OHL Western Conference playoff preview

By Jason Ahrens

London Knights (1) vs Guelph Storm (8)

On paper London vs. Guelph is mismatch, but games are not played on paper and Guelph has a few intangibles in their favor. They eliminated London in seven games last season in the conference final and beat London three times on the road in that series. They beat London 2-1 late in this regular season, and they have three ex-Knights in the line-up who were surprise moves at the trade deadline. These players would love to play spoiler against their old team.

Goaltending: This is a very interesting match-up as the two teams swapped goalies at the trade deadline. Neither team has a definite number one goalie. The Storm will likely go with Ryan MacDonald in net. After a rough first game against his old team when he was basically called everything but a sieve by the London paper, he bounced back to play a strong game in a 2-1 win a week later. Danny Taylor (LA) will be backing him up if MacDonald falters, and he has played well down the stretch. London will likely start with Adam Dennis. He may split time with Gerald Coleman (TB) as the Knights usually share their goaltending assignments.

Edge: London, look for the Knights shooters to go high a lot on the small MacDonald. He will need his glove hand to be red hot to keep the series close. Guelph allowed 189 goals this year, the seventh best in the league, while London shattered their own record with only 125 goals allowed.

Defense: The Knights probably have the best top four set of defense in the entire CHL. Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Daniel Girardi, and Marc Methot (CLB) combine to play some airtight defense and they can move the puck out of their own end with ease. Syvret has had a monster year with 69 points, a league high +69 rating and is the captain of the team. Overager Girardi came over for Guelph at the trade deadline and will be counted on to chew up valuable minutes in close playoff games. Overager Rodney has always been a good offensive defenseman in the league, but since coming to the Knights in the offseason, he has dramatically improved his game in his own end. Rodney had 62 points this year and was a very good +55.

Jeff Whitfield has just returned from an injury and will work his way slowly into the five spot. The Knights will dress one of two rookies in the six spot, but neither will see much ice time unless the game is well in hand. Guelph counters with a good overall team defense, as they have to play a tight style, since they don’t have much firepower up front. They rely heavily on the highly regarded Ryan Parent who should be a fairly high first round pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. Former Knight Ryan Pottruff (CAR) and Mick Okrzesik will be counted on to use their size against the small Knights forwards. Overage veteran Ryan Card rounds out the top four. Injuries forced Guelph to go with five defensemen down the stretch and that may lead to fatigue problems in this series.

Edge: London has a huge edge on defense. This is a team that shattered the mark for fewest goals against allowed in a season, but if the Storm defenders can bend but not break against the London puck possession game, they will keep the games tight.

Forwards: London has an impressive group of forwards with good skill, speed and work ethic. The only thing they are lacking is size, but they outwork and out skate bigger opponents on a regular basis. With seven NHL draftees in the lineup, London has no shortage of firepower led by Corey Perry (ANA) 130 points, Rob Schremp (EDM) 90 points, Dave Bolland (CHI) 85 points, Dan Fritsche (CLB) 37 points in 30 games, Brandon Prust (CAL) 30 points in 48 games, Trevor Kell (CHI) 33 points, and Dylan Hunter (BUF) 104 points. Guelph counters with Ryan Callahan (NYR) 54 points, and rookies Matt D’Agostini 46 points and Tyler Doig 41 points. Wingers Ryan Kitchen and Kyle Spurr were the only other Storm forwards to hit double figures in goals. Former Knight Rick Steadman may draw the assignment of checking his cousin Hunter and Perry, two players he played with on a line at the start of the season.

Edge: Forwards are another huge edge for London. They scored 310 goals this year while Guelph managed only 167.

Outlook: The Storm have played the Knights as tough as anyone all year long and they do a good job on special teams against the Knights, but they will be tough to beat.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (2) vs Windsor Spitfires (7)

The Greyhounds and Spitfires finished only 11 points apart in the standings and this has the makings of a series that could go deep. The Greyhounds have a lot of size, but they sometimes have trouble putting the puck in the net. If the Spitfires can keep 6’3Jeff Carter (PHI) off the score sheet or at least limit the damage he does, they have a great chance of winning. The Spitfires have respectable firepower but they have the worst goals against of any playoff team. On special teams, the Spitfires have one of the best power plays in the league, but are near the bottom on the penalty kill. The Greyhounds have solid special teams and will need to be on the top of their game when shorthanded.

Goaltending: During the regular season, neither team had a goaltender that took the reins of the number one job. Look for Windsor to start with Kyle Knechtel and for the Greyhounds to counter with Jakub Cech. Brad Topping (NYI) and Kyle Gajewski will back them up respectively.

Edge: Edge to the Greyhounds if Cech can get into a rhythm and play the way he is capable of. As a team, the Greyhounds allowed 188 goals while Windsor gave up 253, virtually an entire goal a game difference.

Defense: Windsor relies heavily on Mitch Maunnu (CHI) and overager Paul Giallonardo. Sault Ste. Marie has a couple of gems in Jordan Smith (ANA) and Kyle Wharton (CLB). Smith will see a lot of the top guns of the Spitfires. He is an excellent shot blocker, he throws his weight around and can hand out his share of hacks to the body of his opponents. How the Spitfires handle the big forwards of the Greyhounds will be a key to the series.

Edge: Sault Ste. Marie as they have better depth on defense.

Forwards: The Greyhounds have an assortment of huge forwards who have trouble scoring. They are led by the best NHL prospect in the league in Carter (74 points in 55 games). Despite the numerous tools that Carter has, he has yet to dominate the league the way he is capable of. He was nursing a hip flexor injury late in the season and that could possibly limit his effectiveness.

Carter has offensive support from Tyler Kennedy (PIT) who had 57 points and a good prospect for the 2005 NHL Draft in Chris Lawrence who chipped in 51 points. The Spitfires have Ryan Garlock (NAS) who had 68 points and a handful of 2005 prospects in Steve Downie (73 points) and Cal O’Reilly (73 points). Downie has had a fantastic year and if he was a bit bigger than 5’10, this whirlwind on ice would be ranked much higher. He is constantly agitating opponents, he finishes his checks and will drop the gloves as well as provide an offensive spark. Overage forward John Scott Dickson led the team with 76 points and David Lomas chipped in another 71 points.

Edge: The edge goes to Windsor as they have two lines that can hurt you and an awfully good power play. The Spitfires scored 13 more goals than the Greyhounds during the regular season.

Outlook: This may go the distance and if the Greyhounds stay out of the box they should win with the better goaltending and with the best player in Carter in the series. Smith may be able to neutralize one of the Spitfires top lines.

Owen Sound Attack (3) vs Plymouth Whalers (6)

The Attack should have no trouble with the Whalers, but they ended the season in a bit of a slump, which could give the Whalers hope. The Attack can put together two offensive lines that few teams in the league can counter, and when they get rolling they are tough to beat. The Whalers have a young team who should be more of a threat in the next couple of years. They play a physical and chippy game and will need to do this consistently against the top two lines of the Attack.

Goaltending: The Attack have highly talented and highly volatile Mike Brown (BOS) between the pipes. The Whalers will use Ryan Nie. The Whalers will see if they can get under the skin of volatile goalie Brown who has a temper that can exceed his talent sometimes. If they can rattle him and get a soft one by him, it could turn the tide of the game. This is the one series in the Western Conference that will likely see the same goalies facing each other game in and game out, as both Brown and Nie are clear-cut number ones on their teams.

Edge: Owen Sound, Brown has done exactly what they wanted since they brought him in from Saginaw.

Defense: The Whalers are a few years away from their stretch of powerhouse teams that always boasted several drafted players on the blue line. With no big names, this edition of the Whalers relies on team defense. Mike Looby and Mike Knight are two of their key defenders. The Attack have no big names on defense either but get quality minutes from Paul Bissonnette (PIT) and Andrej Sekera (BUF). Rookie Bob Sanguinetti has been impressive and could be a high pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. Rookie Theo Peckham can clear the front of the net well and lay out opposing forwards and is nasty to play against as his 209 minutes in the penalty box can attest. Veteran Matt Smythe plays a solid game in his own end.

Edge: The Attack has a more talented corps and allowed only 187 goals, good for fourth best overall in the league. The Whalers gave up 204 in a weaker division.

Forwards: Owen Sound can keep rolling their top three lines, as Plymouth can’t match them. The Attack finished the year with the second best offense in the league led by talented center Brad Richardson (COL) with 97 points. Overager Pat Jarrett (76 points) centers the second line. The Attack have two very impressive right-wingers in Stefan Rucizka (PHI) with 70 points and Bobby Ryan with 89 points. Ryan may go in the top 5 of the 2005 NHL Draft as he is developing into the prototypical power forward that NHL clubs crave.

Jonathun Lehun (STL) had 50 points in 58 games and Robin Big Snake (35 points in 48 games) will chip in some points. Big Snake has been a force in the corners and along the wall for the Attack as well as a spirited fighter. The Whalers are one of the lowest scoring teams in the playoffs and they will have to get the puck in deep and forecheck the Attack’s defense, which is their weakest point. They have to play physical with the scoring lines of the Attack. The Whalers have NHL draftees John Mitchell (TOR) who had 75 points and Jonas Fiedler (CAR) with 37 points. Vaclav Meidl (NAS) and Gino Pisellini (PHI) had disappointing offensive numbers with 28 and 10 points respectively, but they can contribute physically. The Whalers also have some 2005 draft prospects up front in Dan Collins (46 points) and James Neal (44 points). John Vigilante contributed 62 points.

Edge: Huge edge for the Attack. They had 245 regular season goals compared to the 198 scored by Plymouth. The Whalers can create one scoring line; the Attack can create two very good scoring lines.

Outlook: A lot would have to go wrong for the Attack to lose this series.

Kitchener Rangers (4) vs Erie Otters (5)

This might be the most interesting series in the entire CHL playoffs. Two evenly matched teams, two of the loudest rinks in the league, two good defensive teams and lots of pro prospects. This one should be heavily scouted, as there are a number of players who could go in the first few rounds in the 2005 NHL Draft. One of these draft eligible players, forward Mike Blunden of the Otters, will sit out the first four games of the series as he has to finish a 10-game suspension for throwing an opponent’s stick into the stands.

Goaltending: The Rangers will run with 6’6 Dan Turple (ATL) who was acquired in a trade with Oshawa to be their number one stopper. His regular season results with the team have been mediocre, but the Rangers hope that he will lead them deep into the playoffs. Josh Disher (NJ) will be the starter for Erie, but if he falters Jhase Sniderman could replace him. Disher stands on his head in his home arena, but looks pretty ordinary when in Kitchener. If that is a trend in the playoffs, the Otters will be in trouble.

Edge: Turple relies on size over quickness or technique and may not face a lot of shots against the popgun offense of the Otters. Disher can steal a series as he proved in the playoffs last year against Sarnia, but needs to eliminate his Jekyl and Hyde act.

Defense: The Rangers rely heavily on five-year veteran Andre Benoit. He is very dangerous from the blue line and led all OHL defensemen with 77 points and was an impressive +36. The Otter wingers will have to be very aware of him as he loves to jump into the rush on transition plays, or sneak in from the point when the Rangers have a cycle established. Big Boris Valabik (ATL) has had a tough year with injuries and has had no success staying out of the box with 231 minutes in only 43 games. He has to eliminate the foolish penalties from his game because teams will be looking to draw penalties when he is on the ice.

The Rangers defense has a trio of highly regarded prospects for the 2005 NHL Draft. Jakub Kindl, Patrick Davis, and Matt Lashoff all have good size and skating abilities and are solid in their own end. The Otters counter with their own five-year veteran in Brian Lee. Lee is more known for his defensive prowess but on this offensively starved team he sees a lot of power play time. Derek Merlini is the only player in the series who can look Valabik straight in the eyes, and the big man will be counted on to keep the net clear in front of Disher. He’ will have his work cut out for him with some very tenacious Ranger forwards who love to park themselves in front.

Edge: The Rangers have a much stronger group and gave up 20 fewer goals than the Otters.

Forwards: Evan McGrath (DET) bounced back from a poor year last year to lead the team with 87 points. One of his wingers, the speedy Patrick Davis had 50 points in 59 games and is a potential second or third round pick in the 2005 NHL draft. The Rangers have basically two number one lines as captain Mike Richards (PHI) wrapped up his impressive junior career with 58 points in 43 games and was Captain of Team Canada at the World Junior Tournament. Over age winger David Clarkson will ride shotgun with Richards if he has recovered from an injury suffered late in the season. Jean-Michel Rizk (MIN) and Ryan Donally (CAL) were brought in to fill in some holes in the lineup. The Otters will miss Blunden who was third in scoring on a low scoring team. They need a huge series from Geoff Platt who popped 45 goals and 79 points in the regular season. Ryan O’Marra has had an excellent series and his 63 points and good skating might see him drafted in the first round of the 2005 NHL Draft.

Edge: Huge edge for the Rangers, they scored 49 more goals than the Otters and with the absence of Blunden for the first four games; the Otters cannot afford to get behind in games.

Outlook: The Otters will have to try to squeeze out some low scoring victories and steal a game in Kitchener if they want to win the series. The Rangers were the most penalized team in the league and they will need guys like Clarkson, Valabik and Adam Keefe to cut out some of their needless penalties. The Otters were in the middle of the pack in their special team percentages, while the Rangers were near the top of the league.

Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.