Golden Horseshoe playoff preview
The St. Catharines Falcons and Pelham Panthers begin their playoff series Friday in St. Catharines. Photo by: Bernie Puchalski
After what seems an eternity, it’s finally playoff time in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
The Golden Horseshoe Conference post-season gets underway Tuesday as the Fort Erie Meteors visit the Caledonia Corvairs. The rest of the series begin later in the week with the Pelham Panthers visiting the St. Catharines Falcons and the Thorold Blackhawks travelling to Niagara Falls to take on the Canucks Friday. The Welland Junior Canadians square off versus the Ancaster Avalanche in the fourth opening round, best-of-seven quarter-final series beginning Saturday in Ancaster.
The following is a look at each series followed by a fearless prediction.
St. Catharines (2) vs. Pelham (7)
St. Catharines: 38-8-1-3
Season series: 3-3
The Falcons had more than twice as many wins as the Panthers (38-17) and finished 42 points ahead of them in the standings, but the Panthers more the held their own against St. Catharines, splitting the season series 3-3.
Both Falcons coach/general manager Frank Girhiny and Pelham bench boss Mark Barrick don’t seem to put much stock in that now that the post-season has arrived.
“The first two wins they got against us we’re a totally different team than from what we are now,” Girhiny said. “Obviously, kudos to them for when they played us a couple of weeks ago. They had a good game plan and a well-deserved win on their end. They are well coached and well prepared.”
Barrick, who has a long and successful history as coach with the Falcons, felt the same way.
“Honestly, it doesn’t matter at this point. It’s a different season all on its own. People who haven’t been involved don’t understand that,” he said. “We’ll look at the good, the bad and ugly of our games. We will capitalize on the good and look to fix the other things.”
The Panthers were able to shut down the high-powered Falcons and get under their skin during the regular season. That lack of discipline has been a shortcoming of St. Catharines all season — they led the entire GOJHL in penalty minutes.
“It’s unbelievable and we stress it before every game and in between periods and we just get these mental blocks,” Girhiny said of his club’s lack of discipline. “Some of the penalties are warranted and some aren’t. Regardless, we have to be better and if we’re going to take penalties, we aren’t advancing. It’s pretty black and white. If you are in the box, you aren’t going to win.
“It’s on the players to be able to execute that.”
Girhiny feels the Falcons’ experience will help them in that department.
“We have an older team. You can bench a guy here and there, but you have to get everybody going.
“I’m challenging the players to police it themselves.”
Girhiny feels if the Falcons can stay out of the box, the results on the ice should take care of themselves.
“Five-on-five, we can beat anybody in the GOJHL,” he said.
And after struggling against Pelham all season, Girhiny doesn’t need to remind his charges not to take the hard-working Panthers lightly.
“Our players aren’t taking them for granted, and neither are we,” he said.
Barrick is curious to see how his young club responds to the added pressure of playoff hockey.
“In playoff hockey, you have to find a way to dig down deep and find something there. It’s the mental side of the game. You’re going to be sore and tired and you are on the ice every day.”
BPSN predicts: Falcons in 5.
Niagara Falls (4) vs. Thorold (5)
Niagara Falls: 32-14-0-4
Season series: 4-2 Niagara Falls
The Canucks had a solid campaign but weren’t at their best in the last few weeks of the regular season.
“We couldn’t move up so there wasn’t a lot to play for and there wasn’t much motivation going on,” Falls coach Frank Pietrangelo said. “We’re really looking forward to the playoffs.”
Pietrangelo expects the Hawks to be a formidable opponent.
“They are a hard-working, young hockey club. Their biggest asset is they come every game and wear their heart on their sleeve so we have to match their intensity,” he said. “We’ve played them enough all year to know what kind of hockey club they are so we’ll be ready.”
The Canucks feature nine 20-year-olds which Pietrangelo feels will be a huge asset in the playoffs.
“They are all kinds of situations that arise in the playoffs. We’re experienced enough to be prepared for just about everything,” he said. “One thing we’ve done this year is we added a lot of veterans. It’s their last go at it and we’ll be prepared for all circumstances.”
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, had a successful regular season considering the organization didn’t even finish the season last year.
New owner/coach Scott Barnes did a commendable job building a program from the ground up. While the Canucks have an experienced squad, the Hawks are one of the league’s youngest teams.
“We’ll see how our team does. I expect a lot of ups and downs but until they experience playoff hockey, they don’t really know what it is,” Barnes said.
The Canucks expect to be at full strength for the first time this season while the Hawks have some bumps and bruises. As well, forward Spencer Blackwell will be suspended for Game 1.
“We hope to be at full strength as the series progresses,” Barnes said.
BPSN predicts: Canucks in 5
Caledonia (1) vs. Fort Erie (8)
Fort Erie 10-32-1-7
Season series: 6-0 Caledonia
This is a mismatch. The Corvairs lost just four games in the regular season (all to St. Catharines) while the Meteors won only 10 games and finished a whopping 63 points behind the Corvairs.
Caledonia dominated the season series winning all six games and outscoring the Meteors 44-8. The Meteors did take the Corvairs to overtime before losing 4-3 earlier in the season.
This one will be over before it starts.
BPSN predicts: Corvairs in 4
Ancaster (3) vs. Welland (6)
Season series: 4-2 Ancaster
The Avalanche are perhaps the most underrated and under-appreciated team in the Golden Horseshoe.
The Avs challenged the St. Catharines Falcons for second place for most of the year before the Falcons finally clinched second spot on the final day of the regular season.
The Junior Canadians, meanwhile, had a mediocre season at best, finishing 11 games under .500 while permitting the second-most goals against only behind Fort Erie, Buffalo notwithstanding.
Welland did take a pair of games during the regular season from Ancaster while one of the Avs’ wins was an overtime victory.
BPSN predicts: Avalanche in 4
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