Wednesday, March 19, 2008


The puck drops on the Ontario Hockey League playoffs tonight. Since he's an all-around great guy and the team he covers didn't make it -- but at least had the good sense to bottom out properly and luck into John McFarland, unlike certain teams that Larry Mavety whipped to a 52-point season -- Trevor Stewart will give periodic updates.

The Eastern Conference playoffs start with four divisional rivalries. That probably doesn't mean the teams will dispense with the silly feeling-out process that usually takes up most of Game 1 of any series. Unfortunately for three teams, that one game will make up a good part of their series. There's such a big gap between the East’s top four teams and it’s bottom four, it’s hard not to like the favourites -- except Oshawa.

Essentially, the East is Belleville's to lose. The same was true a year ago when the Bulls lost the conference final in six games to the upstart Sudbury Wolves. With that experience plus eight NHL-drafted players, this year’s Bulls are the only team in the East that could stand a chance against the best of the West.

Belleville (1) vs. Peterborough (8)
Season series: Bulls 6-0

The Bulls have had the Petes’ number all year and that won’t change. Four of Belleville’s wins were by three goals or more. They set franchise records for wins and points and have the most drafted players of any OHL team – eight. Captain Matt Beleskey (Anaheim) is the kind of leader you want for a long playoff run, with equal parts skill, character and toughness. And most of these Bulls have been around before, complete with the bitter taste of that Eastern Conference finals exit last year in a black-and-blue series that saw the Sudbury limp into the finals after six games.

The OHL playoffs is a time for veteran players and stars to align. In the end the difference in average age (19.2 years to 18.5) may be the most telling factor in this series.
The Petes' best player is draft-eligible 17-year-old defenceman, Zach Bogosian, which in this case, is not a good thing. Goalie Trevor Cann should have been their best player this year, but he has struggled while playing behind the second-youngest of the league's 16 playoff teams.

The Bulls' depth among their three overagers says a lot. Defenceman Geoff Killing was dynamite in last year’s playoffs. Forwards Andy Self and Adam Perry each have big-time playoff experience from their stints with Sudbury and London, respectively.

There’s no reason to expect anything but a sweep in this series and a perfect 10 for the Bulls against the Petes this year. Trevor's Take: Belleville in four.

Brampton (2) vs. Barrie (7)
Season series: 3-3

Brampton has won three of four meetings vs. the Colts since the trade deadline when these clubs retooled in opposite directions.

Barrie, which finished 26 points behind the Battalion, traded away its biggest offensive weapon in Vladi Nikiforov. The Battalion added Cory Emmerton, who is rounding into form finally, post-mono. Brampton’s biggest aces in the hole are its top two blueliners Bobby Sanguinetti and John deGray. The pair have a lot to do with the fact Brampton has the best combined special teams in the OHL – first in penalty killing, fourth in power play – areas that become amplified in the post-season. Sanguinetti is a first-round NHL pick and wizard quarterbacking the power play, while deGray, a third-rounder, is as steady a defender as they come. Trevor's Take: Brampton in five.

Oshawa (3) vs. Ottawa (6)
Season series: Gens 4-2

Both teams are skidding into the post-season. After nipping at the Bulls' heels most of the season, the Generals won just two of their final 12 games and needed a shootout victory Sunday just to end the regular season on a high note. And 'tender Michal Neuvirth has been nowhere near the level he played at in leading Plymouth to the championship last year since moving to Oshawa at the trade deadline. It wouldn't be unreasonable to think the European goalie, living far from home, has been unsettled by two trades in the same season, would it?

The 67's (or as Sager calls them, the Soixante-Septs) are just 4-10 in their past 14. But Ottawa has a few things going for it. Coach Brian Kilrea is famous for making teams competitive when they shouldn't be. Jamie McGinn and Logan Couture are both healthy, at the same time. And goalie Adam Courchaine was just named OHL player of the week after allowing just four goals in three games last week. Those games, however, were against Kingston, Peterborough and Sudbury. The John Tavares- and Brett MacLean-led Generals don't even live in the same neighbourhood.

This is the sexy upset pick in the East. The 67's can out-defence Oshawa all the want, but are in tough to find enough goals. Trevor's Take: The Gens should be able to out-offence the low-scoring 67's in seven.

Niagara (4) vs. Mississauga (5)
Season series: 7-1 Niagara
The IceDogs – that's Niagara this year – should feel at home in every game of this series, considering they spent last season playing out of the Mississauga Hershey Centre.

After relocating out of the OHL deadzone that is the GTA this season, the Dogs have a much more supportive home crowd in St. Catharines where their barn is old but has character. That should benefit them. The IceDogs also shrewdly traded for the goalie that beat them in last year’s playoffs, Sebastian Dahm.

The Dane was the backbone behind Sudbury's unlikely run through the East last year. The return of perpetually injured New Jersey first-rounder Matt Corrente to the Niagara blueline will be a major boost.

Niagara also boasts some big-time offensive weapons in Luca Caputi, Michael Swift and world junior star Stefan Legein. Beyond Latvian offensive talent Kaspars Daugavins, the Majors don’t have much to counter. So it boils down to Denmark vs. Latvia. I’ll take Denmark. Trevor's Take: Dogs in five.

Tomorrow: The Western Conference.

Trevor Stewart is a sportswriter for the Sudbury Star.


Dennis Prouse said...

That's an awfully kind analysis of the 67s. As a guy who went to about 10 of their home games this year, all I see is a soft, underachieving group who were plagued all season by a decided lack of jam. True, they had plenty of trouble with injuries and illness, but that still doesn't change the fact that many of their key guys just didn't compete on a lot of nights. (If I am San Jose Sharks management, I am very worried about Logan Couture right now.)

This is the best possible matchup for the 67s, and of course strange things can happen in the first round, but I would still be shocked to see Ottawa take this one to 7.

sager said...

Oshawa-Ottawa is no defence and goaltending vs. no offence and power play. The 67's have a shot at this; Oshawa is the same team that gave up 9 goals to 'Sauga one night -- and won!