By Josh Howald
We will get to see a Walkerton – Kincardine match-up after all.
IExpect Kincardine to play a very physical game in this series with Walkerton, which opens Friday night in Walkerton. Game 2 is back in Kincardine Saturday at 7 p.m. (Independent file hoto)
While the Carruthers Nicol Insurance Kincardine Bulldogs did things the quick, easy way, the first place Walkerton Hawks were a little tougher on themselves. Kincardine sealed a spot in the Western Junior C League championship series on Thursday night, completing a four-game sweep of the Mitchell Hawks with a 6-3 win on the road. Kincardine has played just four playoff games this year, after gladly accepting an opening round bye from the first place Hawks.
Walkerton, meanwhile, just wrapped up a seven game series with the fifth place Mount Forest Patriots. The Hawks, coming off a 28-5-3 regular season, have faced elimination twice already in this playoff season. While the hapless Goderich Sailors were outscored by 40+ goals in a Walkerton sweep, the fifth place Mount Forest Patriots didn’t roll over quite as easily. In fact, the Pats stormed out to a 2-0 series lead, and could have closed the series out at home in Game 6. However, Walkerton stayed alive and hammered the Pats 7-1 in Sunday’s Game 7 in Walkerton.
“Mount Forest simply ran out of steam,” said Kincardine head coach Jeff Alcombrack, who watched Game 7 Sunday in Walkerton. “You have to give them credit for playing a great series, but I think we all know the fans in Kincardine – and our players – wanted Walkerton.”
And Walkerton they got. It is certainly the match-up most predicted, and the one most fans have been waiting to see. The first place Hawks and the second place Bulldogs will open the league finals this weekend. A schedule has yet to be confirmed as of press time, but Walkerton has home ice advantage and Game 1 is likely to be Friday night in the county capital. Game 2 will be played in Kincardine. Once a series schedule has been finalized, it will be posted on www.independent.on.ca .
Walkerton is seeking a fifth straight Western Junior C League championship, while Kincardine is back in the league final for the first time in five years. The Hawks finished nine points ahead of the ‘Dogs in the standings, but these teams split six meetings during the regular season. Kincardine won three times, as did Walkerton, with none of those games being decided by more than three goals.
While Walkerton is bound to have some bumps and bruises from 11 playoff tilts, the ‘Dogs are 100 per cent healthy, said Alcombrack. Not only that, but Kincardine will be bolstered by the return of captain Brett Catto, who has now served his four game suspension for spearing and will be back in the line-up.
“(Catto) is ready to go,” said Alcombrack. “That gives us a huge lift. We’re going to have to finish every check and make (Walkerton) pay the price.”
It should give the Bulldogs an advantage in the early going. Kincardine had two light skates on the weekend and will have a full team practice on Tuesday in order to prepare for this weekend.
‘I know it will be a tough series,” said Alcombrack. “But we have the character to pull it off this year if we can stick to our game plan.”
That plan includes putting the puck deep in behind the Walkerton defence, hitting everything that moves, creating turnovers and playing disciplined hockey – which has been a challenge for the club at times, even during the four-game sweep of Mitchell.
The Bulldogs wrapped up that series with a 6-3 win Thursday on the road, in which six different players scored goals. Adam Hughes, Jared Colling, Shawn Stewart all scored even strength goals, while Cody Britton, Jamie Miller and Garrett Simmons each had a power play tally. Hughes added two assists for a three-point night, while Gatlin Burt stopped 38 of 41 shots he faced.
Though Alcombrack didn’t confirm who would start in goal against Walkerton, it would be shocking if Burt wasn’t between the pipes. Walkerton will counter with Jeff Flagler, who has started all but one of Walkerton’s playoff games. Former Bulldog Justin Hammond got the start for Walkerton in Game 2 of the Hawks’ four-game sweep of Goderich.