Mid-West Preview – by C. Scott Holland
Parity in the Mid-West seems to occur in spurts and hints of it were shown in the final stages of last season. I may not follow the Mid-West as closely as the West, so any opinions here are as good as anyone else’s.
First off, almost every team in this conference has a slew of rookies. Most squads are also a good mixture of youth and vets. It should make for some spirited play and a highly contested conference.
One of the favoured teams has to be Stratford and if one glances at the conference’s long history, it shows that the former Cullitons, now known as the Warriors, are a perennial champion. They are starting the season with five 20 year-olds and lots of veteran experience for coach Dave Williams to work with. They also have a new GM in Dustin Wenge,r who moves up the road from St. Marys. A couple of interesting pick ups out of other conferences and leagues have solidified the lineup. Among them are Cam Garrow, who did not play in 2015/16 but had played for London and St. Thomas previously. Jack Wieringa and Graham Brulotte also moved over from the Lincolns joining former West division players Anthony Kostovos and Trevor Dulong. This team should finish first or second but will have to find its scoring touch to accomplish that. No matter where they finish this squad will be a threat in both regular season and playoffs.
The Kitchener Dutchmen are blessed with two experienced goalies in Cossmo Lazzarino and Luke Richardson as well as veteran forwards Nate Schnarr and Adam Kawalec plus vet defenseman Tate Wirschke to help steer the youthful defense. Coach Greg Bignell has a good blend of players and judging from their stingy exhibition goals against they are going to be a tough team to beat. Their scoring hasn’t been spectacular in pre-season but if it comes around they’ll be a respectful second or third if not a challenge for the top spot.
The Elmira Sugar Kings are another team with plenty of youth but have an important addition with Jake Brown who has played the last three campaigns for the Caledonia Corvairs. He joins vets Josh Slegers and goalie Jonathan Reinhardt. Coach Ty Canal has seven 17 year-olds in the lineup and that is definitely a sign that the team is preparing for the future. They have worked well in pre-season, but during the course of a long season it will remain to be seen just how well they will do. This squad may be lacking in veteran experience but could be a hungry squad that surprises some people. They will challenge for a spot third to fifth and with the added presence of an older vet or two could thrust them solidly into the top four.
The Brantford 99ers look to move up under coach Rex Scott. They have assembled a team which consists of ten 18 year-olds. Lots of experience but thus far they have amassed a large amount of penalty minutes while playing an incredible nine exhibition contests – almost the equivalent of one-fifth the regular season. They should definitely be in the swing of things coming out of the gate. Despite the number of older players, this team may not be much better last year’s edition. Look for about a sixth place finish.
The Cambridge Winter Hawks have only a few vets but do have vet netminder Scott Paton. If Patton can return to his form of 2013/14 the Winter Hawks will finish mid-pack. Coach Dan Fitzgerald has lots of work to do with this squad and there are few signs that this team will not finish any higher than sixth or seventh. Another plus for this team is the unknown abilities of the team’s youth and that could be their salvation to earning a higher position.
The Guelph Hurricanes have a unique situation. They do not have one head coach. All decisions are shared by three assistant coaches: Jason DaSilva, Jeff Reid and Mike Down. One of the blessings for them is the fact they have six 17 year-olds and three 20 year-olds. In exhibition they have shown that they can continue to compete but will need to improve their scoring and their goals against in order to have a shot at being a part of the upper crust. Expect the Hurricanes to vie for fifth or sixth.
The Brampton Bombers have acquired former LaSalle Vipers’ goalie Cameron Zanussi. He played for Mississauga (OHL) last year and is a solid goaltender. It’s a start for a team which appears to need some consistent scoring. Head coach Nic Martins will have plenty of talent with which to work, but this team needs more than the skill of a veteran netminder. Brampton could finish anywhere from sixth to ninth, but most likely will hoover around seventh.
The Waterloo Siskins and head coach Todd Hoffman look for a better season while still in a rebuilding stage. The Siskins do have Bailey DeGasparis as an experienced hometown goalie and vet Nate Schnarr who is still young and who will help lead the team for a couple of more seasons. While they have shown that they have a better defensive team in pre-season, their lack of scoring could be a downfall. If that problem is solved the Siskins could rise slightly and vie for a sixth or seventh spot, but most likely they will finish eighth.
It may be a tough year for the Listowel Cyclones and head coach Jason Brooks. They are carrying a roster with only one 20 year-old and seven 17 year-olds on it. It appears that Listowel is rebuilding but if Brooks can get this squad working so that it has a solid three lines the Cyclones could finish higher than expected. Unless there are changes, this team may not end the season higher than seventh and chances are that they will finish in the unwanted eighth or ninth spot.
The best of luck is wished to all the Mid-West players, coaches and staffs in their 2016/17 hockey endeavours. May all your contests be played with a high degree of sportsmanship and to the best of your abilities! 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.