The Aylmer goalie backstops the Leamington Flyers to GOJHL title
now faces Willmore and Vandenbrink in Sutherland Cup round robin
April 11, 2023
By Rob J. Ross
ST. THOMAS - Bryce Walcarius is heading to his first Sutherland Cup round robin.
The MVP of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Western Conference final, will lead the Leamington Flyers into the Cup round against the Stratford Warriors and Hamilton Kilty B's.
The 21-year old goalie from Aylmer backstopped the Flyers to the Western title, defeating the St. Marys Lincolns in five games, winning the decisive game, 3-1, April 6 on home ice.
"Feels great, especially in my last season," Walcarius said. "And it felt awesome, especially getting the win against my former team."
After playing 2021-22 season with St. Marys, Walcarius was traded to Leamington prior to the season. Then the goalie had a Western Conference first-team all-star season, with a 20-4-0-3 record, four shutouts and a conference best 2.32 goals-against average (GAA) and .911 save percentage.
Over 12 playoff games, Walcarius is 11-1, including two shutouts, a 1.42 GAA and .951 save percentage.
Leamington swept both Sarnia and LaSalle in four games, before denting the Lincolns.
"Our team plays a really good structured system and we all have the same goal in mind of just wanting to do anything to win," Walcarius said. "We all know we have something special together this year and don't want to waste the opportunity we have."
The Flyers now have home and away games against both Stratford, with goalie Owen Willmore of St. Thomas, and Hamilton, with forward Noah Vandenbrink from Belmont, in the Sutherland Cup round robin. The top two teams advance to the best of seven game Cup final.
Walcarius was teammates with Vandenbrink on the Lincolns last season and also knows Willmore.
"Noah and I would carpool to practices last year and spent a lot of time together being on St. Marys. Owen and I actually live in the same neighbourhood in St. Thomas and we've spent a lot of time together too," Walcarius said. "It'll be really fun to play against them. It gives just a little extra edge to want to win those games against them, to have that as a little bragging right over them."
Leamington's (12-1) first game is at Stratford (12-2), Friday, April 14th.
Hamilton (12-2) host Stratford, Wednesday, to open Sutherland Cup.
The Kilty B's swept Caledonia in the Golden Horseshoe conference final.
"Being able to lift that trophy was an indescribable feeling," said Vandenbrink, who had two goals and two assists in two games played. "I'm proud of the group and what we've done. Hopefully we can carry it over into our next few weeks."
In 26 regular games with the Kilty B's, Vandenbrink had 17 goals and 18 assists. The left-shooting winger also played 10 games with the OHL's Hamilton Bulldogs.
Hamilton is 12-2 these playoffs, following a regular season record of 38-7-5-0, good for second place, one point behind St. Catharines. Caledonia upended St. Catharines in the semifinals with a victory in the seventh game.
"We (Hamilton) have an immense amount of skill, determination to win, depth in all areas, intense preparation," Vandenbrink said. "A healthy, rested group, from the short series in the horseshoe playoff run."
Vandenbrink was briefly a teammate with Willmore during their Elgin-Middlesex days. The forward also faced the goalie last season when Willmore was with the St. Thomas Stars.
The Warriors defeated the Kitchener-Waterloo Siskins, four games to two, in the Midwestern final, with Willmore making 34 saves in the 4-3 game six win April 5. Stratford finished second in the regular season standings, one point behind the KW Siskins.
The 18-year old started the season with St. Thomas, before being traded to Stratford in early December and went 11-3-0-1 with the Warriors. Willmore also appeared in six games with the London Knights, going 4-0.
Willmore didn't start the playoffs in the Warriors' net, but took over after the first period of game four in the quarterfinals against Caledon, March 9. Willmore is since 9-2, with a 1.93 GAA and .944 save percentage.
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