Cherrey Buslines OHA Friday Night Focus-Wingham Ironmen Vs. Goderich Flyers

With the PJHL Jr. C hockey season now over a month old, it’s a bit easier to get a read on some of the teams and how they’re playing. With that in mind, it’s time to bring back our Friday Night Focus articles into the rotation for our weekly broadcasts on CKNX AM920.

This week, we have a match-up that features an early season powerhouse and a team still on the rise, as the currently 7-0 undefeated Wingham Ironmen host the Goderich Flyers. Wingham plays tonight in Kincardine, and could still be undefeated by the time they host the Flyers. Wingham have made huge strides the past two seasons, and have looked like an absolute Pollock Division powerhouse. With teams across the PJHL now playing inter-league games, the Ironmen have even been able to get by that hurdle early this year, as they beat the Huntsville Otters 4-2, and are the lone Pollock Division squad to beat an opponent outside the division. Wingham have always had great scoring potential, and sit second in goals with 34 to Mount Forest’s 36, but this year they’ve become stout defensively, surrendering a division low 13 goals, 5 better than the always airtight Kincardine Bulldogs, who’ve let up 18. Goderich has seen marked improvements over last year already, but have had another tough start, sitting with a record of 1-5-0-2, last in the division with just 4 points. Goal scoring isn’t a problem, as Goderich have the 4th best total at 30, but defense and ill-timed penalties have really hurt the Flyers early on, as they’ve allowed 41 goals, second only to Mitchell’s 46. But the Flyers are confident that they can get through the tough start and rebound defensively, and if they can, they will rise up the standings. But it will be a tough test Friday night against the top team in the Pollock, on the road no less.

This year Wingham continues to be led by the ever-reliable and slick-skilled Jamie Huber, who captains the team once again in his overage year. Surprisingly though, Huber isn’t leading the team in scoring, despite being a point-per-gamer with 7 points in 7 games. No, that distinction falls to the Vollmer brothers, Rhys and Shane, who are co-leaders with 14 points each. That actually bodes well for the future, as some of the younger players eligible to return are taking the reins, and relieving pressure on guys like Huber to do more. Young Kyle Stanbury has 11 points, alongside last year’s Defenceman of the Year, Carter Collinson, who continues to be the best power play quarterback in the Pollock. Collinson continued his dominance by being named Defenceman of the Month for September. In terms of goaltending, it’s a huge reason why the Ironmen have that division low 13 goals allowed, alongside a better team commitment to defending. Devon Carson has 4 wins in 4 starts with a shutout, and was named Goalie of the Month for September. Jamie Brock, if you want to call him a backup, has been equally good, winning all 3 of his starts, as well. Also, the Ironmen announced they are bringing back defenceman Jacob Bishop, after he was traded last year to Jr. B St. Marys. Bishop had 8 points in 29 games last year with Wingham, but his bread and butter is staunch defending, and that will only make this already great crew better.

Goderich have been excellent so far in the offensive zone, as they get contributions throughout their lineup in a score by committee type of approach. Jeff Fritzley and Mitch Fischer lead the team with 9 points, while Matt Bean has 8, and Riley Connors and Trent Michie both boast 7. Even the always consistent Treble brothers, Cody and Chad, have 6 and 4, respectively. However, offense isn’t where Goderich are hurting right now, it’s their own zone, and to a lesser degree maybe goaltending. However, it is hard to truly get a read on how much does fall on their goalies when the Flyers so often get caught playing fire wagon hockey. It’s clear that at this stage, that should be the main focus in practice, as the Flyers need more out of leaders like Brad Watson, Hayden Benniwies (Morgan’s brother) and Brennan Long, to name a few. But it also might be a fair point to also say that Goderich would like to see a slight improvement in net, even though Kyle Dunlop does get hung out to dry a lot early in the season. Dunlop has been solid overall, earning the Flyers lone win, but he and the club would love to see that 4.51 GAA come way down. Dunlop at times can maybe let a soft goal in, but he battles and never gives up on saves, and so often when his team goes down a man, they get scored on, which doesn’t help. But if the team around him can be a bit tighter in their own end, Dunlop and his team mates will see even bigger improvements.

The early part of a junior hockey season is always tough to read. Teams can come out red hot or cold, and completely swing the other way in a month’s time. All it takes is a bad stretch of play, a dip in confidence, or injuries to a few key players. Having said that, Wingham look like the team to beat, and I wouldn’t bet against them improving their impressive record on the year as they enter tonight’s game in Kincardine at 7-0, and 6-0 at home. Goderich has lots of promise, but there’s still a lot of work to do, and some of Wingham’s best players haven’t even hit their best stride yet. Expect a good road effort from the Flyers, but at the end of the night, also bet on Wingham winning in the end. Enjoy the action, as the OHA This Week with Steve Sabourin starts Friday night just after 7 p.m., followed by the pre-game show with Steve and myself and puck drop at 7:30, all live on CKNX AM920.