Welland heading into playoffs with back-to-back wins

By Bernd Franke, Postmedia News

Fort Erie Meteors goaltender Riley Daniels makes a pad save against Welland Junior Canadians forward Steven Farano in junior B hockey Sunday night in Welland. BERND FRANKE/Welland Tribune

Fort Erie Meteors goaltender Riley Daniels makes a pad save against Welland Junior Canadians forward Steven Farano in junior B hockey Sunday night in Welland. BERND FRANKE/Welland Tribune

For a game that had no bearing on the final standings or on playoff seeding, the Golden Horseshoe Conference regular season finale meant quite a lot.

It wasn't meaningless to the Welland Junior Canadians, a struggling team eager to enter post-season play on a winning note, nor to the visiting Fort Erie Meteors, junior B hockey's hottest team and determined to stay that way.

Both coaches wanted their teams playing “playoff hockey,” with the Meteors having the added incentive of dominating the team that sidelined them in the opening round last season.

Fort Erie did just that, though only in shots on goal, not shots into the goal.

While the Meteors outshot the B's 47-22, including by a 16-4 margin the final period, Welland rebounded from a 2-0 deficit and, thanks to Chris Janzen's stellar play between the pipes, held on for a 4-3 victory.

The win, combined with Friday night's 6-2 come-from-behind road victory over the Pelham Panthers, gave the Junior Canadians their longest winning streak since early January.

Welland head coach Keith Osborne called the victory a “good confidence builder” heading into the playoffs.

“You always want to win heading into the playoffs,” he said. “We can take the positives from this weekend and take them into the series against St. Catharines.”

Osborne praised the play of both Janzen and Brandon McCorriston, who backstopped the Junior Canadians in their win over Pelham that snapped a nine-game losing streak.

“Chris and Brandon have been giving us good goaltending,” he said. “That's been a big plus for us.”

Danial Singer, on the power play; and Mike Masotti staked Fort Erie to a 2-0 lead 6:27 into the first period, but the game was tied at 2 heading into the middle frame thanks to goals from Dorian Maye and Jake Shaw.

Adam Barron's power-play marker accounted for the only scoring in the second period.

Connor Schmalz tied the game at the 6:50 mark of the third, but the B's regained the lead less than five minutes later when Cole Hamilton took a pass in front of the crease and rifled the puck over For Erie goaltender Riley Daniels' right shoulder.

Hamilton admitted trailing early had him thinking Sunday would not be Welland's night.

“At some points in the game we played like we used to during the losing streak,” the 20-year-old from Ottawa said.

He credited the comeback – and the victory – to the team bearing down on its scoring chances.

“It's good to get back into a winning mindset.”

Hamilton, who is ineligible to return for a second season at the junior B level, said the playoffs against St. Catharines will be a battle.

“It always is when we play them,” he said. “I think it's going to be a good series, and I think it's going to take more than four games.”

The Meteors finished the regular season fifth in the conference, only two points behind the team they will face in the first round, the Niagara Falls Canucks.

Fort Erie head coach Rob Hubbert said there's a lot to like about his team heading into the playoffs.

“For us, it's all about playing good hockey, and we've been playing good hockey for the last 5 ½ to six weeks,” he said. “Our older guys stepped their games up.”

Hubbert said the leadership of fifth-year veteran Anthony Passero had a lot to do with the Meteors' winning streak.

“He wants to play playoff hockey every night,” the coach said of the team's top scorer and one of the scoring leaders in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Despite the loss, Fort Erie won the season series versus Welland four wins to three, eight eight points to seven.

Niagara Falls beat Fort Erie 4-3 in head-to-head play, while the Junior Canadians went 0-4-2-1 against St. Catharines.

Both best-of-seven quarter-final series get underway Friday. Welland is at Jack Gatecliff Arena for a 7 p.m. puck drop, and the Canucks host the Meteors at Gale Centre starting at 7:30 p.m.

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