Thursday, March 20, 2008


Friend of the blog and good ol' Nova Scotia boy Trevor Stewart of the Sudbury Star will be sharing his observations on the OHL playoffs across the next few fortnights.

The Western Conference is where the first round gets interesting with teams like Sarnia, Saginaw and Plymouth pulling down the 6-7-8 seeds.
The East's No. 5 seed Mississauga, with 67 points, would miss the playoffs in the West by seven points. Plymouth and Saginaw hardly stand a chance in Round 1, that’s how good Kitchener and the Soo are. If there’s a low seed set for a run, look for Sarnia to blast out of the six hole.
Look for the Rangers to get the front-door berth into the Memorial Cup in their backyard by taking the OHL final vs. Belleville in seven games.

Kitchener (1) vs. Plymouth (8)
Season series: Kitchener 4-0

It’s fitting that the OHL favourite and Memorial Cup host Rangers can knock off the defending league champions..

Kitchener was the top-ranked team in the country in every weekly update save one this year. They'll might fizzle out before the OHL final since they're already in the Mem Cup as host team, but with Pete DeBoer coaching, I don't expect that to happen. The playoff grind is as much mental as it is physical and getting up for games you don’t need to win can be a challenge. DeBoer is one of the league’s best coaches, however, and he should keep them on track.
This series is about everything the Rangers have vs. what the Whalers don’t. The Rangers start the best line in the OHL -- scoring champ Justin Azevedo with NHL-picks Nick Spaling (Nashville) and Matt Halischuk (New Jersey) at his wings -- and the league’s most pro-ready goalie in Steve Mason (Columbus).
The Whalers don't even have the same coach as last year's championship run. Stalwart defenceman Wes Cunningham is also out for the season. Trevor's Take: Make it a clean sweep for the Rangers, 4-0.
Sault Ste. Marie (2) vs. Saginaw (7)
Season Series: Soo 5-3
Two of Saginaw's wins over the Soo came in shootouts. Thankfully for all hockey fans, you can’t count on those in the playoffs.
The Spirit may have overachieved during what initially shaped up as a rebuilding year. Meaning, the Greyhounds have been planning for this season. Trades for tour de force Wayne Simmonds (Los Angeles) and hometown boy Matt Caria give the Hounds incredible depth in skilled forwards led by Dustin Jeffrey (Pittsburgh). Combine that with the work ethic and defensive responsibility of a Craig Hartsburg-coached team, a veteran back end anchored by Canadian world junior team member and Kingston product Josh Godfrey (Washington), a one-line team like the Spirit don’t have a ghost’s chance. Trevor's Take:Greyhounds in five.
Windsor (3) vs. Sarnia (6)
Season series: Sarnia 4-2

This is the toughest first-round series to call.

The Spitfires story is an easy one to get behind. A fuzzy-faced squad jumping the building curve and completing a better-than-50 point turnaround from last season’s dismal finish, and doing so in spite of losing their captain and lifeforce Mickey Renaud tragically more than a month ago. A lot of people thought the Spits would fold after that. Instead, they enter the playoffs unbeaten in 10 games.

"The chemistry and the life bond that they've gone through after what happened, I think it's brought this team together," Windsor coach and co-owner Bob Boughner told the Windsor Star recently.

Whether that's enough to overcome the experience factor in this series is the question. Only five Spitfires have OHL playoff experience. Sarnia may be lying in wait at the No. 6 seed, but the Sting have been hit hard by injuries this season. They’re still not completely healthy with talented blue-liner Mark Katic (N.Y. Islanders) likely to miss the entire series.

The Sting are led by everyone's No. 1 NHL draft pick, Steven Stamkos, who might be facing his last chance for junior glory. He has three game-winning goals against Windsor this year.
The last two meetings between these teams have gone to overtime. This should be a dandy. Trev's take: Sting in seven.

London (4) vs. Guelph (5)
Season Series: 3-3

This is the fourth time in five seasons these teams have met in the playoffs and the Storm’s best chance to beat the mighty Knights since they won in seven games in 2004.

Guelph wins the goaltending duel with Thomas McCollum and has played grinding, defensive hockey to a tee in the second half of the season. The Storm also have the series' best player in blue-chip defenceman Drew Doughty, expected to go No. 2 in the summer’s NHL draft.

The Knights only have so many weapons this season to break down the suffocating Storm. So Akim Aliu (Chicago) will have to make with the game-dominating power forward act and depart with the shenanigans for London to stand a chance. Trevor's take: Storm in six.

Yesterday: The Eastern Conference.

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