The Golden Horseshoe After 10 – by C. Scott Holland

This is the first of three articles outlining the GOJHL teams’ strengths and weaknesses after most teams have played their first 10 games.

The Golden Horseshoe Conference has had its upper crust and cellar dwellers throughout its long history. In more recent years, Buffalo, Pelham and Thorold have run into a myriad of problems. Last spring it appeared as though two of those franchises mighty cease to exist, but a strong commitment in the case of Thorold and Buffalo from ownership have allowed the two to remain while Pelham, like several teams in their own division sought changes at the coaching level.

Most fans would likely say the top four GHS teams are Caledonia, St. Catharines, Niagara Falls and Ancaster. Such has been the case the past few seasons and why should that hierarchy change?

Indeed – not at the outset anyway.

As expected Buffalo has anchored itself in the basement and are winless. The Regals have a whole new slew of players and coaches and have shown some tiny signs of improvement. However the losses are still mounting. The good news for them is that they are not allowing 10-plus goals per game like last season. They have gotten that number down to roughly six per contest and while they have scored 15 goals, they do have a couple of players who have three or four points. Netminder Nikolaos Manetas is carrying a decent gaa with a 4.18 and an 88.6 save percentage. Somewhere along the way they could get a win or two but any thoughts of moving out of last are far-fetched.

The Fort Erie Meteors need help in all defensive departments and have an offense that likewise needs some igniting. Allowing 4.78 goals per game makes it harder on the team to be competitive and should the Meteors get some extra offense other than Drew Passero’s four goals, it could keep them in most games. An average of 1.9 goals per contest doesn’t win many. The only positive for this team is that they do have plenty of time in which to implement changes and improvement.

The re-organized Thorold Blackhawks are showing signs that the new management has done a good job recruiting and fielding a competitive team. They are not to the point where they are going to challenge the upper teams on a nightly basis, but with Griffen Fox, Brendan Charlton, and Matt Maidens leading the way on offense and a couple of youngsters (2001-born) Howard Mason of London and Devon Thibodeau (Pelham) they are poised for a resurgence. One downfall is their goaltending – which is decent but not as solid as it could be to make this club a contender. Hats off though to GM-head coach Scott Barnes for getting Thorold up and running better than most expected.

The Welland Canadians sit in the thick of the middle of the pack. Five players have a point a game including Matthew Giannini, Noah Blakely, Daelyn Minovski and Tanner MacEachern. With an offense that is putting up some good numbers, all that remains to put this squad into contention is a more solid defense. Time may help with that and the Canadians do have the potential to move up a notch or two.

The biggest surprise thus far of perhaps all the conferences is that of the Pelham Panthers. Most pundits would have them sitting in eighth or at best seventh, but whereas in the past this club would struggle offensively, this season they have made the right changes. Not only has the addition of forward Jared Hill and getting rid of their two goaltenders aided this team, it has inspired them and injected some much needed offense and defense. The recent 7-5 win over the St. Catharines Falcons is another boost to a club that in the past would have just given up and lost. Instead the fight to the end and come out with a victory that pumps the team morale. The players that GM Tim Toffolo and head coach Mark Barrich have assembled are working fairly well together. The Panthers have 12 players with three or more points – a well-balanced offense to say the least. With two new netminders the team has also cut their gaa in the last three to four games so that it is now respectable. All signs point to this team hovering around fifth place.

Holding down fourth place, the Ancaster Avalanche had a rocky first outing of the season when they lost 6-1 to the Leamington Flyers in their first showcase game. But in the second of their two spotlight contests, they edged the powerful LaSalle Vipers 6-4. Head coach Ken Peroff has a mostly older team yet has an eye to the future as well since they have three youngsters in the wings as APs. The Avalanche have four locals on the roster as well. They are sitting right where they should be. As in past seasons they are strong enough to take an odd win from the three powerhouses above them but will rely on victories from the lower half to keep them comfortably in the top four. Ancaster is highly competitive and needs very little tweaking but a small change here or there wouldn’t hurt them either.

The Niagara Falls Canucks have been on the edge of the top four the past few seasons and have come out looking like the powerful teams they fielded in the past. Twenty year-old and fourth year vet Frank Pucci has amassed 23 points while Patrick McCabe, a 19 year-old St. Catharines resident who is also a fourth year GOJHL player has 19 points to anchor the Canucks’ offense. This year’s version of the Canucks have an offense which can breakout in any particular game and a defense strong enough to limit the opposition’s damage. They teeter on the edge of being one of the top two teams and could challenge for supremacy with a defense that is just a tad bit improved.

The St. Catharines Falcons began the season as the GHS leader but suffered a bump in the road recently when the Pelham Panthers upset them. Offensively the Falcons are loaded. Lucas Smilskjy has returned for his sophomore year and the 5’7″ forward is not disappointing. Boosting the offense is rookie Michael Davies who has notched 25 points iwhile GOJHL vet Hayden Broomhead comes over from the Stratford Warriors. Broomhead had a shot with the Amarillo Bulls of the NAHL last season but opted to return to Stratford where he had an off-season playing only 21 games. He looks to regain his scoring touch with the Falcons. Tanner Ferrreira returns as well and is in his fourth year after spending two seasons with the London Nationals. Plus head coach Dan Fitzgerald has vet goalie Owen Savory helping to lead the way defensively. The Falcons are matching the Caledonia Corvairs with 20 ga and 55 gf and sit only two points off first.

The Caledonia Corvairs under the direction of head coach Mike Bullard are right where everyone expected them to be – atop the pack. With 56 gf and only 20 ga this team is showing a display of powerful offense and tough defense early. GHS scoring champion from last season, Adam Craievich has returned and with the addition of former St. Marys Lincolns forward Sean O’Brien the two are pacing the offense with 17 points each. But the Corvairs would not be where they are if it were not for the superb netminding of vet goalie Brandon McCorriston who came to Caledonia after spending threes seasons in in Welland. Already, McCorriston has shown that he is one of the best goalies in the entire GOJHL. He has a 7-1 record with a 1.73 gaa and is a big reason why the Corvairs are winning rather easily. This team may not be as overly rounded as the ones in past years but once again Bullard has pieced together a mixture of top notch talent that is getting the job done.

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 writes occasional articles for the Southpoint Sun and the Strathroy Age Dispatch. 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, Mid-West and Golden Horseshoe Conference and GOJHL Record Books and Playoff Record Books  He has been a member of he Leamington Jr. Flyers hockey club for the last 28 years and has served many years as a board member, statistician, in the press box as an 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. 


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