Today the OHL playoff picture was set after a number of meaningful games were completed, in particular action involving Sudbury, Oshawa, Sarnia, and Guelph.
The following are your first round matchups, as well as my analysis and predictions.
1. Belleville Bulls vs. 8. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: Bulls 3-1
My Analysis: I can't see this series being very close. The Wolves limped into the playoffs and appeared to be doing everything they could over the course of the last month in order to not make the playoffs. Where as Belleville worked hard to earn first in the Conference and comes in winning their last 5. Sudbury has some talent and a relatively balanced scoring attack, but the defense and goaltending just won't be able to stand up against such a powerful Belleville forward group. This could be really ugly folks.
Prediction: Belleville in 4
2. Brampton Battalion vs. 7. Peterborough Petes
Season Series: Battalion 4-0
My Analysis: Another one I don't expect to be incredibly close. However, the one wild card could come in the form of goaltending. Peterborough worked relatively hard in order to find their way back into the playoffs and they occasionally get some brilliant goaltending from behemoth Jason Missiaen. In the end, I think Brampton is just too talented and look for Cody Hodgson to completely take over this series (on the strength of his recent cover shoot for the THN Future Watch issue). I think Missiaen and the underrated Petes offense is able to muster one game from the Battalion, likely at home in order to give thanks to their fans.
Prediction: Battalion in 5
3. Ottawa 67's vs. 6. Niagara IceDogs
Season Series: IceDogs 3-1
My Analysis: Likely to be an incredibly hard fought series. It matches two teams heading in completely opposite directions at the end of the season. Ottawa comes into the playoffs riding a 5 game winning streak. Niagara comes in riding a 5 game losing streak. Ottawa is the more talented hockey club, and is becoming healthier by the day. However, for whatever reason, the IceDogs seem to match up incredibly well against the 67's. The speed of the Dogs has generally given the 67's some trouble defensively. This one likely comes down to goaltending where inexperienced Chris Perugini is matched up against the very experienced Jeremy Smith. While the 67's have to be motivated to make one last gasp for coach Kilrea, I think the season trend continues in this one.
Prediction: Niagara in 7
4. Mississauga St. Michael's Majors vs. 5. Barrie Colts
Season Series: Tie 3-3
My Analysis: A battle of two very physical teams, which may not be great for the winner of this series as they could get warn out should the series prolong. The Majors have been playing some great hockey of late, 8-2 in their last 10. Adversely, the Colts have gone somewhat cold, going 3-7 in their last 10. I really like the depth that Mississauga has, especially at forward. They have the ability to roll four solid lines, three of which are serious scoring threats. However, I'm still uncertain as to whether I think Chris Carrozzi can be the big game goaltender the Majors need to win this series. At the other end of the ice is Michael Hutchinson whom I do have faith in as the type of guy who can steal hockey games. In a close series, the best goaltender usually wins and that's why I'm going with Barrie.
Prediction: Barrie in 7
1. Windsor Spitfires vs. 8. Owen Sound Attack
Season Series: Spitfires 3-1
My Analysis: If I were to tell you that I thought this series had a chance to be close, would you believe me? What if I told you that all four games this season between Windsor and Owen Sound were decided by one goal? Ok, what if I told you that in Owen Sound's last game of the season, they defeated Windsor 3-2 on the strength of a 52 save performance from Scott Stajcer? Can Windsor be upset in the first round yet again? In short, no I don't think so. But I do think that Owen Sound is going to play them very hard and give them a run for their money. Owen Sound has to be coming into the series with a ton of confidence after that win to end the regular season too. However, Windsor is just too talented to be beat in the first round this year, at least I think...
Prediction: Windsor in 6
2. London Knights vs. 7. Erie Otters
Season Series: Knights 6-0
My Analysis: Would you call me crazy if I thought this series was going to be closer than you think too? Well, call me crazy then. The Knights are red hot, coming into the playoffs on a 9 game win streak and took the season series against Erie in convincing fashion. However, two things lead me to believe that Erie could give them a real run for their money. The first is the Otters' OHL leading penalty kill. The Knights do the vast majority of their damage on the powerplay, and should the Otters shut them down with the man advantage, they could have some trouble scoring. The second is that the Otters have Jaroslav Janus manning their crease. I shouldn't have to tell anyone about his ability to steal a hockey game. In the end, I again think London is too talented to go down, but I think they'll be given a run for their money.
Prediction: London in 6
3. Saginaw Spirit vs. 6. Guelph Storm
Season Series: Tie 2-2
My Analysis: Likely two teams that match up very well against each other and should result in a close series. Both teams have well rounded offenses that get contributions from a handful of different players. Both teams also play solid defense. Both teams also rely on inexperienced goaltenders. The one thing that I think decides this series is experience in other areas. At forward, Saginaw relies heavily on its two overagers Chris Chappell and Jack combs, while at forward they rely on three great 1990's in T.J. Brodie, Adam Comrie, and Nick Crawford. The other thing that I think sways the series in Saginaw's favour is ultimately goaltending. While Pasquale and Foote are both inexperienced, I think there is no question as to who the better goalie is right now, and that is Pasquale. Just like the Majors/Colts series, I think Pasquale's better goaltending wins this series.
Prediction: Saginaw in 6
4. Plymouth Whalers vs. 5. Sarnia Sting
Season Series: Whalers 4-2
My Analysis: Plymouth was one of the hottest teams in the second half of the OHL season, while Sarnia also finished off the season strongly. A battle of two hot teams should make for quite an entertaining series and you shouldn't expect less from a 4/5 matchup. To end the season, Plymouth beat up on Sarnia 6-1, which has to give them some confidence. This is the toughest series for me to predict. I like Plymouth's offensive ability and overall forward depth better than Sarnia. However, I like Sarnia's goaltending better, having the experienced Dan Spence manning the crease. In some of the other close series I went with the teams whom I felt had the more experienced and better goaltender, however I'm going to buck that trend here. I think Matt Hackett is more than up to the challenge here and should be able to get more than enough support from the talented offense.
Prediction: Plymouth in 6
Now let's see how I do!