OHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

Eight wins down, eight wins to go for four teams in the OHL. The second round saw some shorter and easy series for some, and for others it was tight and exciting series that went deeper than most thought. The teams are so close to the J. Ross Robertson Cup, they each can taste it. Which team will make it through and continue their quest to the Memorial Cup?

Eastern Conference

(1) Ottawa 67’s vs. (3) Oshawa Generals

In a series that expected minimal goal scoring due to the two that manned the nets, the series between Ottawa and Sudbury was anything but. Despite the series only going four games, the 67’s scored 18 goals on the Wolves’ Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. Michael DiPietro had an interesting series in net. Thankfully the offencive support was there, as the Canucks prospect allowed 12 goals in the four games, but did earn a shutout in game two. Tye Felhaber, who finished tied for third in league scoring during the regular season, only tallied three assists in their first round series against Hamilton. Against, Sudbury, the Dallas prospect broke out for nine points in the series, including a hat trick in game one, and the series-clinching goal in the third overtime of game four. Kyle Maksimovich has been solid since being suspended for the first two games of the playoffs. After scoring four points in games three and four against the Bulldogs, the Hamilton-native led the 67’s with 10 points in round two.

The Generals make it to the conference finals for the first time since 2015, the year they won the Robertson and Memorial Cup. They did so by upending one of the best offences in the OHL, as Oshawa eliminated the favoured Niagara IceDogs in six games. After the IceDogs won the first two games at home, the Generals reeled off four straight, much thanks to the play of Kyle Keyser in net. After allowing eight goals in games one and two, the Boston prospect only allowed seven the rest of the series. Along with Brandon Saigeon, Kyle MacLean helped lead the offence against Niagara, as he got on the score sheet in five of the six games, with his seven points leading the Generals in the series.

The 67’s are looking extremely confident heading into this series. They dominated the first two series, but they now meet their toughest foe yet. Oshawa, with the help of Keyser, were able to shut down the IceDogs attack. This sets up another goaltender-friendly matchup as Keyser goes up against DiPietro. DiPietro did look shaky at some moments in that second round, but his offence bailed him out. With the momentum Oshawa built against Niagara, DiPietro will have to be at the top of his game, while Keyser will have to be exceptional to stop the outstanding 67’s scoring attack. The 67’s won three of the four games in Oshawa during the regular season, while the teams split the four games in Ottawa. 

My Pick

Generals will make it interesting, but the 67’s will pull it out in the end. Ottawa in seven.

Western Conference

(2) Saginaw Spirit vs. (4) Guelph Storm

The Saginaw Spirit had a rather compelling series against the Soo in the second round. After taking game one, the Spirit lit the Greyhounds up for 10 in game two, followed by a 7-5 barn burner win. After the Greyhounds won games four and five to avoid the sweep and make things interesting, Saginaw settled down to win game six to make it to their first ever conference final. Owen Tippett continued to impress, scoring nine points against the Greyhounds, all in the first three games of the series. Ryan McLeod had a total of six points in the second round, with two goals and two assists in game two of the series.

Guelph comes in after completing an improbable comeback, I’m not just talking about coming from behind in game seven. The Knights went up 3-0 in the series, before Guelph stormed back with three wins. Despite the Knights being up 3-1 in game seven, the Storm never gave up. After Nick Suzuki made it a one-goal game, back-to-back goals from Isaac Ratcliffe gave the Storm a lead they would not relinquish, and would move on to their eighth conference final. Suzuki was incredible in the second round. After being held pointless in the first two games, the Habs prospect exploded for 12 points in the next five. Ratcliffe ended with seven points from the blueline, six in final three games of the series, including the two big tallies in game seven.

This series has offence written all over it. Tippett, McLeod and Brady Gilmour up against Suzuki, Ratcliffe and Nate Schnarr. Ivan Prosvetov and Anthony Popovich are going to look more like shooting targets than goaltenders. The games are going to be fast and wide-open with scoring chances galore. The tough part for these two teams is going to keep their emotions in check. Saginaw have the most penalty minutes of any team in the playoffs. Both teams power plays have not been staggering considering the firepower they possess, with Guelph having a slight advantage with a 21.4% power play compared to Saginaw’s 18.6%. The waves of momentum will be important as well throughout this series, as each team can score in bunches. Saginaw and Guelph split the four games between the two during the regular season, with each earning a win on the road.

My Pick

Guelph has a lot of emotion heading in following the comeback against London, but that emotion will wear them out, Spirit in six.

All statistics and records are from the OHL and Elite Prospects.

OHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

OHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

As the first round wraps up, there were not too many surprises coming out of the Ontario Hockey League, as all of the higher seeds won their series. This leads to some very interesting matchups between the best teams in their respective conferences. While the upsets in this round may not be as mind-blowing, the lower-seeds in these series could cause a stir, with hopes of making it to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference  

(1) Ottawa 67’s vs. (4) Sudbury Wolves

The 67’s made quick and easy work of the Hamilton Bulldogs, sweeping last year’s J. Ross Robertson Cup Champions in four games. Eight Ottawa players averaged a point a game against Hamilton, including Sasha Chmelevski and Lucas Chiodo, who each led the 67’s with seven points. Graeme Clarke was on fire for Ottawa in their opening round. Despite only scoring 23 goals in the entire regular series, the homegrown talent exploded for five in the first two games of the series, including a hat trick in game two.

The Wolves had similar depth scoring compared to their second round opponents, with six players scoring four points in their first round sweep over Mississauga. Rookie Quinton Byfield picked up right where he left off in the regular season, scoring three goals and four assists in the first round. Nolan Hutcheson was also impressive against the Steelheads. With an assist in each of the final three games of the series, the Kingston-native started the series with a bang, scoring a hat trick in game one.

Despite solid scoring from both teams, this series is all about the goaltenders. In a rematch of the World Junior Championship Quarterfinals, two of the best goaltenders in the entire CHL go head-to-head once again, as Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen faces off against Michael DiPietro. DiPietro did not face a whole lot of action against the Bulldogs, facing only 95 shots, while Luukkonen was stellar in his first round, only giving up eight goals on 147 shots. There is no question, which ever goaltender plays the best will help his team win the series.

My Pick

In January, it was Luukkonen who came out on top on Finland’s way to the gold. This time, DiPietro’s club will catch the breaks they need, and the 67’s will win the series in seven. 

(2) Niagara IceDogs vs. (3) Oshawa Generals

The IceDogs’ daunted offence was alive and well in the first round, outscoring North Bay 19-8 in the five-game series. Jack Studnicka was the leader of the attack for Niagara, scoring four goals and four assists in the five games. Philip Tomasino was also impressive, scoring six points against the Battalion. The star of the series was Stephen Dhillon. The Buffalo native gave up four goals in game two in his lone defeat in the series, but that was it. Dhillon had three shutouts in the series, including a 27-save performance in game five.

The Generals come in after a five-game series of their own, as they took care of the Peterborough Petes in round one. Anthony Salinitri was exceptional, leading the Gennies with eight points, including the game-winning goal in game five. Brandon Saigeon was the same playmaker Oshawa fans saw in the regular season, with six assists in the five games. Kyle Keyser played well in net for the Generals, only giving up nine goals on 172 shots in the series.

These two teams have not played often this season, as the two only met twice during the regular season. Each team won the game they hosted, with the Generals winning in overtime back in mid-November. It could be a low-scoring matchup with Keyser and Dhillon manning the crease. With goals hard to come by, power play chances cannot be wasted, and the IceDogs have the better PP heading into the series with a 26.9% success rate. 

My Pick

The offencive weapons on Niagara’s roster will be too much, IceDogs win in six.

Western Conference

(1) London Knights vs. (4) Guelph Storm

The Storm cruised through their first round contests against Kitchener, sweeping the Rangers. Anthony Popovich was solid in net for Guelph, only giving up six goals in his four wins. Eight players all averaged at least one point per game in the series, including the returning Sean Durzi. While his health has been in question heading into the playoffs, the LA prospect was solid on the blueline, with +5 rating and five assists. Nate Schnarr continued to look impressive in the first round, scoring 10 points, second among all forwards. 

London had an easy first round as well, as they waltzed passed Windsor in a four-game sweep. Once again, defencemen Evan Bouchard and Adam Boqvist were offencive catalysts for the Knights. Bouchard’s two goals and eight assists were second among all OHLers in the first round, while Boqvist’s six goals was the most among any player in the first round, four of which coming on the power play. The big story was Alex Formenton’s 11 points in the first round, with nine of them being assists.

This matchup is certain to have a flair for the dramatic. Two very good offencive attacks, with the Knights arguably having the better d-core compared to their counterparts. With the possibility of a high-scoring series, it may come down to the goaltending to determine who wins this series. As stated earlier, Popovich was even keel against the Rangers, while London’s Jordan Kooy faced the least amount of shots in the first round, but gave up eight goals against Windsor. Guelph won four of the six matchups this season, including a pair at the Budweiser Gardens.

My Pick

Despite Guelph having more depth scoring than the Knights, Bouchard and Fromenton are certain game-changers for London. It will be close, but I have the Knights in seven.

(2) Saginaw Spirit vs. (3) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Despite Sarnia making one last stand in game four, the Spirit finished off the Sting in style, with Blade Jenkins scoring the game-winning goal in overtime to complete the four-game sweep. Saginaw made quick work in the first round with help of deadline acquisition of Owen Tippet, whose five goals were the second-most in the first round. Brady Gilmour had an exceptional series against the Sting, with six assists, including two in the series-clinching game.

The Greyhounds were caught off guard in the their opening round series against Owen Sound. The Attack stunned the Soo in game one, winning in overtime. The following four games saw the Greyhounds take their opponent much more seriously, winning the next four games by a 12-goal margin. Morgan Frost was solid, as per usual, scoring nine points. Barrett Hayton led the Greyhounds in the series with 10 points, and Keeghan Howdeshell stepped up, scoring five goals in the four game series.

Looking at the season series, you would think this matchup would be tight, with each team having four wins apiece. However, the games have not been that close, as the Greyhounds win over the Spirit back on March 14th was the only one-goal game between the two this season. The series could go either way, and with it being the playoffs, you could expect the games to be much closer. Neither Ivan Prosvetov nor Matthew Villalta were impressive in net, however one of them will have to step up against these two exceptional offences.

My Pick

In another offencive display, Tippet and the gang will take over the series, Spirit in six.

All statistics and records from the OHL and Elite Prospects.

OHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

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.

My Pick

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.

My Pick

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. 

My Pick

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. 

My Pick

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.

All statistics and records found from the OHL and Elite Prospects.