OHL Playoffs: Breaking Down the First Round Matchups

Mitch HeimpelContributor IMarch 23, 2011

OHL Playoffs: Breaking Down the First Round Matchups

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    With the 68 game grind that is the OHL Regular Season having finally wound to a close, the match-ups are set for the first round of the OHL playoffs.

    The Mississauga Majors are hosting the Memorial Cup this year, so the OHL gets two entrants in the year-end CHL show case. Will we get the result we got in Kitchener in 2008 and London in 2005 where each Conference gets to send a team to the big show? Or will we get a repeat of the last time a team from the OHL East hosted the event where two teams from the OHL's Eastern Conference make it?

    Let's examine the favourites, dark horses, hot teams and cold teams going into the first round...

1. Mississauga Majors vs. 8. Belleville Bulls (Eastern Conference)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Season Series

    Mississauga Wins 3-1

    Offence

    The Majors have a clear advantage up front. Justin Shugg, Devante Smith-Pelly and Casey Cizikas give the Majors three thirty-goal scorers to contend with and Rob Flick isn’t too far behind the three of them.

    The addition of Russian Import Maxim Kitsyn after Christmas gave the Majors another game-breaking offensive talent. Belleville simply can’t match that kind of firepower. If they try to win barn-burner games against the Majors, the Bulls will find themselves out of the playoffs in a hurry.

    Defence

    Mississauga’s defence corps also outstrips the heavily overmatched Bulls. Marc Cantin, Brett Flemming and Stuart Percy are three of the better two-way defensemen in the League. While Belleville’s Stephen Silas is certainly a top OHL defender in his own right, he simply doesn’t get enough help to win this series.

    Goaltending

    JP Anderson is an excellent young goaltender. The Mississauga netminder will probably be runner up to Niagara’s Mark Visentin for the OHL Goaltender of the Year this season. In the Belleville goal, the situation is cloudy. Tyson Teichmann and Malcolm Subban have split duties all year. Teichmann has a ton of skill but no consistency. Subban doesn’t have as much potential but has been more consistent this season. Pick your poison.

    Special Teams

    Team Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Mississauga Majors 6th 12th
    Belleville Bulls 20th 16th

    Coaching

    This is one area where the teams are probably pretty close to even. Both George Burnett and Dave Cameron did duty with Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence this year. Burnett has three trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and one trip to the Memorial Cup under his belt. Cameron’s Majors went to last year’s Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Barrie Colts in five games.

    Prediction

    Mississauga in four games.

2. Ottawa 67s vs. 7. Sudbury Wolves (Eastern Conference)

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    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Season Series

    Ottawa wins 2-0

    Offence

    The 67s caught the injury bug at the wrong time. The sidelining of Shane Prince and Thomas Nesbitt put a serious damper on Ottawa’s ability to rack up secondary scoring. The 67s main threat this year has been their very potent offence, led by the unit of Tyler Toffoli, Ryan Martindale and Shane Prince.

    On the flip side, the Wolves are finally healthy and fully loaded. Mike Lomas, Michael Sgarbossa, Marcus Foligno, Andrei Kuchin and Eric O’Dell give them two lines that can score. The Wolves were hot coming out of the Christmas break but cooled off in recent weeks. If they get hot again, they’ve got enough scoring to do damage.

    Defence

    The 67s have the most depth. Cody Ceci, Travis Gibbons and Jake Cardwell have all been stalwarts on what many expected to be a particularly thin Ottawa blue-line this year. Depth usually wins out in the playoffs. The Wolves aren’t to be taken lightly though. They answer back with the Eastern Conference’s best offensive defenseman in Josh McFadden, two way threat Frankie Corrado and emerging punisher Justin Sefton.

    Goaltending

    After two years of meandering blandness, the Wolves finally stabilized their goaltending future behind Jake Riley. While Riley’s done a laudable job since coming over from Brampton in a midseason trade, he’s going to be squaring off against one of the OHL’s best in Petr Mrazek. Mrazek’s legend started in last year’s playoff and has continued right through this season. The athletic goaltender is prone to being simply unbeatable when he’s on his game and he was on his game a lot this season.

    Special Teams

    Team Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Ottawa 67s 8th 4th
    Sudbury Wolves 1st 9th

    Prediction

    Ottawa in six games.

3. Niagara Ice Dogs vs. 6. Brampton Battalion (Eastern Conference)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Season Series

    Niagara wins 4-2

    Offence

    This one’s a no-brainer. The Dogs have probably the deepest offensive attack in the League. Headlined by Ryan Strome, the Niagara attack is three lines deep. Strome is supported by Freddie Hamilton, David Pacan, Andrew Agozzino, Alex Friesen, Steven Shipley and Darren Archibald. They’re a team built to dominate trap-centred defences. The Battalion didn’t have a single player crest the 50 point mark this season and only two (Scott Tanski and Ian Watters) even got to 40.

    Defence

    Niagara’s defence was dealt a serious blow this week when Tim Billingsley was suspended for two games for a hit on Ottawa’s Shane Prince. Billingsley will miss the entire first round. This will put additional onus on import Simon Gronvaldt and youngsters Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer to support Dougie Hamilton on Niagara’s blue-line.

    Brampton’s defence is done by committee. Stan Butler is renowned for his trap-based low scoring system designed to suffocate offenses. While he does have some young, budding blue-liners in Dylan Blujus, Spencer Abraham and Marcus McIvor, it’s the system that does Brampton’s defensive work.

    Goaltending

    Matej Machovsky and Cody St. Jacques have done a good job platooning the Troops into the playoffs but they’re facing down the man who’s going to win the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year award in Mark Visentin.

    Special Teams

    Team Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Niagara Ice Dogs 3rd 3rd
    Brampton Battalion 17th 5th

    Prediction

    Niagara in five games.

4. Oshawa Generals vs. 5. Kingston Frontenacs (Eastern Conference)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    This one's gonna be a war.

    Season Series

    Oshawa Wins 5-3

    Offence

    The Generals deep attack is led by Christian Thomas. The fifty-goal man is backed up by Andy Andreoff and Alain Berger. The real offensive story of the season in Oshawa has come from a trio of draft eligible forwards in Nicklas Jensen, Lucas Lessio and Boone Jenner. All three of them bring size and were good for 55+ points this season and in the case of Jensen and Lessio, they did most of their damage from the second line.

    The Fronts counter with a solid attack all their own. Kingston’s line-up boasts five twenty-goal scorers in Sean Jones, Nathan Moon, Michael Fine, Ethan Werek and Ryan Spooner. Spooner and Werek give the Fronts serious offensive depth down the middle while Fine, Moon and Jones rack up points on the wing. The Fronts also get contributions from gritty third liners like Cory Durocher, Mitch Lebar and Charles Sarault.

    Defence

    The Generals boast a big five defence corps, led by Captain Calvin de Haan. The slick, puck-moving Captain is buttressed by three hard-nosed defenders in Scott Valentine, Nick Quinn and Daniel Maggio, who are adept as physical shutdown types with some offensive upside. They're complimented by another quality puck mover in Tony DeHart.

    On the other side, Kingston has the twin towers of Taylor Doherty (6’8”) and Erik Gudbranson (6’4”) both of whom cracked the 30-point plateau this season. Doherty’s regular partner is six-foot-three Michal Cajkovsky while Gudbranson’s regular partner is two-way threat Mitch Gaulton. Kingston’s bottom pairing sees Alex Gudbranson and Jeff Braithwaite playing together.

    There isn’t a team, on pure personnel with a blue-line as deep as Kingston.

    Goaltending

    The Generals will lean on Peter DiSalvo in the playoffs. The vet won the Eastern Conference last year with the Barrie Colts and his play after coming over in December really stabilized things in the Oshawa goal.

    The Fronts will counter with Franky Pallazese for games one and two and hope that last year’s Memorial Cup Champion goaltender, Philip Grubauer has recovered from his bout with mononucleosis in time for to make a difference.

    Special Teams

    Team Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Oshawa Generals 9th 11th
    Kingston Frontenacs 15th 18th

    Prediction

    Oshawa in seven game.

1. Owen Sound Attack vs. 8. London Knights (Western Conference)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Season Series

    3-3 Tie

    Offence

    Owen Sound has a first rate offensive attack. They’re first line is led by Colorado draft pick Joey Hishon, power forward Garrett Wilson and draft eligible firebug, Andrew Fritsch. Backing up the stars on the top unit is a group of gritty older players in Andrew Shaw, Robby Mignardi, Liam Heelis and Mike Halmo. The Attack’s forward group is a mix of offensive firepower and gritty grinders that’s almost ideal for playoff hockey.

    In terms of sheer firepower, the Knights have the ability to stick with the Attack. Owen Sound’s big offensive names are balanced by the presence of Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Knight and Seth Griffith on the other side of the ledger. The Knights have nowhere near the depth of the Attack and that’s the difference maker here.

    Defence

    Owen Sound has one of the most solid top four defence cores in the league. The Attack get solid two way play from Blacker, Matt Petgrave, Geoffrey Schemitsch and Keevin Cutting. Big Jay Gilbert gives the Attack a solid number five option if one of the top four goes down to injury.

    London’s defence is no slouch. The top two are Montreal first rounder Jarred Tinordi and Scott Harrington. Harrington is a two-way threat capable of logging big minutes in all situations while Tinordi is primarly a shutdown force. Behind those two is Pittsburgh prospect Reid McNeill and 2011 eligible Matt Moffat, both are primarily defensive defenders. So, the Knights don’t match the Attack for firepower on the blue-line.

    Goaltending

    Here’s where the two teams are pretty close to even. Both teams have a couple solid goaltenders but neither has gotten consistent game stealing performances from any of the puckstoppers in their lineup. We all know goaltending can be the great equalizer come playoff time.

    Special Teams

    Teams Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Owen Sound Attack 2nd 7th
    London Knights 20th 15th

    Prediction

    Goaltending is the great equalizer, but if the Knights get into penalty trouble, it'll be a short series.

    Owen Sound in six games.

2. Saginaw Spirit vs. 7. Guelph Storm (Western Conference)

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    Claus Andersen/Getty Images

    Season Series

    2-2 Tie

    Offence

    This is actually an interesting offensive match-up. On top-end talent, the Guelph Storm have the edge on the Spirit. Taylor Beck, Peter Holland and Michael Latta are all 85+ point players. The Spirit on the other hand, only had one player get over 70 points and that was Josh Shalla. The Spirit have seven players who best 40 points this season.

    The key to this series is going to be how Guelph’s deadline additions of Daniel Erlich and Richard Panik carry the secondary scoring load for the Storm. If they can match the secondary scoring received by the Spirit, they’ll give the Storm a chance to win.

    Defence

    On paper, the Spirit should have a huge advantage on defence. Ryan O’Connor brings the offence from the blue-line, complimented by Peter Hermenegildo and two-way men Brad Walch and Ben Chiarot. On the defensive side of the puck, Saginaw’s shutdown core is manned by Dalton Prout and Brandon Archibald. That defence core accounted for the lowest goals against in the Western Conference.

    Guelph’s number one defenseman is Sam Lofquist, who’ll see a lot of minutes in this series. Supporting him are Tim Campbell and rookie Matt Finn. Finn’s improved drastically since coming back from the Under-17 tournament at Christmas. Kyle Pereira makes for a respectable number four defenseman.

    Goaltending

    On paper, you would be forgiven for thinking this is a mismatch. Mavric Parks was ridden early in the season to great effect. Since the trade deadline, Parks has been mediocre and as a result, the Spirit came within a whisker of losing their division.

    In the other net, Brandon Foote had been mediocre all season.  Neither goaltender has a sparkling record in the playoffs.

    Special Teams

    Teams Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Saginaw Spirit 5th 1st
    Guelph Storm 10th 13th

    Prediction

    The Storm have been hot of late and the Spirit really haven’t. If Guelph gets contributions from Panik and Erlich, they can overcome the Spirit.

    Guelph in seven games.

3. Kitchener Rangers vs. 6. Plymouth Whalers (Western Conference)

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    Rick Stewart/Getty Images

    Season Series

    Kitchener Wins 3-1

    Offence

    The Rangers have seven twenty goal scorers while two other players—Michael Catenacci and Jerry D’Amigo—would have crested twenty goals had they played full schedules. The Whalers offensive attack is just as balanced. This is a very evenly matched series up front.

    An argument could be made that the Rangers have more gamebreaking offensive talent up front with league scoring co-champ Jason Akeson, prospective number one pick Gabriel Landeskog and Jerry D’Amigo who’s dominated the league since being sent down.

    Defence

    The Rangers have two of the best offensive defensemen in the Western Conference in Ryan Murphy and Jamie Doornbosch. The Whalers simply don’t have the firepower on the blue-line to counter that. Plymouth’s best offensive defenseman is Captain Beau Schmitz, who wasn’t within fifteen points of Murphy or Doornbosch this season.

    The Rangers and Whalers actually match-up pretty well in their respective shutdown cores. The Rangers put up Cody Sol, Jonathan Jasper and Julian Melchiori while the Whalers counter with Austin Levi, Dario Trutmann and Colin McDonald.

    Goaltending

    This is probably the best goaltending match-up in the whole OHL playoffs. The best goaltender in terms of statistics in this series is Kitchener’s Mike Morrison, who might not even see any time in the playoffs. Saginaw and Windsor fans will tell you about Brandon Maxwell’s play in last year’s playoffs, so the Rangers have two reliable options in goal.

    Scott Wedgewood and Matt Mahalak man the twine for the Whalers. Both had .908 Save Percentages on the season, Wedgewood has stolen some wins for the Whalers to the tune of a .940 Save Percentage or better in games against teams like Windsor.

    He can win some games on his own.

    Special Teams

    Team Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Kitchener Rangers 4th 10th
    Plymouth Whalers 14th 6th

    Prediction

    Kitchener's defensive core becomes the difference.

    Kitchener in six games.

4. Windsor Spitfires vs. 5. Erie Otters (Western Conference)

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Season Series

    2-2 Tie

    Offence

    This is an incredibly even offensive match-up. Both teams have six 60+ point players. Erie’s leading scorer Greg McKegg has no equal on the Windsor side of the equation. He’s arguably the hottest player in the Conference over the last month. Windsor’s offence relies on bigger, more physical players like Zack Kassian, Kenny Ryan and Tom Kuhnhackl.

    The game plan here for Windsor would seem to be to intimidate a smaller Erie squad.

    Defence

    Ryan Ellis is the difference here. There isn’t a puckmover of that calibre that the Otters can counter with. That’s the strength of the Spits defence core, they’ve got two top quality puck movers in Ellis and rookie Nick Ebert that allow them to spring a quick attack on their opponents.

    The Erie defence core is more balanced one to four than Windsor’s is.  Derek Holden, David Shields, Tyler Hostetter and Brett Cook are all complete two-way defenders at the OHL level capable of chipping in offensively and defensively without being a liability.

    Goaltending

    It’s hard to imagine we’d have been saying this at the start of the season. But Jack Campbell’s numbers have been cringe-worthy for the defending champs. We all know that he can stand on his head when called upon. But you can’t give the Spits an advantage in goal in this series.

    In Ramis Sadikov, the Otters have a workhorse who has established himself as a game stealer at this level.

    Special Teams

    Teams Powerplay Penalty Kill
    Windsor Spitfires 10th 8th
    Erie Otters 7th 2nd

    Prediction

    Windsor and Ryan Ellis make their money on the Powerplay. Erie’s record this season suggests that they could be the team to nullify Windsor’s biggest advantage.

    Erie in six games.