By Ken Pagan
Their nine-game winning streak ended with a loss in the final game of the regular season, but when the puck drops for the playoffs on Monday night, the Hamilton Kilty B’s will have things lined up for what they hope is an extended playoff run.
With a 3-1 road loss on Friday to the second-place St. Catharines Falcons, the Kilty B’s finish the season in third place in the Golden Horseshoe Conference with a 35-12-1 record. The club has been rolling in the second half, with a 20-4-0 record since the beginning of December, a stretch that includes a pair of wins over the Falcons (39-6-2) and another over the first-place Niagara Falls Canucks (39-6-1).
“We’ve won 20 of our last 22 games, this is where we want to be — we’d rather be hot coming into playoffs,” Kilty B’s captain Tanner Brennecke said heading into Friday’s regular-season finale. “Our practices are intense and everyone knows they have to work hard for a spot, because if you don’t, you might not be playing come playoff-time. We have a good atmosphere in the room. The guys know we have a good team and a good chance to win, so I think we’ll be ready to go Monday.”
The Kilty B’s open their first-round series against the Fort Erie Meteors with Game 1 on Monday night at the Dave Andreychuk Mountain Arena. A year ago, Brennecke was part of the Ancaster Avalanche team that fell in Game 7 of the second round to the Falcons. He is one of only four returning veterans who moved with the club to Hamilton in the offseason. The Kilty B’s were 15-8-1 through the first half this season, but steadily improved as the calendar turned to 2019.
“We knew we only had three or four returning guys, but looking at some of the talent we had coming in, I knew we had a lot of potential and a lot of skilled young guys who knew they had to come in and work,” said Brennecke, whose father, Frank, also played for the Kilty B’s in the early 1980s. “We’ve since brought in a couple new faces, some guys who’ve played a couple seasons of junior and the team has come a long way since the start of the year.
“I know we can catch either of those top teams (Niagara Falls and St. Catharines) on any night and knock them off, I don’t think anybody in that room has any doubt. We’ve shown it this year, beating both of those teams three times each. I think we have a lot of potential going into the playoffs.”
Brennecke and fellow second-year blue-liner Derek Raposo have established themselves as go-to guys on defence. With 53 points (nine goals, 44 assists), Brennecke is the club’s highest-scoring defenceman since Cody Wilson put up 59 points in 2009-10 when the franchise was located in Stoney Creek. Brennecke, who also plays junior ‘B’ lacrosse with the Hamilton Bengals, finished second in Kilty B’s scoring behind TJ Hughes (64 points), while Raposo finished fourth on the club with 43 points, including 36 assists. Raposo was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Month for January.
“Having played in the league for a year, I built a lot of confidence over the summer and came in knowing I had to have another good year if I want to go anywhere in hockey,” said Brennecke, who had 34 points last season. “So working hard, putting in the time off ice, doing the little things and just being mentally prepared for games has helped. A lot of it is the coaches, too. They’ve believed in me since Day 1 here and I’ve gotten my fair share of ice time and tried to do the most with it.”
Kilty B’s head coach Ken Peroff, a defenceman at the OHL, university and professional level himself in the past decade, knows he can count on players like Brennecke and Raposo in any situation.
“The game looks slower for Tanner this season after his experience with us last year,” Peroff said. “He’s such a smart player, knows how to pick his spots and really makes plays happen for us back there. He and Raposo both have improved greatly in their second season and that’s great to see. They also give us so much leadership by helping us create an environment that’s enjoyable but really pushes one another. It creates a platform that benefits everyone and helps us grow as a team.”
Having showed continual improvement all season, Peroff likes where his club is at heading into the post-season.
“At this point of the year, when games are about to be decided by the slightest of margins, it’s about consistently bringing energy and ironing out details in how we play,” Peroff said. “We’ve formed a good identity as a group and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish.”