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Road to the OHL Cup: A look at the OMHA’s ETA circuit

OHL Cup

 

Producing a recent OHL Cup champion in the 2016 York-Simcoe Express along with the first two picks of the 2018 OHL Priority Selection in Quinton Byfield (Sudbury Wolves) and Evan Vierling (Flint Firebirds), the OMHA’s ETA circuit remains one of the province’s hockey hotbeds.

The league is down to its final four teams including the OMHA Championship host Whitby Wildcats who were last year’s Bantam winners before returning to post a 30-1-5 record in 2018-19.

While Whitby has enjoyed a sustained presence inside the weekly Top 10 Rankings, the Wildcats haven’t gone unchallenged, recently dropping consecutive games for the first time all year as they trail the rival York-Simcoe Express 4-2 (pts.) in their semi-final series.

“Whitby has been the best team all year, and for good reason,” said OHL Central Scouting ETA regional scout John Finlay. “Their top line of Johnston, Winterton and Sirizzotti is one of the best in the province. Their team has been together for a long time and they’ve clearly developed some chemistry and are used to winning games.”

Wildcats netminder Justin DiLauro has been among the best in the ETA all season, providing his team with a solid last line of defence. His consistent play has been all the more important in light of losing 6-foot-3 blueliner Owen Brady to a cancer diagnosis midseason, a big blow that has affected the team both on and off the ice.

“Owen has all the things scouts tend to drool over,” said OHL Director of Central Scouting Darrell Woodley of Brady’s presence. “He was definitely one of the top-rated defencemen in this draft.”

Brady’s absence has left a hole on the Whitby blue line but the Wildcats are doing their best to fill the void.

“In the games I’ve seen York-Simcoe has really come with speed and put a lot of pressure on Whitby off the forecheck,” Finlay observed. “That’s led to success for them. They really dug deep in Game 2 after falling behind 3-0 and came all the way back to win the game 4-3.”

The Express played to a 17-9-8 record for second place in the ETA West Division. A well-rounded blue line led by Jacob Holmes, Braden Hache, Matthew Roy and Thomas Sirman makes them a tough two points on any night.

Up front, Kaleb Nelson has led the Express with eight points (5-3–8) over six playoff contests. He’s joined by hard working forwards in Evan Fraccaro and Cole Turcotte among others.

“They’ve been getting better all season and seem to be peaking at the right time,” Finlay noted. “They certainly haven’t shown any fear of Whitby in this series and it’s going to be really interesting to see how things go the rest of the way.”

In the ETA’s other semi-final series the Quinte Red Devils have taken a 4-2 (pts.) lead over the North Central Predators. The Red Devils, who got off to an underwhelming 4-10-1 start to their season, finished the second half strong after a coaching change and are one win away from booking their ticket to the OMHA Championship.

“It’s been a bit of a funny season for Quinte, but they seem to be on the same page now,” said Finlay. “Daniel Michaud is their big guy offensively and he’s been one of the ETA’s hottest players since Christmas putting up about two points-per-game. His skating ability is probably the best in the league.”

Across the ice, the North Central Predators currently have three players representing Ontario at the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer, Alta. Forwards Ethan Larmand, Cole Patey and defenceman Connor Punnett are all expected to hear their names called early come April.

“They’ve got a fair bit of talent on the roster, but they aren’t always a high-scoring team,” said Finlay of the Predators, who played to a 21-8-5 record during the regular season. “Patey and Larmand carry the load up front but there are some other guys like Nicholas Dowling and Aaron Zurawski who chip in as well.

“Punnett is kind of a throwback type of defenceman with a heavy shot who can do a little bit of everything,” he added. “He and Riley Pitt see a lot of ice.”

The ETA Semi-Finals resume this coming weekend following the conclusion of the Canada Winter Games as two teams will join the Wildcats when the OMHA Championships get underway in Whitby on the weekend of March 2-3.

Now that you’re caught up on what’s happening in the ETA, here’s a look at playoff races across Ontario.

 

GTHL:

***The four teams that reach the GTHL semi-finals earn a 2019 OHL Cup berth. (Don Mills Flyers, Toronto Marlboros, Toronto Nationals, Toronto Red Wings)

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES A
(1) Don Mills Flyers vs. (4) Toronto Red Wings
Don Mills leads series 2-0 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Don Mills: Brandt Clarke (D)
Red Wings: Chandler Romeo (D)

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES B
(2) Toronto Nationals vs. (3) Toronto Marlboros
Nationals lead series 4-2 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Nationals: Deven Nagra (D)
Marlboros: Logan Mailloux (D)

GTHL WILD CARD PLAY-IN SERIES A
(5) Mississauga Rebels) vs. (8) North York Rangers
Series tied 1-1 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Rebels: Pasquale Zito (LW)
North York: Patrick Saini (C)

GTHL WILD CARD PLAY-IN SERIES B
(6) Mississauga Senators vs. Vaughan Kings (7)
Series tied 1-1 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Senators: Jacob Frasca (C)
Vaughan: Sean Clarke (C)

ALLIANCE:

*** The champion, finalist and third place team qualify for the 2019 OHL Cup

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES A
(1) Brantford 99ers vs. (8) Windsor Jr. Spitfires
Series tied 2-2 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Brantford: Landon McCallum (C) – 5 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 PTS.
Windsor: Raymond Hamlin (C) – 7 GP, 5 G, 6 A, 11 PTS.

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES B
(2) Waterloo Wolves vs. (3) Kitchener Jr. Rangers
Kitchener leads series 4-2 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Waterloo: Marshall Nichols (G) – 7 GP, 2.46 GAA, 1 SO
Kitchener: Braedan Bowman (C) – 4 G, 5 A, 9 PTS.

OMHA – ETA:

***The champion and finalist in the ETA Championship, along with the host Whitby Wildcats and champion and finalist from the SCTA will compete in the 2019 OMHA Championship at the Iroquois Sports Complex in Whitby from March 2-3. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams at the OMHA Championship will qualify for the 2019 OHL Cup.

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES A
(1W) North Central Predators vs. (2E) Quinte Red Devils
Quinte leads series 4-2 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
North Central – Connor Punnett (D) – 8 GP, 4 G, 4 A, 8 PTS.
Quinte – Benjamin White (C) – 7 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 PTS.

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES B
(1E) Whitby Wildcats vs. (2W) York-Simcoe Express
York-Simcoe leads series 4-2 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
York-Simcoe – Jacob Holmes (D) – 6 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 PTS.
Whitby – Thomas Johnston (C) – 6 GP, 1 G, 9 A, 10 PTS.

OMHA – SCTA:

***Rather than a qualifier weekend as has been part of the SCTA’s process in years past,  the league’s 10 teams have been assigned to two groups where they will take part in a double round-robin. The top two teams from each group (Halton, Niagara North, Guelph, Southern Tier) will compete in a semi-final series to determine which two clubs will advance to the OMHA Championships set for March 2-3 in Whitby, Ont. The 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th place teams at the OMHA Championships will qualify for the 2019 OHL Cup.

The Halton Hurricanes finished atop the SCTA regular season standings with a 23-6-3 regular season record. They were followed by the second place Niagara North Stars who went 20-6-6 while the third place Guelph Gryphons finished 20-9-3.

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES A:
(1) Halton Hurricanes vs. (6) Southern Tier Admirals
Halton wins series 6-0 (pts.)

SEMI-FINAL – SERIES B:
(2) Niagara North Stars vs. (3) Guelph Gryphons
Guelph leads series 3-1 (pts.)

PLAYERS TO WATCH:
Niagara North – Liam Shwedyk (RW) – 10 GP, 3 G, 7 A, 10 PTS.
Guelph – Alex Nap (G) – 9 GP, 2.55 GAA, 1 SO

For more information on the 2019 OHL Cup Showcase Tournament Powered by Under Armour, visit ohlcup.ca.

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