PJHL Pollock Division Playoff Preview: Mitchell Hawks Vs. Wingham Ironmen

The playoffs in the PJHL Pollock Division are set.

Right in the middle of the pack, the 4th and 5th seeds are set to face off, and what a match-up it promises to be, as the Mitchell Hawks will battle the Wingham Ironmen. With the 1st place Patriots taking the bye, these two teams ended up on a collision course with both battling for as high as 3rd right until the final weekend. Both clubs have excellent players, and their strengths are both in different areas. A stout defensive team faces off against an explosive offensive unit. The season series ended up 4-3 Mitchell, with Wingham winning the last contest 6-4. Here is a breakdown of both squads.

Mitchell had a somewhat inconsistent season at points, starting off flying out of the gate, but then enduring dips in form and particularly goal scoring throughout the year. They were right in the thick of the battle for the top 3, alongside Wingham, as those two and Kincardine were in a dogfight right until the end of the year. Despite having some issues with depth scoring at times, Mitchell was always a rock solid defensive team, finishing with the 3rd best defensive record in the Pollock Division, allowing just 122 goals against. Only Mount Forest (104) and Kincardine (103) allowed fewer. The Hawks will benefit from the home ice advantage, as they went 12-6-1-1 at home, and just 11-9-0-0 away.

Up front, despite a lack of secondary scoring at times, this team isn’t a slouch in the offensive end, scoring 148 goals. The top line of Blake Pickering (53 points), Derek Elliott (49 points) and Jarett Bogdon (34 points) can carry the mail with the best of them. It’s when you go down the lineup that some concerns start popping up. Head Coach Joel Riley throughout the year noted that he thought the team was way better than they were showing, and the end of the season showed that, but he still believes his team has another level. Support scoring from guys like Jamie Shoemaker (30 points) and Ethan Hill (20 points), as well as more from the rest of the forward core, will go a long way in putting away the Ironmen. A potential star could emerge in this series in returning Hawk Nick Jung. He rejoined the team for the final 10 games of the season, and put up 13 points. He knows the league and the program, and could be a real X-factor in this series.

On the blue line, the Hawks are a tough unit to break down. Led by captain Mackinnon Hawkins (22 points), this D-core plays heavy and fast, beating fore-checkers up in the corners and quickly closing down passing lanes into the high slot. To score goals in tight against Mitchell, you have to be willing to take punishment from Luken Van Pelt, Reid Ramseyer, and of course, Hawkins. Brett Denny showed a ton of improvement and confidence throughout the year as well, and despite not having huge offensive totals, this group can quickly move pucks up to their forwards and often don’t get caught pinching or allowing odd man rushes the other way. Wingham will have a tough test getting through this unit.

In terms of goaltending, you won’t find a better 1-2 punch than what the Hawks can boast in Curtis Laviolette and Tyler Parr. Virtually identical in appearances with 18 and 17 respectively, both put up sparkling numbers for Mitchell when either one was called to guard the blue paint. Laviolette went 11-5-1 with a .923 save percentage and 2.67 GAA, while Parr went 9-7-0 with 2 shutouts, a .917 save percentage, and a 2.75 GAA. Either one of these two talented twine guardians offers a unique challenge to shooters. Parr is aggressive and plays angles very well, and can frustrate forwards with poke checks. Laviolette sits back in his crease a bit more, using his big frame to eat up holes that shooters try to exploit. Mitchell will have zero worries if, in an extreme circumstance, one of these goalies gets hurt. Not many other clubs have that advantage.

In Wingham, the team, despite only moving up one spot from their 6th place finish last year, made marked improvements. The Ironmen scored a division-low 87 goals last season, and ballooned that total to 158 this year, 3rd best in the Pollock. The return of Jamie Huber sparked an offensive renaissance in Wingham, as the captain helped a number of youngsters have career years, pulling the strings on a super-lethal power play. However, in their own end, the problems start. Wingham allowed 150 goals against, 3rd worst behind only Goderich (209) and Hanover (190). Wingham will have to make sure they don’t get caught pinching, because if Mitchell are allowed too many odd man breaks, they could wrap the series up quickly. The Ironmen went 12-6-0-2 at home, but just 10-8-1-1 on the road.

On offense, this is a potent, deep, and fast unit that can pile up goals quickly and often, and if they get a big lead early, they’re hard to catch, because as teams throw more pressure up ice to catch up, the Ironmen can exploit the extra space with their quick forwards and rushing D core. Captain Jamie Huber had a stellar return to the club he began his junior career with, posting a 63 point season, including 29 goals, firmly putting his name in the MVP race. His leadership and championship pedigree (Huber was a key part of the 2017 Cherrey Cup winning Listowel squad) helped put this club over the top in terms of scoring. Rhys Vollmer put up a great season (40 points), and the support from Kyle Stanbury (37 points), Logan Toltan (37 points), Shane Vollmer (27 points) and Josh Higgins (26 points) gives this group plenty of depth. This club can score. It’s at the other end that the challenge will be for Wingham.

Defensively, the Ironmen can be too often guilty of jumping into the rush, only to turn the puck over and have too many players caught up the ice. In terms of providing scoring from the back end, you’d be hard pressed to find someone better at that, or quarterbacking a power play, than Carter Collinson. A 40 point season, including a whopping 27 on the man advantage, make him an explosive weapon with the extra man, and his skating is next level. Partner Kyle Langlois also had nice numbers (23 points) but in terms of defending their cage, the Ironmen get caught out of position a lot, and this will have to change to overtake Mitchell. The rest of the D core isn’t near as potent offensively, and they’ll need a big time contribution from Ryan Thede and Carter Stewart in terms of being tough in front of their goalies, and limiting high quality chances. If the Ironmen can make a decent improvement at that in this series, they’ll have a great chance.

In goal, the Ironmen made Jamie Brock their go-to-guy, and he responded quite admirably, making 22 appearances with a 12-6-1 record with 2 shutouts, an .888 save percentage and a 3.43 GAA. He has shown he’s capable of being a number one, and if he gets more shutdown support and sees fewer odd man opportunities, his numbers will rise dramatically. He is backed up by Wyatt Nicholson. He was 4-4 with a 3.10 GAA and .810 save percentage. He finished strong in the last game of the season only giving up 2 goals against Mount Forest. This goalie duo will have a tough test against the Hawks if they see too many high end chances on a nightly basis.

This series will likely feature some high scoring games, especially if a lot of power plays are doled out, which is likely based on the season series and the final game of the year, which saw both coaches get whacked with a two game suspension. These teams don’t like each other much, and have strengths in different areas, so whoever can improve on their weakness, exploit the other team’s, and win the special teams battle will win.

For more on the upcoming series, listen to these interviews with Wingham’s GM Rob Harrison, and Mitchell Head Coach Joel Riley:

Correction: In the original article it was stated that Kyle Morning was the back up for Wingham. It is Wyatt Nicholson and has been corrected in the above article.