Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Hamilton Bulldogs set to face off in OHL Championship Series

OHL Championship Series

The 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup is now just around the corner. All three finals are set in the Canadian Hockey League, with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and Hamilton Bulldogs facing off in the OHL Championship Series.

The Greyhounds are coming off of a historic regular season, finishing with 55 wins and 317 goals-for. While the Bulldogs didn’t dominate the East to that same tune, they still finished first, cruising through each round.

OHL Championship Series: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs Hamilton Bulldogs

Some will say the Bulldogs are an underdog, but as the playoffs have worn on, that may be nothing more than a perception. Both teams are number one seeds and both teams bought at the Trade Deadline. Now they are just four wins away from the J. Ross Robertson Cup and a shot at the Memorial Cup.

Who will ultimately bring the hardware home with a shot at Canada’s ultimate championship? We’ll find out once the puck drops on Thursday on the 2018 Rogers OHL Championship Series.

Up Front

Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh are one and two in playoff scoring for two reasons: one is that they’re really good, the other is that they’ve played three more games than the highest scoring Bulldog, Robert Thomas. Both Katchouk and Raddysh were difference makers in the West Final against the Rangers, with Raddysh nearly ending the series in six games on his own.

The biggest question with this group, as outlined above, is health. Boris Katchouk seems to be battling a lower-body injury. Morgan Frost took a knee-on-knee hit in Game 6 and, while he kept going, those types of things have a habit of lingering. Hayden Verbeek was injured in Game 2 against Kitchener and, likely, won’t be available for much (if any) of the Finals.

Despite the bumps and bruises though, they’re still deep, talented and powerful. Barrett Hayton will need to have a big series, and Jack Kopacka was electric over the last three games in the West and will need that to carry over. Tim Gettinger feasted on the Saginaw Spirit but has been relatively quiet since then. They have the pieces, but need to push the pedal down again and find that final push.

For the Bulldogs, Thomas has led the way with 25 points in 15 games, followed closely by Ryan Moore with 21. Brandon Saigeon has been an absolute machine for Hamitlon, scoring 12 goals in 15 games. Meanwhile Isaac Nurse has been a revelation. After a 30-point regular season, he has 10 points in 15 games in the postseason, seven of those being goals. He’s been putting points up in bunches, but was held off the scoresheet in the last two games against Kingston.

Here’s another key thing: of every player on the roster, Matthew Strome is the only player to have missed a game, suffering a stinger earlier in the playoffs. He’s rolling at a point-per-game pace, and the Bulldogs are healthy. And all in. That’s a big advantage.

On the Blueline

The Bulldogs may be the team that is best prepared to handle what the Soo can throw at them. The Spirit are a young team that put up a good fight but faced a daunting task. The Owen Sound Attack ran with them for seven games but ultimately lost a wild Game 7. The Kitchener Rangers forced Game 7 too but suffered a key injury to Austin McEneny in the process.

The teams that Hamilton pushed past en route to the OHL Champion Series all presented different challenges. The Ottawa 67’s are a tough team that presented some interesting challenges skill-wise. Then they had to face a Niagara IceDogs team that had a game-breaking first line, led by Akil Thomas. Up next it was the Kingston Frontenacs, who bought up just as many pieces as the Bulldogs at the deadline. And Hamilton shut down each one of them. None of their defenders will wow you offensively, but each one of Riley Stillman, Justin Lemcke, Ben Gleason, Nicolas Mattinen, Jack Hanley and Connor Walters have a plus rating in the playoffs. Not even the Greyhounds can say that.

Just like up front, Sault Ste. Marie’s biggest question mark is health. Rasmus Sandin was speared in Game 5 but he seems good to go. His presence will be massive, considering the role he played when Conor Timmins was out down the stretch, now that Timmins is dealing with a wrist injury. While Timmins played the rest of Game 6 and all of Game 7, the wrist was heavily taped. It just comes down to the severity of the injury.

That will put the onus on rest of the blueliners too. Noah Carroll and Mac Hollowell have shown up in big spots for the Soo. Jordan Sambrook will have to keep the third pair steady against a Hamilton team ready to roll its lines.

Between the Pipes

The Bulldogs have stormed through each round in five games, in large part because of Kaden Fulcher. While Fulcher’s regular season numbers won’t wow you (2.86 GAA, 0.899 SV%), he’s been a rock in the playoffs. Over his last seven playoff games he’s allowed over five goals once. The Bulldogs’ sound defence has also made life easy on him, as he’s faced 30+ shots just five times.

On the other side, Matthew Villalta has had to be a workhorse in his first playoff run as a starter. After a 49-game regular season, the Kings’ prospect has added another 18 games and is coming off of back-to-back seven-game series. His workload has been significantly meatier than Fulcher’s. The Rangers may have also found something the Bulldogs can build on in the final. Most of Kitchener’s success came from making Villalta move laterally and then finishing high glove. The Bulldogs have the weapons to do that, so it’ll be up to Villalta to make the adjustment.

The Final Say

If there was ever a team that was built for this, it was the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. But after two grueling seven-game series in the West, they look vulnerable. They’re also banged up. The Bulldogs are well-rested, and only need to figure out a way to take one in the Soo, which has been the ‘Hounds sanctuary (9-1 at home). They’ll do it, booking their flight to Regina. Bulldogs win 4-3.