OHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
With the matchups established, the 2017 OHL Playoffs are upon us, marking a journey through four rounds before one team earns the right to hoist the coveted J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL Champions.
The Ontario Hockey League has produced each of the last two Mastercard Memorial Cup Champions in the 2015 Oshawa Generals and the 2016 London Knights.
Here’s a look at the four Eastern Conference first round matchups:
PETERBOROUGH PETES (1) vs. NIAGARA ICEDOGS (8) – #PBOvsNIAG
It’s been 11 years since the Peterborough Petes finished atop the Eastern Conference, now they’re back and hungry to write another Robertson Cup title into an already prestigious franchise history.
The Petes came on strong in the month of December, winning 10-straight games to catapult into the East Division lead and after overcoming the rival Oshawa Generals in a battle down the stretch they haven’t looked back.
Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Nikita Korostelev proved to be a valuable addition to Peterborough’s offence, joining hometown favourite Logan DeNoble, overage veteran Steven Lorentz and Florida Panthers prospect Jonathan Ang at the top of the club’s goal-scoring department.
Intelligent defender Matthew Timms finished third among OHL defencemen with 63 points (11-52–63) on the season while overage two-way presence Kyle Jenkins has joined Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Matt Spencer and captain Brandon Prophet as a leader on the back end.
The emergence of faceoff specialist Zach Gallant, who went from zero goals in 51 games as a 16-year-old last season to 21 as an NHL Draft prospect this year, has added another dimension to the Peterborough attack.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Chris Paquette will face his former club after making a run to an Eastern Conference title with the IceDogs last spring.
After losing 12 veterans to graduation over the summer, the fact that Niagara is in the playoffs this spring is itself an accomplishment. Dave Bell’s IceDogs battled hard down the stretch, overcoming bumps in the road to persevere and outlast the North Bay Battalion for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Goaltender Stephen Dhillon has been a workhorse this season, becoming just the third OHL goaltender in the last 10 years to make over 2,000 saves in a season. The 18-year-old Buffalo native posted an impressive .914 save percentage despite playing to a 21-29-4-4 record, undoubtedly catching the attention of scouts ahead of this summer’s NHL Draft in Chicago.
Overage defenceman Ryan Mantha has been another bright spot on a young IceDogs team, earning himself an entry-level NHL contract with the Edmonton Oilers after a 58-point (17-41–58) season. Mantha finished fourth among OHL defencemen with 17 goals and led the OHL in shots on goal with 317.
Johnny Corneil led the Dogs with 31 goals on the season while 16-year-old winger Akil Thomas set a new Niagara IceDogs single-season rookie mark with 48 points (21-27–48) in 61 games. Mid-season acquisition Kirill Maksimov has emerged as a goal-scoring threat since coming over from the Saginaw Spirit, lighting the lamp 15 times in 29 games as an IceDog.
The odds are stacked against them, but Dhillon would qualify as a goaltender who has stolen games before. Will the IceDogs be first on the list of Petes casualties? Or can this scrappy group make a series out of things?
Peterborough won season series 3-1-0-0
Oct. 2, 2016 – NIAG 3 @ PBO 5 (PBO: Isaacson 1G, 1A)
Nov. 8, 2016 – NIAG 1 @ PBO 3 (PBO: Timleck 1G, 1A)
Jan. 6, 2017 – PBO 3 @ NIAG 4 (NIAG: Langdon GWG)
Feb. 3, 2017 – PBO 3 @ NIAG 2 (PBO: Wells 44 SV)
This marks the first ever meeting between the Petes and IceDogs in the OHL Playoffs.
Game 1, Thurs, Mar 23 at Peterborough – 7:05 p.m.
Game 2, Sat, Mar 25 at Peterborough – 7:05 p.m.
Game 3, Tues, Mar 28 at Niagara – 7:00 p.m. (Sportsnet 360)
Game 4, Thurs, Mar 30 at Niagara – 7:00 p.m.
Game 5, Sat, Apr 1 at Peterborough – 7:05 p.m.*
Game 6, Mon, Apr 3 at Niagara – 7:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 4 at Peterborough – 7:05 p.m.*
Total Votes: 519
MISSISSAUGA STEELHEADS (2) vs. OTTAWA 67’s (7) – #MISSvsOTT
Central Division Champions for the first time in team history, the Mississauga Steelheads are firing on all cylinders to start the postseason after playing to a 21-5-2-4 mark since the turn of the new year.
2017 NHL Draft prospect Owen Tippett tied a Steelheads single-season record with 75 points, 44 of them goals for the most in all-time franchise history since Justin Donati in 2006.
New Jersey Devils prospect Michael McLeod had a strong finish to the season, recording 21 points (11-10–21) over his final 11 games while teammate Spencer Watson closed out his OHL regular season career by joining the league’s 300-point club.
Rookie netminder Jacob Ingham has emerged as a steady presence in the crease, playing to a 13-2-0-1 record with a 2.02 goals-against-average and a .932 save percentage since January 1st. Overage veteran Matthew Mancina has also recovered from a slow start, going 8-3-0-1 with a 2.31 goals-against-average and a .924 save percentage in that span.
Top draft prospect Nicolas Hague and Detroit Red Wings pick Vili Saarijarvi join Los Angeles Kings draftee Jacob Moverare and veteran Stefan LeBlanc in assembling a formidable top-four on the Mississauga back end.
Together they’ll look to shut down an Ottawa 67’s team that has worked towards finding consistency in their game over the course of the season.
Nineteen year-old centreman Mathieu Foget injected some offence into Ottawa’s lineup when he arrived mid-season, giving the 67’s another option to play alongside top scorer Artur Tyanulin and sophomore winger Austen Keating.
Draft eligible forward Sasha Chmelevski, hard-hitting captain Travis Barron and veteran pivot Patrick White can all pitch in on the scoresheet while second-year blueliner Noel Hoefenmayer took a big step forward, recording 40 points (14-26–40) in 62 games this season.
Expect big shutdown defender Chris Martenet, a 2016 Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion with the London Knights to see plenty of ice in this first round series as he and stay-at-home presence Ryan Orban work to limit the difficult matchups against youngsters Kevin Bahl, Carter Robertson and 2016 first rounder Peter Stratis.
Though the 67’s will undoubtedly have their hands full in this series, they’ll have the acrobatics of netminder Leo Lazarev behind them. After a disappointing start to the season, Lazarev has turned things around, posting a 2.33 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage since February 1st.
When Leo is on, he’s on, and he may well need to be in this series as the Steelheads haven’t taken too many off nights in the second half.
Teams tied season series with two wins apiece
Nov. 13, 2016 – OTT 5 @ MISS 4 OT (OTT: Steege 2G)
Dec. 4, 2016 – MISS 6 @ OTT 3 (MISS: Tippett 2G, 2A)
Dec. 18, 2016 – OTT 4 @ MISS 3 OT (OTT: Steege 2G)
Jan. 24, 2017 – MISS 6 @ OTT 1 (MISS: M. McLeod 3G, 2A)
This marks the first playoff meeting between the Mississauga Steelheads and Ottawa 67’s. The Mississauga/Toronto St. Michael’s Majors and 67’s have faced each other four times before, including three different times in the Eastern Conference Final. In additional related historic matchups, the 67’s eliminated the Mississauga IceDogs in the first round of the 2003 playoffs.
– 2010 MISS def. OTT 4-3 – Eastern Conference Final / 2003 OTT def. TOR 4-3 – Eastern Conference Final / 2002 TOR def. OTT 4-3 – 2nd round / 2001 OTT def. TOR 4-0 – Eastern Conference Final
Game 1, Fri, Mar 24 at Mississauga – 7:00 p.m.
Game 2, Sun, Mar 26 at Mississauga – 2:00 p.m.
Game 3, Tues, Mar 28 at Ottawa – 7:00 p.m.
Game 4, Thurs, Mar 30 at Ottawa – 7:00 p.m.
Game 5, Fri, Mar 31 at Mississauga – 7:00 p.m.*
Game 6, Sun, Apr 2 at Ottawa – 2:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 4 at Mississauga – 7:00 p.m.*
Total Votes: 495
OSHAWA GENERALS (3) vs. SUDBURY WOLVES (6) – #OSHvsSBY
Frequent playoff foes in the early 90’s, the Oshawa Generals and Sudbury Wolves meet in the OHL Playoffs for the first time since 1994.
Though franchise cornerstones Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Vande Sompel are out of the picture, the Generals finished with a solid 40-23-3-2 record in the East Division, just four points behind first place Peterborough.
It’s been a time of transition in Oshawa, but Generals GM Roger Hunt ensured his club would have a good blend of youth and experience headed into the 2017 OHL Playoffs, bringing in gritty forward Mason Kohn and solid blueliner Matt Brassard to assist in the development of young talent in Allan McShane, Jack Studnicka, Serron Noel and Danil Antropov.
Though they lost some scoring punch, the Generals are confident they can still hang tough with the best the OHL has to offer thanks to overage goaltender Jeremy Brodeur who comes off a great overage season that included a 2.84 goals-against average, a .916 save percentage and a record of 33-14-1-2.
Not to be forgotten, overage acquisition Medric Mercier led all OHL blueliners with 22 goals this season. His 21 with Oshawa are the most by a Generals defenceman since Jim Baxter in 1999.
The Generals and Wolves split their season series at two wins apiece, but the two haven’t faced each other since November 13th and have both made considerable changes since then.
Sudbury laboured late in the season, at one point losing nine out of ten games from Feb. 15th to Mar. 5th before coming back with three straight victories to end the campaign.
The Wolves feature a pair of former Mastercard Memorial Cup Champions in former London Knights Aiden Jamieson and Chandler Yakimowicz while overage veteran Patrick Sanvido has been a key addition to the blue line, registering a plus/minus rating of plus-14 in 34 games since joining Sudbury.
Russian sniper Dmitry Sokolov racked up 48 goals this season, the most by a Wolves player since 1999-00, with 17 of those markers coming on the man advantage. With the ability to score from just about anywhere inside the top of the circles, Sokolov is a constant threat in the offensive zone.
Not to be overlooked, sophomore Macauley Carson hit the 30-goal mark in his final game of the regular season. He, former first overall OHL pick David Levin and fleet-footed centreman Ryan Valentini all give the Wolves some teeth offensively.
The OHL’s most penalized team this season, Sudbury can play the physical game, turning to Yakimowicz, Montreal Canadiens prospect Michael Pezzetta and the pesky Pilon twins to keep the compete level high.
If this series comes down to goaltending, Wolves sophomore Jake McGrath who backstopped the Toronto Marlboros to an OHL Cup title in his Minor Midget year could be looking at a golden opportunity to step up and give the Wolves a fighting chance against Brodeur and the Generals.
Teams tied season series with two wins apiece
Sept. 23, 2016 – OSH 3 @ SBY 4 (SBY: Levin, Lyszczarczyk 1G, 1A)
Oct. 16, 2016 – SBY 5 @ OSH 3 (SBY: Da. Pilon 2G)
Oct. 28, 2016 – OSH 3 @ SBY 1 (OSH: Keyser 33 SV)
Nov. 13, 2016 – SBY 2 @ OSH 4 (OSH: Brodeur 24 SV)
The Oshawa Generals and Sudbury Wolves meet in the OHL Playoffs for the fifth time and first since 1994. The two were frequent playoff opponents in the early 90’s, squaring off in 1991, 1992 and 1994.
– 1994 SBY def. OSH 4-1 – 1st round / 1992 SBY def. OSH 4-3 – 1st round / 1991 OSH def. SBY 4-1 – 1st round / 1979 SBY def. OSH 8-2 pts. – Quarter-Finals
Game 1, Fri, Mar 24 at Oshawa – 7:35 p.m.
Game 2, Sun, Mar 26 at Oshawa – 6:05 p.m.
Game 3, Tues, Mar 28 at Sudbury – 7:00 p.m.
Game 4, Thurs, Mar 30 at Sudbury – 7:00 p.m.
Game 5, Fri, Mar 31 at Oshawa – 7:35 p.m.*
Game 6, Sun, Apr 2 at Sudbury – 7:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 4 at Oshawa – 7:05 p.m.*
Total Votes: 540
KINGSTON FRONTENACS (4) vs. HAMILTON BULLDOGS (5) – #KGNvsHAM
They jostled back-and-forth for the better part of two months before the Kingston Frontenacs finally prevailed to claim home ice advantage in their first round series against the Hamilton Bulldogs on the final weekend of the season.
Two evenly matched teams form the prototypical 4 vs. 5 series as a tight, defensively-committed Frontenacs group squares off with a Bulldogs team that is getting more out of some key players in their lineup.
The Fronts scored a league-low 179 goals this season with nearly 40 percent of those coming from draft eligible wingers Jason Robertson and Linus Nyman. Well-respected two-way centreman Ted Nichol, mid-season acquisition Brett Neumann and overage captain Stephen Desrocher could potentially contribute in that department in this series, but offence isn’t typically Kingston’s calling card.
Instead, Paul McFarland’s Frontenacs are committed to team defence in front of Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jeremy Helvig. Rugged veterans in Nichol, Cody Caron, big Finnish defender Eemeli Rasanen and faceoff specialist Sam Harding could prove valuable as character players in this series against a Bulldogs team that draws from a wider base of scoring options.
2017 NHL Draft prospect Matthew Strome led the Dogs with 34 goals this season. He’s joined by a number of Belleville Bulls holdovers still with the franchise in veterans Niki Petti, Michael Cramarossa, Matt Luff and former first round pick Brandon Saigeon who turned it on for 28 points (14-14–28) in 32 games since January 1st after a quiet first half.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Will Bitten also gives Hamilton another layer of depth along with big draft prospect MacKenzie Entwistle and Slovakian winger Marian Studenic.
The Bulldogs have their share of character two-way players in the lineup including third-year veteran Luke Kutkevicius up front, veteran captain Justin Lemcke on the blue line as well as defensively responsible types in Jack Hanley and Connor Walters to hold down the fort in front of 21-year-old Dawson Carty in the crease.
Hamilton definitely has more offensive firepower on paper, but the disciplined Frontenacs were the least penalized team in the OHL this season and with a fifth ranked power play up against Hamilton’s 18th ranked penalty kill, one has to think that might slightly tip the scales in Kingston’s favour.
The Bulldogs will be looking to make an impression in their OHL Playoff debut while the Frontenacs aim to spoil the party and push through to the second round for a second straight year.
Teams tied season series with three wins apiece
Sept. 24, 2016 – KGN 2 @ HAM 7 (HAM: Luff, Petti 1G, 1A)
Oct. 30, 2016 – HAM 4 @ KGN 2 (HAM: Strome 2G, 2A)
Dec. 3, 2016 – KGN 3 @ HAM 2 SO (KGN: Nichol 1G, 1A)
Jan. 21, 2017 – KGN 0 @ HAM 2 (HAM: Fulcher 26 SV)
Feb. 26, 2017 – HAM 1 @ KGN 3 (KGN: Robertson 3A)
Mar. 17, 2017 – HAM 3 @ KGN 5 (KGN: Nichol 2G, 1A)
The Hamilton Bulldogs make their debut in the OHL Playoffs, meeting the Kingston Frontenacs as their first opponent. The Frontenacs faced the Belleville Bulls five different times.
Game 1, Fri, Mar 24 at Kingston – 7:00 p.m.
Game 2, Sun, Mar 26 at Kingston – 2:00 p.m.
Game 3, Tues, Mar 28 at Hamilton – 7:00 p.m.
Game 4, Thurs, Mar 30 at Hamilton – 7:00 p.m. (Sportsnet 360)
Game 5, Fri, Mar 31 at Kingston – 7:00 p.m.*
Game 6, Sun, Apr 2 at Hamilton – 2:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 4 at Kingston – 7:00 p.m.*
Total Votes: 500
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