OHL Western Conference Recap

By Jason Ahrens
The regular season has ended and the playoffs begin on Sunday. Eight teams still have
a chance to play hockey, while the London Knights and Owen Sound Platers have been
relegated to the sidelines, after being the in the conference finals the year before. Such is life in the OHL, where the cycles can be wicked if proper steps are not taken. The Platers tried to make a move up when they grabbed Kenny Coroupe at the trading deadline, but they never got a sniff of the playoffs. They have no drafted players and their top prospect for being drafted this June is Latvian defender Agris Saviels. Their offseason could be turmuoltuos as they may be moving to Cornwall. This is a team that I wouldn’t expect to be very strong next year, based on their current roster.

The London Knights never got on track this year after 2 long playoff runs in previous seasons. Their offence was the culprit, as the only team to score fewer goals was the lowly IceDogs. Losing Rico Fata to the AHL was a blow they never seemed to recover from. Their returning players didn’t score as many goals as hoped for, the overage spots didn’t contribute as hoped with the exception of goalie Gene Chiarello. Their European imports failed to impress. The end result, the Knights have ten players graduating, gone for sure are Chiarello in goal, Max Linnick on D, and Brett Gibson up front. Also on D, John Erskine is gone, as he is the most likely to be playing pro next year. If he and Dallas can come to terms, I would expect him to be in the IHL, if not, back in the draft he goes, and would likely start the year on the farm team of whoever drafts him. The Knights will return Aaron Molnar in goal, who will likely be drafted this June, and 4 D, 19 year olds Brett Angel (Nashville) and Dan Jancevski (Dallas) and 18 year olds Trevor Luck and Bobby Turner. Turner is a guy whose stock is fallen quite a big since he entered the league. I view him as a poor man’s Erskine, not as tough, skilled, or just plain good as John, but he should get lots of ice time next year. So in the defending end, the Knights look good, but goals will be hard to come by again as rookies only popped 23 goals this year. NHL drafted players that are good shots to be returned as overagers include Joel Scherban (Pittsburgh), Krys Barch (Washington) and Chris Kelly (Ottawa). If they get 2 of these 3 back, pick up a couple of decent Europeans and seem some improvement from youngsters like Matthew Albiani and Aaron Lobb, they may be OK. If they can’t find some goals, look for a long year in London.

As for the playoff matchups, they are all good. Guelph vs Plymouth, can you say upset? The Storm underachieved all year, and as they were making some noise about winning their division, captain Kent McDonell broke his hand and the team went in the tank. He is back, and the Rangers returned Manny Malhotra to the team late in the year, giving them a huge boost. The storm may be able to throw out three scoring lines, and I’m sure that Malhotra will be seeing a lot of ice against the top guns on Plymouth. I expect this to be a real battle, the returning Whaler players want to avenge last seasons’ early departure, but the Storm have lots of playoff veterans as well. Prediction, Guelph in 7.

Erie vs Brampton. This is a scouts dream, as 4 of the best OHL draft candidates are suiting up in this series. On Erie you have 2 talented, but very different forwards in Brad Boyes and Nikita Alexeev. For Brampton, Raffi Torres keeps scoring, while on the point, Rotislav Klesla gets better every game. Alexeev and Torres are late birthdays, while Boyes and Klesla are 17. Brampton also has on defence Tyler Hanchuck who will get drafted this year and Jay Harrison a potential high pick for 2001. The key to this series will be how the young Battalion handle the playoff pressure. They have no overagers and only 2 19 year olds, so this team is as green as their uniforms. They have a big D, they are all 6’2” or over. They have 2 lines that can score, but they will need a big series from Torres if they are to beat Erie. Prediction, Brampton in 6.

Kitchener vs Sault Ste. Marie. This series will feature 2 top prospects for the 2002 draft, Steve Eminger and Trevor Daley. They both play D, and both are essential pieces of their team as 16 year olds. The Greyhounds have some explosive forwards like Ryan Jardine (florida), Cory Pecker (Calgary) and Josef Vasicek (Carolina) who will be very hard for the Rangers to handle. All year the Rangers have struggled with their 5th and 6th defenceman, and have made numerous changes, but they will have to play Allan Rourke (Toronto) and Eminger a ton. The Greyhounds scored 270 goals this year, while the Rangers gave up 256, 2nd worse in the conference. Reg Bourcier will see lots of rubber in this series, which will be over quick. Greyhounds in 5.

Windsor vs Sarnia. A great geographical series, short road trips, lots of history, and pretty similar records. The bad news for the Spitfires is that they have been going in the opposite direction of Sarnia since Christmas. They hold the season series edge, but Sarnia has won the last 2 contests, the last one was played on Jan 14th. Both teams have heavy reliance on rookies, the number one line for Windsor has been made up of 3 rookies. Sarnia’s 2nd -4th leading scorers are rookies. If the Spits are to win this series they will need overager Jeff Martin to contribute. He has been banged up for most of the second half, and if he can return and score, he may tip the scales. However, since Mark Hunter stepped down as coach of the Sting, they have been among the leagues’ best. Sarnia in 5