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.

OHL Report: Two Spots Remain in the Western Conference Playoff Picture

OHL Report: Two Spots Remain in the Western Conference Playoff Picture

With only one weekend remaining in the OHL’s regular season, almost all of the playoff positions have been taken. The Eastern Conference has all eight seeds clinched, with the Ottawa 67’s winning the Hamilton Spectator Trophy, for regular season champions, for the fourth time. However, out West, there is still opportunity for a small handful of teams. Granted, London and Saginaw have separated themselves for the rest of the pack, but there is still room at the bottom of the standings for a couple more teams to find their way into the playoffs.

Erie Otters Need Some Help

The Otters are long passed the days of Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. Now, they sit on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, currently sitting two points behind the Windsor Spitfires for the eighth and final spot. Since February 1st, the Otters have gone 6-11-1, which on paper may not look impressive, however, they have achieved the exact number of points as Windsor has in the that time span. After missing the playoffs last season after four consecutive appearances, Erie would like to see themselves back in the postseason.

It sure will not be easy, as they will need a bit of luck on their side. It is obvious that Erie needs to sweep the upcoming weekend in order to even have a chance. If they have any hopes of leapfrogging over Windsor, the Spitfires will have to lose one of their two games. With one of those games being against Flint.

Erie will most certainly have their hands full, however. They will be tasked with a home-and-home against the Guelph Storm. The Storm have been one of the league’s best teams after the trade deadline where they acquired players such as Nick Suzuki, Sean Durzi, and Mackenzie Entwistle to name a few. Guelph is strong coming into the weekend as they are winners of nine of their last 11 games, but the Otters have played the Storm close this season. The two losses the Otters have suffered at the hands of Guelph have come in overtime, with Erie winning the other two meetings.

Despite Being In a Tight Race, the Windsor Spitfires Sit Comfortably

Currently holding the eighth spot in the West, the Spitfires are in the stages of a rebuild, and it was made crystal clear when GM Warren Rychel traded star netminder Mickey DiPietro to Ottawa. Since then, the Spitfires have struggled to stay afloat in the West. However, they have played extremely close games over the past month. Yes, the Spits have only won four games since the beginning of February, but five of their 13 losses since have come by way of overtime or shootout. They are riding momentum heading into this weekend after beating the Soo Greyhounds in overtime last Sunday. With being up a pair of points on the Otters, the Spitfires don’t even have to win either of their final two games

Thursday they will take on Flint at home. Despite the Firebirds poor record, they actually have Windsor’s number this season, winning three of the five meetings, including a convincing 4-1 victory just last Saturday. The season series has been a home-dominated series so far, and with the game Thursday night at the WFCU Centre in Windsor, the Spitfires, on paper, have the advantage.

The next night they will travel up and around to Sarnia to take on the team right above them in the standings, the Sting. Sarnia themselves is looking to clinch a spot in the postseason. The Spitfires currently lead that season series, as they are 3-2-1 against Sarnia heading in Friday night.

Sarnia Sting Hold the Cards

Currently seventh in the Western Conference, the Sting are a team that last season that was one of the best in the West. This season, with graduating players and stretches where the team has struggled, they have had to battle for an opportunity to make it to the playoffs. Sarnia currently sits with 59 points, one ahead of Windsor, and three ahead of Erie. The Sting have struggled over the last month or so, as they have only been victorious on three occasions in the team’s last 12 games. What looked like an easy ride to the postseason has now forced Sarnia fans to sit and bite their nails.

What the Sting do have over their two counterparts is that they have a game in hand over both Windsor and Erie. Meaning, they will only need one win to clinch a spot in the postseason. Their next contest will be Friday against Windsor, who will be on a second half of a back-to-back. The Spitfires have won three of the five meetings this season, including winning 7-4 in Sarnia back on February 15th.

Then, the Sting will play a home-and-home against the Flint Firebirds to end the regular season. Flint has been bad to say the least. The Sting have handled the Firebirds at home, winning all three home meetings this season. However, in Flint, the Firebirds have been able to hold their own, winning the last two games against Sarnia on home ice. Flint may hold the advantage, given that the Sting will have to play three nights in a row, while the Firebirds have a day off following their meeting with Windsor on Thursday.

My Pick

Given that the Sting have a game in hand, and have not lost on home ice to Flint this season, they should easily clinch, and including a win over Windsor on Friday, due to the Spits being on the second half of a back-to-back, they will clinch the seventh-seed in the West.

Unfortunately for Otters’ fans they will not have the chance to see their team in playoffs. Being tasked with winning two games against one of the hottest teams in the league in Guelph seems like it is going to be too much. Giving, by default, Windsor the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference.

Update: Minutes after publishing this article, Flint defeated Windsor in a shootout. The point moves Windsor into a tie with Sarnia, three points ahead of Erie for the final playoff spot.

stats provided by OHL.com

OHL Report: Michael DiPietro Traded to Ottawa

One of the best goaltenders in the CHL is on the move.

Michael DiPietro has backstopped the Windsor Spitfires for the past three and a half seasons. He has become the next big goaltending prospect, following Carter Hart’s graduation to the pros. The Vancouver draft pick has been fairly consistent in his time in the OHL. His best season was the 2016-2017 season, where he went 30-12-4-2, with a 2.35 GAA, and a .917 SV%. His outstanding performances carried the team to the Memorial Cup that Spring. After a slight drop off last season, he has come back strong in what could be his last year in junior hockey. While the Spits have not been the best team in front of DiPietro, The Amherstberg, Ontario native has been outstanding, with a 2.32 GAA and .920 SV% to his credit. He has been so exceptional this season that he is projected to be the starter for Team Canada in the World Junior Tournament.

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There is no question that his talent is be squandered in Windsor. However, this brought the eyes of many clubs looking for goaltending, and who are capable of making deep run in the post-season. One of such clubs was the Ottawa 67’s.

Ottawa 67’s

The 67’s are on an incredible run. Through the team’s first 29 games, they are 22-3-1-1. and have not lost a game in regulation since (scroll…scroll) October 3rd. Since then, they are 19-0-3-1. It has truly been a turnaround season in Ottawa. The club nabbed the last playoff spot in the East Division. Now, they are on a run, in hopes of reaching the OHL Finals for the first time since 2005. General Manager James Boyd is going to do everything in his power to take his team to the Promise Land. This led Boyd’s decision to go out a snag the top goaltender in the ‘O’, DiPietro himself.

The 67’s current starter, Cedrick Andree, has been decent between the pipes for Ottawa. He has a 2.56 GAA and .911 SV% in 23 games this season. This only being his second season, the Orleans product has yet to really prove himself as a worthy starter for a team looking at a deep playoff run. This furthers the reasoning for the decision to bring in DiPietro. DiPietro clearly has the postseason experience, and is looking to be at the top of his game. He may just be what Ottawa needs to take that next step.

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Like most trades for big names, the Spitfires received plenty of pieces in return. In terms of current players, the Spitfires receive the rights to Egor Afansyev. Windsor will also obtain Ottawa’s second-round picks in 2019, 2022, and 2023, London’s second-round pick in 2021, along with Ottawa’s three conditional picks (one second and two thirds) in 2021 and 2022 that will be returned if Afansyev chooses to play for Windsor.

Afanysyev is currently playing for Muskegon in the United States Hockey League. The 6’3″ Moscow native has helped the club’s impressive start, scoring 26 points in 19 games.

Obviously this is a huge move for the 67’s, who have been a franchise who have not been able to hold up with the league’s elite in recent years. With an outstanding lineup, and now, one of the best goaltenders in the country in net, Ottawa has gone from a good team, to shoe-in favourite for the Robertson Cup.

stats from eliteprospects.com