For the first time in the young history of the Ancaster Avalanche Junior B hockey club, three of its players have swept Golden Horseshoe Conference Player of the Month Awards.
The high-flying Avs skated into the Thorold Arena on Thursday night (Dec. 5) and trounced the Blackhawks 6-1 as team scoring leader Zach Nieminen set up two scoring plays and moved into first place in GHC scoring with 27 goals and 25 assists for 52 points in 28 games. He and Connor Murphy of the Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs share the lead.
The Avs have won seven consecutive games since Nov. 15, which is a tribute to the work by the three GHC Player of the Month Award winners – goaltender Blake Richard, defenceman Harrison Domagala, and forward Nieminen. The last team to sweep was Caledonia in October.
“The whole organization is very excited about the guys winning these individual awards,” said general manager and coach Ryan Kuwabara. They share it with everyone because as it took the whole team playing well for these guys to get this opportunity.”
“I’m very proud of what these players have accomplished. Our move to Ancaster has allowed us to house players in an environment in which they can succeed. We will take this win (awards) for these boys as a team win for this month and work even harder to achieve success throughout the season. It’s still early, and this is a great sign of things to come,” added Avalanche owner Ron Van Kleef.
The conference’s goaltender of the month, Richard (Grimsby) is in his third season in the GOJHL and helped backstop the Avalanche to a very solid month of November as the team went 7-2-0. Richard started all but two of those games, going 4-1-0 and posting a 2.40 goals against average and a .938 save percentage. The 6’2, 175lbs goaltender is now 6-3-2-1, 3.05, .917 on the season, and is a main reason the Avalanche are in a battle for third place in the conference with Thorold and Welland. Blake was drafted in round 11 (210 overall) by the Kingston Frontenacs in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection.
Defenseman award winner Domagala (Oakville) is in his first season with the Avs. The 6’1, 195lbs blueliner is the team’s top scoring defenseman and fourth on the team with 21 points in 25 games on the season. Four of those points came in eight games Domagala played in November, including a three-point game against Fort Erie on the 21st.
Harrison is a key contributor to Ancaster’s power-play and has been a force defensively all season long.
Nieminen (Ajax) gets the forward honour in his second season with the team, which last year played as the Stoney Creek Warriors. Nieminen, 6’2, 195lbs had a monster month of November, scoring 12 times and adding 11 assists for 23 points in just nine games. The forward has been chasing the league’s leading scorers all season and is currently only 2 points out of top spot.
Saturday night (Dec. 7), officials from the Ontario Hockey Association and the Avalanche team will make on-ice presentations to the three award winners.
That night the Avs play Welland Junior Canadians on Hamilton Bulldogs Night in the Firestone Arena. The night will feature Bruiser, the Master Blaster, free T-shirts, a Shoot-to-Win Contest, Bulldogs tickets, and prize giveaways in support of the Hamilton Bulldogs Foundation and the Skate the Dream Program. There will also be an opportunity to win the use of a suite at a Hamilton Bulldogs American Hockey League game.
On Thursday, Luke Zupan led the charge for Ancaster with two goals, while Eric Eustace, Mike Pollice, Cole Nagy and Brett Farrelly added single goals. In addition to Nieminen, Dustin Chenier and Max Balinson had two assists apiece.
On Saturday, Dec. 14 vs. Port Colborne and Saturday, Dec. 21 vs. St. Catharines are the Ancaster Avalanche “Toy Drive Nights.” All fans bringing a new toy to the game will receive a free ticket to “Fan Appreciation Night” on Saturday, Feb. 22 when the Niagara Falls Canucks come to town.