PJHL Pollock Division Playoff Preview: Walkerton Hawks Vs. Kincardine Bulldogs

You would be hard pressed to find a more competitive match-up than the one on tap for the Pollock Division 2nd round.

Both champions in recent seasons, both highly skilled, and both looking to get back on top of the mountain. The upcoming battle between the Walkerton Hawks and Kincardine Bulldogs promises to be a feisty, hard hitting, and entertaining series. The teams that finished 2nd and 3rd in the regular season will give each other all they can handle, and they’ll go about doing it in different ways. Walkerton has high octane offense and a physically punishing team, while Kincardine is a defensively methodical unit that uses their smarts and quick feet to capitalize on their chances. Prior to Mount Forest winning last year, Walkerton were champions in 2016, with Kincardine winning the year prior. This has the potential to be one of the best, if not maybe the best, series we see this year.

Walkerton, despite a small game 4 speed bump, absolutely dismantled a far weaker Hanover squad in the first round. They did it by basically bludgeoning the twine at the other end of the rink, scoring a whopping 26 goals in 5 games. Despite losing game 4 in overtime, they really didn’t give the Barons any hope. They were led in scoring by defender Josh Deyell with 9 points, but the forwards just dominated in the corners, were the fore-check was just relentless. Gary Mantz, Spencer Elder and Reid Simmons all had 7 points, and the depth scoring of Maverick Petrie, Noah Kuno and Justin McCrae, all of whom had 3 points, pushed Walkerton easily by the Barons. This team scored the second most goals in the regular season with 173, trailing only the Patriots, and if they can continue to get contributions from every line, they could certainly outgun Kincardine. The question will be if they can consistently break down the best defensive team in the division.

On the back end, as mentioned before, Josh Deyell just went off in the first round, pacing the team with 9 points against Hanover. He continues to be a scary customer in his own zone, and he makes any attacker think twice about reaching pucks first in the corner. This group can physically intimidate nearly anyone, but doing that against a veteran and disciplined Kincardine group will be tougher than Hanover. The blue line core of the Hawks certainly took it upon themselves to get involved offensively, as Brendan Welsh (6 points), Quinton Maddock (5 points) and Joe Shaw (3 points) all put up impressive totals in the first round. This is an advantage the Hawks have, in that their D core can be explosive offensively, too. If they join the rush a lot or better yet, get lots of power play time, Kincardine will have a tough time keeping goals off the board.

In goal, Walkerton played the platoon game, starting Rookie of the Year Matt Donnelly twice, and veteran Cody van der Hiede 3 times. Donnelly won both his starts and posted a 2.00 GAA and a .917 save percentage, while van der Hiede went 2-1 with a 2.25 GAA and a .908 save percentage. There’s no reason for concern with either of the Hawks’ options, and they may well go back to a similar set up against Kincardine with their 2 net minders.

Kincardine was quick to sweep away the Goderich Flyers, in large part because they simply didn’t let them score. Kincardine scored 14 times against the Flyers, but only allowed 2. That’s this team’s M.O. Play sound defense, and catch the other team sleeping with quick turnovers and timely scoring. This team scores by committee, and unsurprisingly, had 5 forwards tally 3 points with Joshua Traynor, Brett Burrows, Jordan Caskenette, Logan Freiburger and Mike Fiegehan all potting 3. Damien Demarco-Sutton, Tyler Sutter and Derrick Bernath all got 2, and it will take a similar well rounded approach to try and knock off Walkerton. The Hawks clearly have the advantage in terms of generating offense, but if Kincardine can consistently frustrate them and capitalize on Walkerton’s errors, this group is deep enough to cause damage at the right time when needed.

On the back end, the most air tight group in the division continued its defensive brilliance, albeit against a weaker team. Still, to only allow 2 goals in a series is darn impressive, after pacing the Pollock in goals allowed with just 103 on the year. Coach Shawn Burrows, who was rightly named Coach of the Year, prides himself on leading a responsible D core that can absolutely choke the life out of opposition forwards. Logan Swanton tied for the team lead in points with 3 of his own, and the ever reliable anchor Robert White put up 2. Joined by Hunter Robbins-Gibbons and youngsters in Jake Fair, Kent Ribey, Grant Stephens and Payton Dunlop, and you have a D core that is so positionally sound and almost never takes penalties. That will go a long way toward beating an explosive team like Walkerton.

In the crease, the Goalies of the Year for this season shut down what little chances came their way. Craig Luinstra and Ethan Primeau evenly split the series, both winning their 2 games. Luinstra posted 2 shutouts, so his GAA is a squeaky clean 0.00, and his save percentage by virtue of that is obviously perfect. Primeau sports a 1.00 GAA and a perfectly respectable .960 save percentage. They didn’t see much, but they didn’t give anything either. If they can perform the way they have all season, Walkerton will have a tough time potting goals.

In terms of competitiveness, this series has it all. I foresee this being a low scoring, grinding affair, as both teams have advantages that the other doesn’t, and when opposites meet in the post season, it often produces some fireworks. The series gets underway February 16th. Here’s the full schedule:

Game 1-Friday, February 16th, 8:20 p.m. in Walkerton

Game 2-Sunday, February 18th, 2:25 p.m. in Kincardine

Game 3-Monday, February 19th, 2:20 p.m. in Walkerton

Game 4-Wednesday, February 21st, 7:45 in Kincardine

If necessary:

Game 5-Friday, February 23rd, 8:20 p.m. in Walkerton

Game 6-Sunday, February 25th, 4:55 p.m. in Kincardine

Game 7-Wednesday, February 28th, 7:50 p.m. in Walkerton

For more on the series, listen to Walkerton GM Steve Barrett and Kincardine Head Coach Shawn Burrows: