With the Soo Greyhounds now out of the playoffs for a second straight season, fans should still take notice of what will be an exciting post-season in the Ontario Hockey League beginning this weekend. Over the next two days I’ll take a closer look at each of the first round series in the Eastern and Western conferences along with my prediction for each series.
Ontario Hockey League Eastern Conference Matchups
#1 Niagara IceDogs: 97 points (47-18-0-3) vs. #8 Oshawa Generals: 69 points (31-29-4-3)
The Oshawa Generals are faced with the daunting task of taking one of the OHL Memorial Cup favourites the Niagara Ice Dogs. The powerful Niagara attack is led by overage forward Andrew Agozzino (40G-48A-88pts). They boast five players from this year’s Canadian World Junior Team including Islanders prospect Ryan Strome (30-38-88pts), trade deadline acquisition defender Jamie Oleksiak (12-20-32pts), brothers Freddie (35-51-86pts) and Dougie Hamilton (17-55-72pts) and stalwart netminder Mark Visentin (30-9-0-2, 1.99GAA, .926SV%). Visentin broke the OHL record posting 10 shutouts this season and is a reliable backstop who can easily steal a game or two if he has to.
The Oshawa Generals will be looking for leadership from Captain Boone Jenner (22-27-49pts along with New York Rangers prospect Christian Thomas (34-33-67pts) and Denmark World Jr. representative Nicklas Jensen (25-33-58pts). The Generals will need a strong performance from Belleville native Kevin Bailie (20-14-2-2, 3.15 GAA, .910SV%) between the pipes if they are to have any hope of knocking off the high-powered IceDogs.
Tale of the Tape
Offense: Advantage Niagara. The IceDogs led the Ontario Hockey League in scoring with 291 goals this season. They have a very strong group of forwards able to get scoring from each of its top three lines and its blue line as well. Niagara also has the league’s best powerplay adding to an already potent offense. Oshawa has some solid scorers but lack the depth of Niagara here.
Defense: Advantage Niagara. Dougie Hamilton led the OHL in scoring by defenseman with in 72 points in 50 games. Add in Oleksiak’s ability to contribute offensively and shutdown opposition players with his 6’7 frame and Niagara’s defense core is hard to beat.
Special Teams: Advantage Niagara. The IceDogs led the Ontario Hockey League in power play percentage during the regular season at a clip of 26.8 They also led the league in Penalty Killing at 85.5%. Niagara has the obvious edge in this category as well.
Goaltending: Give the advantage to the IceDogs here as well. Niagara has the luxury of Phoenix Coyotes prospect Mark Visentin between the pipes. Along with his talent his experience is also significant. Visentin has been to the OHL playoffs in 2010 and 2011 and has played in the last two world junior championships for team Canada. Should the offense falter, he provides stability in the crease for the IceDogs.
Head-to-Head in 2011-2012: The two teams split the season series one game apiece. Both games finished with a 5-3 final and were won by the road team.
Prediction: I think it will be a well-played series but a short one. Niagara will overpower the hard working Oshawa Generals in all aspects of the ice. Niagara in 5.
#2 Ottawa 67’s: 88 points (40-20-5-3) vs. #7 Belleville Bulls: 71 points (35-32-1-0)
The Ottawa 67’s will be looking for redemption in the 2012 OHL playoffs. The 67’s finished first place in the eastern conference last season only to be swept in 4 games by the upstart Sudbury Wolves in a shocking result. The 67’s face the Belleville Bulls drawing motivation from last year with hopes of a better fate. The 67’s have a number of players returning from last year in Tyler Toffoli (58-42-100pts) who finished second in OHL scoring, forward Shane Prince (43-47-90pts), Defenseman Cody Ceci (17-43-60pts), and goaltender Tyler Mrazek (30-13-4-2, 2.84 GAA, .917 SV%. Another key for Ottawa will be rookie of the year candidate Sean Monahan (33-45-78pts) who gives the 67’s depth up front.
The low-scoring Belleville Bulls head into this series riding a 3-game winning streak behind the strong play by 2012 NHL Entry draft prospect goaltender Malcolm Subban (24-14-0-0, 2.50GAA, .925SV%. The 17-year old was among league leaders for goalies despite suffering two injuries that caused him to miss time. The Bulls will need a 17-year old in team scoring leader Brendan Gaunce (28-40-68pts) to be at his best and strong leadership from captain Luke Judson (18-21-39pts) if they want to replicate what Sudbury did last season. On the backend, the Bulls will lean on veteran Stephen Silas (6-26-32pts) and Brady Austin (6-20-26pts) to chip in offensively while shutting down the 67’s attack.
Tale of the Tape
Offense: Advantage Ottawa. The 67’s have a number of different weapons who can put the puck in the net. Between Toffoli, Prince, Monahan and deadline acquisitions in forwards John McFerland (24-26-50pts) and Mike Cazzola (11-34-45pts), Ottawa should have little trouble outscoring one of the OHL’s most futile team’s as the Bulls scored only 201 goals all season.
Defense: Draw. Only 5 goals against separated the Belleville Bulls and Ottawa 67’s during the regular season and this was with the Bulls missing starting goalie Malcolm Subban for much of the year. The 67’s boast good 2 way defenders in Cody Ceci, Jake Cardwell (8-28-36pts) and others. The Bulls counter with Colorado Avalanche prospect Stephen Silas, heavy shooting Brady Austin who found the net 3 times in the Bulls last 3 games and smooth skating rookie Jordan Subban (5-15-20pts). It’s too close to call on the back end.
Special Teams: Slight Advantage Ottawa. The 67’s tied for 6th in the OHL going 20% on the power play with the Kitchener Rangers. The Bulls had the worst power play in the entire OHL going only 14%. What the Bulls lack on the power play they make up for shorthanded as they ranked 5th in the OHL at 83.2%. The 67’s were in middle of the pack on the penalty kill ranking 10th at 81.0%. Ottawa gets the edge here due to balance and the Belleville’s atrocious power play.
Goaltending: Draw. Both Malcolm Subban for Belleville and Petr Mrazek for Ottawa had stellar campaigns. Subban has battled through an injury-plagued season and is slated to go in the first round of this year’s NHL draft. However, he is inexperienced heading into his first OHL playoff as starter. Mrazek’s biggest asset is his experience. He has been to the playoffs with Ottawa and knows what he takes to win on the big stage as he proved in the massive Czech Republic performance at the World Junior Championship. Both goalies have the potential to steal this series for their team.
Head-to-Head in 2011-2012: The 67’s dominated the season series between the two teams winning 7 of the 8 games. The 67’s outscored the Bulls 36 to 14 over the course of those 8 games.
Prediction: I think Belleville will make a series out of it but that the Bulls lack of depth in the scoring department, combined with Ottawa’s firepower offensively will be the deciding factor. Ottawa in six.
#3 Barrie Colts: 85 points (40-23-3-2) vs. #6 Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors: 73 points (33-28-1-6)
This is a very intriguing series as Dale Hawerchuk’s Barrie Colts take on last year’s Memorial Cup host and finalists from Mississauga. The Colts will be led by Winnipeg Jets prospect Mark Scheifele (23-40-63pts) who had a strong season after being returned to the Colts in early November and another Jets prospect Ivan Telegin (35-29-64pts) leading the way on offense. Barrie will also welcome back centre Colin Behenna (26-48-74pts), who returns to the lineup after serving a 3-game suspension after taking a match penalty against the Oshawa Generals on March 3rd. 2011-2012 OHL Most Improved player Tanner Pearson looks to be out for the season breaking his leg in Colts season finale and will be missed.
The Majors have a much different lineup then last year’s memorial cup final. Mississauga will lean heavily on leading scorer Riley Brace (33-49-82pts) and overage forward Jamie Wise (31-17-48pts) to lead a very youthful group. Mississauga will miss defender Stuart Percy (5-20-25pts) in this series as he is out for the indefinitely with a concussion. Mississauga will need goaltender Brandon Maxwell (33-22-1-3, 2.92GAA, .913SV%) to continue his staller play since being acquired from Sarnia for goaltender J.P. Anderson if the Majors want to make a run back to the memorial cup.
Tale of the Tape
Offense: Advantage Colts. Just like the 67’s and IceDogs, Barrie has a number of weapons offensively that can easily fill up a score sheet. Shiefele, Telegin, Behanna, upfront, combined with deadline acquisitions Ryan O’Connor (8-28-36pts) and Anthony Camara (16-17-33pts) on the back end give the Colts a very deep and explosive offense that should take advantage of a young Majors defense core. They will miss Pearson but still have enough weapons to overcome his injury. The Majors will need a big series out of both Brace and Wise as they have very little scoring depth as they scored the third lowest total in the OHL at 200.
Defense: Advantage Colts. Colts have solid veterans in O’Connor and Camara along with 19-year old Sault Ste. Marie native Chris Buonomo (1-12-13pts) patrolling the blue line. 16-year-old Aaron Ekblad (10-19-29pts), selected as an Exceptional Player last spring, will see his first action in the OHL playoffs after a solid rookie campaign. Mississauga’s already thin blue line will very much miss Percy. Dylan Demelo (7-40-47pts) was by far the best defender for the Majors and will likely see big minutes against the Colts top line along with 20-year old Alex Cord (1-15-16pts). But after these two the blue line is thin for Mississauga.
Special Teams: Barrie Colts ranked #2 in the OHL at 22.7% and 1st on the road at 24.5%, while Mississauga ranked 17th at 17.3. Barrie was 7th best on the penalty kill going 82.2% and 3rd on the road, Mississauga was 9th on the penalty kill at 81.5% but 19th on the road at 75.3%.
Goaltending: Advantage Mississauga. Between the pipes might just be the only place Mississauga is favoured due to experience. Overage goaltender Brandon Maxwell has been outstanding since being acquired from the Sarnia Sting at the trade deadline. The American has now played four seasons in the OHL including a heart-breaking seven game series in 2010 when his Kitchener Rangers blew a 3-0 series lead to the Windsor Spirtfires in the Western Conference finals. This experience should prove helpful to Maxwell in this year’s post season. The Majors will need Maxwell to be everything he has been and more in this series. For the Colts, 20-year old rookie Matthias Niederberger (29-14-1-2, 2.68GAA, .918SV% will be on goal and has a solid season as well. But in the end Maxwell’s experience is the difference.
Head-to-Head in 2011-2012: In six matchups during the regular season Mississauga won four of them. Also of note is that every game between the two teams was decided by just a single goal.
Prediction: Even without Pearson, the Colts should be able to outscore Mississauga in this series. But this is a series where the Colts must beware of a hot goaltender in Brandon Maxwell and a Mississauga team that is confident after dominating Barrie in the regular season . I think Maxwell will steal a few games for the Majors but in the end the Colts come out on top. Barrie in 7.
#4 Brampton Battalion: 82 points (36-22-3-7) vs. #5 Sudbury Wolves: 78 points (36-26-4-2)
In the final eastern conference series the defense-minded Brampton Battalion take on the upstart Sudbury Wolves. The Battalion are a low-scoring team that prides itself on a strong defensive system to shut down opponents and win close games. Veteran forward and team captain Sam Carrick (37-30-67pts) leads the offensive attack for Brampton, a team that only scored 200 goals in the regular season but allowed the third fewest at 188.
The Sudbury Wolves play a high octane, speed-based game led by 2012 OHL scoring title winner Michael Sgarbossa (47-55-102pts). Sgarbossa is surrounded by a number of offensive weapons in Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick Josh Lievo (32-41-73pts), Russian forward Andrey Kuchin (25-40-65pts) and deadline acquisition Derek Schoenmakers (26-24-50pts). The Wolves also have a veteran blue line including offensive stud Josh McFadden (15-26-41pts), Frankie Corrado (3-23-26pts) and Charlie Dodero (2-24-26pts). It will be interesting to see how his series plays out if Brampton can shut down Sudbury’s speed and frustrate the Wolves or if the Wolves can overpower the Battalion offensively.
Tale of the Tape
Offense: Advantage Wolves. Sudbury is definitely the more offensively gifted team in this series. The Wolves have a deep lineup with 5 players having at least 20 goals in the regular season including Sgarbossa and Leivo. Combine this with the lack of scoring punch on the Battalion and clearly Sudbury has the edge.
Defense: Advantage Battalion. Brampton believes in the old theory that defense wins championships. As a team Brampton gave up only 188 goals during the regular season mainly through the use of a 1-2-2 neutral zone trap. While not a flashy, 18-year-old Dylan Blujus (7-27-34pts) leads a defense core who is able to minimize mistakes and scoring chances for opposing teams. If Brampton is able to score the first goal in this series it could be a long night for the Wolves.
Special Teams: Draw. The contrast in styles between the Wolves and Battalion is very much reflected in the special teams department. Sudbury is solid on the power play ranking 10th in the Ontario Hockey League at 19.6% but are 19th in the league at only 76.5% overall. Brampton struggles with the man advantage scoring only 15.7% of the time but their defensive prowess shines killing off 84.9% of the penalties they take. Whichever team is able to win the special teams battle could very well be moving on to the 2nd round in this series.
Goaltending: Advantage Brampton. No doubt Czech goaltender Matej Machovsky (24-13-0-4, 2.36GAA, .902SV%) had an excellent season in the crease for the Battalion. He finished second to Mark Visentin in goals against average in the regular season. But while talented this is also a product of Brampton’s ability to shut other team’s down. This points to a very low scoring series and Brampton has a slight advantage in goal so long as Machovsky continues his consistent play. Johan Mattsson (23-11-2-1, 3.16GAA, .910SV%) has played well in the Sudbury goal as well but gives up a few more goals within Sudbury’s run and gun style. Machovsky gets the nod here.
Head-to-head in 2011-2012: The Wolves and Battalion split their 8 game matchup winning 4 games apiece.
Prediction: Any 4vs.5 matchup in the playoffs is difficult to predict. This is an evenly matched series with two teams whose styles contrast each other. I think this might be the series to watch in the first round and Sudbury will pull off the upset in 7 games.
The Ontario Hockey League Playoffs kick off on Thursday March 22nd. Tomorrow, I’ll take a closer look at the Western conference matchups. Go to www.ontariohockeyleague.com to check out the schedules for each first round series.
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March 19th, 2012 at 8:32pm | Last Updated March 20th, 2012 at 7:54am