Pat Payton, Gazette sports editor
The timing couldn’t have been better for Stratford Cullitons.
With defenceman Jordan Currie sidelined with a concussion since Nov. 9, the return of Liam Maaskant last week helps fill a big hole on the Cullitons’ blue line.
The 18-year-old Maaskant, from Clinton, played his first two games for Cullitons on the weekend.
“Liam is a 6 ft., 3 inch right-shot defenceman, who brings a strong work ethic and experience to our hockey team,” Jason Lott,
Stratford’s director of hockey operations/GM, said when making the announcement.
Maaskant is certainly no stranger to the Cullitons. He played for Stratford in 2010-11 as a 16-year-old, then was drafted by Erie of the Ontario Hockey League and spent all of last season with the Otters. In 67 games with Erie, Maaskant had four goals, eight points and 72 penalty minutes.
This season, he was picked up on waivers by Barrie and played in six games with the OHL Colts. Barrie sent him to Stratford where he’d get a chance to play on a regular basis.
When he joined the Colts, Maaskant was signed to a Cullitons’ card at that time and used as an affiliate player by Barrie.
“All the paper work was already done then, and we could move ahead like we did,” Lott noted.
Coach Phil Westman says he’s “very happy” to have the big blue-liner back in Stratford colours.
“Liam’s a kid who really fits in with our team,” Westman says. “We would be particular with anybody coming in here at this time of year . . . we would be very particular.
“And Liam is just a real nice kid. We talked (last) Wednesday night, and I told him we haven’t changed (the systems) too much. Defence is about taking time and space away, and Liam does it well.”
• Lott says Currie, meanwhile, isn’t expected to play in Cullitons’ three games this coming weekend.
“He’s coming along well, but I don’t think he’ll be ready for contact until next week at the earliest,” the GM says. “Hopefully he can get a couple of practices in before he plays the following weekend.”
• After Cullitons extended their win streak to four games with a 6-1 win over Brampton last Friday, coach Westman was asked if his team has set its sights on moving up to the top half of the Midwest standings.
“First place is in sight,” he quickly replied. “We knew at the start of the year that we were starting with 15 new kids and three 16-year-olds. We knew we had to teach and we had to bring the team along.
“We knew we’d have growing pains, and that’s where you have to be patient, and these two guys (assistant coaches Tim Schultz and
Tyler Canal) have done a fantastic job. Our defence is making good efficient plays and Tyler has the forwards coming back hard into our end.”
• Cullitons are now 8-3-2 on home ice. They have now won four straight at the Allman, and they’ve allowed only seven goals against in those four games.
Centre Jared Culliton says it makes it easier to win when Cullitons don’t give up a lot of goals.
“If we’re not going to score a lot of goals, then we have to focus on playing defence first,” Culliton says. “We’ve really been practicing on barring down and not giving up a lot of chances.”
With Stratford a little short on the blue line, Culliton started the season on defence. The experience proved to be beneficial, he noted.
“When I was playing defence, it made me more aware on the ice defensively,” he explained.
“You see everybody on the ice, and everybody is in front of you. Now that I’m back at forward, it’s made me realize that you have to focus and get back (on defence), too.”
Culliton has also be a big offensive contributor lately. He has four goals and nine points in his last five games.