The first round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs had plenty of drama, but in the end there were no upsets.
That means we ended up going three-for-four on our Western Conference preview (With the right number of games in two of the series) and four-for-four in the Eastern Conference (Nailing the number of games on two other series).
Pretty good, but it only gets tougher from here on out. With all top four seeds moving on it’s tough to say that any of the lower seeds winning would be ‘shocking’. In some cases it would be a bit of a surprise, but these are the best four teams in each conference. They all deserve to be here, and that means there should be some great hockey ahead.
1. Erie Otters (4-0 vs Sarnia) vs 4. London Knights (4-3 vs Windsor)
It’s pretty fitting that Erie’s run towards an OHL championship has to go through London and London’s hopes of heading back to the MasterCard Memorial Cup lead them to Erie. Alex DeBrincat finished with nine points in four games against the Knights, while Dylan Strome added eight points in four games. Max Jones was quiet in his three games against Erie (1 goal, 1 assist), but this is a series where he could have a big impact with his physicality. He has to stay on the ice though. While the Knights were led by Janne Kuokkanen and Rob Thomas in round one, many expect to see more from Cliff Pu, JJ Piccinich, Dante Salituro and Sam Miletic. If they get first round numbers out of those guys, the Knights won’t last long in round number two.
Mitch Vande Sompel may be the most interesting player in this series. With the ability to play both up front and on defence, he can keep the Otters on their toes. The place where Erie will really have to watch out though, is when they’re shorthanded. The Otters penalty kill was tied for worst in the first round, giving up a goal a third of the time they were shorthanded. Other than that these teams have deep defences to match, with the Knights owning a more balanced offensive punch on the blueline.
When it comes to goaltending, this is another proving ground for Troy Timpano. The Otters gave up three goals in all four games against the Sting, and if you do that against the Knights, you won’t win. That’s because the guy in the other net is one of the (if not THE) best in the league. Tyler Parsons was plenty busy in the first round and gave us the best goaltending battle of (possibly) the playoffs against Michael DiPietro. He’s more than good enough to shut down the OHL’s top team, but he can’t do it alone.
Otters win 4-2: The Otters are on a mission. Strome has a big series and Erie wins three one-goal games.
2. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (4-1 vs Flint) vs 3. Owen Sound Attack (4-1 vs Kitchener)
Both matchups in the West should have plenty of scoring. The Attack got out of the first round with the second-most goals-for (27) and a league-best goals-against (9). It will be interesting to see how Owen Sound does against a better defence though, as the Kitchener Rangers’ blue line was heavily outmatched due to injuries. Nick Suzuki and Petrus Palmu were unstoppable, while the Soo can trot out Boris Katchouk, Tim Gettinger, Blake Speers along with a host of others.
Defensively Santino Centorame and Markus Phillips had pretty much spotless first rounds. The question is, can the depth of defence for the Attack hold up against the Soo’s? Conor Timmins, Gustav Bouramman, Colton White and Noah Carroll should be able to do enough to limit Owen Sound’s offence. They can also threaten Owen Sound in the transition game as well, and the balance provided by a deep group of forwards is dangerous.
The battle between the pipes is where this series could shift in Owen Sound’s favour. I don’t think anyone needs an introduction to Michael McNiven. Matthew Villalta started the series against Flint but only lasted two games before a revitalized Joseph Raaymakers took over and clinched the series for the ‘Hounds. He was impressive, but he was also facing a Flint team starved for offence once they lost Ryan Moore.
Attack win 4-3: The Soo will win a few low-scoring games, but McNiven is the difference.
1. Peterborough Petes (4-0 vs Niagara) vs 4. Kingston Frontenacs (4-3 vs Hamilton)
The elevation of Josh Coyle to play with Zach Gallant and Jonathan Ang in the first round gave the Petes a devastating trio that combined for eight goals
and 16 points. Meanwhile, Steven Lorentz chipped in with six points of his own and Nikita Korostolev finished with a ‘quiet’ (by his standards) four points. I think it’s safe to say that Jason Robertson isn’t the best-kept secret in the OHL anymore. Proving that his regular season was no fluke, the draft-eligible forward came away from Hamilton with 12 points in seven games, including four goals. Brett Neumann came on strong as well, picking up five points after notching just 12 in 33 regular season games with the Frontenacs. If rookies Linus Nyman and Nathan Dunkley can keep it up, the defence-first Fronts could go shot-for-shot with the Petes.
The one thing that matters for the Petes right now is the status of Matthew Timms. He left Game 3 with an upper-body injury and hasn’t started skating yet. Sweeping the IceDogs may have been the best thing for the Petes: there’s only five periods to scout of them playing without Timms, and they have a week off without any urgency to rush him back into the lineup. Until he can get back, they’ll be leaning on Kyle Jenkins, Cole Fraser, and Brandon Prophet. Stephen Desrocher led the way in the first round for Kingston, but they’ll need to be better on the penalty kill. Kingston was tied for the worst penalty kill in round one, and going just 3/27 with the man advantage in the first round puts even more emphasis on special teams.
I thought the Stephen Dhillon/Dylan Wells matchup was better than the end result indicated, and now Wells finds himself face-to-face with Jeremy Helvig. Outside of a high-scoring Game 2, Helvig played well and frustrated a pretty dangerous Bulldogs’ offence. Wells meanwhile, has been used to a heavy workload all year long and has routinely beaten Kingston, losing to them just once all year.
Petes win 4-2: Both goalies are stellar but a balanced Petes offence beats Kingston.
2. Mississauga Steelheads (4-2 vs Ottawa) vs 3. Oshawa Generals
The Steelheads’ attack is hard to match in the Eastern Conference. After a quiet first three games (one assist), Spencer Watson exploded for eight points over the last three games against Ottawa, while Michael McLeod led from start to finish of that series, coming away with 11 points in six games (Leo Lazarev pitched a shutout in Game 2). Beyond them, Owen Tippett, Nathan Bastian and Ryan McLeod give Mississauga plenty of threats. The Generals offence was led by Jack Studnicka, and was very balanced down the lineup. One interesting name to keep in mind: Robbie Burt. Kingston’s first round pick from last year had 11 points in 46 games during the regular season, but picked up three points in six games in round one. He could help level things out if his hot play continues.
The best news for the Steelheads is that Nicolas Hague will be back from his suspension. Getting Hague back, along with Vili Saarijarvi’s excellent play throughout the regular season and playoffs gives them an excellent one-two punch from the back end. Oshawa’s Riley Stillman has had a great run this year, and Medric Mercier was a worthwhile addition but overall I think there’s better depth in Mississauga. Jacob Moverare, Austin Osmanski, and Stefan LeBlanc will play big roles in this series.
In net the Generals have the advantage. Back in the first round we said that the stats didn’t tell the whole truth and that Leo Lazarev was good enough to steal a few games. He did just that. Now the Steelheads have to go up against Jeremy Brodeur, who is coming off a spectacular regular season and a very good first round against Sudbury. Jacob Ingham showed he was capable of carrying the load in a big way in round one, but now that Matthew Mancina is healthy, the Steelheads say they have a decision to make.
Steelheads win 4-2: The games are high-scoring, and Owen Tippett steps into the spotlight with five goals after just one in the first round.
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.