(WINDSOR, ON) – The real season begins this Saturday for the Windsor Clippers.
After easily clinching their seventh consecutive regular-season Far West Division title with a 13-5-2 record, the Clippers are entering the Ontario Junior B Lacrosse League’s Western Conference playoffs in the fourth seed.
In the opening round, the Clippers will meet the fifth-seeded Niagara Thunderhawks (12-7-1), whom they beat 7-4 in their only meeting of the season.
“Niagara will be a huge test,” said Clippers’ head coach Jerry Kavanaugh. “They are probably the most disciplined team in the league. Coach Chrysler does a great job there. They take very few penalties, so we have to match that and get scoring 5-on-5.”
The Clippers are going into the playoffs on a two-game slide after rough outings against the Six Nations Rebels and Elora Mohawks.
“Our guys are going to have to buy in, win the small battles, and be more disciplined than we have been recently or we won’t get out of this series. I think we are capable of playing with any team in this league, but we have to understand the importance of winning shifts, and as a staff, we need to make the right adjustments throughout each game to give our guys the best chance.”
After throttling the down-and-out Point Edward Pacers on Thursday night, the Clippers had true litmus tests on Friday against the Rebels and Sunday in Elora.
“We had a chance to grab the No. 2 seed with wins at Six Nations and Elora – obviously that didn’t happen,” said Kavanaugh.
“[In the] Nations game, we were beat in every facet of the game. In Elora, I thought we were the better team for the first 17 minutes, [then with] three mistakes late in the first we went from up 2-1 to down 4-2.
“The second period we took four or five undisciplined penalties. We had a good talk after the second, or at least I did, and we came out and dominated the third period.
“A little too big a hole, but hopefully something we can build on heading into the playoffs.”
Zane Dalpe has led the way on offence all season, tallying 42 goals and 101 points in 17 games during his rookie campaign. Four-year veteran Blain Wallace has also added a large share of the offence with 43 goals and 70 points in 13 games since returning from college.
The additions of Jack Dunn (19 GP, 24 goals, 77 points) and Brett Barnes (20 GP, 37 goals, 53 points) from Point Edward at the trade deadline will only serve to bolster the offence.
Niagara’s attack is best described, not only as balanced but spread out.
Twelve Thunderhawks have 20 points or more and 13 have at least 10 goals. This is compared to Windsor with 9 and 7 respectively.
Mind you, for the Clippers, Jackman Schooley has 18 points in 9 games, Nathan Salaris has 27 points in 11 games, Connor McManus has 13 points in 8 games, and Josh Rosa has 12 points in 5 games, all since coming back from prep school late in the season. So, maybe take that with a grain of salt.
Anyway, Devin Napolean leads the way in tallies for Niagara with 23, while Nathan Maloney tops the helper category with 29. Each has 46 points on the season, leading the team.
Windsor outscored Niagara this season 207-188.
The Clippers sit eighth in the OJBLL with 10.35 goals-per-game and sixth in goals against at 7.50. The Thunderhawks are 10th in goals, averaging 9.40, and eighth in goals against at 7.80.
On special teams, Windsor is middle of the road on the power play, sitting 12th with 32 per cent, while ninth on the penalty kill at 71.9 per cent. Niagara has the top penalty kill in the OJBLL at 89.4 per cent, but the worst power play of 24 teams at below 16 per cent.
Discipline will be key in the series, as the Thunderhawks average 12.8 penalty minutes per game to the Clippers’ 22.6.
Both the Clippers (150) and Thunderhawks (156) have benefitted from stingy goaltending this season.
For Windsor, Chase Cosgrove led the OJBLL with an .848 save percentage, while Carson Hebner sat close behind in sixth at .837, literally thousandths out of second place.
Niagara’s starter, Josiah LaForme, was eighth best in the league at .834.
The best-of-five series kicks off on Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Forest Glade Arena.