GOJHL returns to action
The St. Catharines Falcons will visit the Thorold Blackhawks Monday, Jan. 31, the first day provincial lockdowns will be lifted and teams eligible to play. Photo by: BILL POTRECZ
The St. Catharines Falcons and Thorold Blackhawks are wasting no time getting back to action.
Teams in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League are permitted to return to practice or game action Monday as provincial lockdown restrictions will be lifted and the Falcons and Blackhawks will square off that night at the Thorold Arena.
The Falcons last played Sunday, Jan. 2 while the Blackhawks have been off since December 20.
“I think at the beginning there was a slight concern and to curb that we’re going to get on the ice that morning and get a morning skate together,” St. Catharines coach Tyler Bielby said. “We’ve also hosted a couple of Zoom calls so we’re at least keeping in touch with the boys and creating a culture and making sure their focus is where it needs to be.
“They’re itching to get back and there’s no way better than to play a game the first night we can.”
Bielby said it will be imperative to monitor ice time for the first little while.
“One of the first things I thought of was the safety of the players and not getting the reps in before going into a physical hockey game,” he said. “Being mindful of the layoff and being mindful of short shifts and utilizing our whole bench, particularly on the 31st. We’ll play four lines and six defence and not extend their shifts and give guys a chance to be successful.”
Bielby also admitted players in their teen years generally have an abundance of energy and ability to recover quickly.
“We were all like that at one point, we all had a little more energy and they seem to have it and bounce back a little quicker.”
The Falcons were on a hot streak with seven wins and one shootout loss in their last eight games before the lockdown.
“We were really excited to go into the second half of the season and obviously this layoff has created a bit of a hiccup but it’s a burning passion that makes us just want to get back at it more,” Bielby said. “We’re excited with our group and the character we have in the room, that’s the biggest thing. We miss these guys.”
Blackhawks coach/general manager Scott Barnes said the game could have been postponed, but both organizations chose to play.
“I know people are talking about injury, but everyone will be in the same boat,” Barnes said. “It’s probably not going to be the prettiest of hockey games, but the boys will be excited to be back and playing against rivals. It’s going to be a little rough around the edges to start out but everyone wants to get the games in.”
The Hawks had a disappointing start to their season at 7-17, but Barnes is looking at the break as a time to reset and refocus.
“I think we’re in develop mode,” Barnes said. “We have a lot of young guys on the roster now who are going to get a lot of ice time and get a chance to showcase themselves.
“I look at it as we have half a season left and for a lot of the guys it’s almost like a second season. We’re looking at is as though the slate is clean and let’s show what we have. Our record isn’t the greatest but we think we have a pretty solid roster and now. It’s a chance to see what we have here.”
The Fort Erie Meteors, 13-12-0-1, last played Jan. 2 when they defeated the Pelham Panthers 7-4.
“It’s been a long three weeks,” Meteors coach/general manager Nik Passero said. “We’ve had a couple of Zoom meetings with the boys to talk over some things and our regular four days of practice and then a big week of St. Catharines and Welland.”
Passero is looking at the final portion of the schedule as a tune up for the post season.
“We have two months — 22 games in 57 days — to get ready for the first round and I think we have a great shot in the first round, a great shot to do some damage, and I think our guys believe that,” Passero said. “I expect rust but the game is imperfect to begin with. It’s not like we’re dealing with pros who rely on being perfect. As long as we work hard — obviously our legs aren’t going to be there early on — but we have two months to be ready for showtime.”
The Meteors offset the loss of sniper Antonino Pugliese to the Kitchener Rangers with the acquisition of 20-year-old Buffalo native Brendan Krawczyk from Morrisville State at the trade deadline earlier this month.
“We brought in Krawczyk at the deadline and there’s definitely a buzz around,” Passero said.
The Panthers, 11-16, visit Niagara Falls Friday before hosting Caledonia Sunday and then squaring off with Hamilton next Monday.
“It’s difficult for sure. The hope I’m sure we all have is that the kids have been working out as much as they can and staying in shape and ready to go,” Panthers owner/coach Tim Toffolo said. “We’re going to practice Monday-Thursday and then play Friday, Sunday, Monday. At least we have some time. I think we’re in good shape doing it the way we’re doing it.”
Game postponed during the lockdown will be added to the back end of the regular season schedule which has been extended to April 3.
Following are the standings at the time of the lockdown.
1. Hamilton 23-3-46
2. St. Catharines 21-5-0-1-43
3. Caledonia 18-7-1-1-38
4. Fort Erie 13-12-0-1-27
5. Pelham 11-16-22
6. Welland 10-15-2-22
7. Thorold 7-17-14
8. Niagara Falls 2-23-1-5*
*The GOJHL recently awarded Niagara Falls points from Sept. 24 to Nov. 22 they were earlier stripped of for COVID protocol violations. Those points are not reflected in the official standings as of yet. The decision has been appealed.
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