Bulldogs open season Friday night

Wingham in town for home opener

By Josh Howald

The puck will drop Friday night in Kincardine as another Provincial Junior Hockey League season begins for the Nicol Insurance Kincardine Bulldogs.

Hunter Robins-Gibbons and the Nicol Insurance Kincardine Bulldogs open the 2017-18 PJHL regular season Friday night at the Davidson Centre in Kincardine. Robins-Gibbons is seen here during a preseason exhibition tournament hosted by the Bulldogs recently. (Josh Howald photo)

The Bulldogs will kick off the regular season three straight games at home - two of them this weekend at the Davidson Centre. Kincardine will host the Wingham Ironmen Friday night at 7:55 p.m., and then entertain the Mitchell Hawks Sunday afternoon at 3:50 p.m.

"We're a young team," said head coach Shawn Burrows Sunday morning before his team took the ice for practice. "We have all kinds of speed, but we're going to have to be a defence-first kind of club. We hope, and expect, to compete and finish in the top-three teams in the (Pollock Division of the PJHL)."

Last season, the Bulldogs finished with a 16-17-3 record, good for fourth place in the Pollock Division and one point back of third place Mount Forest. Kincardine then lost to the Hanover Barons in six games in the opening round of the playoffs. Mount Forest ended up winning the Pollock Division playoff title with a seven-game series win over Walkerton. The Patriots were then eliminated in five games by the Alliston Hornets.

"I expect the league will be tight once again this year," said Burrows. "Three, maybe four teams have a legitimate shot at winning and we expect to be one of those teams."

Derrick Bernath will return as one of four overage players, and will captain the 'Dogs. An overage card was also used on defenceman Payton Dunlop, another Kincardine native. Defenceman Robert White and forward Brady Richards are the other overage players for the Bulldogs this season.

Each PJHL team may sign one 16-year-old player to a card. Kincardine does not have one signed, as of yet.

"We have seven D and 11 forwards signed to cards," said Burrows. "We're keeping a couple of spots open right now, we'll see how Junior B camps turn out. We would like to add another forward or two, we would like to add some scoring."

Joining Bernath (7-10-17) and Richards (4-5-9) up front are returning players Brett Burrows (7-15-22), Keegan Angel (7-8-15), Tyler Sutter (7-8-15), Will Rickerby (6-0-6) and Mike Fiegehen. Fiegehen was Kincardine's second leading scorer last year with 18 goals and 27 points in 34 games.

New to the team will be Trevor Donaldson and Justin Marlowe from Port Elgin, Kincardine's Conor Gibson and Oshawa's Josh Traynor. Gibson played in a handful of games for the Bulldogs last season and was a standout with the Miller Insurance midgets. Traynor has roots in Kincardine, and Burrows is keen on the promise shown by the youngsters in training camp.

Kincardine was 2-2-2 in preseason exhibition action.

With Dunlop (5-7-12) and White (5-9-14), Grant Stevens (0-4-4) and Hunter-Robbins Gibbons (2-8-10) also return to give the Bulldogs a solid core on the back end. Kent Ribey from Port Elgin, big Jesse Carnahan from Owen Sound and Ripley's Jake Fair round out the defence corps.

And for the first time in memory, and perhaps ever, the Bulldogs will have two local goaltenders. Returning tender Craig Luinstra, who was 6-8-1 last season, will carry the bulk of the load with help from Ethan Primeau.

Friday night will be a first look at this season's squad. And there will be plenty of familiar faces on the other side of the ice, as well. With Cory Hamilton, who coached last year's Kincardine midget team, now behind the bench for the Wingham Ironmen, several local bodies have followed him up Highway 86. Ethan Long , Rhys and Shane Vollmer all played for Wingham last season and will return again this year. But the Ironmen also added goaltender Jamie Brock from Kincardine, as well as defencemen Ryan Thede and Jacob Bishop to give Wingham six players from Kincardine.

Sunday, Kincardine will host Mitchell and next weekend the Bulldogs will welcome Mount Forest for a Friday night game and travel to Goderich the following night.

This season will also mark the return of interleague play, with Kincardine making a long road trip for games against Huntsville and Midland on the Sept. 23 weekend. The Penetang Kings will be in Kincardine Oct. 7 during Hockey Day in Kincardine. On that day, a full day of game action between Kincardine and Saugeen Shores minor hockey teams will be followed by a WOAA Senior AA exhibition game between Ripley and Saugeen Shores, and then the game between the 'Dogs and Kings.