The OHL Playoffs resume tonight, down to the last eight teams in the league. Who wins? Who goes home? Today’s Slapshot has our predictions.
Erie Otters (1) vs. Soo Ste. Marie Greyhounds (7)
The lowly Saginaw Spirit were absolutely no match for the powerhouse Erie Otters in their quarterfinal series, failing to claim a single victory throughout. In fact, the Otters scored five or more goals in every game against their eighth-seed opponents.
While key figures such as Dylan Strome, Alex DeBrincat and Taylor Raddysh failed get on the score sheet early on in the series, the team’s depth forwards stepped up in a big way. Now, with all four lines rolling offensively, the Soo Greyhounds are going to have a lot to handle.
While their game 7 victory over the heavy-favorite Sarnia Sting in the first-round makes them a feel-good story, last year’s regular-season champions are currently a shell of their former selves. After a mass graduation to the pros this year, the Greyhounds are without a true superstar to lead the way.
While Blake Speers and Zachary Senyshyn are providing some quality offense, there isn’t nearly enough depth around them nor is there enough defense to back them up in order for them to defeat the much more experienced OHL championship-hungry Otters.
Prediction: Erie wins in 5
London Knights (3) vs. Kitchener Rangers (4)
The incredibly talented and deep London Knights team spoke of how they weren’t as good as they expected themselves to be during their opening round matchup against the Owen Sound Attack. Game two saw them embarrassingly shutout at home by a score of 2-0, while game four in Owen Sound was a sloppy, undisciplined affair in which the Knights scored eight goals but let in five.
Needless to say, when watching a team that features so many renowned North American junior hockey players, you expect them to do better than the Knights did in round one. Round two presents an even bigger challenge for Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak, Matt Tkachuk and co., though.
Facing a much-improved Kitchener Rangers team (compared to last year’s roster), one thing is for sure: the offense is going to be insane. Between the aforementioned ‘big three’ Knights and the likes of Kitchener’s Jeremy Bracco, Adam Mascherin and Ryan MacInnis, this high-scoring affair is going to be decided by the strength of the defense and goaltending.
London’s got the edge on the back-end with Olli Juolevi, while Kitchener has a slight edge in the crease with Luke Opilka.
This will be an extremely close matchup with plenty of struggles on both sides early on, but it’s likely the Knights are going to kick it into another gear.
Prediction: London wins in 6
Kingston Frontenacs (1) vs. Niagara IceDogs (4)
Much like the Otters in the West, the East’s first-seeded Kingston Frontenacs look like they cannot be stopped. Having opened and closed the series with twin 6-0 shutout wins, the Fronts made a statement in their quarterfinal matchup against the defending champion Oshawa Generals: they’re serious contenders this year, and it’s about time.
Believe it or not, this is the first time Kingston has seen their Frontenacs advance to the second round since the late 1990’s; a blemish in the history books has now been erased, but the work has just begun.
The core of the team seems unfazed by the pressure, though. Spencer Watson leads the league in playoff scoring with 15 points, Michael Dal Colle is right behind him with 14 and Warren Foegele – previously a relatively unknown forward – notched eight goals in just five games during the opening round.
Plus, defender Roland McKeown and scoring forward Lawson Crouse are just heating up, so once the team is in sync, it will be nearly impossible for Josh Ho-Sang and the Niagara IceDogs to emerge victorious. The hard-working club was pegged as a dark horse contender by some heading into the playoffs, but they may have met their certain downfall in matching-up against Kingston in the second round – they will merely be a stepping stone in the Frontenacs’ journey to the Eastern Conference Final.
Prediction: Kingston wins in 5
Barrie Colts (2) vs. North Bay Battalion (3)
The Barrie Colts may have remained competitive, but they have never truly recovered from the early NHL promotion Aaron Ekblad got as an 18-year-old in 2014. So essentially, the current team was built around a wunderkind defender, and they are just now beginning to phase out of that structure.
Rasmus Andersson has stepped right into that first-pair, right-side void, providing excellent two-way defense, while 2015-16 OHL top-scorer Kevin Labanc and recent Calgary Flames draftee Andrew Mangiapane each eclipsed the 100-point mark this regular season.
In the playoffs, the big names have performed once again, but it really hasn’t been enough. After taking game one of their opening round series with relatively no problem, Barrie gave up game two to the seventh-seed Mississauga Steelheads by a score of 6-3.
They never really regained their prowess until game five, where they shutout their opponents 3-0, but they dropped the very next game by a whopping score of 7-0. A deciding game seven saw the Colts emerge from the first round, but there was cause for concern.
The amount of struggle that Barrie endured during their opening round series has to affect them in round two, where they will face the North Bay Battalion. Also having gone to a game 7, North Bay seems a bit more calm entering their new matchup. Mike Amadio is rolling. Kyle Wood is rolling. Even rookie defender Cam Dineen has been marking up the score sheet.
So although the young, talented Steelheads are out of the way, Barrie will be presented with a whole new problem — a slightly less talented, but also very hot team is up next, and it will probably take another seven games for the Colts to move on.
Prediction: Barrie wins in 7