Listowel faces tall order against top seed, former captain
BY DAN MCNEE
LISTOWEL – The Listowel Junior Cyclones will have their work cut out for them in round one of the 2013-14 GOJHL playoffs.
The Cyclones (16-25-8) will face the Kitchener Dutchmen (36-8-5) in the Midwestern Conference quarter-finals starting tonight at the Auditorium. Eighth-seeded Listowel won one of three games in three nights last week to place them in a tie with Brampton with 40 points after the completion of the 49-game regular season. The Bombers received the seventh seed after compiling three more wins than the Cyclones and will face the Elmira Sugar Kings in the opening round.
“It’s easy in some ways because you’ve got no choice,” said Listowel head coach Mark Uniac on the short preparation time for the playoffs. “This is what we’ve played for all year. Our execution has to get better especially playing Kitchener, they’re a veteran club, they’re smart…they’re going to put it in the net if you make those big mistakes.”
The Cyclones, like most other teams in the Midwestern Conference, had a difficult time with the Dutchmen in 2013-14, going 0-5-1 against Kitchener in the season series.
Their most recent meeting was on Feb. 14 at Memorial Arena, with Kitchener skating to a 5-1 victory. It was the first time former Cyclone captain Mac Nichol paid a visit to Memorial Arena as a visitor with his new team, and Listowel will no doubt become much more familiar playing against the hard-hitting defenceman over the coming series.
“It’ll be tough because it’s his last year so he wants to go (on), but I have no problem putting him out in the playoffs’ first round,” grinned Listowel’s leading scorer and Mac’s younger brother, Ted.
The Kingston Frontenacs draftee put up 40 points in 46 games for the red, white and black in his first Junior season.
The Cyclones had a tough schedule to close out their regular season last week, dropping decisions to the Waterloo Siskins and Cambridge Winter Hawks on Thursday and Friday.
On Feb. 20, five different skaters beat goaltender Daniel Dekoning to lead the Siskins to a 5-3 victory at the Waterloo Rec Complex.
Ted Nichol responded for Listowel with a pair of goals, while linemate Kevin Gergely had a goal and an assist. Blake Nichol and Kenny Huether each chipped in with two assists.
Dekoning made 21 saves, while counterpart Ryan Hergott also stopped 21 shots.
Back at home on Friday, the Cyclones were unable to spoil Scott Pawson’s return to the Memorial, as the Winter Hawks won the first half of a weekend home-and-home, 5-2.
And while Pawson was held off the scoresheet, his teammates Malcolm Bilton and Adam Dauda each put up a goal and an assist to lead Cambridge, who will meet the Stratford Cullitons in round one of the post-season. Goaltender Darren Huck turned aside 27 shots for the win.
“It was really weird,” said Pawson of being on the visitors’ bench for the first time at Memorial Arena. “There was a lot of mixed emotions; I’m still close with a lot of the guys so it was hard playing against them.”
Pawson played one and a half seasons in Listowel, putting up 57 points in 59 games. He was dealt to Cambridge for winger Austin Kovrig prior to the 2014 trade deadline.
“They played a good game,” said Pawson of his former club. “They’re going to be good going into the playoffs and going to be a dark horse I’m sure.”
Ted Nichol and Ben Shelley scored for the Cyclones, who played a strong, physical first period before the latter half of the game got away from them. A couple defensive miscues proved costly and the Winter Hawks were quick to capitalize.
“The first period was pretty good,” said Uniac. “We were executing our game plan not too bad and it was holding them in check. And then in the second and third we made some really big mistakes – simple mistakes that we can’t be making at this time of year.
“It cost us all of their goals – they didn’t deserve a single goal that they got, we feel like we gave them every goal.”
Dekoning held down the fort in goal as best he could, stopping 34 of 38 shots he faced in his last regular season start in 2013-14. The Listowel sophomore put up a 7-14-5 record with a 3.69 goals against average and a .905 save percentage this season.
The Cyclones did end their season on a high note, clipping the Winter Hawks 5-4 the following evening.
Huether scored the only goal of the final frame and the eventual game winner at 2:50 of the third to give Listowel the victory, while Derek Elliott, Ted Nichol and Shelley each added two points apiece. Defenceman Connor Shaw potted his first goal of the year, while winger Chace Duckworth rounded out the scoring.
The game was also a milestone one for goaltender Cole Wardlaw, who posted a 33-save victory in his first start in a Cyclones uniform. The Clifford native was one of two starters for the Mount Forest Junior ‘C’ Patriots this year.
Alex Bottigoni led the Winter Hawks with two goals, while Lucas Machalski made 22 saves for the loss.
While knocking off the Dutchmen in the first round will be no easy task, Uniac and his young squad are remaining optimistic. After all, anything can happen come the playoffs.
“Losing Mac [Nichol], Scott [Pawson] and Dylan [Sayle], a lot of the younger guys have stepped up into the bigger roles,” said Uniac. “It’s been impressive to watch the room come together without those guys and they’ve built themselves into a pretty good team unit. Hopefully we can make that pay in the playoffs.”
(1) Kitchener Dutchmen vs.
(8) Listowel Cyclones
(2) Elmira Sugar Kings vs.
(7) Brampton Bombers
(3) Waterloo Siskins vs.
(6) Guelph Hurricanes
(4) Stratford Cullitons vs.
(5) Cambridge Winter Hawks
The Cyclones travel to the Auditorium tonight to meet the Dutchmen in Game 1 of the Midwestern Conference quarter-finals at 7 p.m. Listowel returns home Friday at 7:30 p.m. for Game 2 at Memorial Arena.
Game 3: March 2, 2 p.m. @ Kitchener
Game 4: March 3, 8 p.m. @ Listowel
* Game 5: March 6, 7 p.m. @ Kitchener
* Game 6: March 7, 7:30 p.m. @ Listowel
* Game 7: March 9, 2 p.m. @ Kitchener
* if necessary