Much like Wiarton Willie or the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, the Saugeen Shores Winterhawks and Durham Thundercats have become a February tradition.
For the third-straight season, the WOAA Sr. Hockey League rivals will meet in the opening round of the “AA” playoffs, starting on Friday with Game 1 in Durham, followed by Game 2 at The Plex on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.
“They’re a good team, Durham has good goaltending, strong defence and opportunistic scoring,” said Winterhawks coach Jim Grieve prior to Tuesday’s practice. “It’ll be a good challenge for us.”
It has certainly been an up-and-down season for the Winterhawks, but Grieve feels the team has hit its stride as they enter the playoffs.
“We feel pretty confident about ourselves, we’re feeling better than we were in December and we had a good January,” said Grieve. “We traded some losses in November for some better efforts in January and hopefully we’re riding a good streak here going into Durham.”
The Winterhawks will embrace the underdog role, as Durham finished the season with a 16-4-0 record and won both meetings between the two teams this season.
Durham took the first game of the season series on Oct. 27th, defeating the Winterhawks on home ice 4-1, despite being outshot 30-15.
Durham again took a victory in Port Elgin on Dec. 22nd, a 4-3 decision that once again saw the Winterhawks outshoot the Thundercats, this time by a 39-26 margin.
A loss to Ripley the following week saw Grieve call out his team, challenging a player to “put the team on his shoulders.”
A number of players stepped up in the wake of his challenge, but perhaps none more so than Miles MacLean, Brent MacDermid and Chris Minard.
MacLean went on a tear in the final five games of the season, putting 13 points (4G, 9A) on the board, en route to capturing the team scoring title with 27 points in 15 games.
MacDermid went one further, amassing 14 points (6G, 8A) in the same span, while Minard enters the playoffs on a seven-game point streak, with six goals and nine assists for 15 points in that stretch.
“The guys that have been here before and have some experience, they’re the ones leading the way and standing up in the dressing room and saying something,” said Grieve. “That’s exactly what we needed, some guys to carry us.”
Durham is certainly loaded with firepower, as well, with forward Quinton Bruce leading the way, who paced the Thundercats with an impressive 35 points (16G, 19A) in 19 games.
Captain Kyler Nixon wasn’t far behind, with 29 points (14G, 15A) in 20 games for the slick skating defenceman.
Regardless of all else, the focus of the series will be between the pipes and Durham’s controversial goaltender Gatlin Burt, who has a checkered history against the Winterhawks, to say the least.
It doesn’t matter to Grieve, who says the strategy is the same, regardless of who is in the opposing net.
“We’re just going to go about our game, we have to get to the house to get the shots and get the rebounds,” said Grieve. “We’re going to get shots from high percentage areas and then we’re going to go to the net and get the rebounds, it doesn’t matter who is in there, we’re going to be there, standing in front of him.”
NOTICE: The Saugeen Shores Winterhawks encourage all fans to be passionate and vocal during the game. However, we pride ourselves on providing family-friendly entertainment and as a result, there will be a ZERO TOLERANCE policy toward disrespectful and/or abusive language or behaviour. Such actions will be subject to automatic ejection from the arena. If you witness inappropriate behaviour, we ask that you report it to Winterhawks or arena staff immediately. Please remember, it’s just a game.