Each week, Ryan Drury will preview the CKNX Cherrey Buslines OHA Hockey match-up, with pre-game analysis, reports, and quotes from the 2 teams.
As we rapidly approach Christmas, or whatever holiday you choose to celebrate this time of year, teams in the PJHL Pollock Division are starting to settle into the regular season campaign as we get over the halfway line. Identities are being established, lines are being shuffled, and the clubs try to dig in and solidify their position as a potential contender. Two teams that are bunched together in the top 5 will square off tonight, as the Wingham Ironmen take on the recently leapfrogged Mitchell Hawks.
Wingham was recently as low as 5th in the division, but a good run of games, including a 6-5 win over Mitchell on Sunday, has seen them jump over the struggling Hawks to claim 4th place with 30 points, just 8 back of leaders Mount Forest. Wingham are a funny team in a way. Last year they were solid defensively despite having such a young group, but couldn't score, popping in a division low 87. This year, the Ironmen are scoring in bunches, but are having issues keeping the opponents off the board. Wingham already have 100 goals this year, already obliterating last year's totals, but they've allowed 105. Last year they only allowed 140, so that total could be beaten as well. However, the injection of offence is really promising. The return of former Ironmen hero Jamie Huber has sparked a renaissance in scoring at the Wescast, as Huber paces the team with 49 points, including an all important 25 goals. His 49 points now tie Huber with Mount Forest's Blair Butchart for tops in the Pollock, and his 25 snipes trail leader Klayton Hoelscher, also of the Pats, by 3. Huber is putting together an MVP caliber season, and he certainly isn't by himself. Contributions from Rhys Vollmer (26 points), Kyle Stanbury (25 points), Shane Vollmer (25 points) and Logan Toltan (23 points) have this team soaring when they have the puck. The team can fly on their best night and tag teams for 6 with ease, but if it ever goes dry for a night, the sometimes leaky defense can cost this team.
Speaking of the defense, the Ironmen have a collection of quick, skilled, and young defenders who for all their flash and skating ability, can sometimes jump too far ahead and cause breakdowns. Carter Collinson and Kyle Langlois are having spectacular years on the back end in terms of points, with 22 and 16 respectively, but after them offensively the points drop off. Jacob Bishop and Carter Stewart are both good skaters and solid physically, but they prefer to play a more fluid game than a shutdown, in-you-face style that maybe a Kincardine is known for. There's nothing wrong with that, it's just that sometimes this D-core can be guilty of what I refer to as wandering. They want to be involved and move the puck and play a fast up-tempo game, but sometimes that mindset can pull them out of position. As they and the other two young defenders, Ryan Thede and Jarod Logan, continue to improve and settle their games down, there's no reason this team, with all it's scoring prowess, can't climb up into the top 3.
In net, the Ironmen are getting solid contributions from Kyle Morning and Jamie Brock despite what the stats may show. Morning sports a record of 6-7-0 with a 4.37 GAA and .858 save percentage, While Brock has a 8-3-1 record with a shutout, a 3.79 GAA and an .873 save percentage. Those look like nothing to write home about, but these two have had to make 660 saves between them. Wingham have the third most PIMs at 656, and as was mentioned in the previous paragraph, sometimes the D get caught well out of position trying to make things happen in the offensive zone, or as Leafs coach Mike Babcock calls it, "the fun zone." It isn't much fun when you see a lot of two-on-ones and three-on-twos as a net minder, and these two do, but still managed to lift the Ironmen into 4th. Imagine if that D-core settles, the team takes less penalties and continue to bury pucks on opponents like they do now. This team could really take off if they round their game out, and the goalie stats will rise significantly if that happens.
With the Mitchell Hawks, the top end talent is as good as anyone else's in the Pollock. Blake Pickering leads the team with 33 points, and his running mate Derek Elliot is chugging along with 31. Jamie Shoemaker (21 points) and Jarett Bogdon (18 points) round out their top end scoring, but then it drops off. The thing about the Hawks is, they are skilled and can score, but right now they only have 86 goals, third fewest. You certainly can't call this a pop-gun offence, but it would aid this team greatly if the depth scoring could ignite a little more. If teams are able to shut down the Pickering-Elliot pair, the numbers that others provide sometimes just aren't enough. If guys like Ethan Hill, Dalton Smith and Jake Finlayson can come alive in the second half, this team will round into a more formidable offensive force. Head Coach Joel Riley has said a number of times that depth scoring is an issue, and he's urging other guys to step up.
On the back end, the good news for the Hawks is they're pretty stout in their own zone. They've only allowed 78 goals, which is 4th best. The Hawks also get handy point contributions from captain and all-around stalwart Mackinnon Hawkins, who has 16 points, plays in every situation and brings some nastiness to the rink with 69 PIMs. He is the heart of the team and wears the letter for a reason. He is helped by Luken Van Pelt and Brett Denny, who each have 13 points, and the much improved Reid Ramseyer, who gets better every time I see him. That core group is a nice mix of tough, gritty and skilled. They are able to shut down the best players that opponents bring into the rink, and can toss points up as well. Certainly one would assume their assist totals would all be higher if more of the forwards could find their way onto the score sheet, but if the Hawks can get the offence rolling, they have a more than adequate D-core to lean on.
In net, the Hawks are getting star caliber performances out of Tyler Parr and Curtis Laviolette, who are as good a 1-2 punch in the blue paint as you could find. Laviolette has a record of 6-4-1 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage. Parr, who has started one more game, has a 5-6-0 record with 1 shutout, a 2.62 GAA and .919 save percentage. Virtually identical numbers, and virtually the same level of crease-guarding excellence. While coach Riley tries to figure out how to generate some more scoring, he never ever has to worry about the net minder he employs on a nightly basis. These two may be the best tandem in the division, and they give the Hawks a chance to win every night, which is all you can ask of your goalie.
The Hawks trail the Ironmen by 4 points coming into tonight, and look to close the gap and get themselves back into the upper echelon of the Pollock. Last game yielded a 6-5 scoreline in Mitchell, and tonight may well be another goal fest. As always, it should be entertaining. Tune in on AM920 for pre-game at 7 for the OHA This Week, and syick around for the 7:30 puck drop with myself and Steve Sabourin on the call. Also, if you can't get enough sports, check out our brand new sports show MWO Sports right here on CKNX.ca, coming to Eastlink TV in January: http://cknx.ca/mwo-sports/