THUNDER BAY – Sports – It is now just five weeks away from the start of the 2014 Dudley-Hewitt Cup Central Jr. A hockey championship in Wellington, Ont.
Hosted by the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, the Dudley-Hewitt Cup runs April 29 – May 3 at the Essroc Arena situated in the Wellington and District Community Centre.
There are currently 14 clubs still in contention, including four from the Superior International Junior Hockey League, looking to join the Dukes at the Dudley-Hewitt as the semfinals for each of the three competing leagues are nearly set.
The following is a rundown on where each of the leagues, the SIJHL, OJHL and the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, currently are in their respective playoffs and which sides are still in the hunt for a DHC berth.
NOJHL: The top three seeds in the NOJHL have already advanced to the semifinals while the fourth one will be determined after a game 7 quarter-final Wednesday.
The top ranked Soo Thunderbirds await the winner of that game 7 contest between the Abitibi Eskimos and Elliot Lake Bobcats, which will be decided Wednesday evening at 7:30 p.m. at Jus Jordan Arena in Iroquois Falls.
Sault Ste. Marie advanced after dispsing the Blind River Beavers in five hard-fought games of which four were decided by just one goal.
Thunderbirds defenceman Owen Headrick topped the squad offensively in round 1 with six points on a goal and five assists. Anthony Miller and first-year forward Brett Jeffries are next with five points apiece.
Rookie goaltender Brian Kment is 4-0 to date in the postseason and sits second among NOJHL netminders in both goals-against average and save percentage at 1.74 and .918 respectively. He also has the only shutout so far in his league playoffs.
The NOJHL’s other semifinal will feature the No. 2 Kirkland Lake Gold Miners taking on the No. 3 Espanola Rivermen in the second best-of-seven series to determine the league finalists.
Both the Gold Miners and Rivermen moved on from the quarter-finals after posting four-game sweeps.
Samuel Wilbur and Steven Babin amassed seven points each in round 1 to co-lead the Gold Miners in scoring.
Kirkland Lake’s Jeremy Pominville tops all NOJHL goaltenders in average at 1.74 and save percentage at .942.
As for Espanola, forwards Corbin Bean and Blake Peavey both have nine points apiece to help share the league-lead.
Bean also has a NOJHL-high three game-winning goals to his credit.
Rivermen stopper Marc Terriault is 4-0 to begin the playoffs.
As Abitibi and Elliot Lake get set to square off for the final semifinal berth and a date with the Thunderbirds, the teams have averaged seven goals per game between them heading into game 7 Wednesday.
Ryan Tront and Brenden Locke have picked up nine points apiece to pace the Eskimos while Aaron Carmichael leads the Bobcats with seven.
OJHL: A game 7 in the OJHL is also required to decide who will round out their final four as the Aurora Tigers host the Cobourg Cougars tonight.
The winner of that contest will take on the Kingston Voyageurs, the OJHL’s regular season winner in one league semifinal.
Meanwhile the Toronto Lakeshore Patriots will tangle with the Georgetown Raiders in the other semifinal.
The top seven point producers in the OJHL playoffs are still competing with Kington’s Alex Tonge leading the way with 21 points, including an OJHL-best 14 goals.
Steve Hladin of Georgetown is second with 19 points while Brandon O’Quinn (Kingston), Anthony Marra (Georgetown) and Kevin Shier (Toronto Lakeshore) are all knotted for third with 16 points apiece.
Voyaguers teammates Michael Casale and Adam Brady sit sixth and seventh respectively in OJHL scoring with 14 and 13 points.
The game 7 this evening between Aurora and Cobourg features the top two goalkeepers in both average and save mark as the Tigers’ Kevin Entmaa (1.67 & .946) and the Cougars’ Nathan Perry (1.75 & .949) have been solid.
The Patriots’ Evan Buitenhuis is next with a 1.98 average and .926 save percentage.
The Raiders’ Michael McNiven (2.32 & .922) along with Kingston’s Sam Tanguay (2.35 & .919) round out the top five.
As for Wellington, they’ve been idle since March 7 after getting bounced by Cobourg in the opening round of the OJHL playoffs in five games.
They only scored six goals in that series and were blanked three times by the Cougars’ Perry, who leads all goalies in that league in playoff shutouts with four.
In all they’ll have a seven and half week break without game action before their Dudley-Hewitt Cup opener on April 29.
SIJHL: The top four clubs in the SIJHL are all off to the semifinals there, which will get underway this weekend.
Finishing first in the SIJHL standings, the Fort Frances Lakers will take on the fourth place English River Miners in one best-of-seven series.
The other semi has the No. 2 Thunder Bay North Stars tangling with the No. 3 Minnesota Iron Rangers.
Fort Frances and Thunder Bay played a two-game, total-goal series as a tune-up while the SIJHL’s two quarter-final series were being played with the Lakers winning that by a 6-4 count.
Minnesota advanced after sweeping the Wisconsin Wilderness in four straight games while the first-year Miners disposed of the Dryden Ice Dogs in six contests.
The Lakers and North Stars featured the top six point producers in the regular season with each of those forwards being named league CCM all-stars on either the first or second teams.
SIJHL – CCM rookie of the year Lucas Debenedet led Fort Frances and the SIJHL in goals and points with 48 and 112 respectively.
Thunder Bay’s Daniel Del Paggio, the league’s Pizza Hut player of the year, led in point-per-game average at 2.06 and was second in points with 105, including a SIJHL-best 69 points.
At just 17 and the second youngest player in the SIJHL, Del Paggio, wrapped up the regular season on a tear by registering at least one point in each of the last 36 contests he participated in. He was only held pointless four times in 2013-14 and just once in his last 46 games dating back to early October.
A.J. Rupert, Evan Erickson and Jason Reynolds share the Iron Rangers postseason point lead with five points each.
Richard Dartnall and Vincent Currao paced English River in round 1 with seven points apiece.
All four SIJHL semifinal clubs feature the top four netminders in goals-against average and save percentage.
Of note, the SIJHL will be the host league for the 2015 Dudley-Hewitt Cup.
CJHL PERSPECTIVE: Of all these teams still in the hunt for the Dudley-Hewitt Cup, seven of them were tabbed in the final Canadian Junior Hockey League top 20 rankings of the season.
Leading the way were the NOJHL’s Soo Thunderbirds, who were No. 1.
The other six were Fort Frances-SIJHL (5th), Kingston-OJHL (7th), Aurora-OJHL (9th), Kirkland Lake-NOJHL (13th), Thunder Bay-SIJHL (15th) and Toronto Lakeshore-OJHL (17th).
RBC CUP BERTH: The winner of the Dudley-Hewitt Cup will advance to represent the Central region at the RBC Cup Canadian Jr. A championship May 10-18 in Vernon, B.C.
Joining the DHC winner in B.C. will be the RBC Cup host Vernon Lakers, the Fred Page Cup Eastern Canadian title holder along with the champion and finalist of the Western Canada Cup at the nine-day event.