Sports

Blackhawks host Jr. Canadians in home opener

By Bernd Franke, Postmedia News

Last season’s No. 1 conference in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs also topped the standings when the 2017-18 junior B season got underway.

 

Eight teams in the Midwestern Conference combined, which made up half of the final four at the Sutherland Cup playdowns, combined to go 10-6 at the Showcase tournament on the weekend in Brantford.

All 26 teams took part and the Midwest’s .625 winning percentage was better than those compiled by the Golden Horseshoe, 8-8, .500; and Western, 7-9, .438; conferences.

A tournament-high three teams from the Midwest went undefeated and, surprisingly, the Elmira Sugar Kings were not among them. The Sutherland Cup champions opened the 50-game regular season with losses to the four-time defending Golden Horseshoe champion Caledonia Corvairs, 4-3; and the reigning Western Conference champion London Nationals, 5-2.

The Brampton Bombers, Listowel Cyclones and Stratford Warriors are the teams from the Midwest that went undefeated at the tournament, and each includes a team from Golden Horseshoe among their casualities. Brampton beat the Pelham Panthers, 6-1; as well as the Komoka Kings, 9-2; Listowel defeated the St. Catharines 5-2 before beating the LaSalle Vipers by the same score, and Stratford beat the St. Thomas Stars, 9-2; and the Welland Jr. Canadians, 4-1.

Falcons general manager Frank Girhiny, whose team is celebrating its 50th anniversary this season, called the score in the loss to Listowel indicative of the difference in experience competiting at the junior B level. He said the Cyclones returned 14 players from last season’s conference champions, while the Falcons only have five players back.

“They’re a strong team that already knows how to play together, so they don’t have to spend time learning systems. This year’s power play is essentially last year’s power play,” he said of the Cyclones.

St. Catharines opened the Showcase with a 5-3 victory over London making Dan Fitzgerald a winner in his debut as Falcons head coach.

Fitzgerald, last season’s Midwestern coach of the year with the now-defunct Cambridge Winter Hawks, thought the Falcons had a “good weekend” overall.

“We certainly aren’t thrilled that we only came home with two points, but we played two strong teams and put forth good efforts,” he said. “The boys worked hard and gave us an honest effort on both nights.

“But we have plenty of room to grow as a group and will look to improve in a number of areas.”

Topping the lesson plan at practice for the educator is polishing the team’s play on systems and introducing “new layers to the foundation we have already laid.

“We expect two tough games this weekend against Niagara Falls, and we will be ready for the challenge,” said Fitzgerald, who for the past few years has taught high school English at summer schools in his native Hamilton.

Niagara Falls opens the 48-game intraconference portion of its schedule with a home-and-home series this weekend with St. Catharines. Action in the rematch of last year’s conference semifinal, won by the Falcons 4-2; starts with a 7 p.m. faceoff Friday in St. Catharines and wraps up Sunday with a 6 p.m. puck drop at Gale Centre.

Canucks owner-head coach Frank Pietrangelo isn’t putting too much stock in his team’s 2-0 start to the season.

“Obviously, with two wins on the weekend, we were happy with the results and, for the most part, in the way our team played,” he said. “But we realize this is only the start to a long season and we still have a lot of work to do.”

Pietrangelo, whose team beat the Sarnia Legionnaires, 4-2; and the Kitchener Dutchmen, 6-2; at the Showcase, saw a “lot of positives in our game” at the tournament. He said the Canucks are looking forward to renewing their regional rivalry with the Falcons.

“We know it will be a tremendous challenge, and we relish the opportunity to build on the some of the things we saw at the Showcase.”

Intraconference play in the Golden Horseshoe gets underway Thursday in Thorold, where the Blackhawks host the Jr. Canadians starting at 7:07 p.m.

Welland edged the St. Marys Lincolns 4-3 before losing to Stratford at the Showcase, while Thorold opened 0-2 – Guelph Hurricanes, 2-0; and St. Thomas, 4-2 – under new owner-head coach Scott Barnes.

“The weekend was good,” Jr. Canadians head coach Keith Osborne said. “We went 1-1 and learned that we are a young, fast team.”

He said while more work is needed in a “lot of areas,” the team had a good practice Wednesday preparing for tonight’s game versus the Blackhawks.

“Our goals moving forward are to get better in every aspect of the game and try to establish ourself in this league,” Osborne said.

Welland is starting the season with two new goaltenders after starter Brandon McCorriston and Blair Coffin were traded to Caledonia and Sarnia, respectively, during the off-season.

Like Niagara Falls, the Corvairs, McCorriston between the pipes for both games, also start league play 2-0. They blanked the Chatham Maroons 5-0 after edging Elmira 4-3 in the season opener.

Ancaster Avalanche head coach Ken Peroff and Pelham Panthers bench boss Mark Barrick debuted in their new positions 1-1. Ancaster lost to the Leamington Flyers, 6-1; and beat LaSalle, 6-4; while Pelham rebounded from a 6-1 loss to Brampton with a 4-3 victory over the Strathroy Rockets.

The Buffalo Regals – Komoka, 8-0; Brantford 99ers, 2-1 – and Fort Erie Meteors – Waterloo Siskins, 7-2; Sarnia, 2-1 – enter intraconference play seeking their first wins of the season.

bfranke@postmedia.com

 

 

 

 



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