Lighting It Up: March edition

By Glenn Gawronski

With the second round of the major junior playoffs now upon us, it’s time to take a quick look back and a quicker look ahead.

Starting in Ontario, the London Knights keep rolling along and in fact, have gotten even better. During the course of the regular season, I made no secret of the fact that I really liked how Peterborough was put together. But until someone finally knocks off London, the Knights are indeed the team to beat.

The big four of Robbie Schremp (EDM), Dave Bolland (CHI), Dylan Hunter (BUF) and Sergei Kostitsyn (MON) have been terrific all year and they were just dominant in their first round match-up against Sault Ste. Marie. When they roll out there are part of the first power play unit, it’s just a question of how quickly they’ll score a goal. London’s only real weakness, if you want to call it that, is on the blue line. Forward Trevor Kell (CHI) has made significant contributions on defense, helping to stabilize the unit. But if there’s one area that the Knights can be exposed, it’s on the backline. Having veteran big-game goalie Adam Dennis (BUF) in net has helped. Look for him to play a bigger role as the playoffs continue. The Knights can be beaten, but it won’t be easy.

I really thought the Owen Sound-Kitchener series was going to go the full seven games. But the Attack was absolutely at the top of their game, while the Rangers were anything but. Perhaps Owen Sound has learned from last year’s disappointing finish to their season. And I must admit I was surprised at the outcome. Evan McGrath (CHI) and the rest of the Kitchener offense was held in check, and the Rangers just couldn’t handle Owen Sound blueliners Andrej Sekera (BUF) and Bob Sanguinetti. And in net, Michael Ouzas clearly outplayed Dan Turple (ATL). The Attack clearly has their minds set on meeting and beating London.

What made Barrie’s first round sweep of St. Michael’s so impressive was that the Colts did it by getting terrific play from the support guys. Bryan Little is a given on that team, capable of single-handedly carrying the squad. But in this series, backup goalie Andrew Perugini rose to the occasion, while Travis Fuller, Vladimir Nikiforov, Ryan Hamilton and Jakub Petruzalek (NYR) all answered the bell. This may bode well for the rest of the playoffs.

Give Sudbury a lot of credit for taking the play to Kingston. The Wolves got excellent goaltending from Kevin Beech (TB). Kingston’s Danny Taylor wasn’t all that bad, but Beech was just too good. Up front, Benoit Pouliot (MIN) and Kevin Baker controlled the play. I know the phrase gets used too much, but these two were legitimate scoring threats every time they were on the ice. I was really hoping that Kingston’s impressive crop of draft eligibles would use the opportunity to show what they could do, but they just couldn’t find a way to beat Beech.

Peterborough had a very difficult time with Ottawa. Maybe they were guilty of looking past their opponent, but given how they played in the homestretch, this is a bit of a concern. The Petes have more than enough talent, they just need to play consistently. But with most of the remaining clubs in the OHL playoffs pretty even, Peterborough cannot underestimate anyone.

Your guess is as good as mine as to who is going to come out of the Western League. Last time out I said that as the playoffs were approaching, it was still a wide-open race. And now that the second round is here, it’s still too close to call.

With respect to the first round playoff pairings, I decided to pay close attention to the Kelowna-Kootenay series. They are two very good clubs, without a lot really separating them. Derek Yeomans outplayed Taylor Dakers (SJ) in net, giving Kelowna a key advantage in the series. This may have been the deciding factor. The Rockets had good balance on offense, getting contributions from all three lines, while Ben Maxwell and Ryan Russell (NYR) paced Kootenay. This was one of the best opening round match-ups in a long time. How much Kelowna has left in the tank for the following rounds is a question worth considering. For their sake, at least the series didn’t go the full seven games.

Vancouver really looked good against Prince George. As spectacular as Justin Pogge (TOR) was in Calgary this season, Dustin Slade wasn’t that far behind him in Vancouver. And Slade was every bit as good against the Cougars. The more I see from the Giants, the more I really like their defense. They have size, experience and toughness, while Paul Albers knows how to generate offense. Forward Gilbert Brule (CLB) is simply too good for junior, but the supporting cast must step up their game and contribute more.

I was interested to see whether Medicine Hat or Calgary would be looking past their first round opponents. There was no such problem for the Tigers who swept Swift Current and made it look easy. Matt Keetley (CAL) in net, a solid defense in front of him and excellent depth at forward was too much for the Broncos. The Hitmen on the other hand had a tough time with Lethbridge. Pogge actually looked human for parts of the series, but come crunch time, he responded well. And Calgary forward Fredrik Pettersson (EDM) had a breakout series.

The longer Everett stays alive, the better it is for NHL scouts. With draft eligibles such as goalie Leland Irving and forwards Peter Mueller, Brady Calla and Ondrej Fiala, scouts are getting an extended chance to see these guys. And Irving has really capitalized. He was outstanding against Tri City, tossing two shutouts in the process. The top rated goalie coming out of junior, Irving may have improved his draft stock even further.

The first round of the Quebec League playoffs pretty much went according to form, with the Shawinigan-Rouyn Noranda series the exception. Moncton, Quebec and Chicoutimi continued to show their regular season form, dominating at both ends of the ice and displaying some real offensive firepower. From here on, we’re going to see some outstanding games in the Q.

Philippe Dupuis was at the absolute top of his game for the Wildcats in round one. He was unstoppable on the power play and he created a ton of chances at even strength as well. He was very impressive. Reliable forwards Martins Karsums (BOS) and Stephane Goulet (EDM) also looked good, but I was more impressed by the play of some of Moncton’s lesser stars. Adam Pineault (CLB) used his size and skill very nicely and buried some nice goals, while blueliner Oskars Bartulis (PHI) showed why the Wildcats need him healthy and in the lineup. He was a force at both ends of the ice and showed improved poise and focus.

As good as Alexander Radulov (NAS) and Mathieu Melanson have been for Quebec, it was the Remparts play on the blue line that really stood out against Val d’or. They were involved offensively, joined the rush and did a good job of getting the play going the other way. They will need to get even more consistency over the next few rounds however if Quebec is to move on. The second and third lines also need to be more productive. Something tells me that once you get by Radulov and Melanson, the remaining cast of Angelo Esposito, Brent Aubin and Jordan LaVallee (ATL) are capable of scoring a few goals of their own.

Chicoutimi played well enough to win against Baie Comeau. They weren’t outstanding, but they weren’t bad either. But they will need to really improve for the next round. Once again Maxime Boisclair and Stanislav Lascek (TB) provided most of the offense, with Marek Zagrapan (BUF) keying the second line. Center David Desharnais had an uneventful series, but you know what he’s capable of. Veteran blueliner Patrick Coulombe was a definite difference maker. He moved the puck crisply, found the open man and was always involved in the play.

Things did not go all that smoothly for Acadie-Bathurst, as PEI played well and created some match-up problems for them. Mathieu Carle impressed a lot of scouts with solid play on the blue line. If he continues, this should impact his draft positioning for June. He didn’t draw a lot of attention in the process, but fellow blueliner Alexandre Dulac-Lemelin (MON) played very well. As they say, he was solid, but unspectacular. Up front, Mathieu Perreault and Thomas Beauregard looked good.


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