Justin Donnelly, much like the rest of the Brantford 99ers, hopes that 2017 is much kinder to the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey team.
So far, it’s about the same.
After ending 2016 on a winning note, the 99ers dropped its first two games of the new year. And much like the previous calendar year, they lost a tough one in a 4-2 decision Thursday at home to the Kitchener Dutchmen. The next night, it was a 9-4 road loss to the Stratford Warriors.
“We have moments where we show how good we can be,” Donnelly said. “It’s tough. We just have to stick with it and keep working hard.
“Hockey goes through dry spells,” he said. “As long as you keep working hard, at the end of the day those dry spells will end.
The key is to keep working and keep to the game plan that (coaches) Wes (Consorti) and Dan (Nadeau) have put in place. They’ve done a great job here. They instill a lot of compete level in us. We bring that every game.”
That kind of compete was very evident Thursday. Sticking to its defence-first plan, they stymied the Dutchmen in the first period, despite being outshot. After Adam Kawalec opened the scoring for the visitors, Kyle Walker and Donnelly responded.
The Dutchmen were again held at bay for most of the final 40 minutes, but Connor Cole struck in the second period, while Brendan Valko scored the game-winner early in the third period, and Brandon Grandlnetti added an empty-netter.
“You have to look at the positives in a game like this,” Donnelly said. “Our penalty kill was pretty, and we were able to get one on the powerplay. The big thing was our goaltending. They’ve been great for us and today they were again.”
Richard Little was fantastic making 34 saves before leaving the game in the third period with an injury, while Aiden Link stopped all seven shots coming in cold for the last 15 minutes.
Friday in Stratford, Link made 30 saves, while Jay Dekker scored twice, with Mike Finger and Kevin Bray adding one each in the loss.
Ryan Nicholson and Trevor Dulong led the Warriors with two goals each, while Brock Heshka, Trevor Abbott, Kameron Shearer, Graham Brulotte and Justin Graham netted one each.
Despite the two defeats, Donnelly said there is lots of hockey left and the focus is on the playoff push.
“After our game against Cambridge (to end 2016), we said playing like that is how we have to play,” Donnelly said.” That’s the way we will get into the playoffs.
“We’re making the playoffs,” he said. “It’s not an option. It’s something Dan and Wes have talked about. That’s the mindset we are going with.”
With that in mind, general manager Darren DeDobbelaer did his part to help with the playoff push making some changes to the lineup before the Ontario Hockey Association trade deadline on Tuesday night.
He added forward Joel Nagy, from the Pelham Panthers and goalie Evan Reinhart, from the Dutchmen.
In 29 games with the Panthers, Nagy has 10 goals and five assists.
Reinhart is 3-2-1 in seven appearances with the Dutchmen. Last season he played two games with the Cambridge Winter Hawks, while playing with the major midget AAA team in Cambridge.
Thursday, the 99ers are back at the Gretzky Centre to take on the Listowel Cyclones at 7:30 p.m., before going on the road Saturday in Cambridge and Sunday in Elmira.