GOJHL Playoff Preview – by C. Scott Holland
As the GOJHL heads into its home stretch, many playoff spots are still being highly contested.
In the three conferences it doesn’t appear that any of the leaders will surrender first-place. But the Mid-West could see the most team movement before the season ends.
In the Golden Horseshoe there’s little doubt that the Caledonia Corvairs will prevail in the opening round over Pelham. It will be a quick sweep. This series will be a blowout but one which may see lots of penalties and suspensions. St. Catharines has almost wrapped up second and Ancaster sits third. The Falcons have struggled against lower teams but the Falcons should win the series vs Welland but may take an early unwanted loss. The Falcons in five would be a good bet. Fourth seed Niagara Falls is watching the close race between Fort Erie and Thorold to se which team they will face. It really doesn’t matter because the Canucks are strong enough to get past either in four games.
Second round matchups will be better. NFC could provide a stunning upset. Their OT record is unblemished and shows their poise and ability in extra-time especially against Caledonia. But the odds-on favourite is still Caledonia. St. Catharines and Ancaster could be a physically draining one with the Falcons gaining the edge – most likely a six game set. The finals could be another Caledonia vs St. Catharines matchup. Look for this series going 6.
The Mid-West looks like it could be the top four advancing after the opening round. Unless Cambridge pulls off a sudden miracle it appears that the Dutchmen will meet Brantford in the opener. Kitchener will sweep the 99ers aside quite easily. While Stratford has second place locked up it is undecided whether they’ll face Waterloo or Brampton. This series could go 5 games but most likely Stratford will win in 4. Guelph and Listowel have been locked in a tough battle for third and fourth. Listowel is a single point behind Guelph and could surpass the Hurricanes. If so they would face either Brampton or Waterloo. Neither opponent will do much damage to the Cyclones bid to move on. The Cyclones should take it in 5. Elmira awaits the outcome of Guelph and Lisowel. As the fifth seed they may have a longer, more intense series. Elmira could provide an upset but it looks as though the top four Kitchener, Stratford should advance.
Whether its Elmira or Listowel, or even Guelph facing Kitchener in the second round, Kitchener will come out on top – most likely in five games. A Stratford vs Guelph or Listowel semi will be a quick one too. Stratford should win in five. Then look for the top two squads in the final with Kitchener taking it in six games.
One of the toughest conferences to emerge from is the West. Leamington will advance with little opposition in the opening series against St. Marys while London will encounter the Rockets. London will emerge the winner in four games Chatham and LaSalle are fighting for third and fourth and an old adage in the West is that the third seed is known as the “Seed of Death”. It’s true only a couple of third seeds have ever won or captured the playoff title in the past 60 years, one of those, Sarnia actually tied for second but were awarded third on the tie break. If Chatham should take third they will meet Sarnia and it will be a grinding series with the Maroons winning in six. On the other hand LaSalle will easily get past either Sarnia or a fifth place St. Thomas Stars team. The Stars have struggled against LaSalle for many years and it doesn’t look as though this will be their year.
In the second round, no matter what team advances against Leamington, the Flyers will be a hard foe to conquer. A Chatham or LaSalle second round though will go six or maybe seven games and have large crowds. Look for the Flyers to emerge either way in a hard-fought series – their goaltending edge will be the key. London vs LaSalle or Chatham also will be highly contested. But London is far superior to either of these two opponents. Against LaSalle the difference will be goaltending and against Chatham London will need stellar goaltending as well as some scoring. LaSalle is tough in playoffs and a hard opponent to beat; their on-ice chemistry is already showing itself. London in six to make a Leamington vs London in the finals with the Flyers going seven games to take a third title.
Sutherland Cup – eventhough the wild card spot is unknown, a Leamington-Caledonia matchup would be the most interesting and feature strong goaltending and perhaps several OT games. No matter how we try to glimpse the future it appears as though Caledonia will emerge victorious, but if the Flyers are given a shot at it, they will make sure that a third crown for Caledonia is the hardest to obtain.
No matter how we look at it, there’ll be some great, classic junior hockey action in store.
Best of luck to all the teams in their post-season play and quest for the Sutherland Cup!
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. He resides in Leamington.