PJHL Pollock Division Playoff Preview: Kincardine Bulldogs Vs. Goderich Flyers

A strong defensive unit will face an improving and hungry young core in the 1st round this year.

The Kincardine Bulldogs had another stellar season, where they finished in 3rd place, and put up excellent numbers, leading the pack in terms of defense, allowing just 103 goals against, with Mount Forest trialing by one at 104. The Bulldogs scored just 137, 3rd fewest, but they have a balanced attacking group that knows how to score clutch goals, and shut down other teams. Goderich made big strides this year, moving out of the basement into 6th ahead of Hanover, and developing a strong young core that can give anyone a challenge. Despite scoring the 2nd fewest goals at 117 and allowing the most at 209, Goderich was the least penalized team in the division at just 739 PIMs. With special teams so important in the playoffs, that could be a real advantage. The season series ended 5-1 for Kincardine, but the Flyers won the opener 6-2, and none of the games were massive blowouts. This could be a bigger challenge for Kincardine than some may think.

The Bulldogs don’t have a super explosive offense, but they have a hard working and experienced group that know how to frustrate opposition forwards and score at key times. They fore-check very well, and can lull teams to sleep with their hard nosed defense-first style. They are led by the impressive Mike Fiegehen (36 points), along with Logan Freiburger (30 points), Brett Burrows (29 points) and former Listowel Cyclone Jordan Caskenette (27 points). The team is able to effectively take away ice from the opposition’s best forwards, while jumping on opportunities they create more often than not with their speedy forechecking. It’s that clutch ability that led to a stout home record of 12-4-2-2, so having home ice is a big time boost for the Bulldogs, who went 11-8-0-1 away from the Davidson Centre.

On defense is where the Bulldogs make things happen. They are an airtight group, allowing the fewest goals in the division and frequently frustrating opposition forwards with tight checking, active sticks and physical play along the wall. Play dump and chase at your peril, because this D core can get to pucks first, move them effectively, and also hit anyone that beats them to a loose biscuit with authority. Led by the impressive Hunter Robbins-Bibbons (19 points) and a man that Head Coach Shawn Burrows called the team MVP in Robert White (18 points), and you have the perfect shutdown pairing in the Pollock Division. Aided by young Jesse Carnahan and the ultra physical Payton Dunlop, who had 111 PIMs by himself, and you can see why this group is so hard to play against. It won’t be fun trying to generate scoring chances for the Flyers.

Backstopping the Bulldogs this year was the impressive Craig Luinstra, who was named the goalie of the year alongside backup Ethan Primeau. Luinstra put up a 15-10-1 record with 2 shutouts, a .907 save percentage and a 2.78 GAA in 27 appearances. Primeau was equally great, going 8-5-1 with 3 shutouts, a .927 save percentage and a sterling 2.06 GAA in 17 starts. Both netminders can steal games, and rarely need to based on the group in front of them. But when called upon, the numbers and the well deserved award give all the evidence necessary to suggest that these two goalies are every bit as good as the defenders in front of them.

Goderich has managed to attract some solid young forward talent to their franchise this year. Led by the most sportsmanlike player award winner Chase Meurs (37 points), the Flyers have some decent scoring punch. Factor in youngsters like Matt Bean (29 points), Mitch Fischer (24 points) and the Treble brothers, Cody and Chad (24 points each), and you have a solid offense to continue to build on for a few years. Goderich will be in tough to put up goals against this Kincardine group, but they had two games in which they put up 6 and 5 goals respectively, including a shock 6-2 victory in the first meeting of the season. Don’t count out the Flyers.

Defensively, this is where Goderich needs to make a big stride forward. A division worst 209 goals allowed isn’t a great recipe for playoff success, but despite that number, there is lots to like about this core. Braeden Duncan paced the defenders in points with 18, and the always solid contributions of Morgan Benniwies (15 points) are a big help. As young players like Brad Watson, Wyatt Carey and Mac Smith continue to improve, and stay with the team, the Flyers will keep getting better at shaving down their yearly goal totals.

In goal, Goderich gets high compete and an honest effort every night from young Brad Linker, who at just 17, played nearly 1,500 minutes. Linker went 3-21-0 in his 26 appearances, with an .868 save percentage and a 4.95 GAA. Really not bad considering the amount of shots and chances he faced, and as the Flyers get better in front of him, his numbers will dramatically improve. Brandon Bean made 17 starts this year, going 4-10-0 with a .861 save percentage and a 5.47 GAA. Both goalies are capable of starting, and both will have a challenge in facing an experienced Bulldogs lineup. But the future looks bright in goal for Goderich.

Despite some lopsided numbers, this series won’t be a total cakewalk for the superior Bulldogs. They likely come out if this series, but Goderich will provide a tougher test than some would assume. The Flyers took the fewest PIMs in the division at 739, so if they continue that and limit Kincardine’s power plays, they’ll have a shot at making some noise.

For more on this first round match-up, listen to these interviews with Kincardine Head Coach Shawn Burrows, and Goderich GM David Errington: