OHL Eastern Conference Semi-Final Preview
The Eastern Conference playoff field has been narrowed down to four teams as the Hamilton Bulldogs, Niagara IceDogs, Barrie Colts and Kingston Frontenacs are left standing. Here’s a look at what looks to be two very competitive second round playoff series.
HAMILTON BULLDOGS (1) vs. NIAGARA ICEDOGS (4) – #HAMvsNIAG
It’s an Eastern Conference Semi-Final dog fight between a pair of opponents at opposite ends of the QEW.
The first place Bulldogs will have their hands full with a Niagara team that had its number all season, taking five of six encounters including two of three in the month of March.
The Bulldogs enter the second round with a deep group of veterans, getting big contributions from centreman Brandon Saigeon (7-2–9) and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Matthew Strome (2-8–10) in a five-game series triumph over the Ottawa 67’s. Hamilton’s defence corps has shown a willingness to get involved offensively as well, with power play quarterback Ben Gleason (1-5–6) and Florida Panthers prospect Riley Stillman (2-4–6) joining the rush when opportunities present themselves.
After finishing with the fourth-best power play (24.6%) in the OHL this season, Hamilton’s dominance continued against Ottawa, going 10-for-21 (47.6%) over five games.
The red hot IceDogs wrapped up the regular season with seven straight wins before eliminating the Oshawa Generals in five games. With wins in 11 of 12, Niagara looks to keep rolling backstopped by the fine play of Stephen Dhillon (4-1, 2.40, .932) in goal.
Niagara’s offence-by-committee centres around the presence of overage shooter Sam Miletic (3-4–7) while top draft eligible prospect Akil Thomas (4-3–7) finished tied for the team lead in first round scoring.
With veterans including Will Bitten (2-5–7), Ryan Moore (2-5–7), Nicholas Caamano (2-3–5) and Robert Thomas (3-6–9) up and down the lineup, Hamilton’s depth will be tough to overcome in a seven-game series, but the IceDogs are playing their best hockey right now.
If Niagara can get off to a strong start and return to an enthusiastic Meridian Centre crowd for Games 3 and 4, this canine clash could very-well go the distance.
Niagara won season series 5-0-1-0
Sept. 23, 2017 – NIAG 4 @ HAM 1 (NIAG: Dhillon 39 SV)
Oct. 7, 2017 – NIAG 3 @ HAM 2 SO (NIAG: Thomas 1A, SO Winner)
Dec. 31, 2017 – HAM 3 @ NIAG 7 (NIAG: Jones 1G, 2A)
Mar. 1, 2018 – HAM 5 @ NIAG 4 OT (HAM: Kaliyev 1G, 2A, OT Winner)
Mar. 10, 2018 – NIAG 5 @ HAM 3 (NIAG: Maksimov 1G, 2A)
Mar. 15, 2018 – HAM 2 @ NIAG 3 OT (NIAG: Dhillon 41 SV)
This marks the first time that the Bulldogs and IceDogs have met in the OHL Playoffs. The two cities of Hamilton and St. Catharines last faced each other during the 1975 OHA Playoffs when the Hamilton Fincups defeated the St. Catharines Blackhawks in four straight first round games. The two franchises last went head-to-head when the Belleville Bulls eliminated the Niagara IceDogs in five games during the second round of the 2009 OHL Playoffs.
Game 1, Thurs., April 5 at Hamilton, 7:00 p.m.
Game 2, Sat., April 7 at Hamilton, 7:00 p.m.
Game 3, Mon., April 9 at Niagara, 7:00 p.m.
Game 4, Wed., April 11 at Niagara, 7:00 p.m.
Game 5, Thurs., April 12 at Hamilton, 7:00 p.m.*
Game 6, Sat., April 14 at Niagara, 7:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Mon., April 16 at Hamilton, 7:00 p.m.*
* if necessary
Total Votes: 180
BARRIE COLTS (2) vs. KINGSTON FRONTENACS (3) – #BARvsKGN
Two Eastern Conference teams armed with dangerous offensive weapons do battle in second round action as the Barrie Colts and visiting Kingston Frontenacs line up in Game 1 on Wednesday.
The Central Division champion Colts come off a six-game series triumph over the Mississauga Steelheads, one that didn’t come easy as goaltender Leo Lazarev faced an average of 42 shots-per-game while posting a .925 save percentage.
Top 2018 NHL Draft prospect Andrei Svechnikov returned from suspension for Games 5 and 6 of the series, capping things off with two goals and three assists in an 8-2 win on Sunday. Overage veteran Aaron Luchuk (3-9–12) led the Colts in first round scoring while Dmitry Sokolov (5-5–10) and Zach Magwood (5-2–7) tied for the team goal-scoring lead.
The Frontenacs are in the second round for a third straight year, advancing on Gabriel Vilardi’s triple-overtime winner in Game 5 against the North Bay Battalion on Sunday. The third-longest game in OHL history spilled into the 114th minute of action before captain Ted Nichol setup Vilardi coming over the blue line for the dramatic finish.
Vilardi (5-7–12) led the Frontenacs in first round scoring while blueliner Sean Day (2-6–8) currently holds the OHL playoff scoring lead among defencemen.
Kingston’s top-ranked power play (25.7%) during the regular season continued its dominance into the playoffs, going 7-for-21 (33.3%) against North Bay. The second-most penalized team in the OHL this season, Barrie will need to stay disciplined against Kingston’s masterful man advantage.
Recently signed Carolina Hurricanes prospect Jeremy Helvig will backstop Kingston in the crease following 46 saves over six periods of hockey on Sunday.
Both teams come from slightly different directions as the Frontenacs made several big mid-season additions with a championship in mind while the Colts turned things around with a 48-point improvement from last season.
Both squads feature members of the defending Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires as Barrie’s Aaron Luchuk lines up against former teammates in Kingston’s Gabriel Vilardi and Sean Day.
Each veteran-heavy with ample experience in goal, this Colts/Frontenacs series is one to keep an eye on.
Kingston won season series 3-1-0-0
Dec. 3, 2017 – BAR 2 @ KGN 6 (KGN: Rasanen 3A)
Jan. 6, 2018 – KGN 6 @ BAR 4 (KGN: Pu 3G, 1A)
Feb. 19, 2018 – BAR 2 @ KGN 5 (KGN: Nyman 2G)
Mar. 3, 2018 – KGN 3 @ BAR 8 (BAR: Luchuk 1G, 3A)
This marks the fourth time that the Colts and Frontenacs have squared off in the OHL Playoffs, with Barrie winning all three past encounters.
– 2013 – BAR def. KGN 4-0 – 1st round / 2004 – BAR def. KGN 4-1 – 1st round / 1999 – BAR def. KGN 4-1 – 1st round
Game 1, Wed., April 4 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2, Fri., April 6 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3, Sun., April 8 at Kingston, 6:00 p.m.
Game 4, Tues., April 10 at Kingston, 7:00 p.m.
Game 5, Thurs., April 12 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.*
Game 6, Fri., April 13 at Kingston, 7:00 p.m.*
Game 7, Mon., April 16 at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.*
Total Votes: 210