The great thing about the playoffs this year in the Ontario Hockey League, is that both conferences were so tight.
In the East, the Oshawa Generals missed first place by four points, while the race for the final three playoff spots came down to three teams and seven points. In the West, there were three teams with 100 points, with the Knights finishing one shy of the century mark.
If that’s any indication, the playoffs will be a lot of fun.
1) Peterborough Petes vs 8) Niagara IceDogs
Up front: The Petes seem to have it figured out offensively this year. The second-highest scoring team in the East got consistent production from the trio of Jonathan Ang, Steven Lorentz, and Logan DeNoble, and then tidied that up with Christopher Paquette and leading scorer Nikita Korostolev (29 points in 24 games with PBO). The IceDogs got a spectacular season out of rookie Akil Thomas, and an equally impressive one out of Oliver Castleman, but it’ll be up to them and Ben Jones and Johnny Corneil to keep pace with the Petes.
On the blueline: Give Ryan Mantha credit: He came into this year motivated, led by example, and earned himself an NHL contract. Now he and Aaron Haydon have to shoulder the load for a very young blueline. At first glance, Peterborough’s defence doesn’t have that ‘wow’ factor, but they’re consistent and reliable. Matthew Timms, Kyle Jenkins, Matt Spencer, and Brandon Prophet will have to prove they can limit the workload for Dylan Wells.
Between the pipes: Speaking of Wells, he should be getting ready for a pretty hefty playoff run along with Stephen Dhillon. Dhillon led the league in shots-against and saves this season, with Wells right behind him in second place. Neither of them would be surprised to face 40 shots a game this series.
And so…Over the course of the series, Peterborough will prove they’re built to withstand the game-in, game-out grind. If they can’t get rid of the traffic in front of the net this may go on longer than they’d like. Petes win 4-1
2) Mississauga Steelheads vs 7) Ottawa 67’s
Up front: It was a tale of two halves for the Steelheads, as there was the slow start where they languished around the bottom of the standings, and then there was the fast, healthy team that rocketed up the standings. Or, if you like: The Spencer Watson Era. Seriously. Watson finished third on the team in scoring and second in goals while playing just 40 games. The 67’s don’t have the same firepower as the Steelheads, but if Artur Tyanulin can get free, he could steal a game.
On the blueline: Mississauga’s back end is headlined by Nicolas Hague, and features the puck-moving presences of Stefan LeBlanc, Jacob Moverare, and Villi Saarijarvi. They’re a lot deeper than Ottawa, where another young blueline will try to shine behind veteran Chris Martenet and second-year star Noel Hoefenmayer.
Between the pipes: This is where I think Ottawa has an advantage. While it may not win them a series, Leo Lazarev is more talented than what the numbers say. Jacob Ingham had a great rookie year and the position is insulated well with Matthew Mancina.
And so…Offensively it’s just so hard to keep up with Mississauga. If it isn’t Watson, it’s Owen Tippet or Michael McLeod. Or Nathan Bastian. The young defenders on Ottawa will be in tough, but it should still serve as a great learning experience. Steelheads win 4-1
3) Oshawa Generals vs 6) Sudbury Wolves
Up front: Talk about rebuilding on the fly. While moving out key pieces of years gone by, the Generals continued their push up the standings in the Eastern Conference. It was a nice mix of youth and experience coming in at the deadline as Allan McShane and Mason Kohn were both brought in, to help a core that features Jack Studnicka and Domenic Commisso. The Wolves got a full season out of David Levin, and Dmitry Sokolov exploded for 48 goals.
On the blueline: Sudbury has more experience on the back end than you might think with Patrick Sanvido, Kyle Capobianco and Aiden Jamieson, and that could be huge in this series despite surrendering the fourth-most goals against in the conference. The Generals acquired some experience of their own in Medric Mercier, and they’ll lean heavily on Riley Stillman and Alex DiCarlo to frustrate Sudbury’s scorers.
Between the pipes: Jeremy Brodeur played like a top-five goalie in the league this season, coming into the year with a lot to prove, and there was a lot of respect for what he did in Oshawa. In a few years we could be talking about Jake McGrath the same way, as he may be the right goalie at the right time for this Sudbury team. Being a rookie though, we’ll have to wait and see how he responds to the playoff pressure.
And so…Sudbury took a much-awaited step forward this year after back-t0-back 10th place finishes in the East. They have the right pieces in place, but the Generals have mastered the on-the-fly rebuild. Generals win 4-2
4) Kingston Frontenacs vs 5) Hamilton Bulldogs
Up front: To be honest, I’m surprised that the Will Bitten/Matt Strome combination wasn’t more dominant this year. That’s not to say Strome didn’t have a spectacular season (62 points in 66 games), but Bitten’s 57 points is a bit disappointing after finishing with 65 in a disjointed year with Flint. Talking about explosive second seasons, Jason Robertson put up 42 goals in 68 games, but after that it’s Linus Nyman’s 50 points that’s second among forwards. The depth is there to step up for Hamilton, but what about Kingston?
On the blueline: While the questions surround their scoring, there’s no doubt about how good Kingston is defensively. The Fronts allowed an East-best 200 goals against, leaning on OA Stephen Desrocher. Hamilton’s offensive prowess trickles down the roster as Ben Gleason continues to impress since leaving London, while Justin Lemcke put up the best numbers of his career.
Between the pipes: It’s Jeremy Helvig or Dawson Carty. Carty has a bit of a playoff pedigree after taking over for the Kitchener Rangers last year, and there was no real slide in his performance after a mid-season trade. For Helvig, he’s been so good the last two years that it’s hard to bet against him, and with the way Kingston has been playing defence it makes him even better.
And so…Both 4 vs 5 match-ups are going seven games, but while one was an ‘upset’ this one isn’t. I can’t see either team running away with the series, but they say that defence wins championships. We won’t go that far, but it should get you out of the first round. Frontenacs win 4-3
Bryan Thiel is a freelance broadcaster who has covered the OHL from rink-side and the broadcast booth. He has also helped produce OHL features for the past four seasons. You can follow him on Twitter @BryanThiel_88.