Playoff push begins for 99ers

By Brian Smiley, Brantford Expositor

The Brantford 99ers were hoping to start their climb up the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Mid-Western Conference standings on Thursday.
“The big thing to do right now is stay out of seventh and eighth because although we’ve played them tough, Listowel and Stratford are really rolling right now,” team owner and general manager Darren DeDobbelaer said as his team was preparing to face the Stratford Warriors on Thursday at the Gretzky Centre in their first game of 2018.
“If we play .500 the rest of the year, I’d be happy with that. I think we can do better than that but I would be happy with that.”
Things haven’t gone exactly according to plan for the 99ers this season but as of late, the situation has started to look better.
Following its slow start, Brantford picked up seven of a possible 14 points leading into Christmas. That has still left the 99ers three points behind Guelph for seventh in the league and four in arrears of Brampton for sixth but there’s plenty of time to catch up.
DeDobbealer said although it would have been nice to keep things rolling through the holidays, the two-week break for his team was welcomed.
“I think we were playing good,” he said of the performance by his players in December.
“I think what was good about the break was, we were running a short bench for a long time. It has given me an opportunity to try to get guys into Brantford.
“I have signed one guy and hopefully I’m signing another one (this week).”
The newest addition to the 99ers is forward Adam Cavaliere. The Burlington native attended Brantford’s spring camp and the team was high on him but Cavaliere decided to go to Ottawa and play in the Central Canada Hockey League.
However, Cavaliere returned home at Christmas and decided he wanted to remain close to home so Brantford was able to sign him.
With the Ontario Hockey Association’s Jan. 10 trade deadline quickly approaching, DeDobbelaer has four cards left and he plans to fill them all. He would like to add a defenceman but knows that will be difficult.
DeDobbelaer also doesn’t plan on subtracting any players because he likes what he has.
“I go through my roster weekly and I think of the guys I’m going to replace because they’re not good enough and I don’t want to replace any of them (because they’re all good enough),” he said.
“Yet, we’re sitting in last place. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Everyone around the team feels the 99ers are close, they just aren’t getting it done. One big issue that will need to be cleaned up before the playoffs in late February is Brantford’s work on the power play and penalty kill.
“Our special teams are horrendous,” DeDobbelaer said. “They’re the worst in the league. We need to fix that.
“Today’s game, that’s where the games are won and lost, on special teams.”
Brantford is 21st out of 26 teams in the GOJHL on the power play (13.79 per cent) and 24th on penalty kill (77.22 per cent).
The 99ers also need to find some goal scoring as Christian Polillo (14 goals) and Louis Latta (10) have accounted for 28 per cent of the team’s goals this season.
“Take away Christian and Latta and our top goal scorer has about six,” said DeDobbelaer. “We work hard, we’re disciplined, we just lack the finishing part of it.
“We just need guys to bear down on their chances.”
The result from Thursday’s game was not available at press time however, the 99ers wound up losing 2-0. Brantford will complete its week on Sunday in Elmira with a 7 p.m. game against the Sugar Kings.
ICE CHIPS . . . DeDeobbelaer purchased the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Milton Icehawks last year and had hoped to move the team to Brantford. However, the OHA denied that move but DeDobbelaer hasn’t given up on bringing junior A hockey to Brantford. “I made a presentation to the OHA and they want me to follow the rules and regulations of the OHA constitution,” he said. With that in mind, DeDobbelaer will put things together so the OHA can look at his proposal on April 15. If his plan is approved, Milton would move to Brantford and remain a junior A team while Brantford would move to Milton and play in the junior B league. “That’s the plan,” DeDobbelaer said.