PJHL Pollock Division Playoff Preview: Walkerton Hawks Vs. Hanover Barons

Another strong season from a yearly contender, and a tough fall to the bottom for another.

The first round match-up between the juggernaut Walkerton Hawks and lowly Hanover Barons this year may seem like a walk in the park for a club in Walkerton that is always challenging to be the best. But despite a really tough year where they lost a lot of high end talent from last season, the Barons are determined to prove they have enough talent to hang with Walkerton for more than 4 games. A tough task to be sure, as the Barons scored the fewest goals in the division with just 77, and allowed the 2nd most at 190. Walkerton boats the 2nd best offense in the Pollock with 173 goals for, trailing only Mount Forest (199), but the Hawks had just the 4th best defense, allowing 127 goals against. Walkerton was also the most penalized team with a whopping 1,219 PIMs, and Hanover took the 2nd fewest at just 864, so if Walkerton gives up a lot of power plays, they could cause themselves some grief. The season series was a clean 6-0 sweep for Walkerton, at one point blasting Hanover 14-2 in the 3rd meeting, but the others were all relatively close.

The Hawks continue to have an excellent offense, led by Gary Mantz (45 points) who only played 25 games, which is a common theme. Look at the games played by the Hawks team, and you start to understand why GM Steve Barrett says the year was extremely challenging. Walkerton was shorthanded on their bench a lot this year, due to injuries, school and work commitments, sickness, you name it. Despite all that, they still managed a second place finish and big offensive totals, which speaks to the character of the group and how well they’re coached. Spencer Elder (43 points), captain Justin Donnelly (43 points), Adel Zivojevic (28 points) and Ryan Shaw (26 points) lead a well-rounded and powerful forward core that can run up scores with the best of them. They will be an extremely tough test for the Barons.

The Walkerton defense is led by a man that GM Steve Barrett calls the “most feared” player in the league. That would be Josh Deyell, an imposing physical force that hits rough and hard, sometimes getting himself suspended for it. But there aren’t many defenders I’d put ahead of Deyell in terms of not wanting to meet them in a corner. Despite his physical nature, Deyell is a solid offensive contributor, too, posting 25 points in just 24 games, to go with his 88 PIMs. He is helped by Brendan Welsh (25 points), Quinton Maddock (20 points) and Kyle Somani and Austin Vanwyck, who each had 14 points. There really isn’t any area of the ice where the Hawks D-men are weak. They can hit, break a team’s will to forecheck, and provide offense. Not a fun group to meet in the first round. They are the big reason behind Walkerton’s impressive 14-5-0-1 home record, as the Hawks went 11-7-2-0 on the road.

Between the pipes, an impressive youngster stepped in for the Hawks. Named rookie of the year, Matt Donnelly took the crease at 17 and went 13-2-1 with an .895 save percentage and a 2.71 GAA. Extremely impressive for a rookie, and his award was well deserved for sure. He is capably backed up by league veteran Cody van der Hiede, a former Baron and Hanover native. Cody was able to put up a solid 9-8-1 record in relief, to go with a .879 save percentage and a 3.43 GAA. Both options are capable of stealing games, and the Hawks can be confident no matter who they throw in net.

The Hanover Barons lost an awful lot of solid hockey players to age restrictions after last year, and it showed, particularly on offense where they scored just 77 goals. Despite the low total, Jorden Reamen (26 points) had a decent season pacing the team, and he will be their main source of offense against Walkerton. Younger players like Noah Johnson (17 points), Brett Zabel (14 points) and Kyler Borth (13 points) will have to put up insane totals in the playoffs to outgun Walkerton, but as they improve in the future, and with some outside additions in the off season, Hanover can return to the high flying offensive team they once were.

On the blue line, for Hanover the conversation starts and ends with Colton Culbert (26 points), who tied for the team lead in scoring and brought a much needed veteran savvy to the back end. Culbert was a rookie with Hanover a few seasons back, and spent a year with the Elmira Sugar Kings, so he has the right kind of experience and leadership to move the youngsters along in their development. Derek Conrfield (14 points) had a solid season, along with Jared Liesemer (8 points), Curtis Jackson (4 points) and Tanner Franks (3 points). Just like the offense, if the development curve keeps swinging upward, and some additions are made, this group could make some noticeable improvements next year, just not likely in this series against a tough and experienced opponent.

In goal, Hanover found a solid competitor who really took the crease duties by the horns in a tough year. Luke Aulthouse started 23 games, and put up a 4-17-0 record with an .870 save percentage and a 4.57 GAA. Backup Chase Krompocker left the team during the season, so it’s likely that one of the AP’s in either Jack Armstrong or Kieran Chittick, who each started 3 games this year, will fill in as backup.

Based on the seasons these two teams had, this series looks a bit easier to predict. The Barons won’t just roll over and give the 4 wins to Walkerton, but the Hawks are a really tough out for anyone, let alone the worst team in the division. Expect this one to be over fairly quickly, but it should be interesting to see how the young Hanover group responds to a really hard playoff challenge.

For more on this first round match-up, listen to Walkerton GM Steve Barrett, and Hanover GM Chum McAskill: