Hey all! First, before I begin this article, I may as well be polite and introduce myself. I am Matt Latour and I live in Welland covering the GOJHL’s Golden Horseshoe Division. Anyways, that’s enough of the boring stuff and let’s hop right into it.
Last season, the Golden Horseshoe Conference (GHC) was heavily dominated by the powerhouse and defending Sutherland Cup Champions, the Caledonia Corvairs. They would go on to repeat as champions of the GOJHL, defeating LaSalle in the finals. This year, with Buffalo once again taking a leave, there will be 8 teams once again, insuring everyone clinches a playoff spot on September 11th, opening day. All this season, much like last season, will be jocking for home ice advantage. So from #8 to #1, here is your 2015-2016 GHC season predictions.
#8: Pelham Panthers
2014-2015 record: 5-42-2, 12 points, 8th place.
The inaugural year for the Pelham Panthers organization was a unique one to say the least. Moving from Port Colborne to Pelham just weeks before training camp was the start to what would only be an interesting season. Formally known as the Port Colborne Pirates, they became the Pelham Pirates. Halfway through the season, the team was rebranded and given new jerseys, a new logo, a new name, and for the most part, a new coaching staff. Thus, the Pelham Panthers were born. Pelham could never get anything going for more than 2 games at a time it seemed, and allowed a GOJHL-high 336 goals. Despite losing their two biggest point producers, quite a few names will be coming back. Shawn Rooke, Dane Koabel, and Pelham-native Thomas Young. Unfortunately, it looks like Pelham will once again be in the basement of the GHC, but should be much more competitive this season.
#7: Fort Erie Meteors
2014-2015 record: 15-26-8, 38 points, 6th place.
The Fort Erie Meteors come into this season with two completely brand new goalies after trading Liam Conway to the Elmira Sugar Kings in August. Ottawa 67th draftee Ben Evans is one of the more notable additions to this team for the 2015-2016 season though. Younger brother of St. Catharines forward Jake Evans, Ben brings a solid frame to a team that lost quite a bit of grit this offseason. Evans will also bring an offensive spark, which is just what Fort Erie needs after finishing dead last in the GHC conference last year in goals, and only beating St. Mary’s as far as the whole league goes. Much like Pelham, Fort Erie will also be without their two leading scorers from last season, and will rely on Holden Garlent to have another strong year. Newly named captain Paolo Sivilotti is also a returnee to this team and will likely be the head of their blueline. With many of their previous squad leaving, Fort Erie isn’t set to contend for a top-4 spot, but will still be clear of 8th place by quite a bit.
#6: Thorold Blackhawks
2014-2015 record: 14-31-4, 32 points, 7th place.
Up one place from last year, Thorold does have a pretty decent core returning and looked very physical in the pre-season. Physicality in this division will be a big factor this year, and Thorold may be the team to set the standard as far as who can be the toughest. Last year, they were a very quick, yet gritty team. This year, they don’t seem to have as much speed, but they are much tougher and can slow guys down just as easily. Look for Francois Plamondon to have a breakout season as he looked very good in preseason and during the showcase in London. Josh Astorino will return between the pipes and looks set to have a better season than last year. Dan Pugliese will play the majority of the minute on the back end and will add to the edge that this team should bring every night. While being possibly the toughest team in the division, Thorold won’t make any friends on the ice and certainly won’t make games easy, but the uncertainty of offence will hold them out of the top 5 in the division.
#5: Niagara Falls Canucks
2014-2015 record: 24-20-5, 53 points, 5th place.
Niagara Falls will be right in-between everyone this season. Much like last year, they will be far enough behind the top 4 teams, but far enough ahead of the bottom 3 to avoid an overly tough matchup in the playoffs. The man to watch up front this year is returning player Zack Landfield. Lansfield brings a large body to a forward group, but has a deadly shot and can put it in the back of the net from just about anywhere on the ice. 1 point shy of being a point-per-game player last year, the Oshawa-native will be looked upon to carry this team forward offensively. Last year’s #1 defenseman Mac Hollowell has graduated forward and made the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL and will not be returning. While not a large body on the blueline, Hollowell’s absence will be a huge blow to Niagara Falls’ defense. However, most of last year’s core seems to be returning and will give the Canucks lots of familiarity on the back end. With Joesph Murdaca returning between the pipes for another season, he could steal quite a few games for the Canucks against teams higher in the standings. The Canucks should have a good year and it’s tough to imagine them in the bottom of the division.
#4: Welland Jr. Canadians
2014-2015 record: 32-15-2, 66 points, 3rd place.
Last season, Welland dominated the division for the first half. Once Caledonia had something to say about it, Welland and St. Catharines were battling for the 2nd spot for the 2nd half of the year, with Welland eventually finishing 1 point behind the Falcons and also losing to them in the playoffs. Welland is missing quite a few players from last year’s team as well, Brayden Stortz and Kris Melna being two of them. However, with Jack Fitzgerald returning, he will surely be the man up front for this team moving forward. Fitzgerald was a very dangerous goal scorer last season for the Jr. Canadians, and also stayed out of the penalty box for the most part. Speaking of penalties, that’s something Welland didn’t mind facing. Welland PK was exceptional this year and has brough a good penalty-killing core back this season. With both Chris Janzen and Brandon McCorriston returning as the 1-2 punch in net, Welland should fair pretty well this year. Niagara Falls will be hot on their heels, and Welland could also make a push for a top-3 spot if the defense can hold up.
#3: Ancaster Avalanche
2014-2015 record: 29-16-4, 62 points, 4th place.
Ancaster was a thorn in the side of teams like St. Catharines, Welland, and even Caledonia last season. Despite finishing in 4th place, Blake Richard was phenominal in net for the Avalanche. The only issue is, he won’t be there this year. Last season’s backup goalie Matt Calas will be the man in the mask for Ancaster this year. Calas saw limited playing time last season playing behind Richard, but he posted a respectable sv% of .900 while going 8-8 in 18 appearances. Ancaster also reached an agreement with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the OHL to become an official affiliate, which means if players are cut or sent down, they could be coming to the Avalanche if anybody. This will also give the team a better spotlight for players in the future. Former Niagara Icedog Ben Hughes will look to have another stunning offensive year and will likely lead the team in scoring again this season. Ancaster has a great chance to break into the top 3 this season and will compete with Welland all season for the spot.
#2: St. Catharines Falcons
2014-2015 record: 31-13-5, 67 points, 2nd place.
Every year, the Falcons are competing for the #1 spot in the GHC. However, they have been thwarted by the Caledonia Corvairs the last 2 seasons. This year should look much the same. A loaded offence will once again have them in a class of their own in this division, but also in a class below Caledonia. With 2 new goalies, St. Catharines’ defense will have to be good much like they have been in years past. Jake Evans, Nicholas Dozzi, and Manny Mans will all put up big numbers and should cause huge matchup problems for teams all season. This team has it all, speed, skill and size. They won’t pass Caledonia this season, but they will be much closer than last season.
#1: Caledonia Corvairs
2014-2015 record: 44-3-2, 90 points, 1st place.
In the last 2 seasons, Caledonia has only lost 6 games (9 if you include overtime and shootout). The 2nd place team last year lost 13. The powerhouse of the GHC conference for the last 2 seasons will continue to do so this year, and if not it will be seen as a massive let down. 2-time back-to-back defending Sutherland Cup Champions, nobody in the GHC should give the Corvairs much of an issue this year. Like I said above, St. Catharines may be closer, but will not pass them by any means. Matt Hore will be the big force for the Corvairs as he was last season. A huge body and a good scoring touch, Hore had some time playing for the Oshawa Generals a few seasons ago as well. Todd Ratchford will be the #1 defenseman on this team again, and most likely in the league. The additions of JC Thivierge and Blake Luscombe will make Caledonia’s potent offence even better than last season. Marc Sinclair will carry the load up front and if all goes according to script, he should only face about 15 shots a night. Caledonia will be the class of the conference, and has a great shot to 3-peat at Sutherland Cup Champions.
Well there you have it! My 1st article out of the way and your 2015-2016 season predictions. Let’s look forward to a great season. If you have any questions or concerns (or if you just want to yell at me) you can either comment below, or following me on twitter at both @MattyLatour and @GHCInsider.