OHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview
With spring right around the corner, that means it is time for some playoff hockey. Teams have fought all season to get a chance to simply compete for a chance to make it to the OHL Finals, but that means they will have to go through the best teams in the league to get there. The West may have some one-sided series, but some may surprise experts and fans alike.
(1) London Knights vs. (8) Windsor Spitfires
Surprise, surprise, the London Knights are great again. Once again, Dale Hunter has been able to assemble a team that is a favourite to make it to the Memorial Cup. It has been the performance of Kevin Hancock that has been what Knights’ fans have been talking about. The former Owen Sound centreman has been incredible this season, with his 107 points putting him fifth in league scoring. The Knights also have two of the best defencemen in the league as well in Adam Boqvist and Evan Bouchard. Boqvist finished the regular season +12 and sixth in defenceman scoring with 60 points. After being sent back from Edmonton, Bouchard totaled 53 points in only 45 games.
The Spitfires clinched a playoff spot on the second-to-last day of the regular season, despite only winning one of their final 10 games. Despite the fact, the Spitfires have a lot of young talent on this roster. Jean-Luc Foudy (brother of London’s Liam Foudy) and Will Cuylle have been impressive in their rookie campaigns. Cuylle’s 41 points is seventh among first-years, while Foudy has been one of the best playmakers in the Windsor lineup, with his 41 assists being the most among newcomers, and 49 points sitting him fifth in rookie scoring.
It is difficult to look past the veteran talent that London has compared to Windsor’s youth and inexperience. Had it been last year with Michael DiPietro in net for the Spitfires, this series may be a different story. You’ll see a lot of compete from Windsor, but the Knights’ depth will prove too much.
In front of the home crowd in Windsor the kids will flourish, but only for one night, Knights in five.
(2) Saginaw Spirit vs. (7) Sarnia Sting
The Sting at some points this season have struggled mightily. This includes a rough stretch after the New Year, where Sarnia lost 10 of 11 contests. Despite the adversity, the Sting were able to hold it together to clinch a playoff spot in the final weekend of the season. While Hugo Leufvenius and Ryan McGregor have been the top dogs in scoring for the Sting, rookie Jacob Perreault and defenceman Mitch Eliot have been just as impressive. Eliot finished 10th in defencemen scoring with 55 points, while Perreault’s 55 points placed him fourth in rookie scoring.
Saginaw made a big change at the deadline to bolster their roster, and boy did it pay off. GM Dave Drinkill traded for Mississauga’s Ryan McLeod and Owen Tippett just days apart, and the two instantly became big time players for Saginaw. Tippett tied for the team lead in scoring with 74 points. The person he tied with, Cole Perfetti, is odds on favourite to win rookie of the year, with his 74 points atop the rookie charts. Bode Wilde has been a key part to the power play for the Spirit this season, and his 70 points are third among OHL defencemen.
Despite the Sting showing a lot of grit to earn a spot in the postseason, their inconsistent play is what will hurt them again in this series. The Spirit have a lot of confidence, and a lot talent up and down the roster to control this series, and their netminder, Ivan Prosvetov, has been one of the best in the league. That said, home ice will be key, as the home team won four of the six games in the regular season series.
The Sting just don’t look like they have enough in the tank, Spirit in four.
(3) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. (6) Owen Sound Attack
The Greyhounds, for the third year in a row, have home ice in the first round of the playoffs, and deservedly so. With players like Barrett Hayton, Cole MacKay and Jordan Sambrook as your “depth scoring” the Soo have a lot to be optimistic about this spring. Mac Hollowell has only improved since being drafted by Toronto. He led all OHL d-men in scoring with 77 points, which includes a nine-game point streak in February. You could not talk about the Greyhounds without mentioning Morgan Frost. Frost was dominant from game one on this season, and his 109 points was tied for third in league scoring.
The Attack are a team that most should be admiring heading into the playoffs. After off-loading a massive amount of talent, they still were able to earn a spot in the postseason. Aidan Dudas has been the top-dog for the Attack since Nick Suzuki was traded. The Los Angeles prospect finished the season with 62 points, leading Owen Sound in scoring. Barrett Kirwin has been a good pickup from Guelph. With increased ice time with his new team, he scored 22 points in 29 games with the Attack. Look to see how Maksim Sushko and Adam McMaster are on the power play as well as 5-on-5, as they finished tied for second in team scoring with 51 points.
Despite the heart Owen Sound has, it may not be enough to hang with the Greyhounds. Goaltending-wise, the Attack are heavily outmatched, as Matthew Villalta has been solid for the Soo this season, while Mack Guzda has had his share of struggles throughout the year.
It’s hard to see the offence of the Soo slow down against the weaker Attack, Greyhounds in five.
(4) Guelph Storm vs. (5) Kitchener Rangers
Talk about a team that went for broke, Guelph knows the time is now if the team wants to win a championship. That’s why GM George Burnett went out and bought, and bought hard. The Storm acquired players such as Markus Phillips, Fedor Gordeev, Sean Durzi, Mackenzie Entwistle, and Nick Suzuki. The team has struggled to keep up with the top dogs in the West, but have certainly shown they are not a team to be messed with. Despite all the acquisitions, Nate Schnarr still led the team in points, and finished tied for the sixth in league scoring with 102 points.
Kitchener comes into this series playing decent hockey, winning seven of their final 11 games. They have a good amount of scoring towards the top-end of the roster with five 70+ point scorers. However, that is all they have, because no other Ranger has any more than 30 points. Joseph Garreffa and Riley Damiani are going to be in the spotlight, especially since they are two of the biggest setup guys on the team. Each have 55 helpers, which is tied for 10th in the league in assists. Greg Meireles will have to be on his A game. Kitchener’s leading scorer finished with 97 points this season, which is 10th in league scoring.
Despite them being the two closest seeds, the Rangers and Storm still finished 18 points apart. The Storm sure have the deeper roster, and the better goaltender in Anthony Popovich. Despite vastly different amount of talent, the Rangers have held their own against the Storm, as both teams have won four of the eight meetings this year between the two rivals, with Kitchener winning the last meeting on March 10th.
Even though Guelph is the better team on paper, Kitchener will be up to the challenge against their Highway 7 foes. With Durzi questionable to start this series, and the Rangers giving everything they have, Kitchener will upset the Storm in seven.