Bulldogs split games with Walkerton


By Josh Howald

The Nicol Insurance Kincardine Bulldogs failed to gain any ground on the Walkerton Hawks over the weekend - but they didn't lose any either.

Little changed in the standings as Walkerton and Kincardine, the first and second place teams in the Western Junior C League, respectively, split a home-and-home set on the weekend. Both teams won on the road.

"Obviously four points was the goal, but we're still happy with the win and taking the season series (vs. Walkerton, 3-2-1)," said Kincardine head coach Steve Stepaniak on Sunday.

The Bulldogs are still six back of first place Walkerton, but have a game in hand. After the weekend split, the Hawks are 24-7-1, while Kincardine is 21-9-1. First place is still a possibility for the Bulldogs, though with just five games remaining in the regular season, would need a bit of help from the rest of the Western League teams. They must also keep an eye on third place Mount Forest, who have crept to within four points of second place.

While the weekend games had different outcomes, they had similar starts. Kincardine spotted Walkerton a 2-0 lead in both contests. Friday night in Walkerton, Kincardine was able to battle back for a 3-2 win. There would be no comeback on Saturday as the Hawks shut out Kincardine 4-0.

"We had rough first periods in both games, and it is tough to play from behind against a team like that," said Stepaniak. "Friday night we dominated from the second period on. Saturday, we had our chances but the bounces weren't there, and (Walkerton goaltender Nick Redman) played well."

Braden Boley and Matt Shields gave Walkerton a 2-0 lead on Friday. Tyler Fregona scored an unassisted goal with less than a minute left in the first period to make it 2-1 heading to the first break. Dalton Hnatko tied the game early in the second period from Patrick Wiejak and Brady Richards before Fregona scored his second of the night with 30 seconds left in the period. Robert White and Shawn Rooke assisted on the goal, which stood up as the game winner. Jacob Hutchings held things down for Kincardine and made 22 saves to record his league-best 13th win of the season.

Hutchings has been carrying the bulk of the load for a while now, but it became official last week when the Bulldogs dealt Luke Aulthouse to the Stayner Siskins of the Georgian Bay Mid-Ontario Junior C League. Aulthouse gave the 'Dogs some quality starts from a back-up position over the years, and will be missed, but he will have a chance to start for the Siskins, as well as  cut down on his travel from school.

Tyler Cunningham was the first to beat Hutchings on Saturday night in Kincardine. Reid Simmons scored a power play goal early in the second period to make it 2-0, and Ryan Hamelin made it 2-0 midway through the third period. Simmons scored his second of the night with two minutes remaining to make it a 4-0 final for the Hawks. Redman made 24 saves for his first shutout of the season.

Kincardine was 0-for-10 on the power play Saturday night, and 0-for-4 on Friday.

"Special teams killed us all weekend," Stepaniak admitted. "Improving the power play is at the top of the list going forward."

Some of that will simply getting everybody on the ice together and getting on the same page. With three new defencemen, the Bulldogs easily have the best blue line in the Western League - but it will take a bit of time to adjust.

"Now it's about using the next couple of weeks to get better and build that chemistry," said Stepaniak, who added he didn't expect to see the Bulldogs make any more moves prior to this week's deadline.

Kincardine will have a good chance to build some chemistry Friday night when the 2-28 Goderich Flyers visit the Davidson Centre for an 8:30 p.m. start. Saturday, the Bulldogs will travel to Mount Forest to take on the Patriots. That one begins at 8 p.m.