Golden Horseshoe Preview – by C. Scott Holland
On the cusp of the regular season starting, many GOJHL fans are turning their to the Golden Horseshoe Conference. The unwanted attention is because of Caledonia’s winning the Sutherland Cup the past three seasons and after loading up with an abundance of 20 years last year measures were taken by the GOJHL to curtail such a thing occurring in the future.
The GHS is very similar to the other two conferences this season as teams are using younger players. A large mass exodus of overage players and players moving to other leagues is also a major factor as to why the GOJHL will be younger this season.
While many people see Caledonia as having another shot at winning the GHS, that chance looks less likely than it has during the past couple of campaigns. A basic parity appears to have hit most of the GHS.
It may come to a surprise to most people, but the Thorold Blackhawks may have the best chance to capture the regular season title. They have lots of veteran presence with seven 20 year-olds and no 16 year-old rookies. Returning netminder Fraser Kirk already showed plenty of skill last season in his rookie season and head coach Bryan Kelly has among his vets: Jake Lloyd, Brendan D’Agostino, Aaron Nunes and Colin Ferrell. To punctuate the hope Thorold had a very good pre-season. Consistency will be the key for this squad to stay near the top. On paper they look like a first-place team but could end up being anywhere in the top three.
The Caledonia Corvairs have lost many players while scooping up some replacements from other Jr. B franchises. Their biggest problem may be goaltending but head coach Mike Bullard will see to it that the Corvairs’ netminding is among the best by the end of the season. Goalie Stephen Harvey comes to Caledonia from Pelham and will need lots of defensive help to win games. Bullard and his staff have six 20 year-olds and a number of GOJHL vets. Besides Harvey, Guy and Christian Polillo come from Brantford, Ryan Punkari is a Corvairs’ returnee while Austin Ulett played for St. Thomas back 2013/14. He’s been with Kingston of the OJHL since. Mike Finger is a 20 year-old who was with Hawkesbury (CCHL) and Brandon Lindberg spent the last four seasons with Saginaw and Sarnia of the OHL. Despite being younger, this team will still challenge for the top spot and could finish either first or second.
The St. Catharines Falcons like Caledonia do not appear as strong overall, but they have picked up several good veteran players with Jr. B talent who are attending school in the area. Dante Copps comes to them from the Strathroy Rockets; goalie Owen Savory comes from Cambridge; Tanner Ferreira played with the London Nationals previously while Ty Learn and Jack Webb are returnees. Frank Girhiny is now GM and Chris Johnstone is the head coach. This squad has five 20 year-olds and one 16 year-old. Enough talent is there to keep the Falcons in the top half of the conference but this team may struggle a bit more with its younger mixture of players. St. Catharines could finish third or fourth and it may be a huge disappointment if they don’t, especially when they have eight hometown boys.
Niagara Falls Canucks’ head coach Frank Pietrangelo does not have a great deal of veteran experience on his club but does have a fairly steady netminder in Zach Moore. Moore needs to have some better defense in front of him to help cut the goals against down but otherwise should be able to win enough games to keep the Canucks in the hunt for a top spot. Plus Adam Dentico will serve as their second netminder, Dentico is a vet who like Moore needs to lower his gaa slightly. Both are steady enough though to keep the Canucks in every contest. Other vets on the club include Phillip Chadder, Patrick McCabe, Henry Curtis and Andrew Barbeau. With a lone 16 year-old and four 20 year-olds Pietrangelo could have the right mix. They could finish anywhere from sixth to fourth but with what they do have, a fourth place finish is most likely.
The Ancaster Avalanche head coach John Moore has a major rebuilding project starting this season after losing many overagers. He has only one 20 year-old and two 16 year-olds. There appears to be little in the way of veteran experience, and there have been no goalies listed yet. It could be a very painful year of learning and gaining experience in Ancaster. If they acquire any kind of decent netminding and manage to come up with some offense it’s possible this club could soar as high as fifth but mostly they are looking at a sixth or seventh place finish.
Keith Osborne’s Welland Canadians feature two 16 year-olds and four 20 year-olds plus a number of vets who have both a great deal of and limited GOJHL experience. Four players have very limited experience: Karl Lavoie, Matt Hobbs, Ben Varga and Ryan Miotto. Nicholas Boehmer, Matt Martin and Brandon McCorriston are among the returnees with plenty of previous GOJHL action under their belts. extensive veteran experience this team will have a roller coaster season but should manage to obtain sixth or seventh.
One of the surprises this season may be the Pelham Panthers. New had coach Scott Barnes has guided the Panthers to some modest pre-season wins. There are surprisingly no 20 year-olds on this club and three 16 year-olds. So with plenty of 17, 18 and 19 year-olds, including Zachary Plumb who is in his fourth GOJHL season, there is much hope the club has finally ound a combination which can provide them with a competitive team. The team’s biggest hurdles will be the lack experience by the goaltending and defense, yet this club is not going to get bombarded every night Look for the Panthers to be seventh or eighth. And if they hit a hot stretch even sixth might be within reach although that is highly unlikely.
It could be an extremely long year for the Fort Erie Meteors and head coach Todd Clayton. They have no 20 year-olds and four 16 year-olds. There is very little in the way of veteran leadership, so it appears that the club is rebuilding for the future. Despite the lack of overall experience if Clayton can get some of the talent to bloom by the end of October they could have a shot at seventh place. The big mystery with this team is that there is so much unknown talent that something good might indeed occur. But odds are they will wind up eighth.
After an absence of two seasons, the Buffalo Regals are back in the GHS and GOJHL. As if they didn’t have enough problems getting back in, their first camp was not held until late July and by that time almost anyone who was of Jr. B calibre was already taken by other teams or leagues. However the Regals have managed to field a team composed with one Canadian – Koddie Oude Vashaar. Oude Vashaar is a rather small (5′ 11″) goalie and the team’s backup is an APM. All the other players hail from the state of New York. Unless a miracle happens this team is not going to be much better than Buffalo’s last couple of entries into the GHS. One can only hope that the coaches and management can find the talent. If they finish anywhere but ninth it will be a true hockey miracle.
The best of luck goes to all the players, coaches, staffs and teams and may you put your best effort into each and every game this season! 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.