Golden Horseshoe playoff preview
The Thorold Blackhawks and Caledonia Corvairs meet in what will likely be the most competitive series of the first round of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League, Golden Horseshoe Conference playoffs. File photo: BILL POTRECZ.
After more than five months and 50 regular season games, the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs finally begin this week.
Three series — St. Catharines vs. Pelham, Caledonia vs. Thorold and Fort Erie vs. Niagara Falls — get underway Wednesday while the Hamilton/Welland series is set to start Thursday.
All quarter-final series are best-of-seven.
Following is a look at each series followed by a fearless prediction.
St. Catharines (1) vs. Pelham (8)
Season series: 6-1 St. Catharines.
The Falcons dominated the season series, outscoring the Panthers 30-8. The Panthers did upset the Falcons 3-2 Sept. 18.
St. Catharines led the GOJHL in points (82) and winning percentage (.820) while the Panthers placed last in the Golden Horseshoe conference with a 4-42-3-1 record. Their .120 winning percentage was 24th out of 25 teams in the GOJHL. The Branford Bandits, owned by Niagara IceDogs owner/general manager Darren DeBobbelear, placed last overall with a 2-45-3-0-7 mark.
The Falcons will have Blake Yetman back in the lineup which will help the offence.
St. Catharines are prohibitive favourites to sweep the series.
Betting Bill says: St. Catharines in 4.
Game 1: Wednesday, March 1, at Pelham, 7:45 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, March 3, at St. Catharines, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, March 5 at Pelham, 2:45 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, March 7 at St. Catharines, 7 p.m.
*Game 5: Wednesday, March 8 at Pelham, 7:45 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, March 10 at St. Catharines, 7 p.m.
*Game 7: Monday, March 13 at St. Catharines, 7 p.m.
Hamilton (2) vs. Welland (7)
Season series: 7-0 Hamilton.
The Kilty B’s led the Golden Horseshoe in goals scored (206) while the Junior Canadians permitted 206, second-worst only to the Panthers.
That’s a bad combination for a competitive series.
The Kilty B’s are too talented, too deep and too motivated to take Welland for granted.
The Junior Canadians will need to play it close to the vest and hope for some bounces and power play goals.
Betting Bill says: Hamilton in 4.
Game 1: Thursday, March 2 at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Saturday, March 4 at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Sunday, March 5 at Welland, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, March 7 at Welland, 7 p.m.
*Game 5: Thursday, March 9 at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
*Game 6: Sunday, March 12 at Welland, 7 p.m.
*Game 7: Monday, March 13 at Hamilton, 7 p.m.
Fort Erie (3) vs. Niagara Falls (6)
Season series: 5-2 Fort Erie.
The Meteors finished 23 points ahead of the Canucks but Fort Erie general manager/coach Nik Passero isn’t taking Niagara Falls lightly.
“They have probably the best goal scorer in the league in Alex Hebblethwaite. He’s pretty dynamic. To score 31 goals as a 16-17-year-old in this league is pretty awesome. He poses a good threat and they have three or four 20-year-old D playing for their careers, so add that together and I think they will be a very formidable foe,” Passero said.
The Meteors hit a bit of a roadblock in the last month or so with an abundance of injures, but Passero feels the club is ready to go.
“We were ready three or four weeks ago,” he said. “It looks like we will be mostly healthy and have our full team for Game 1.”
Jayden Baldinelli and Kyle Adamo will miss the opening series for Fort Erie.
Betting Bill says: Fort Erie in 5.
Game 1: Wednesday, March 1 at Fort Erie, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, March 3 at Niagara Falls, 7 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, March 4 at Fort Erie, 7 p.m.
Game 4: Tuesday, March 7 at Niagara Falls, 7 p.m.
*Game 5: Wednesday, March 8 at Fort Erie, 7 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, March 10 at Niagara Falls, 7 p.m.
*Game 7: Saturday, March 11 at Fort Erie, 7 p.m.
Caledonia (4) vs. Thorold (5)
Season series: 5-2 Caledonia
Easily the most interesting and competitive series of the first round.
The Corvairs finished only seven points ahead of the Blackhawks in the standings and both teams often play with an edge.
The Corvairs can score just fine, but have been uncharacteristically mediocre defensively permitting 175 goals, which rank them sixth in the conference.
The Blackhawks feature goaltender Christian Lynch, who put up outstanding numbers (2.74 goals-against average, five shutouts and .922 save percentage) as a rookie as well as dynamic first-year winger Daniel Vasic (24 goals in 49 games).
Many expect this series to be not only competitive, but very physical as well.
“They’re a big team that can play physical,” Hawks coach/general manager Scott Barnes said. “We’ve had some pretty good battles with them this year. I don’t think it’s going to be an overly crazy physical series but I think it will be a tough, hard fought series.”
The Hawks will be without forward Brendan Bolibruck, who is banged up, and winger Robert Polillo, who is suspended for three games.
Betting Bill says: Caledonia in 7.
Game 1: Wednesday, March 1 at Caledonia, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: Friday, March 3 at Port Colborne, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: Saturday, March 4 at Caledonia, 7:30 p.m.
Game 4: Monday, March 6 at Port Colborne, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 5: Wednesday, March 8 at Caledonia, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 6: Friday, March 10 at Port Colborne, 7:30 p.m.
*Game 7: Saturday, March 11 at Caledonia, 7:30 p.m.
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