|Matt Crough leads Cobourg in scoring with 10g, 9a, 19pts through 8 games.|
(Photo: Anna Taylor)
The Cobourg Kodiaks had come close, including forcing powerhouses Six Nations and Brooklin to overtime and earning a tie against the latter, but they hadn't managed to crack the win column before Thursday night.
That changed when, despite being outshot 55-36 by Brampton, Cobourg made an early lead stand up as they beat the Excelsiors 8-6 behind a 49-save performance by Rance Vigneux and leading scorer Matt Crough's 2 goals and an assist.
The Kodiaks led 4-2 after the first period, 7-5 after the second and traded just one goal each with Brampton on the third.
Interestingly, the result follows a pattern that sees an almost direct correspondence between Cobourg's penalty minutes and their success. Simply put, the fewer penalty minutes they have taken, the better they have performed.
In games where the Kodiaks have accumulated large penalty minute totals, they have lost by large margins. Following are their three highest penalty minute games and the results.
48 minutes vs Oakille; lost 10-5
45 minutes vs Peterborough; lost 15-2
56 minutes vs Peterborough; lost 15-7
In an earlier game against Brampton, the Kodiaks looked like they were on the verge of winning despite taking 22 minutes in penalties. Cobourg led 6-1 in the second period but were outplayed substantially in the game's finally 30 minutes and gave up 9 straight goals to lose 10-6.
In the games where they have kept their time in the sin bin to 15 minutes or less, though, they've been highly competitive. They took 15 minutes in each of their 11-9 overtime loss to Six Nations and their 9-9 overtime tie with Brooklin.
In a road game in Brooklin, they actually led 5-4 in the second period, ironically thanks to a pair of shorthanded goals that took them from trailing to ahead. The Redmen bounced back to win 8-6, though. It was a tightly contested game and, for Cobourg, an unusually clean one. They took only 10 minutes in penalties, their season low until Thursday.
In the win over the Excelsiors, the Kodiaks took exactly three minor penalties, one of which was for too many men on the floor.
The sample size is fairly small, but the correlation is hard to ignore. Kodiaks players and coaches have made no bones about the fact that they don't have the star power that MSL's other five teams do. Their resulting approach has generally been to try to play a physical, aggressive style that will give them a chance to compete.
Cobourg has seven of the league's top 20 players in penalty minutes, including league leader Broedie Birkhof, whose 94 minutes are more than the next three players on the list combined. It's also more than two teams' totals—Brooklin with 75 and Six Nations with 87—and close to Oakville's 96.
When you remove the 13.4 minutes Birkhof has averaged, Cobourg's penalty picture is much more in line with the rest of the team's in the league. Given the correlation between the number of penalty minutes they take and the success they have, perhaps it isn't surprising that the Kodiaks' first win came in the first game Birkhof didn't play this season, as he sat out the first of four-game suspension.
It will be an interesting test of the correlation to see how competitive the Kodiaks are in their next few games. The playoffs are already a long shot for Cobourg, as they trail the four leading teams by a large margin. But getting into the postseason was never a realistic goal for the team this year, anyway.
Continued growth, though, is something the Kodiaks can strive for as they move forward and look to become competitive in the coming seasons. The link between penalty minutes and success will be interesting to keep an eye on.