The Conference Finals – by C. Scott Holland
Although there were a couple of surprises, the finals for three GOJHL conferences feature most of the teams one would have expected to be there. The biggest upset occurred in the Mid-West where the red-hot Waterloo Siskins eliminated the #1 Kitchener Dutchmen and now face the Stratford Cullitons. The West and Golden Horseshoe will have the top two seeds faceoff in their conference finals. The good news regarding this is that there will be some great hockey action coming up in the next two weeks.
The Caledonia Corvairs have left little doubt that they are on a mission to three-peat as GOJHL champs. They have not lost a game yet although Niagara Falls did manage to play well in their series vs the Corvairs, but were whisked aside quickly. Caledonia’s defense and goaltending has been overwhelming allowing just 9 goals in eight contests. Their playoff powerplay is ranked third best and penalty killing is the best of the remaining six. Their offense has been on a tear and the St. Catharines Falcons will have their work cut out for them if they are to keep pace or stifle the explosive Caledonia offense. This series will feature the GOJHL’s two best playoff goalies – Mark Sinclair (Caledonia) vs Joel Horodziejczyk (St. Catharines) duelling to see which netminder can stop the most pucks. The Falcons’ offense has been hot and cold and although three’s no alarms going off, they just aren’t as consistent and don’t put up the numbers the Corvairs do unless they can thrive on the powerplay. This should be a highly physical series with Caledonia’s offense paving the way for a trip to the Sutherland Cup semis. Caledonia in five.
The Stratford Cullitons have shown good offensive and defensive power in the post-season and will face the Waterloo Siskins who are riding Lady Luck by waiting until the playoffs to show their true colours. The Cullitons’ goalie Alexander Books-Potts is carrying 2.00 goals against average heading into the series while Zander Pryor, Jack Scanlon and Zach Van Louwe have ben providing the thrust of the post-season offense. The Siskins will rely mostly on the hard work of their defense and the skills of netminder Mitchell Datz who has gotten them this far. Waterloo is a real underdog and even if they lose this series, their 8-1 record appears good enough at this time to vault them into the wild card spot. Stratford should win this series in five.
One of the most highly anticipated series is the one which will take place between the Leamington Flyers and London Nationals. Both play on Olympic-size ice surfaces and have good goaltending and great defenses. The Flyers have the edge in goaltending even with rookie marvel Tyler Wall stumbling a bit in the series vs Chatham. Both teams have offenses which can come from any line and at any time, so it’s fairly even in that department. One huge difference could be determined by special teams. Leamington’s playoff powerplay is ranked #1 at 40 % compared to London’s 23.9%. Both teams have been lethal with man advantages so penalties will be costly – and both teams have about the same number of penalty minutes. On the penalty kill only .28 separates these two. If the season’s 0-0 tied game was any indication, this series will see lots of back-and-forth action and most likely some close sscores. Perhaps even a couple of OT games for good measure. Not much difference overall. Injuries, but injuries and suspensions along with a bit of luck may determine the outcome. Leamington does have a number of vets who have been through this process the last few seasons – Leamington in 7.
The wildcard? As stated earlier it appears as though Waterloo has the inside track for the wildcard spot as they enter the finals with only one defeat. Stratford and Leamington each have two while London and St. Catharines both have three. No matter how one looks at it, a London vs Leamington Sutherland Cup final would be historic if either of those two clubs got the wildcard spot. But look for Waterloo to get the nod.