Thursday, November 05th, 2009
Could it be another two-horse race?
It's still early, but the Niagara west Junior C division is threatening to become a two-horse race.
With the Simcoe Storm and Norwich Merchants each boasting potent offences and, in the case of Simcoe, improved defence, the rest of the division is in danger of becoming forgotten.
Heading into this weekend, the Merchants and Storm each have 22 points to lead the six-team division.
Woodstock, with 13 points, sits in third with two road games ahead, while the Aylmer Spitfires (seven points), and New Hamburg Firebirds and Paris Mounties are tied for last place with six points.
Close to two-thirds of the season remains, but it's hard to imagine any of those teams matching the perennial powerhouse Merchants and Storm.
Simcoe is again scoring in bunches, leading the Niagara League with 73 goals scored in only 13 games.
"We're a pretty deep team, there's no doubt about that," Strom forward Dan Ryan told the Simcoe Reformer last weekend. "We just roll the lines and we know whoever is out there can score for us. It's pretty fun to play on a team like that, and it's especially fun when we keep winning like this."
Between Ryan, Zane Neilly, Derek Long, Jordan Paton, Kirk Stevenson and Phil and Corey Bethune, opposing defences can't focus on one line.
Former Woodstock goalie Chris Lee has stabilized goaltending that was shaky last season.
"We're a pretty confident group right now," Ryan said. "We have confidence in each other and we know there's not one guy or one line that has to do all the work. Hopefully we can keep this going."
In Norwich, the Merchants have found their groove after a slow couple of weeks to open the season. The Merchants have allowed a league low 36 goals in 13 games, but their offence has scored only four fewer goals than Simcoe's.
Addison Fisher and Curtis Logan each have 17 points and are among the league leaders, while Nate Geerlinks has 14 assists.
Goalies Matt Coutts and Matt McGonicle are in the top four in goals-against average, making the Merchants the division's most complete team.
That doesn't mean teams such as Woodstock are doomed to wallow near the bottom of the standings. The Renegades have already defeated Norwich twice, while Alex Gegeny is arguably the top goaltender in the league given the fact he doesn't have a star studded defence or a five-goal-a-game offence in front of him.
Overage captain Cole Maher has played well, netting 14 points in 11 games, while Jordan Minello has had a strong start to the season with six goals.
Woodstock will have to rely on string two-way play and balanced scoring, while hoping Gegeny continues to keep games close and sometimes steal a point or two.
It's the only way for Woodstock to finish closer to the lead horses rather than disappear among the rest of the pack.