By Paul Krotz/OHL
For the third straight year the Rogers OHL Championship Series will feature the top teams from the Eastern and Western Conference regular season standings.
The Niagara IceDogs and London Knights face-off for the Robertson Cup beginning Thursday night at the John Labatt Centre with the winner punching a ticket to the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, Quebec, May 17-27.
All Rogers Digital customers regardless of geographic location can enjoy the action of the Rogers Championship Series (Games 1-4, 6, and 7) free on Channel 433 which is normally part of the Super Sports Pak. Eastlink TV customers in Ontario will also be able to watch the series free on this channel. Locally, Rogers TV London will broadcast the series (Games 1-4, 6 and 7) to fans in that area, while TVCogeco will broadcast the series (Games 1-4, 6 and 7) throughout the Niagara region. Check local listings for complete broadcast details. Game 5 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series will be featured on Sportsnet’s Friday Night Hockey live to a national audience on May 11 at 7:00 PM Eastern. All other games will continue to be available to Rogers OHL Action Pak subscribers. Fans can also watch all games online through Livestream. IceDogs radio coverage is available at GiantFm.com, while Knights fans can hear the play-by-play with CJBK.
After a regular season with 47 wins and 97 points in the Eastern Conference, the IceDogs captured their first Bobby Orr Trophy since moving to St. Catharines in 2007 after defeating the Ottawa 67's in five games of the Rogers Eastern Conference Championship Series. Their playoff path also included a four-game series sweep over the Brampton Battalion in the Conference Semi-Finals, and a six-game series win over the Oshawa Generals to open the 2012 Playoffs. This marks the franchise's first appearance in the finals since 2004 when the Mississauga IceDogs fell 4-0 to the Guelph Storm.
The Knights earned their fifth Hamilton Spectator Trophy as the league's top regular season team with 49 wins and 99 points in 2011-12. They also captured their fourth Wayne Gretzky Trophy in the Rogers Western Conference Championship Series with a four-game series win over the Kitchener Rangers. Their playoff path also included a six-game series win over the Saginaw Spirit in the Conference Semi-Finals, and a four-game series sweep of the Windsor Spitfires to open the 2012 Playoffs. This marks the fifth time the Knights will compete for the Robertson Cup following trips to the finals in 1977, 1999, 2005, and 2006 when they fell to the Peterborough Petes 4-0. They won their only Championship title in 2005 and later hoisted the Memorial Cup on home ice.
The series boasts several of the OHL's major award winners and top performers including Knights' goaltender Michael Houser who is the 2011-12 recipient of the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL's Most Outstanding Player of the Year as well as this season's Goaltender of the Year. He played in 62 games and tied an OHL record with 46 regular season wins. Across the ice will be the IceDogs' Mark Visentin who earned top goalie honours last season and was runner-up this year when he established a new OHL record with 10 shutouts and became just the second goaltender in league history to post a goals-against-average under 2.00.
On the blueline, the IceDogs' Dougie Hamilton was recently named winner of the Max Kaminsky Trophy as OHL Defenceman of the Year leading all defenders with 72 points. Runner-up for the award was Scott Harrington of the Knights who will anchor the blueline along with captain Jarred Tinordi who tied for the league lead with a plus-39 plus-minus rating. 2012 NHL Entry Draft prospect Olli Maatta enters the Championship Series tied for the club lead in scoring while Tyler Ferry has chipped in with some timely goals for the Knights while displaying versatility on the wing when needed. The IceDogs will defence corps also features Dallas Stars first round pick Jamie Oleksiak, fourth year veteran Brock Beukeboom, and Jesse Graham who has 10 points in his second playoff year.
Up front, both clubs feature a high powered offence with the IceDogs' featuring San Jose Sharks prospect Freddie Hamilton, New York Islanders first rounder Ryan Strome, and Vancouver Canucks prospect Alex Friesen who tied Tinordi with a plus-minus rating of plus-39. All three players are currently tied for the club lead with 21 playoff points, with overagers David Pacan and captain Andrew Agozzino not far behind with 18 and 14 points respectively. Seth Griffith has led the charge for the Knights all season scoring 85 regular season points, and 19 in 14 playoff games to date. Nashville Predators prospect Austin Watson has 14 points so far these playoffs just ahead of Tampa Bay Lightning first rounder Vladislav Namestnikov who has 13. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Greg McKegg has nine points in just 10 playoff games as he eyes a return to playoff action this series.
This series features an impressive number of NHL draft picks including 12 from the Niagara IceDogs with Beukeboom (STL), Friesen (VAN), D. Hamilton (BOS), F. Hamilton (SJ), Kuhnhackl (PIT), Oleksiak (DAL), Pacan (FLA), Ritchie (DAL), Shipley (BUF), Strome (NYI), Theoret (NYI), Visentin (PHO), and six from the London Knights with Harrington (PIT), Knight (BOS), McKegg (TOR), Namestnikov (TAM), Tinordi (MTL), and Watson (NSH). Nine players in this series also played in the 2012 IIHF World Junior Championship including Niagara's Hamilton brothers, Oleksiak, Strome, and Visentin for Canada, while London's Harrington also played for Canada, with Maatta on Finland, and Tinordi and Watson on Team USA.
The teams played just twice in the regular season with the Knights winning 7-3 on October 6, and the IceDogs winning February 3 by a 3-2 score.
Follow the 2012 OHL Playoffs online with nightly highlights and post-game press conference footage throughout the Rogers OHL Championship Series.
2012 Rogers OHL Championship Series Schedule:
London Knights vs. Niagara IceDogs
Game 1: Thursday May 3 – Niagara at London - 7:00 pm
Game 2: Saturday May 5 – London at Niagara – 7:00 pm
Game 3: Monday May 7 – Niagara at London – 7:00 pm
Game 4: Wednesday May 9 – London at Niagara – 7:00 pm
Game 5: Friday May 11 – Niagara at London – 7:00 pm*
Game 6: Sunday May 13 – London at Niagara – 2:00 pm*
Game 7: Monday May 14 – Niagara at London – 7:00 pm*