By Jordan Ercit
Kitchener Post staff
What a difference a year makes, not to mention better depth, a pair of solid netminders and a stingy penalty kill.
Add it up and the Kitchener Dutchmen have reason for cheer heading into the holidays.
Several months removed from a disappointing eighth-place result in 2011-12, the fifth-place Dutchies (17-11-4) are already well ahead of the curve and cruise into the Christmas break with points in nine straight games with two remaining before the holiday pause — Friday in Caledonia and Sunday in Elmira.
Filter it down, and the Dutchmen are enjoying coming to the rink while challenging for a home playoff spot in the Midwestern Conference.
“We’ve got a great bunch of guys this year and it’s showing on the ice,” said Kitchener native Philip Moser, the team’s second-leading scorer with 10 goals and 17 assists. “We’ve got chemistry and we’re having a lot of fun putting pucks in the net and winning games.
“Everyone’s just staying positive and it’s just going great.”
That hasn’t always been the case over the last year.
Last season, the Dutchies had a knack for losing close games and started to expect the worst when a win was in hand in the third period. Three straight one-goal losses to start the 2012-13 season — a 4-3 defeat against Elmira and 3-2 losses to Cambridge and Guelph — didn’t help matters either.
Slowly but surely, though, the Dutchmen started to right the ship.
By Nov. 13, they had matched their 10-win total from last season by doubling-up the third-place Elmira Sugar Kings. Two games later, after a 5-1 loss to Stratford, they beat the Brampton Bombers 5-3 on the road.
They haven’t lost in regulation since (7-0-2) and enter the weekend on a four-game win streak after a 3-1 victory over the Waterloo Siskins Tuesday at Kinsmen Arena as Moser, Ty Learn and Jesse Young found the net and Waterloo native Marc Williams made 41 saves against his former club.
“Overall, though, I think you win a couple games and you start to get your confidence back,” head coach Brad Lund said. “The guys really do believe now that we’re going to win, whereas before that we were waiting for something bad to happen.”
The reason for that confidence starts in the crease with Williams and OHL Kitchener Rangers prospect Jack Moylan — both of whom carry four-game winning streaks into the weekend.
Williams, a draft pick of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, has had the hot hand of late with Moylan splitting time between the Dutchmen and Rangers.
That has also given the team’s penalty killers — one of the best special teams groups in the entire GOJHL led by Jordan Delaurier, Matt Papineau, Moser, Keegan Calder and Brett Clampitt — a solid base to work from.
Through 32 games, the Dutchmen are second in the league when it comes to preventing opponents from scoring on the power play, allowing 20 goals in 161 attempts (87.58 per cent).
They have been even better of late with no goals allowed in their last 34 opportunities.
“I think it’s the guys on the penalty kill,” said Lund, whose team has shared special teams practices with the Rangers. “We run an aggressive system and it seems to be working.
“Again, the goaltending has been better, so it’s a few little things.”
Depth has also helped.
Although Keli Grant leads the team with 27 goals in 28 games, 10 other players have stepped up with game-winners this season. Meanwhile, recent acquisition Clayton Greer — five points in six games since being acquired from Elmira for Steven Jakiela — has given the defence, led by rugged captain Harrison Scarfone and Young, a different dimension.
It has Moser, a Resurrection Catholic Secondary School grad and Wilfrid Laurier University student, hoping for a prolonged playoff run once the Christmas break is over on Jan. 4, when the Dutchmen visit the Listowel Cyclones.
But first is a pair of big Midwestern matchups. The Caledonia Corvairs (20-9-3) are tops in the conference, while the Elmira Sugar Kings (19-9-3) are not too far behind in third.
“Right now, we’re looking to beat Caledonia on Friday, of course — get two points there,” Moser said. “And then Elmira, hopefully we’ll get them, too, and go into the break keeping our win streak going and make sure other teams are scared to come in here and play us.”