The winning pieces are coming together for the Tillsonburg Kinsmen midget hockey team.
"It's all there and we saw it come together at the Silver Stick," said Kinsmen coach Rob Scott after a 4-1 victory Wednesday night in Game 1 of their OMHA BB preliminary round playoff game against Glanbrook at the Kinsmen Memorial Arena. "We hope we can keep it going in the OMHAs."
"We got on a roll at Silver Stick and tonight we just kept it going," said Kinsmen midget assistant captain Austin Hentz. "We didn't do so great in our own tournament... but the Silver Stick was kind of an awakening. We proved we can win some games and we can go far in the playoffs if we keep playing like that.
"We're trying to think a little bit more defensively, as a group," said Hentz. "We still want to generate offence, but we've got to keep the puck out of our net, keep our goals against average down."
Tillsonburg accomplished that with three shutouts in their first three Pelham Regional Silver Stick 'A' games, Dec. 27-28, blanking Thorold (3-0), NOTL (5-0) and Port Colborne 2-0. Caledonia snapped the streak and Tillsonburg exited with a 5-0 semifinal loss.
"We had a 0.00 goals against average in the first three games," Scott noted. "Goalies Alessandro Palermo, the rookie, and Tyler Gubesch, the veteran, both of them played really well. And our defencemen are playing really well too. Marc Poirier, he's got a good shot and he's done well for us this year from the point, and guys like Evan DeRouck and Griffin Billard."
The team's scoring touch, said Scott, has improved and they'd like to see it continue.
"Jesse Dunn, another rookie, has really performed well this season and we look for him and our veterans, guys like Hentz, (Evan) Curtis, (Devin) Sebok and DeRouck to bring some leadership into the playoffs. We've got good leadership on our team with (captain) Zach Schonberger and the other captains.
"And we've got some good two-way players, like Colton Lanthier and Michael Scott (injured). They're both defencemen who have we've moved back and forth all year."
Penalty killing has been a team strength and the coach noted the PKing efforts of Jordan Spitzke, Bradley Scott, Hentz and Sebok.
"We've done very well on the penalty kill this year," he nodded. "And our power play is starting to come around, too.
"The coaching staff has been promoting disciplined hockey, work ethic, and positive attitude on the bench. We're promoting team concepts. At this age it's important to get the discipline buy-in. Basically, the 'take it for the team' attitude."
"The discipline's getting a lot better," said Hentz, "compared to where we were in the early months of the year. We're starting to take a hit and make a play, that kind of thing."
The Kinsmen had one Southern Counties regular season game against Glanbrook, a shutout loss on the road Dec. 19.
"We played Glanbrook with seven players," noted Scott. "It was a tough night – suspensions, illnesses, other obligations... and we lost 1-0."
Wednesday's OMHA BB game was equally low-scoring through the first period and most of the second. Glanbrook took a 1-0 first-period lead and Tillsonburg's Sebok equalized late in the second.
Lanthier snapped the 1-1 tie with 6:51 left in regulation scoring on a low wrist shot from the high slot. Hentz and AP Greg Vanwynsberghe (on a power play) added insurance in the final two minutes.
Hentz's goal was a bit out-of-the-box for the Kinsmen. Glanbrook's defence was not able to contain the line of Hentz, Sebok and Evan Curtis. Hentz was able to dangle around the perimeter before scoring from the slot.
"My teammates opened up a little bit of room there and I just kind of went with it," said Hentz. "I saw some open ice and kind of looked around for a pass first, then took a shot.
"Got to hand it to my linemates – they played a great game and opened up some space. The whole team did, really. And we got a really good game out of our goalie, too. He played solid, kind of quarterbacked the whole team."
As a team, Hentz said the Kinsmen midgets are trying to get a lot of shots on net.
"Every line's got their own role. Some of the guys want to get right to the net, get in their face. My line... it's generate offence – we've got to get the puck in the net every chance we get."
Glanbrook won the series 'coin flip' and will host Games 2 and 3, Jan. 17 and Jan. 21. If necessary, the six-point series comes back to Tillsonburg for Game 4 on Jan. 22.
"They (Glanbrook) are a good hockey team and we don't expect that Glanbrook's going to lay over and play dead," said Scott. "We just have to take it one game at a time and kind of go through the process."
"We've got to keep on a roll," said Hentz. "It's working, so we've got to keep the same thing going. It's definitely not going to be a walkover series, it's going to be a hard one.
"We've played OK on the road. That does not seem to bother our team at all. If anything, we get a little more fired up to go into their barn and get a win."
Caledonia, undefeated in league play, received a first-round bye and will meet the winner of the Tillsonburg-Glanbrook series.
Tillsonburg 4, Glanbrook 1
Kinsmen scoring: 1. Devin Sebok (Evan Curtis); 2. Colton Lanthier (Devin Sebok); 3. Austin Hentz (Devin Sebok, Evan Curtis); 4. Greg Vanwynsberghe (Josh Spitzke, Colton Lanthier).