win over Lambton. Four of their wins came vs teams below them in the standings and ended the month on a three game skid, losing twice to Leamington and once to LaSalle. Better goaltending and defensive work will be the keys for them to get to the Weir Cup final.
The St. Thomas Stars have struggled since losing Ryan Valentini and Eric Henderson. Their offense has sputtered and the defense and goaltending has given up far too many goals. Playing at a .500 clip is not good for this team and the only way they can save themselves from being ousted in a first or second round is to generate some consistent offense while not giving up as many goals like they did in a 10-8 victory over LaSalle recently.
Strathroy has not had a good year but with a high number of rookies, it is not surprising. Defensive and goaltending weaknesses plus a lack of scoring has plagued them all season. Whether they play London or Chatham they will not last long come playoffs; it will be a quick end to a dreadful and painful season.
St. Marys Lincolns sit currently in the final playoff spot and are up on Lambton by four points. They, like Strathroy, are fairly young and inexperienced. Their appearances in playoffs have been scattered during the last half decade. They do not score many goals to begin with and if they do end up in eighth they will face the Leamington Flyers. It will be a short series with a quick shove towards the golf courses for them. On the bright side, the Lincolns and Strathroy both should have better teams for next season, but that is only if they address some of the problems they have.
The Lambton Shores Predators have proven once again that they just love claiming last place. Not winning a single contest after playing nine games, is not a good sign. They were lucky to send Strathroy to OT and then tie the Rockets. But this club is in dire straits. They have lost their last six including key matches vs Strathroy and St. Marys. Unless a miracle happens, this team is doomed to miss the playoffs and even if they get that eighth spot, they will be seeing the door to summer rapidly.
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 2005/05 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.