The first round of the OHL Playoffs brought much excitement, as promised. The loaded Sarnia Sting were upset by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and the dynamic London Knights struggled against a gritty Owen Sound Attack team. Now, with four more enticing series on the horizon, we look ahead to the next chapter of the 2016 OHL Playoffs.
OHL Playoffs Round Two Preview
(1) Kingston Frontenacs vs. (4) Niagara IceDogs
The Kingston Frontenacs are hot off of a five-game drubbing of the Oshawa Generals, winning the franchise’s first playoff series since 1998 (which, ironically, was also against the Generals). They have been billed as the team to look out for in the Eastern Conference all season long, with a strong offence led by Michael Dal Colle and Spencer Watson, who led the OHL with 15 points in the first round. The Fronts also have a lot of support on the back end, with two of the OHL’s best shutdown defencemen in Roland McKeown and Stephen Desrocher, as well as big two-way winger Lawson Crouse, who can contribute in both ends of the ice.
Niagara got through the Ottawa 67’s far faster than anyone expected – the games were all close, but ultimately it was decided in five. The IceDogs also have some serious star power on paper, with highly-touted forwards in Josh Ho-Sang and Brendan Perlini, complemented by players like Anthony DiFruscia and Stephen Harper, who can help out offensively. On the blueline, Vince Dunn runs the show as one of the smartest defenceman in the league. In goal, USA World Junior goalie Alex Nedeljkovic has the ability to steal games – although he hasn’t done that recently. The IceDogs have been plagued all year with failing to meet expectations, but there is hope that their big names will start clicking at the right time to challenge the Fronts.
This series will be a tough defensive battle. Kingston took the season series 3-1, but the IceDogs came out on top in the most recent meeting, a 5-4 win on March 17. The Fronts are a much deeper team than the 67’s, and pose a much greater threat to Niagara – likely too large a threat for them to advance.
My Pick: Frontenacs in six.
(2) Barrie Colts vs. (3) North Bay Battalion
Both the Colts and Battalion are tired, beaten up teams after the first round, with both taking seven games to dispatch their respective opponents (the Mississauga Steelheads and the Peterborough Petes). These are also teams that know each other well, having squared off in the second round for the past two years – North Bay taking both series so far.
Barrie is a strong offensive team, with talents like Kevin Labanc (the regular season scoring leader) and Andrew Mangiapane expected to carry the point production. Justin Scott also made a name for himself in round one, leading the OHL with 10 goals. What’s worrying for the Colts is the fact that forward Dylan Sadowy, who has been a key piece of the roster since the trade deadline, missed game seven against Mississauga with an apparent injury. There’s no word yet on whether he’ll be ready for game one, but if he were to be unavailable it would be a huge blow to the Colts’ depth.
In net Barrie has potentially the top goalie in the OHL with Mackenzie Blackwood, who finished the regular season with a .921 save percentage. He could be a huge difference-maker in this series, which is bound to be extremely close.
North Bay’s attack is led by Mike Amadio, who put up 14 points in the first round against Peterborough. He has established himself in the latter half of the season as one of the OHL’s best scorers, and will be leaned on heavily by his young team. The Battalion’s game plan will be centered around their defensive talent, though, led by the pairing of Cam Dineen and Kyle Wood. Both have the ability to contribute offensively, but will also be needed to shut down players like Labanc and Mangiapane.
The season series between these teams was won by North Bay, who took 4 of 6 games. This will be a gritty series between two very tired teams, so it could ultimately come down to who is able to wear out their opponent more. With Blackwood in net, the Colts might have a slight advantage.
My Pick: Colts in seven.
(1) Erie Otters vs. (4) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
The Otters have been hailed all season as the most dangerous team in the OHL. Led by elite players up front in captain Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat, Erie has a potent core of forwards. Having dealt with the Saginaw Spirit in four games, the Otters enter this series very well-rested against a Greyhounds team that had to grind out a game-seven victory in Sarnia on Tuesday. On the blueline, Travis Dermott leads a talented defensive group that will be keen to join the scoring.
The Greyhounds managed to beat the West Division champions Sarnia Sting by stealing games on the road, and taking advantage of the long road trip up to the Soo that their opponents weren’t accustomed to. They do have some talented players, like captain Blake Speers and Zachary Senyshyn, who disappointed in round one by scoring just one goal. Sault Ste. Marie will need every player to step up for this series, because Erie is a much deeper team than Sarnia, who will not be as easily worn down. Goaltender Brandon Halverson will be key, as he was a major factor in the game seven victory, and he will be required to steal a few saves from Dylan Strome.
Erie took both meetings between these clubs this season, one of them in overtime. After storming through the first round and looking like the best team in the league, they have to be considered heavy favourites in this series, particularly considering how much more well-rested they’ll be.
My Pick: Otters in five.
(2) London Knights vs. (3) Kitchener Rangers
These teams have met in the playoffs three times in the last four years, and London has come out on top every time. Being divisional rivals, the Knights and Rangers know each other very well by now, and will both be keen to get a leg up quickly in this series.
The Knights entered the playoffs as the hottest team in the CHL, with the OHL’s most dangerous offence – led by a top line of Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner. In their series against Owen Sound, though, they were somewhat stifled. The Attack played a successfully frustrating game that forced London to the outside on their shots, and they managed to stretch a series that was expected to be drama-free to six games. Tkachuk leads the team with 12 points in that series, including 8 goals. He, along with Cliff Pu, were the major attractions of the series as both were seen to be all over the ice.
However, London will need to produce even more, particularly early on in games, to outscore Kitchener. The Knights did also finish the regular season with the lowest goals-against total, but there remain some defensive liabilities among their blueliners. Their typically lethal power-play was uncharacteristically disjointed, and missteps on the penalty kill gave up bounces in favour of Owen Sound.
Kitchener is another high-flying dynamic offensive team, with the likes of Jeremy Bracco, one of the league’s top playmakers, as well as Ryan MacInnis and Adam Mascherin. Every game of their series with the Windsor Spitfires was close in score, but were very high-scoring games. The Rangers will now have to keep up with the Knights’ ability to score. The return of defenceman Dmitrii Sergeev will help bolster their defensive core, but it could ultimately come down to the performance of veteran goalie Dawson Carty, who replaced the usual starter Luke Opilka after he was yanked in game one.
The Rangers silenced a lot of their critics by beating Windsor in five games. Now, they’re matched with a team that very few will expect them to beat. They will almost certainly put up a good fight, making this a good candidate for the most exciting series of round two, but London’s offence is going to turn the heat back up soon.
My Pick: Knights in seven.