The playoffs begin in the OHL with some teams just happy to be there and others with something to prove. The Guelph Storm enter the playoffs assured of a Memorial Cup berth as they are the host city, while the other 15 teams in the playoffs try to claim the other spot. The Western Conference probably has more roadblocks for any teams with championship intentions, as the Eastern Conference has several teams at the bottom that won’t be much of a threat, not so in the West.
Plymouth vs London
On paper a mismatch, one of the fastest teams in the league vs one of the slowest. A stingy defence against a team that relies heavily on 3-4 guys to carry the load. However, games are played on the ice, and London did fare very well against the Whalers and the Greyhounds on back to back nights late in the season without superstar Rick Nash and Captain Danny Bois. Special teams will be critical, London has numerous players who consistently take stupid penalties and most referees seem more than happy to rule against London when a fracas occurs, due to London’s past reputation. The Knights have an awesome power play at times, especially when leading scorer Mike Stathopoulos gets set up on the half boards, looking to feed Dennis Wideman who has a howitzer from the point.
They need someone to step up on the point and make the basic plays to take pressure off of Wideman, something no one has been able to do this year so far. Also they need to have better plays on the other side of the ice, especially from Nash, who tends to try to force the puck and spends too much time in poor positions for shooting or rebounds. He will see lots of Plymouths’ best defenders, and they have several drafted defenceman. The Whalers will likely prevail, but it won’t be as easy as the casual fan might think. Look for Plymouth in 6 games with lots of bruises and welts as their reward for moving on.
Erie vs Sarnia
I think this one will be a walk, the Otters in 4, their defence will slow down Sarnia’s top scorers and Brad Boyes the Maple Leaf first rounder will dominate at both ends of the ice.
Sault Ste-Marie vs Windsor
A very tough one to call, two teams coached by ex NHL coaches in Hartsburg and Webster. The Spits have played great since they moved an unhappy Jason Spezza for Kyle Wellwood. The Greyhounds have been consistent all year and have a good combination of size and speed. Power plays will be the difference in this one, the Spits have smooth Senators first rounder Tim Gleason working as their quarter back, the Greyhounds have draft eligible Trevor Daley running theirs. Daley is one of the best skaters in the league and is loaded with offensive upside. He comes in with below average size and a rep as being injury prone, but could be the difference if the Sault are to make a run. Big center Petr Taticek will see his first OHL playoff action, how he reacts to the extra attention and rough play will be another big factor. Overall the Spits don’t have the depth to match up, but will give the Greyhounds a tough fight. The Sault in 6.
Guelph vs Kitchener
The shortest bus trip in the playoffs, these two cities are very close, which should make every game a sellout as fans will flock to both home and away games. With Guelph already knowing they are assured a Cup berth, that might make a difference in effort for those loose pucks and scrums along the boards. Loads of skill on both teams, with lots of potential first round picks in 02 and 03. I think the Rangers have a lot more grit than Guelph and that will give them the edge, as feisty Derek Roy and star defender Steve Eminger will see a ton of ice time and be the difference.
All in all it should be a great first round and look for the second round to shape up as a real war as there will be 4 tough teams likely squaring off.