OHL Western Conference Semi-Final Preview
The Western Conference Semi-Finals feature the Erie Otters, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Owen Sound Attack, and London Knights who finished one through four in the West this season. They’re battling for the opportunity to compete for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy in next round’s West Final.
Here’s a breakdown of each series:
ERIE OTTERS (1) vs. LONDON KNIGHTS (4) – #ERvsLDN
Make it a trilogy.
A pair of Western Conference dynasties, one having recently made CHL history with its fourth straight 50-win season and the other defending a Mastercard Memorial Cup crown meet in the OHL Playoffs for a third straight year.
Connor McDavid and the Otters swept the Knights in 2015 before grinding out a seven game series win over the Soo Greyhounds and then fell short against the eventual Mastercard Memorial Cup champion Oshawa Generals in the OHL Final.
The Knights returned the favour last spring, silencing the Otters in a four game sweep of the Western Conference Final. The commanding performance was part of London’s unforgettable run of 17 consecutive wins all the way to the Mastercard Memorial Cup Final when Matthew Tkachuk scored in overtime to defeat the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2.
With each side having taken series sweeps, the Knights and Otters will settle the score before key graduates on both sides of the battle lines graduate from the OHL following the 2017 Playoffs.
With Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat, Darren Raddysh and Kyle Pettit all embarking on what looks to be their final OHL playoff run for Erie, the Otters know their window could very well be closing fast as they look to translate their regular season dominance into the franchise’s first OHL title since 2002.
Erie made quick work of the Sarnia Sting in a first round sweep. DeBrincat has continued his well-documented dominance in the playoffs, leading the league in scoring with 13 points (2-11–13) in just four games.
With seasoned veterans in 2015 Mastercard Memorial Cup hero Anthony Cirelli, Carolina Hurricanes prospect Warren Foegele and the underrated Kyle Maksimovich claiming minutes behind what many consider the most dominant line in the Canadian Hockey League, the Otters boast what very well could be their most talent-laden roster in recent memory.
While Dale Hunter won’t be able to counter with the firepower of a Tkachuk-Dvorak-Marner trio, the Knights do have a wealth of depth up front and quite possibly the most offensively capable blue line in the entire league. With Mitchell Vande Sompel, Victor Mete, Evan Bouchard and Olli Juolevi, the Knights have more than three defencemen with over 40 points in their lineup for the first time since 1990.
While the Otters have enjoyed some time off after eliminating Sarnia, the Knights came all the way back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup host Windsor Spitfires in seven games.
Forwards Janne Kuokkanen (4-4–8) and Robert Thomas (3-5–8) led the Knights in scoring with eight points each while Max Jones (3-2–5) was a physical force and Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Mitchell Stephens made his presence felt.
Where Erie and London differ most is in goal, where returning Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion Tyler Parsons comes off a strong first round showing as he backstopped the Knights to a Game 7 win over the Windsor Spitfires.
He’ll square off with Erie’s Troy Timpano, an offseason acquisition from Sudbury last summer who has stepped in for long-time netminder Devin Williams and played to a 36-8-0-0 mark this season with a 2.37 goals-against average.
Parsons boasts a wealth of playoff experience while the 19-year-old Timpano comes off his first ever OHL postseason series.
The Knights and Otters have jostled for control of the Western Conference for four years now and the Otters have come away with three straight Midwest Division titles and back-to-back Hamilton Spectator Trophies.
The era of Strome, DeBrincat and Raddysh will always be remembered as a dominant one in Erie Otters history, but will an OHL Championship accompany the franchise’s numerous achievements these past few years?
The Knights vigorously defended their title against Windsor and aren’t about to let the rival Otters continue their record-breaking campaign without a battle.
This is a series you don’t want to miss.
Erie won season series 4-2-0-0
Sept. 23, 2016 – ER 2 @ LDN 6 (LDN: Mete, MacDonald, Miletic 1G, 1A)
Oct. 15, 2016 – LDN 1 @ ER 7 (ER: DeBrincat 2G, 2A)
Jan. 27, 2017 – ER 5 @ LDN 3 (ER: Strome, Maksimovich, D. Raddysh 1G, 1A)
Feb. 15, 2017 – LDN 1 @ ER 5 (ER: Strome 2G, 1A)
Mar. 10, 2017 – ER 4 @ LDN 1 (ER: T. Raddysh 1G, 1A)
Mar. 14, 2017 – LDN 3 @ ER 2 (LDN: Parsons 41 SV)
This marks the eighth time that Erie and London have squared off in the OHL Playoffs.
– 2016 LDN def. ER 4-0 – Western Conference Final / 2015 ER def. LDN 4-0 – 2nd round / 2009 LDN def. ER 4-1 – 1st round / 2004 LDN def. ER 4-0 – 2nd round / 2002 ER def. LDN 4-2 – 2nd round / 2001 ER def. LDN 4-1 – 1st round / 1998 LDN def. ER 4-3 – 1st round
Game 1, Thurs, Apr 6, at Erie – 7:00 pm
Game 2, Fri, Apr 7, at Erie – 7:00 pm
Game 3, Tues, Apr 11, at London – 7:00 pm
Game 4, Thurs, Apr 13, at London – 7:00 pm
Game 5, Sat, Apr 15, at Erie – 7:00 pm*
Game 6, Sun, Apr 16, at London – 6:00 pm*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 18, at Erie – 7:00 pm*
* if necessary
Total Votes: 665
SAULT STE. MARIE GREYHOUNDS (2) vs. OWEN SOUND ATTACK (3) – #SSMvsOS
Two Western Conference powers that have been on a collision course all season, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and the Owen Sound Attack meet in a Western Conference Semi-Final series that features a number of high profile names on both sides of the battle lines.
Both clubs made relatively quick work of their first round opponents with Sault Ste. Marie disposing of the Flint Firebirds in five games while Owen Sound took down the division rival Kitchener Rangers 4-1.
The Hounds begin the series on home ice where they actually had fewer wins than they did on the road during the 2016-17 season. Sault Ste. Marie’s deep roster of capable forwards will make life hard on any opponent as energetic role players in Hayden Verbeek, Bobby MacIntyre and playoff scoring leader Boris Katchouk (5-3–8) excel on the forecheck, ‘hounding’ pucks and harassing defenders.
Katchouk provides the Greyhounds with a dangerous offensive threat on the penalty kill. The Hounds finished with the OHL’s second best PK this season at 84.2%, setting a new franchise record for shorthanded goals in a season with 22. Katchouk provided seven of those shorthanded markers, while MacIntyre (4), Jack Kopacka (3) and Blake Speers (3) also provided a presence.
Sault Ste. Marie’s second-ranked penalty kill will undoubtedly be put to the test against Owen Sound’s top-ranked power play, one that surrendered 11 shorthanded goals against this past season.
The Greyhounds are hopeful that Joseph Raaymakers has found a zone in the crease as the 19-year-old who relieved Matthew Villalta in Game 2 of the Flint series went on to stop 89 of the 93 shots he faced the rest of the way, going 3-0-0-0 with a 1.21 goals-against average.
He’ll be tasked with going up against arguably the top goaltender in the OHL in Owen Sound’s Michael McNiven.
Re-writing some of Owen Sound’s franchise goaltending records this past season, McNiven is the last line of defence behind a physically assertive Attack club coached by former long-time WHL bench boss Ryan McGill.
A big, hard-hitting group, the Attack feature a number of different dimensions including the fast-paced skill of top scorers Petrus Palmu (6-5–11) and Nick Suzuki (4-6–10), the finishing net-front presence of Jonah Gadjovich (2-0–2) and Cordell James (2-2–4) and a versatile blue line led by captain Santino Centorame (3-5–8).
The Attack owned the Greyhounds in their two-game season series, outscoring them 12-2, but the Hounds were without captain Blake Speers in both matchups and the two clubs haven’t faced each other since January 4th.
The speed and pace of the Greyhounds goes up against the size, skill, physicality and elite goaltending of the Attack in a clash of competitive teams that could realistically take seven games to decide.
Owen Sound won season series 2-0-0-0
Oct. 9, 2016 – OS 6 @ SSM 1 (OS: Palmu 3G)
Jan. 4, 2017 – SSM 1 @ OS 6 (OS: Schmalz 2G, 1A)
This marks the fifth time that Sault Ste. Marie and Owen Sound have met in the OHL Playoffs.
2014 – SSM def. OS 4-1 – 1st round / 2013 – OS def. SSM 4-2 – 1st round / 1999 – OS def. SSM 4-1 – 1st round / 1993 – SSM def. OS 4-0 – 2nd round
Game 1, Wed, Apr 5, at Sault Ste. Marie – 7:07 pm
Game 2, Fri, Apr 7, at Sault Ste. Marie – 7:07 pm
Game 3, Sun, Apr 9, at Owen Sound – 6:00 pm
Game 4, Tues, Apr 11, at Owen Sound – 7:00 pm
Game 5, Fri, Apr 14, at Sault Ste. Marie – 7:07 pm*
Game 6, Sun, Apr 16, at Owen Sound – 6:00 pm*
Game 7, Tues, Apr 18, at Sault Ste. Marie – 7:07 pm*
* if necessary
Total Votes: 325
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