Stray Thoughts on Kelowna vs. Quebec

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It’s often said that the scoreboard doesn’t lie, but Friday’s result in the opening game of the 2015 Memorial Cup doesn’t quite tell the whole story of the contest.

Sure the Kelowna Rockets had a number of chances late thanks to a couple of power-plays, but realistically, the Quebec Remparts probably should have won by a score of 7-2. That’s how dominant they were.

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If the host Remparts had any hangover from losing the QMJHL final it wasn’t noticeable on Friday. They were pretty much relentless when they came to their scoring opportunities and they forced the Rockets into making a bunch of turnovers. Anthony Duclair stole the show a times, but Vladimir Tkachev was just as good up front.

At the other end of the rink, Zach Fucale continued his strong post-season play, as he made a number of dazzling saves when the Rockets turned up the wick. If he continues to play this solid in goal, it will be tough for anyone to beat the Remparts.

I’m probably making it sound like that the Rockets were a hot mess on Friday, and that’s not a true indication of their play. However, other than Jackson Whistle’s great showing in between the pipes, there’s a lot of room for improvement before they play Rimouski on Monday.

On offence, while Dillon Dube, Tyson Baillie and (to a lesser degree) Leon Draisaitl played well, the rest of the Rockets vaunted attack was hardly making their presence felt. Meanwhile, the backend wasn’t having a field day either, especially Madison Bowey who had a rough go of things.

In hindsight, I probably have my expectations to high on Kelowna as I’ve felt they have been the best team in the country throughout the 2014/15 campaign. One game does not a tournament make, but if they have some of these same issues after their second game, I think we can all start pressing the panic button.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 5) & Memorial Cup Preview

McDavid Goodbye

As we bid farewell to the most dominant junior hockey player of a generation, we also head off into the promised land.

The champions have all been crowned in the OHL, WHL & QMJHL, which featured some pretty interesting results and set the stage for an intriguing Memorial Cup.

Will touch on that tournament shortly, but first let’s look back at the finals in the leagues themselves. As ever, we start in the OHL, where an Eastern Conference team finished on the top of the heap for the first time since 2006.

Erie Otters (50-14-2-2 – 1st in Midwest Division/2nd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in five games)

What I Predicted: There’s a lot of questions surrounding this team, but I feel confident that the Otters will make some moves to solidify its roster, and that what they have at the moment is still good enough to win the division in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: Erie added Nicholas Baptiste and Remi Elie up front, while they also saw two overagers on defence return in Troy Donnay and Kurtis MacDermid. Those players, along with huge seasons by Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and surprising rookie Alex DeBrincat, gave the Erie its first conference championship since 2005. In the end though, they didn’t have the total depth to match up with Oshawa.

What Lies Ahead: McDavid’s off to try and turn the Oilers franchise around, but Strome and DeBrincat are both expected to be back. However, they will be losing three of their defenceman as overagers and two more talented forwards will go pro in Elie and Baptiste. With a changing roster and a new ownership group coming in, the Otters are about to have a big drop off after two great years.

Michael Dal Colle

Oshawa Generals (51-11-2-4 – 1st in East Division/1st in Eastern Conference – 2014/15 Ontario Hockey League Champions)

What I Predicted: Even with Daniel Altshuler and Scott Laughton leaving for the pro ranks, I still think this is one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

What Actually Happened: Not only were they the best teams in the Eastern Conference, but they were among the very best in Canada. Say what you will about the lack of depth in the East compared to the West, but the Generals had little problems dealing with whoever they faced (well other than North Bay in the conference final) and they were a deserving champion.

What Lies Ahead: A total of six forwards (Cole Cassels, Tobias Lindberg, Michael McCarron, Matt Mistele, Brent Pedersen and Hunter Smith) are all turning pro and Michael Dal Colle might not be fair behind. After two years of making a run for the title, the Generals will have to look at possibly stating a rebuild next year. However, it’s hard to know what assets will be left on the team when the trade window opens.

Our second stop is the QMJHL, where both teams tuned up for the Memorial Cup by playing a seven-game thriller, including an incredible double overtime affair to the decide the champion.

Dmytro Tymoshow

Quebec Remparts (40-25-1-2 – 2nd in East Division/4th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in seven games)

What I Predicted: This is a team that is strong in all aspects of the lineup and are a strong favourite to be in the QMJHL finals.

What Actually Happened: Despite a slight scare from the Cape Breton Screaming Eagle and Zach Fucale’s struggles after coming from Halifax, the Remparts turned things up and almost won their first league title before a pair of tough losses.

What Lies Ahead: There will still be good pieces to build around next year like Dmytro Timashov, Cody Donaghey and Callum Booth, the Remparts will lose Anthony Duclair and Adam Erne up front. Those holes will need to be filled if they want to contend for a league title again.

Alexis Losieau

Rimouski Oceanic (47-16-3-2 – 1st in East Division/1st in QMJHL – 2014/15 Quebec Major Junior Hockey League Champions)

What I Predicted: This is a team that is loaded with talented players, and after losing a wild Game 7 to the Armada last season, Rimouski will be hungry to win the title this year. Anything less than a Memorial Cup berth will be a disappointment.

What Actually Happened: Despite entering the season as the top team in the CHL Top Ten, the Oceanic flew under the radar all season long. They were pushed to the limit by Quebec, but erased a 4-1 deficit to win Game 6 and Michael Joly’s goal in double overtime in Game 7 gave them the title.

What Lies Ahead: While Joly and DeLuca could come back as overages, a lot of key players (such as Samuel Morin and Frederik Gauthier) will be moving on. Rimouski won’t fall off the face off the earth but it will be a little bit until they are this good again.

To round thing out, we have the Western Hockey League, which saw their final end in a shocking clean sweep.

Tim McGauley

Brandon Wheat Kings (53-11-4-4 – 1st in East Division/1st in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in four games)

What I Predicted: The Wheat Kings will probably be the favourite to win the WHL in a year’s time. For now though, I suspect the foundation will be put in place for the Wheat Kings to be a threat, but not quite close enough to win the Eastern title.

What Actually Happened: Brandon arrived a year ahead of schedule as they dominated the Eastern Conference all season. Even though they lost in four straight to Kelowna, the series was a lot closer than the final result would indicate.

What Lies Ahead: Although Peter Quenneville, Reid Gow, Eric Roy and Morgan Klimchuk are all leaving, everyone else from this Wheat Kings team is coming back. If they aren’t at the Memorial Cup next year in Red Deer, it will be a massive surprise.

Kelowna Rockets (53-13-5-1 – 1st in BC Division/1st in Western Conference – 2014/15 Western Hockey League Champions)

What I Predicted: Nearly the entire defence returns from last year’s squad, and players like Dillon Dube, Nick Merkley, Rourke Chartier, Tyson Baillie, and Justin Kirkland will fire a ton of goals into the net up front. The BC division is Kelowna’s to lose.

What Actually Happened: The Rockets cruised to the division title, brought in Josh Morrissey and Leon Drasaitl, finally vanquished Portland for a berth in the final and cruised to a league championship. All in all, a pretty good year.

What Lies Ahead: Although Draisaitl, Morrissey and Madison Bowey will be leaving, Chartier, Merkley and Dube are coming back up front. They won’t be as strong as they were this year, but Kelowna will still be in the mix to return to the WHL final.

Memorial Cup 2015 Logo

That brings us to the Memorial Cup, which begins on Friday in Quebec City.

Although most mainstream pundits won’t be as excited about the event since Connor McDavid’s not there, this year’s field looks on paper to be fairly well balanced with a case to be made for any team to win it.

As such, I’ll throw my hat into the ring and predict how the final standings will shake out. Of course, this means the team I have in last will probably end up winning it all.

Quebec Remparts

4) Quebec Remparts (Host Team)

Why They Will Win: It’s the final ever major event at Le Colisee and the Remparts will want to win in front of their home fans. Plus, they have a championship pedigree with Zach Fucale and Anthony Duclair being teammates at the World Juniors.

Why They Won’t Win: Quebec blew a 4-1 lead at home in Game 6 of the final and then lost in double overtime in Game 7.  I might be reading too much into this, but I’m not sure how you can bounce back from that with ease.

Player To Watch: Zach Fucale – Having won a Memorial Cup with Halifax in 2013, Fucale knows what it takes to win at this event. He struggled early on in his tenure with the Remparts, but he’s been sublime in the playoffs. Quebec will go as far as Fucale takes them.

Rimouski Oceanic

3) Rimouski Oceanic (QMJHL Champions)

Why They Will Win: This has been the most underrated team in the country all season and they are solid from top to bottom. They don’t have a lot of weakness.

Why They Won’t Win: In comparison to the other three teams though, they don’t have as much firepower in their roster. That may prove to be an issue in the tight games.

Player To Watch: Anthony DeLuca – He’s not signed by a NHL team yet, but he’s one of my favourite players in the QMJHL. He’s quick and dynamic and may have a great tournament if the Oceanic go far.

Oshawa Generals

2) Oshawa Generals (OHL Champions)

Why They Will Win: A strong and physical force in the OHL this year, their style of play is perfect for an event like the Memorial Cup.

Why They Won’t Win: Since Oshawa plays in the Eastern Conference, there is a thought that they haven’t played anybody of note yet, well other than the Erie Otters. The Generals are a great club, but I feel that narrative will be coming up in the next few days.

Player To Watch: Ken Appleby – The North Bay native has been amazing since taking over the starting job in net this season. He didn’t get the OHL goalie of the year award, but he should hopefully be awarded with a NHL contract this year.

Kelowna Rockets

1) Kelowna Rockets (WHL Champions)

Why They Will Win: On paper, this is the best team in the field. They are loaded up front and on the back end with a number of game-breakers on both sides of the ice.

Why They Won’t Win: He was solid in the WHL final, but if goaltender Jackson Whistle struggles and gets pulled like he did during the series against Portland, it will be tough to overcome at this tournament.

Player To Watch: Leon Draisaitl – Say what you will about how Kelowna got him, but the Edmonton Oilers prospect has been immense in the playoffs. I expect him to be just as good in Quebec City this week.

So there you have it. I’ll be posting some post-game stray thoughts after each Memorial Cup so feel free to check that out throughout the week. Here’s hoping this tournament is excellent and we don’t have a ton of clunkers.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 4) & Final Previews

CHL Playoff Match

And so it’s come down to this. The finals are now set in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL and we are nearly ready to complete the field for the 2015 Memorial Cup.

Before we get there though, let’s look back on a pretty exciting set of semi-finals. As ever, we start in the OHL where I have to say goodbye to my hometown Soo Greyhounds and their Northern Ontario brethren from North Bay.

Mike Amadio

North Bay Battalion (37-20-6-5 – 2nd in Central Division/3rd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in six games)

What I Predicted: While they did lose some talented veterans due to graduation, a number of players from last year’s conference champions are back, which puts them right in the mix once again.

What Actually Happened: They strengthened the scoring attack with the additions of Ryan Kujawinski and Nick Moutrey and almost stunned Oshawa for a second straight year. All in all, it was another solid season for the Batallion.

What Lies Ahead: With three of their top defenders (Marcus McIvor, Brenden Miller and Miles Liberati) leaving the OHL along with forward Nick Paul, Moutrey and Kujawinski, a drop-off seems incoming. There are some good young pieces on the roster though, and they might be able to sneak away with a home playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, given its overall depth.

Sergey Tolchinsky

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (54-12-0-2 – 1st in West Division/1st in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in six games)

What I Predicted: The forward depth is beyond frightening, and has the Greyhounds as a legit title threat for the first time since they went to the Western Conference finals in 2008

What Actually Happened: They started off strong, brought in Nick Ritchie, Anthony DeAngelo and Justin Bailey at the trade deadline, and went on an absolute rampage through the entire league. In the end, however, special teams trouble and a red-hot Connor McDavid proved to be their undoing.

What Lies Ahead: This will probably be the most intriguing team of the 2015/16 season. They will lose Jean Dupuy, Bryan Moore, Sergey Tolchinsky, Connor Boland, Darnell Nurse, Bailey, Ritchie and DeAngelo to graduation (Along with Michael Bunting and Tyler Ganly depending on what Arizona and Carolina do with their pro contracts) and head coach Sheldon Keefe is more than likely headed to the AHL in some sort of capacity. However, Jared McCann, Zachary Senyshyn, Blake Speers and Brandon Halverson will be back to lead the way and be the key cogs of the lineup. If the Greyhounds have another strong campaign they may stand pat and try for another run, but if they are not fighting for a home playoff seed at the trade deadline, I expect them to trade those assets off (especially McCann and Halverson) to load up for the future.

McJesus

Ah yes, it’s time for more Connor McDavid chat. I look forward to your hate mail.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last two months, you know that the future Edmonton Oiler has been on fire in the OHL playoffs. Through three rounds, McDavid has 42 points in 15 playoff games and is just nine points away from breaking the records that Justin Papineau (Belleville – 1999) and Jason Dawe (Peterborough – 1993) set on their ways to winning OHL titles.

Along with that though, McDavid is four wins away from becoming the first player tagged with exceptional player status to win a league championship.

Of the four players to enter the OHL early, Aaron Ekblad was the only one prior to this season to make it to the finals as his Barrie Colts lost in seven games to the London Knights in 2013. McDavid made the conference finals last year while John Tavares missed out on a winning a conference title in 2008 with Oshawa and in 2009 with London. Sean Day, meanwhile, has come nowhere close to going on a lengthy playoff run in his two seasons with the Mississauga Steelheads.

Obviously a good team is what’s needed more than just one player to make it to the title, but if the Otters are able to win their first title since 2002, there will be another noteworthy accomplishment to add to McDavid’s junior legacy.

OHL Final Prediction

Oshawa Erie

Oshawa Generals vs. Erie Otters: Erie in six (I’ll be frank, I haven’t seen enough of Oshawa this year to give them a fair assessment of how they will fare with Erie, but they have a very physical lineup and will be a tough task. However, having just watched McDavid run through a Greyhounds squad that may end up being one of the best OHL teams to never win the title, I would be foolish to bet against the Otters.)

Our next stop is the QMJHL, where their two conference finals were decided very quickly.

Anthony Richard

Val-d’Or Foreurs (35-25-3-5 – 2nd in West Division/6th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in four games)

What I Predicted: Although the defending QMJHL champions won’t be quite as loaded as they were last season, they won’t have a drop-off like Shawinigan did after their Memorial Cup trip.

What Actually Happened: They had a slow start but picked things up near the end of the year and had a memorable series win over Baie-Comeau in the quarter-finals were they erased a 3-0 deficit.

What Lies Ahead: Like the Soo Greyhounds, Val-d’Or’s fortunes will depend on their overall record early in the season. With leading scorers Nicolas Aube-Kubel, Anthony Beauregard and Anthony Richard all expected to be back, they can either go for another run at the title or trade those pieces off for a monster return and set themselves up for the future.

Conor Garland

Moncton Wildcats (46-19-0-3 – 1st in Maritimes Division/2nd in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Quebec Remparts in four games)

What I Predicted: This seems like a pretty mid-level team for me. But given the rest of the lineups in the league, they should have home ice advantage in the first round, and may even win their division if they get off to a good start.

What Actually Happened: Thanks to Ivan Barbashev and a massive breakout campaign by league MVP Conor Garland, the Wildcats ended up doing much better than I expected and were a legit contender for the league title. Well at least until they went up against the Memorial Cup hosts.

What Lies Ahead: Barbashev is headed to St. Louis but Garland will still be around, at least for the start of the season. It’s hard to see the Wildcats being any more than a mid-table side though as they have some question marks on their rosters at the moment.

2006 Remparts

There is quite a lot of epicness happening in this photo of the 2006 Memorial Cup champions, including my boy Alex Radulov being a legend as always, but this also marks the peak of the revived version of the Quebec Remparts.

Obviously the Remparts were a dominant force in the 1970’s when Guy Lafleur was taking the league by storm and won the Memorial Cup back in 1971, but the new version of the team has yet to win a QMJHL title since coming back to the league in 1997.

They’ve had good squads since moving from Beauport. In their first year back in the league (1997-98) they had the best record in the QMJHL and made the semis only to lose to Rimouski. They did the same thing a year later, only this time it was Acadie-Bathurst who knocked them out before the finals.

They hosted the Memorial Cup in 2003 but crashed and burned in the round-robin after losing in the second round to Baie-Comeau. They made the finals in 2006 before losing to Moncton (who they got revenge on in the Memorial Cup final that was hosted by the Wildcats).

Since then things have been a bit of a mess. They were a third seed in 2009 and lost in the semi-finals to a fifth ranked (but very strong) Shawinigan side. They crashed out in the second round to Victoriaville as the third seed in 2010 and saw a 3-1 lead in the semis disappear against Gatineau a year later. They had an even worse collapse in 2012 by coughing up a 3-0 series lead to Halifax in the second round and were upset in the first round last year as a seven seed by Rouyn-Noranda.

Simply put, this is easily Quebec’s best season in years. Given their history, I doubt they want to go through the back door. They want a QMJHL title badly and they do whatever it takes to do so. Well, they might not bring Radulov back, but I would do it.

QMJHL Final Prediction

Rimouski Quebec

Rimouski Oceanic vs. Quebec Remparts: Rimouski in six (Although the Remparts are on fire at the moment and I just explained at length while they are motivated to win it all, I believe that the Oceanic are the most underrated team in the country right now and I think they have enough depth to win the title. Here’s hoping that Sportsnet will actually show a game of this series as well, as Rimouski have yet to be televised at all this season.)

To round things out, we have the WHL, where my pre-season picks to make it to the finals both went out in the semis.

Adam Tambellini

Calgary Hitmen (45-22-1-4 – 1st in Central Division/2nd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games)

What I Predicted: I have a couple of questions about the defence and I’m curious to see how Mack Shields does as a starter. However, this forward core looks really good and that makes them the team to beat in the Eastern Conference.

What Actually Happened: They started a bit slow and they dealt Greg Chase away to Victoria after he was upset by a lack of ice time, but they were the class of the Central after Christmas and got the division title. Brandon was a bit stronger depth wise in the Conference final and Calgary’s tough encounters with Kootenay and Medicine Hat may have finally caught up with them.

What Lies Ahead: Leading scorer Adam Tambellini is gone, but the majority of the roster is coming back and the Hitmen are in a good spot to possibly contend again for a WHL title. There will be some extra motivation to make it to the Memorial Cup as well, as it’s taking place just up the highway in Red Deer next year.

Oliver Bjorkstrand

Portland Winterhawks (43-23-2-4 – 2nd in US Division/3rd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in six games)

What I Predicted: Even though Mike Johnston has left to coach the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Winterhawks are once again a strong team, especially with a scary looking offence.

What Actually Happened: Portland was a hot mess when the season began but they turned things around in the new year to almost complete the Drive for Five. A lot of that has to do with Oliver Bjorkstrand, who might have been the best player in the CHL this year who wasn’t named Connor McDavid.

What Lies Ahead: With Bjorkstrand, Chase De Leo and Nic Petan all moving on the pro ranks, one might expect that the Winterhawks will finally start to slide down to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. However, Paul Bittner, Keegan Iverson and Dominic Turgeon will all be back up front (plus there are rumours floating around that top 2016 prospect Kieffer Bellows may move over from the USHL) and Adin Hill should continue to get better after a breakout campaign in net. Doubt the Winterhawks at your own peril.

Mike Johnston

In honour of my boy Fake Mike Johnston (follow him on Twitter already if you aren’t doing so), let’s take some time to reflect on Portland’s run of four straight Western Conference titles that came to an end with their loss to Kelowna in six games.

Now sure, the Winterhawks only won the WHL title once during that run in 2013 (how that 2011 team lost to Kootenay is something I am still trying to wrap my head around) and they didn’t win the Memorial Cup during that span, but given where they were a few years ago when they were seemingly set to fade into the dust following three seasons with less than 20 wins, this turnaround has been remarkable.

Also, they have had a treasure’s trove of great junior hockey players during this run. Just look at these names that have been in Portland over the last five years. Baertschi, Bjorkstrand, Dumba, Johansen, Jones, Leipsic, Leier, Morrow, Niederreiter, Petan, Pouliot, Rutkowski and Wotherspoon. Most teams would love to have those players during the course of two decades, let alone five years.

This is something we won’t see the likes of again for quite some time (sans maybe the London Knights run, but they’ve only reached the finals four times since their time at the top of the OHL started in 2003-04) so feel free to stand and applaud what will go down as one of the best teams in WHL history.

WHL Final Prediction

Brandon Kelowna

Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Kelowna Rockets: Kelowna in six (For the first time in three years, Edmonton and Portland aren’t playing each other, but we have an epic matchup to take their place. I can honestly see this going either way but I think the Rockets have just enough here to edge out the Wheat Kings. The one difference maker in Brandon’s favour might be in goal though, as Jordan Papirny has been far more consistent than Jackson Whistle, who got pulled in Kelowna’s series clinching win over Portland.)

Well that does it. The stage is set for what should be some awesome championship battles. Here’s hoping that they live up to the hype.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 3) & Semi Final Previews

Val Dor Pants Part

Tuesday’s wild overtime win for the Val-d’Or Foreurs in Game 7 to erase a 3-0 deficit against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar was the perfect conclusion to the second round of the CHL playoffs. It was easily the best series of the bunch (with apologies to the Halifax/Moncton affair) and it set the stage for a semi-final round that features some incredible matchups.

As ever, we start with out farewells to the teams that are now out of the post-season, starting with the Ontario Hockey League.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Niagara IceDogs (37-27-2-2 – 3rd in Central Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in five games)

What I Predicted: For me, this is easily the best team in the Eastern Conference. It’s a long way to go until the OHL finals, but I expect this team to be there when May rolls around.

What Actually Happened: A terrible start to the season brought an end to that theory pretty quickly, in addition to Oshawa’s strong play. However, Niagara was a much better side in the second half as Brendan Perlini returned from injury to join newly acquired forward Josh Ho-Sang and the defence was a lot stronger.

What Lies Ahead: I’m starting to think that I was a year early on the IceDogs. The entire defence will be coming back next season and both Ho-Sang and Perlini will be coming back to lead the way up front. The one question mark remains in goal though, as Brent Moran struggled early on as was replaced by Brandon Hope. With Hope graduating from the league, the Dallas Stars prospect will need to prove that he’s ready to become a full-time starter.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Guelph Storm (38-26-2-2 – 3rd in Midwest Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in four games)

What I Predicted: I expected the Storm to go into a rebuild after winning the title last season, but I’m starting to think that won’t happen until next year.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that, as the only big player that the Storm dealt away was defenceman Ben Harpur to the Barrie Colts. Guelph was a strong side and could have been a third seed as London struggled down the stretch. However, given the depth of both the Otters and Greyhounds, a second round exit was probably a fair result.

What Lies Ahead: As mentioned earlier, this is where the rebuild officially starts. Robby Fabbri and Justin Nichols are the two key players that are still left from the 2014 OHL champions, and I expect both of them will be dealt during next season in order to build the roster back up.

Mitchell Marner

London Knights (40-24-1-3 – 2nd in Midwest Division/3rd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in four games)

What I Predicted:  It’s a transition year for the Knights, but they still shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if their goaltending leaves a lot to be desired.

What Actually Happened: The goaltending wasn’t a disaster and despite losing both Bo Horvat and Nikita Zadorov to the NHL, the Knights were still a strong side. A lot of that had to do with the play of Max Domi, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak, who all had over 100 points this season.

What Lies Ahead: Domi is heading to the Arizona Coyotes next year, which brings an official end to an era that saw the Knights go to three Memorial Cups. There’s a few holes left to be filled on the Knights for next season, but if they are able to bring the Tkachuk brothers (Matthew and Brady), 2014 first round pick Max Jones or current Michigan defenceman Zach Werenski, London might become the favourite to win the Western Conference.

Joseph Blandisi

Barrie Colts (41-24-1-2 – 1st in Central Division/2nd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Batallion in five games)

What I Predicted: With Aaron Ekblad seemingly set to begin his pro career, it makes sense to expect a drop-off from the Colts. However, they still have a number of decent forwards on the roster, which should be enough to put them in the mix to be a home seed in the first round of the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Like the London Knights, the Colts had three players with over 100 points in Joseph Blandisi, Kevin Labanc and Andrew Mangiapane. However, for the second straight season, they were unable to solve the Batallion and had their campaign come to an early end.

What Lies Ahead: Blandisi is graduating from the OHL and Labanc may follow him, so there will be big holes left up front. Some younger talent will becoming into the squad, but they will still be a top team in the Eastern Conference with Mangiapane, Brendan Lemieux and Mackenzie Blackwood all returning.

4-040609gynmastic.jpg

With apologies to the Oshawa and North Bay series, the Western Conference final between Sault Ste. Marie and Erie has a chance to become my all time favourite playoff series in OHL history, a title that currently belongs to the 2009 affair between London and Windsor.

For those that may not remember that series, here’s a brief refresher. Like the Greyhounds and Otters, Windsor and London were the class of their conference with 115 and 101 points each. Belleville and Brampton were both strong teams in the Eastern Conference and ended up playing for a spot in the final themselves, but this is the matchup everyone wanted to see.

I mean, just look at what each team had for a roster. Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson led the way for London on the back end while Zac Rinaldo and Nazem Kadri were among the top players up front, along with some fellow by the name of John Tavares. Windsor’s lineup wasn’t even more loaded with Ryan Ellis, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Eric Wellwood, Greg Nemisz and Andrei Loktionov all among the key contributors. Sure Trevor Cann vs. Josh Unice isn’t a pulse-pounding goaltending matchup but they were both good junior netminders.

The series itself only went five games, but every game was an end to end affair that went to overtime. Both teams split the first two games with Ellis and Phil Varone getting game winners, before the Spitfires won three straight contests thanks to the heroics of Wellwood, Loktionov and Wellwood again in Game 5. That last game also introduced me to my favourite junior hockey announcer Mike Stubbs, who I was convinced was going to have a heart attack as both teams flew around the ice.

As I wrote on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, if Erie and the Soo come anywhere close to this series, I’ll be dead by Game 3.

OHL Eastern Conference Final Prediction

Gens Battalion Carlisle Henriksson

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 3) North Bay Battalion: North Bay in seven (The Generals have more depth than the Batallion but after watching North Bay shut down Kingston and Barrie with ease, I really think they can pull this off. Plus, the fact that North Bay swept Oshawa in last year’s conference final has to be in both teams heads as this one gets underway.)

OHL Western Conference Final Prediction

Erie Soo

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 2) Erie Otters: Sault Ste. Marie in seven (If this series doesn’t go the distance, I’ll be pretty disappointed. Future Edmonton Oiler Connor McDavid is probably going to have a couple of crazy games where he will get four or five points, but in the end, I think the Greyhounds overall depth will be the deciding factor.)

Now that we got the big one out of the way, let’s move on to the QMJHL.

Drummondville Voltigeurs v Gatineau Olympiques

Gatineau Olympiques (31-31-0-6 – 5th in West Division/14th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in five games)

What I Predicted: For me, this is the clear-cut favourite to win the West Division title. They aren’t on the same level as the elite teams in the league, but Gatineau should be a legit threat to make the semi-finals.

What Actually Happened: Gatineau had to claw their way into the playoffs. However, they were red-hot in the final months of the season and knocked off the third ranked Armada before losing to Rimouski.

What Lies Ahead: World Junior gold medal winning head coach Benoit Groulx is off to a new gig elsewhere, so that will be the biggest change for next season. As for the team itself, they some interesting players to build around like Alex Dostie and Yakov Trenin, but I suspect they will end up around the same spot in the standings. 

Nikolaj Ehlers

Halifax Mooseheads (32-30-42 – 4th in Maritimes Division/12th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in seven games)

What I Predicted:  Zach Fucale is still there, and Nikolaj Ehlers is back for a second season after being drafted by Winnipeg, but it’s a massive drop-off from where they were in the past. A new era may officially start in Halifax sooner rather than later.

What Actually Happened: Fucale was dealt to the Quebec Remparts but Ehlers was still around and was a man amongst boys throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They upset Shawinigan in a great seven-game series and almost pulled off another surprise in the semis against Moncton.

What Lies Ahead: Ehlers got called up to the Jets for their Game 4 loss to Anaheim and I expect he will be in the NHL come next fall. Timo Meier is still around but that’s about it, and that could mean a long season for the 2013 Memorial Cup champions.

Daniel Sprong

Charlottetown Islanders (35-28-1-4 – 2nd in Maritimes Division/9th in QMJHL – Elminiated by the Quebec Remparts in four games)

What I Predicted: After a youth movement of sorts in the second half of last season, and with Mason McDonald and Daniel Sprong leading the way, Charlottetown should be a lot better this year. 

What Actually Happened: Exactly that as the Islanders made their way to the second round of the playoffs, despite losing their top netminder McDonald to an injury in the first round against Sherbrooke. Had he not gone on the shelf, they probably would have given the Memorial Cup hosts a tougher challenge.

What Lies Ahead: With almost everyone coming back next year, this team might be a legit threat to win the QMJHL title. They might need to strengthen the defence a little bit, but I expect them to solve that during the summer via trades.

Maxime St Cyr

Baie-Comeau Drakkar (35-25-5-3 – 4th in East Division/7th in QMJHL – Elminiated by the Val-d’Or Foreurs in seven games)

What I Predicted: With head coach Eric Veilleux moving on to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals and the possible hangover of losing two straight league finals, the Drakkar may fall down to earth a little bit this year.

What Actually Happened: They weren’t as strong as they were in 2014 but Baie-Comeau still had a pretty good season, well at least until they blew a 3-0 series lead to Val-d’Or, which had to be just as upsetting for the players that lost the finals to them last year.

What Lies Ahead:  The Drakkar will return quite a few players next year, especially on defence as almost everyone can come back. As a result, I expect them to have home ice advantage for their first round series, but it’s still to early to say where exactly they will end up in the grand scheme of things.

Shawinigan 2012

Now why the heck is there a photo of the 2012 Memorial Cup champions in this blog post you ask? Well it’s because Shawinigan is the last tournament hosts to win the Memorial Cup and the Quebec Remparts are looking good in their quest to accomplish that same goal, as they became the first host team since 2011 to make their league semi.

With the debate still raging about the purposes of a host team, and the rumours of Sportsnet wanting to change the event into a March Madness/Frozen Four type of tournament, I decided to take a look at how the tournament hosts have done in their league playoffs and in the event itself since the Memorial Cup went to four teams in 1983.

1983: Portland Winterhawks (Lost the WHL final to Lethbridge and won the Memorial Cup over Oshawa.)

1984: Kitchener Rangers (Lost the OHL final and the Memorial Cup final to Ottawa.)

1985: Shawinigan Cataractes (Lost the QMJHL semi to Verdun and lost the Memorial Cup final to Prince Albert.)

1986: Portland Winterhawks (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Kamloops.)

1987: Oshawa Generals (Won the OHL title over North Bay and lost the Memorial Cup final to Medicine Hat. Oshawa won the right to host the tournament after winning a Super Seires over North Bay in seven games. Have I mentioned lately that the Centennials got royally screwed out of that tournament?)

1988: Chicoutimi Saugneenes (Lost in the QMJHL first round to Shawinigan and were replaced in the tournament by league finalists Drummondville. At the time, the QMJHL had a rule where the host Memorial Cup team had to make the championships series in order to be in the tournament.)

1989: Saskatoon Blades (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup final to Swift Current.)

1990: Dukes of Hamilton (Failed to make the OHL playoffs. After winning only 11 games, the team declined the automatic invite to the tournament and were replaced by league finalists Kitchener.)

1991: Beauport Harfangs (Failed to make the QMJHL playoffs and were replaced by league finalists Drummondville. Also, due to the fact that the Harfangs home arena only held 2,000 people, the tournament was held at Le Colisee in nearby Quebec City.)

1992: Seattle Thunderbirds (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup semi to Kamloops. Apparently Kamloops beat the Soo Greyhounds thanks to a goal with only 14.6 seconds left, but I have erased this game from my memory.)

1993: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Lost the OHL final to Peterborough and won the Memorial Cup over Peterborough. The Greyhounds won the right to host the tournament over the Petes with a clean sweep in a Super Series.)

1994: Laval Titan (Lost the QMJHL final to Chicoutimi and lost the Memorial Cup final to Kamloops.)

1995: Kamloops Blazers (Won the WHL title over Brandon and won the Memorial Cup over Detroit.)

1996: Peterborough Petes (Won the OHL title over Guelph and lost the Memorial Cup final to Granby.)

1997: Hull Olympiques (Won the QMJHL title over Chicoutimi and the Memorial Cup over Lethbridge.)

1998: Spokane Chiefs (Lost the WHL semi to Portland and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Guelph.)

1999: Ottawa 67’s (Lost in the OHL quarters to Belleville and won the Memorial Cup over Calgary.)

2000: Halifax Mooseheads (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Rimouski and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Barrie.)

2001: Regina Pats (Lost in the WHL first round to Calgary and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Val-d’Or.)

2002: Guelph Storm (Lost in the OHL quarters to Windsor and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Victoriaville.)

2003: Quebec Remparts (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Baie-Comeau and failed to make the Memorial Cup playoffs.)

2004: Kelowna Rockets (Lost the WHL semi to Everett and won the Memorial Cup over Gatineau.)

2005: London Knights (Won the OHL title over Ottawa and won the Memorial Cup over Rimouski.)

2006: Moncton Wildcats (Won the QMJHL title over Quebec and lost the Memorial Cup final to Quebec.)

2007: Vancouver Giants (Lost the WHL final to Medicine Hat and won the Memorial Cup over Medicine Hat.)

2008: Kitchener Rangers (Won the OHL title over Belleville and lost the Memorial Cup final to Spokane.)

2009: Rimouski Oceanic (Lost the QMJHL semi to Drummondville and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Windsor.)

2010: Brandon Wheat Kings (Lost the WHL semi to Calgary and lost the Memorial Cup final to Windsor.)

2011: Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (Lost the OHL final to Owen Sound and the Memorial Cup final to Saint John.)

2012: Shawinigan Cataractes (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Chicoutimi and won the Memorial Cup over London.)

2013: Saskatoon Blades (Lost in the WHL first round to Medicine Hat and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to London.)

2014: London Knights (Lost in the OHL quarters to Guelph and failed to make the Memorial Cup playoffs.)

So what can we learn from this? Well besides the fact that how they fare in the league playoffs is pretty cyclical, the host team is almost always in the league finals or at worst the semis. Things seem to be back to normal now with Quebec getting to the final four in the QMJHL, but it’s hard to say at the moment if Red Deer will have the same fate given the current playoff structure in the WHL.)

QMJHL Semi Final Predictions

Rimouski Valdor

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 6) Val-d’Or Foreurs: Rimouski in five (Val-d’Or has a ton of momentum on their side now after coming from 3-0 down to beat Baie-Comeau, but the Oceanic are just too strong in this one.)

Moncton Quebec

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 4) Quebec Remparts: Quebec in five (I don’t think Ted Nolan or Alex Radulov are coming back for this one, which is slightly upsetting, but this should still be a good matchup. This may end up going longer than I have predicted, but I think the fact that Quebec had little trouble with Charlottetown will be a huge difference after Moncton went the distance with Halifax.)

As ever, our final stop is the Western Hockey League, which saw one of their division winners fail to make it to the conference finals.

Austin Carroll

Victoria Royals (39-29-3-1 – 2nd in BC Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in five games)

What I Predicted: They aren’t as loaded as Kelowna, but Victoria should have another strong campaign after a season that saw Dave Lowry win coach of the year honours.

What Actually Happened: They were nowhere close to the Rockets in the division race but the Royals did have another solid campaign. The gap between Kelowna and Victoria was clear to see though in the divisional final, despite an impressive Game 4 comeback.

What Lies Ahead: With Joe Hicketts, Tyler Soy and Jack Walker all coming back, the Royals will probably be a strong contender to win the Western Conference next year. Just don’t ask me who’s going to be the starting goalie as of yet.

Adam Brooks

Regina Pats (37-24-5-6 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games)

What I Predicted: I’m not totally convinced about the Pats’ defence, and I still think Morgan Klimchuk will be dealt before the trade deadline. But the Sam Steel hype train is currently going out of control, so I might as well jump on board and have the Pats as a playoff team.

What Actually Happened: Klimchuk was dealt to Brandon of all teams at the trade deadline, along with other key components of the roster, as the Pats are now building around Steel. They made the playoffs with ease and challenged Brandon throughout the division final despite being short-staffed.

What Lies Ahead: This is Steel’s team and the talented rookie should have a monster season ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft. They aren’t on the same level as Brandon yet, but a young forward core that includes Jesse Gabrielle and incoming rookie Jake Leschyshyn will be tough to deal with.

Medicine Hat Tigers v Calgary Hitmen

Medicine Hat Tigers (45-23-2-2 – 2nd in Central Division/3rd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Calgary Hitmen in five games)

What I Predicted: The final year for the Tigers in the Medicine Hat Arena should be another good one, as I think this is a pretty solid team from top to bottom.

What Actually Happened: The return of import overage goaltender Marek Langhamer played a huge part in the Tigers success as they were one point behind the Hitmen for the division. They probably deserved a better fate than a five-game loss in the second round, but that’s how playoff hockey goes.

What Lies Ahead: In addition to moving to a new arena, this will be a different looking squad come next fall. Langhamer, Tyler Lewington, Kyle Burroughs and Tommy Vanelli are all gone, and it’s highly unlikely that the scoring trio of Trevor Cox, Dryden Hunt and Cole Sanford will be back. With that said, the Tigers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2002 and I don’t expect that streak to end any time soon.

Nikita Scherbak

Everett Silvertips (43-20-3-6 – 1st in US Division/2nd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in five games)

What I Predicted: If Mirco Mueller ends up staying with the Sharks, the Silvertips might be in tough, but given how the other teams look near the bottom of the Western Conference, I think they should be in good enough shape to make it to the post-season as a wildcard team.

What Actually Happened: Mueller went to the pros but the Silvertips were able to bring in Montreal prospect Nikita Scherbak at the start of the season. They won the US Division over a red-hot Winterhawks squad and I’m still at a loss for words as to how they pulled that off.

What Lies Ahead: Scherbak is gone but the Silvertips will retain a lot of the players that made this year a good one, including goaltender Carter Hart who was outstanding in the playoffs. At the moment, it looks like they will be fighting it out with Seattle for the division title.

WHL Playoffs

So with three out of the four division champions now fighting for a spot in the WHL final, you could say that the new playoff format did it’s job as the league now has the same model as the NHL.

When it comes to the overall series so far though? Not so much.

Now there was a seven-game affair between Calgary and Kootenay, and both US Division semis (Everett/Spokane and Portland/Seattle) were solid six game series, but it felt like we were going through the motions just to get to this point.

Would that have been the case under the old setup? Well let’s take a quick gander at the Eastern Conference.

1) Brandon vs. 8) Swift Current: This would have been over in short order.

2) Calgary vs. 7) Edmonton: It’s Calgary vs. Edmonton, anything can happen, but Calgary would have probably escaped.

3) Regina vs. 6) Kootenay: Given the way that Kootenay played against Calgary they may have pulled an upset off here.

4) Medicine Hat vs. 5) Red Deer: These two played each other and the Tigers won in five games in what was a close series.

So that would have left us with Brandon vs. Kootenay and Calgary vs. Medicine Hat, and we would probably have the Wheat Kings and Tigers anyways.

What say you Western Conference?

1) Kelowna vs. 8) Tri-City: This happened and it was a four game sweep.

2) Everett vs. 7) Prince George: Everett probably would have won but I think Prince George would have given them a decent challenge

3) Portland vs. 6) Spokane: Spokane did give Everett a test but this probably wouldn’t last long with Portland’s fire-power

4) Seattle vs. 5) Victoria: Another really good matchup here that could have gone either way. I probably would have gone with Seattle though.

So that would have left us with Kelowna vs. Seattle and Everett vs. Portland and again the same matchup would have happened. Maybe the WHL was right after all.

Either way, I still want a 1 vs. 16 format. Kelowna would have come to Moose Jaw this year!

WHL Eastern Conference Final Prediction

Brandon Calgary

East 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Central 1) Calgary Hitmen: Brandon in six (This is one of those matchups that can go either way as both teams are pretty solid from top to bottom. There’s no real advantage here but I went with Brandon based upon the fact that I think they are building towards a special run over the next couple of seasons. It’s corny I know, but I really don’t have any in depth to add, it’s a coin flip.)

Portland Winterhawks v Kelowna Rockets

BC 1) Kelowna Rockets vs. US 2) Portland Winterhawks: Kelowna in six (It’s the Western Conference final everyone has wanted since Portland won in five games over Kelowna a year ago. This time around, I think the Rockets have the advantage in the depth deparement and will bring an end to Portland’s Drive for Five. My apologies to Fake Mike Johnston.)

That does it for now. See you all in a couple of weeks time for the OHL, QMJHL and WHL finals.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 2) & Second Round Previews

Goodbye Belleville

From the emotional farewell to the Belleville Bulls to some wild series in the QMJHL, the first round of the 2015 playoffs in the Canadian Hockey League have been intriguing, and the matchups in the second rounds in all three leagues may be even better.

As everything gets underway tonight as Sault Ste. Marie takes on Guelph, it’s time once again to take a look back at the teams that were knocked out of the playoffs already and attempt to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. Let’s begin, as always, in the OHL.

Michael Clarke

Peterborough Petes (26-36-1-5 – 5th in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in five games)

What I Predicted: Following last season’s comeback from 3-0 down in the first round against Kingston, I expect the Petes to build on that momentum to make a second straight trip to the post-season.

What Actually Happened: Even though they traded Nick Ritchie at the deadline the Petes made it to the playoffs again. Even though they lost in five games, they still fared well against the top ranked team in the Eastern Conference.

What Lies Ahead: The forwards aren’t really stellar, but the back-end is very strong with Kyle Jenkins and Matt Spencer on defence and Matthew Mancina in goal. They won’t be a title threat by any means, but the Petes may be in the mix for a home-ice spot if the cards fall right next year.

Dylan Sadowy

Saginaw Spirit (29-36-2-1 – 3rd in West Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in four games)

What I Predicted: If the youngsters get up to speed quickly, this might be a playoff team. If that doesn’t happen though, the rebuilding process in Saginaw may officially begin at the Trade Deadline.

What Actually Happened: A combination of both things actually. The Spirit traded away Jimmy Lodge, Nick Moutrey and Jake Paterson, but their young players filled in the gaps and they made it to the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The Spirit were the youngest team in OHL history to make it to the post-season and that should set the stage for a strong campaign next year. Dylan Sadowy, Mitchell Stephens and Tye Felhaber will lead the way up front and goaltender Evan Cormier may prove to be a huge pick-up from the trade with North Bay for Moutrey.

Jordan Subban

Belleville Bulls (27-33-3-5 – 4th in East Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Barrie Colts in four games)

What I Predicted: Even though the Bulls struggled last year, they have a decent core of guys coming back, and they should be able to bounce back into the playoffs this season.

What Actually Happened: The Bulls started off well but faded and almost missed out on the playoffs. The move to Hamilton overshadowed everything in the end however and it was a shame to see them be swept out by Barrie.

What Lies Ahead: The Bulls are headed to the white elephant that is Copps Coliseum (or whatever they call it these days) to become the Hamilton Bulldogs. While everyone is debating what the fan support will be like, the Bulldogs should have a pretty solid team in their first year in Hamilton. It’s a pretty solid roster with some solid young players like Justin Lemcke and Brandon Saiegon, and they may be in the mix for a home playoff spot.

Nikita Korosteleve

Sarnia Sting (29-32-4-3 – 2nd in West Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in five games)

What I Predicted: They won’t be as bad as they were last year, but I suspect it will be another long season in Sarnia, with a few bright spots along the way courtesy of the top players.

What Actually Happened: Well it certainly wasn’t a long year. They traded Anthony DeAngelo and Nikolai Goldobin never came back but they saw a new star develop in Jakob Chyrchurn while Pavel Zacha and Nikita Korostelev led the way up front. They ended up second in a surprisingly lacklustre West Division and they pushed the Erie Otters to the limit in their first round series.

What Lies Ahead: Sarnia made a surprising move on Tuesday as head coach Trevor Letowski was let go and co-owner Derian Hatcher became the new bench boss. It remains to be seen how that will go but right now the Sting look to have a solid young core to build around. The one question mark might be in goal though as Taylor Dupuis has graduated from the junior ranks.

Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Kingston Frontenacs (32-28-5-3 – 3rd in East Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Battalion in four games)

What I Predicted: The forward core is arguably the best in the Eastern Conference (especially if Sam Bennett doesn’t stick in Calgary), and the defence looks pretty solid, but I have some major question marks about the goaltending.

What Actually Happened: Lucas Pressini proved me wrong in goal and the forwards weren’t super impressive until late in the year when Bennett came back from a lengthy injury. It didn’t matter in the end though as the Frontenacs had another underwhelming playoff run.

What Lies Ahead: The Fronts are in an odd place. I’ll touch on Sam Bennett later on but they still have guys like Lawson Crouse and Roland McKeown around, but their defensive depth worries me a lot. It’s hard to give them an early ranking until after the summer trade season ends.

Ryan MacInnis

Kitchener Rangers (32-26-3-7 – 5th in Midwest Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the London Knights in six games)

What I Predicted: The Rangers should be better than they were a year ago, but they aren’t quite back to a legit Western Conference contender just yet.

What Actually Happened: Getting Jake Paterson was a surprise at the deadline and the Rangers were in the mix for fourth place for a time. However, thanks to Guelph and Owen Sound’s strong finishes, they ended up facing London and saw their season end early.

What Lies Ahead: With a number of 96-born players on forward and defence the Rangers will look to have a big run next season. However, I doubt they will be leaning on Dawson Carty in goal so I suspect that they will either make a trade or bring in one of the three NCAA committed goalies (Chris Birdsall, Hayden Lavigne or Luke Opilka) that they have drafted in the past couple of years.

Kyle Platzer

Owen Sound Attack (35-24-2-7 – 4th in Midwest Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Guelph Storm in five games)

What I Predicted: I like the majority of the lineup, especially the NHL prospects that they have, but I’m not convinced that a goaltending pairing of Brandon Hope and Jack Flinn is enough to lead you to the promised land.

What Actually Happened: Brandon Hope got dealt to Niagara early on while both Jack Flinn and Michael McNiven did well in between the pipes. Being stuck in what was arguably the best division in all of the CHL didn’t do them any favours come playoff time though. 

What Lies Ahead: I would suspect the Attack are going to drop off quite a bit next year, especially with Zach Nastasiuk, Kyle Platzer and Chris Bigras all moving on. Don’t be surprised if they move off some of their 96’s in order to build for the future in the next couple of months.

Dante Salituro

Ottawa 67’s (38-25-4-1 – 2nd in East Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Niagara IceDogs in six games)

What I Predicted: I’m not quite convinced yet on the goaltending and the overall depth of the roster. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat out Mississauga for the eighth and final playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Liam Herbst showed why he was a first round pick by London a few years ago in goal and the play of Dante Salituro and Travis Konecny helped Ottawa earn home ice for the first round. Even though they lost to Niagara, first year bench boss Jeff Brown did an excellent job.

What Lies Ahead: With Herbst, Salituro and Konecny all back, the 67’s should have another good season. They do have five 95-born defenders on the roster though, so that might be a worrying issue in the weeks ahead.

Sam Bennett

Before I make my second round predictions, let’s return to Sam Bennett, who may be the most intriguing question mark heading in the 2015/16 OHL season.

A brief recap on the 18-year-old’s year first. After being selected 4th overall by the Calgary Flames in June, Bennett suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and forced him to the sidelines until February. When he was healthy, he returned to Kingston and put up a staggering 24 points in 11 games, though he was held to just three points in the series sweep by North Bay.

As he currently awaits to make his NHL debut with the Flames, it remains to be seen if Bennett will stick around in the show next fall or return to the OHL. If he does come back to Kingston, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt straight away to a contender like Leon Draisaitl was when Edmonton sent him back to the WHL. It’s a move that may work out well for Kingston as well as they need to load up on picks and players to build their roster up for the next couple of seasons. I mean, Lawson Crouse isn’t going to be around for much longer as well.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Oshawa Niagara

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 5) Niagara IceDogs: Oshawa in five (Niagara has enough firepower to maybe steal a game or two from Oshawa, but the Generals seem to be on another level compared to almost everyone else in their conference.)

Barrie North Bay

2) Barrie Colts vs. 3) North Bay Battalion: North Bay in six (Like last year’s second round meeting between these two teams, this is another series that go either way. I’m sure have a slight Northern Ontario bias here but the way North Bay shutdown Kingston’s offence in the first round has me convinced they will do the same, albeit to a lesser extent, to Barrie’s top scorers.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Sault Ste Marie Guelph

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 4) Guelph Storm: Sault Ste. Marie in five (Guelph’s the defending OHL champions and they won’t go quietly into the night, but once again, I expect the Greyhounds’ depth to be too much for their opponents to handle.)

Erie London

2) Erie Otters vs. 3) London Knights: Erie in seven (For me, this is the best second round series in the entire country and I expect this to be a dandy. The Otters should be able to take care of the Knights, but with Sarnia pushing them to the limit and the combination of Mitch Marner and Max Domi set to run wild, I think this one will go the distance.)

Next up is the QMJHL, where a couple of highly ranked teams saw their seasons come to an end rather early.

Angelo Micelli

Victoriaville Tigres (27-34-3-4 – 6th in East Division/16th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in four games)

What I Predicted: I have them fifth in their division, but that may end up being way too low to where they end up when March rolls around.

What Actually Happened: My original assumption ended up being much closer to reality. Having to deal with Rimouski, Quebec and Shawinigan in their division probably had them lower in the standings than they would have hoped.

What Lies Ahead: I would suspect another similar campaign next year, though they probably won’t be at the bottom of the playoff race. There’s a few young pieces to build around here, and Samuel Blais might be a nice deadline day piece to deal to a title contender.

Laurent Dauphi

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (29-32-4-3 – 5th in East Division/15th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in five games)

What I Predicted: It’s a bit of a bummer that Chicoutimi is in the same division as Quebec and Rimouski, because this is quite a good team.

What Actually Happened: Okay I was slightly wrong on that front, Julio Billia was better in goal and the forwards weren’t that bad, but this was a team that ended up being more a middle of the road squad than a sleeper for a lengthy playoff run.

What Lies Ahead: With Nicolas Roy and Frederic Allard both coming back for two more years at least, Chicoutimi will be looking to go on a run in the next couple of seasons. They have a ton of 95’s on their roster right now, however, so you may see some movement to help out with that building process.

Kyle Farrell

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (31-31-3-3 – 5th in Maritimes Division/13th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Quebec Remparts in seven games)

What I Predicted: Okay, maybe I’m biased because they have two Russian forwards, but they should score a number of goals, and Francois Brassard could prove to be a great pickup in goal.

What Actually Happened: Brassard struggled in Cape Breton and ended up being dealt to Gatineau where he’s helped the Olympiques move on to the second round. Their forward core was strong though and they almost pulled off a stunning result in their series with Quebec as they pushed the Memorial Cup hosts to Game 7.

What Lies Ahead: I’m not sure what they are doing in goal yet (hey look, another team that can benefit from an import netminder, thanks a lot Branch) but their defence looks solid and the Russian duo of Maxim Lazarev and Evgeny Svechnikov will both be back. This might be a team that contends for a division title in 2015/16.

Mathieu Lemay

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (33-30-4-1 – 4th in West Division/11th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Val-d’Or Forerus in six games)

What I Predicted: I’m expecting the Huskies to be in the middle of the road again this year, though Alexander Belanger may help to steal a few games in between the pipes.

What Actually Happened: Well Belanger went to Cape Breton at the deadline, but the team was in the middle of the league standings. Part of that had to do with a strong forward core that was led by overage player Mathieu Lemay and Ottawa draft pick Francis Perron.

What Lies Ahead: Since the Huskies will have a lot of players coming back, this might be a sleeper pick to win the QMJHL title next year. The biggest thing that will have to happen though is that Jeremy Belisle and Samuel Harvey will both need to continue to improve in goal.

Nathan Noel

Saint John Sea Dogs (32-36-4-6 – 3rd in Maritimes Division/10th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in five games)

What I Predicted:  If Nathan Noel increases his scoring output from his rookie year and the newcomers gel, the Sea Dogs should return to the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that. There was a bit of a slide after a strong start but the Sea Dogs were a much improved side after having just 19 wins a year ago.

What Lies Ahead: With another high draft pick (they will be picking first overall after getting Drummondville’s first round choice in a trade) joining Noel and Luke Green, the Sea Dogs should have another strong season. Okay, I’m not sure about their goaltending either, but this is a team that is building towards a run for 2017, when they may host the Memorial Cup.

Daniel Audette

Sherbrooke Phoenix (36-26-2-4 – 3rd in West Division/8th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Charlottetown Islanders in six games)

What I Predicted: In it’s third year of existence, the Phoenix will finally turn the corner this season in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: It was easily the best season so far for Sherbrooke. They had home ice for the playoffs and Daniel Audette continued his fine play up front. Alas, it didn’t mean much in the post-season as they lost a closely contested series with Charlottetown.

What Lies Ahead: Audette will be back, as well high scoring defenceman Jeremy Roy and goaltenders Alex Bureau and Evan Fitzpatrick. The depth’s a slight concern but the Phoenix may improve yet again in their fourth campaign.

Anthony Beaulvier

Shawinigan Cataractes (39-26-1-2 – 3rd in East Division/5th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Halifax Mooseheads in seven games)

What I Predicted: The rebuilding process continues for the 2012 Memorial Cup champions, but they’ll probably remain near the bottom of the QMJHL standings.

What Actually Happened: Well I was dead wrong. The young players on the team ended up developing big-time, with Anthony Beauvillier leading the way. If it wasn’t for a Halifax team that had a couple of overtime winners, they probably would be in the second round right now.

What Lies Ahead: The defence and the goaltending might not be as strong, but the forwards once again look really strong. Like Sherbrooke, this is a team that should get a series win next spring.

Danick Martel

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-18-2-7 – 1st in West Division/3rd in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Gatineau Olympiques in six games)

What I Predicted:  With so many question marks on the team, and with the overagers probably going to be sold off like many of them were during the off-season, it might be a rough year for this squad.

What Actually Happened: If you had this team finishing in third and winning their division you are clearly lying. Now they did have two 100-point overagers, but it still amazes me that the Armada was one of the top teams in the league all season. It also surprised me that Gatineau knocked them out early, but since I didn’t see any of the series it’s hard for me to say if they got outplayed or not.

What Lies Ahead: The two overage forwards (Nikita Jevpalovs and Danick Martel) are leaving as is overage defender Daniel Walcott. Once again, there seems to be a lot of question marks looking at this Armada roster and I’m expecting a huge drop-off. I’m fully expecting to be wrong on that prediction come next year once again.

Charlottetown OT Winner

Despite winning three straight Memorial Cup titles from 2011-2013, the QMJHL has often been called the weak sister of the three major junior hockey leagues in this country. Whether or not that’s the case can be debated for months, but what they have over the WHL and the OHL at the moment is that the Q was home to the best overall first round series in the CHL this year.

When it came to memorable encounters, you had three of them. There was Gatineau’s stunning upset of the third ranked Armada, a wild Quebec and Cape Breton series that went seven games, and Nikolaj Ehlers’ overtime winner in his Game 7 return to help Halifax upset Shawinigan. Plus, the Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda series was pretty entertaining, as was the Charlottetown and Sherbrooke affair.

If you look at the other two leagues, there wasn’t really much for them to counter with. In the OHL, Ottawa and Niagara wasn’t bad until the IceDogs pulled away, and Kitchener tried to make things interesting against London before being moved aside in six, but that didn’t get the pulse excited. To be fair though, the WHL was probably the closest, as they did have a seven-game series between Calgary and Kootenay, an Everett and Spokane encounter that finished in triple overtime in Game 6, a great battle between Portland and Seattle and a Medicine Hat and Red Deer series that was much tighter than their five games would indicate.

Will this trend continue? I think it’s possible, especially since the conference semi-finals and the league finals went seven games in 2014. Hey maybe that 1 through 16 structure is the way to go. I’m looking at you NHL.

QMJHL Second Round Predictions

Rimouski Gatineau

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 14) Gatineau Olympiques: Rimouski in four (Gatineau has been red-hot as of late but I suspect this is where their run will end. Rimouski is just too strong.)

Moncton Halifax

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 12) Halifax Mooseheads: Moncton in six (I have this one going a little bit farther than most because of Halifax’s recent success over the last few years. Either way, I think Moncton should advance to the semi-finals, but they may have some trouble dealing with Ehlers like everyone has seemingly had over the last two years.)

Quebec Charlottetown

4) Quebec Remparts vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders: Quebec in five (Cape Breton showed that the Memorial Cup hosts are there for the taking, but with Islanders goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Mason McDonald out of the playoffs with a knee injury, Charlottetown may be in tough.)

Vald'Or Baie Comeau

6) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 7) Baie-Comeau Drakkar: Val-d’Or in six (A rematch of last year’s great QMJHL final? Don’t mind if I do. This one can go either way, but I think Val-d’Or will win this encounter once again.)

As ever, we wrap things up in the WHL, where there was a severe lack of upsets in the first round.

Beau McCue

Tri-City Americans (31-38-0-3 – 5th in US Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in four games)

What I Predicted: The Americans have a pretty young lineup that may not come to full fruition until next season, but they do have a top-notch goalie in Eric Comrie on their side. If the youngsters hit the ground running, this might be a dark horse for a league championship. 

What Actually Happened: Excluding Parker Wotherspoon and Evan Sarthou, the Americans young core didn’t really come out on fire. Injuries to the roster didn’t help matters as well as they ended up having to deal with Kelowna as the second wild card in the West.

What Lies Ahead: Well I was way off on the Americans being a dark horse title threat, but almost everyone is back next year and Tri-City may be a contender to win their division. Losing Comrie to the pro ranks will sting, but Sarthou should transition nicely into a starting role in goal.

Jansen Harkins

Prince George Cougars (31-36-2-3 – 3rd in BC Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Victoria Royals in five games)

What I Predicted: It might be a little bit before they are a legit contender, but the Cougars should be right in the mix to make it into the playoffs this season with a fairly exciting forward core.

What Actually Happened: For the first time since 2011 the Cougars made it back to the playoffs thanks to a stellar second half performance. They probably deserved a slightly better fate than a five-game series loss to Victoria, but it was still a great season.

What Lies Ahead: The nice buzz building around Prince George should continue next year as almost all of their top contributors will be back. Depending on how Kelowna and Victoria look next year, a division title isn’t that farfetched.

Spokane Chiefs v Kelowna Rockets

Spokane Chiefs (34-34-3-1 – 4th in US Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Everett Silvertips in six games)

What I Predicted: The Chiefs have some exciting players in the pipeline but this has all the makings of a long season in Spokane.

What Actually Happened: Despiite losing Mike Aviani, Reid Gow and Mitch Holmberg, the Chiefs were able to still have a solid campaign. They weren’t flashy but they got the job done and they almost pulled off an upset against Everett.

What Lies Ahead: The Chiefs will have two young forwards to build around in Kailer Yamamoto and incoming rookie Jaret Anderson-Dolan that will make them a threat in the future. When it comes to next season, however, they will probably in the middle of the road.

Jake DeBrusk

Swift Current Broncos (34-33-1-4 – 3rd in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Regina Pats in four games)

What I Predicted: They might not have the sexiness of the Wheat Kings, but the Broncos are a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What Actually Happened: I expected the Broncos to be a lot better than they actually were but they were rather underwhelming. A lengthy late-season losing skid almost saw them miss the playoffs entirely, which sort of underlined the underwhelming campaign for the squad.

What Lies Ahead: This is going to be a team that can go one of two ways depending on how the season starts. If they are in the top of the conference standings, I expect them to stand pat. But if the Broncos are struggling, goalie Landon Bow and forward Jake DeBrusk will probably be sold off to title contenders.

Brett Pollock

Edmonton Oil Kings (34-31-4-3 – 5th in Central Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games)

What I Predicted: If Curtis Lazar doesn’t come back, then their might be a drop-off and Tristan Jarry may be traded away for future building blocks, though I think the Oil Kings should still make the playoffs if that happens.

What Actually Happened: Lazar ended up staying in Ottawa but Jarry stuck around and the Oil Kings returned to the playoffs. Their three-year run to the league finals would come to a quick hand however against Brandon.

What Lies Ahead: Aaron Irving, Dysin Mayo and Brett Pollock will all be back and that might boost the Oil Kings into a top three spot in their division. The overall depth isn’t the greatest, but Edmonton always seems to pluck out strong players out of nowhere.

Luke Philip

Kootenay Ice (37-31-1-3 – 4th in Central Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Calgary Hitmen in seven games)

What I Predicted: I expect Jaedon Descheneau will be traded if Sam Reinhart doesn’t come back, which will probably prevent the Ice from making the playoffs. 

What Actually Happened: Reinhart ended up coming back from the Buffalo Sabres and was probably the difference for the Ice to return to the playoffs. They almost pulled off a second straight upset of the Calgary Hitmen in round one, until Connor Rankin scored a first period hat-trick in Game 7.

What Lies Ahead: Reinhart will be in Buffalo full-time while Descheneau will more than likely be in the St. Louis Blues system. The signs are there for a full-fledged rebuild to begin with the Ice.

Ryan Gropp

Seattle Thunderbirds (38-25-4-5 – 3rd in US Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in six games)

What I Predicted: With forwards such as Ryan Gropp and Matthew Barzal, and a top-notch defender in Shea Theodore, the T-Birds will be fun to watch. I’m not quite convinced on the goaltending though, and that may prove to be the one issue the prevents this team from hosting a playoff series.

What Actually Happened: Tarun Kozun proved me wrong big time in goal as he ended up being one of the best netminders in the league. Injuries and a white-hot Portland squad ended up being what cost Seattle a chance at home-ice, but they gave the Winterhawks all that they could handle in their first round series.

What Lies Ahead: Like the other three teams in the US Division that I talked about earlier, this seems like a middle of the road team. Barzal and Gropp will be back, but losing Theodore and Kozun may be too much to overcome.

Riley Sheen

Red Deer Rebels (38-23-5-6 – 3rd in Central Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Medicine Hat Tigers in five games)

What I Predicted: I’m quite convinced that the Rebels will be the host city for the Memorial Cup in 2016 so this will be a year that will be used to help build Red Deer into being a legit title threat.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that. The Rebels will be hosing the Memorial Cup next year and we’re right in the mix to win the Central Division this season. The five game loss to the Tigers wasn’t a real indiction of how close the series was, as it could have gone either way.

What Lies Ahead: The big guns (Connor Bleackley and Haydn Fleury) will both be back and that will be huge. The overall depth isn’t super scary yet for a Memorial Cup host, but I expect that to change over the course of the summer.

Medicine Hat Arena

I got to pay a visit to the Medicine Hat Arena for Game 5 of the Medicine Hat/Red Deer series last Saturday, and pretty much fell in love with the rink, which the Tigers will be leaving for a new facility next year.

While that new rink is needed, I was very upset that the Tigers will be departing the 4,006 seat arena after going to see a game there, as it’s pretty much what a junior hockey rink should be like.

So I began to think about how many of these true junior hockey rinks are left and not just being shared with NHL teams (such as the Scotiabank Saddledome and Rexall Place), have a capacity over 10,000 (sorry FirstOntario Centre, Colisee Pepsi, Scotiabank Centre, SaskTel Centre, Pacific Coliseum and Veterans Memorial Coliseum) or one that’s been open later than 1990. Here’s what I came up with.

OHL: TD Place Arena (Ottawa 67’s – 1967), Peterborough Memorial Centre (Peterborough Petes – 1956), North Bay Memorial Gardens (North Bay Battalion – 1955), Sudbury Community Arena (Sudbury Wolves – 1951), Erie Insurance Arena (Erie Otters – 1983), Kitchener Memorial Auditorium (Kitchener Rangers – 1951), Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre (Owen Sound Attack – 1983), Perani Arena (Flint Firebirds – 1969), Dow Event Centre (Saginaw Spirit – 1972)

QMJHL: Centre Marcel Dionne (Drummondville Voltigeurs – 1963), Robert Guertin Centre (Gatineau Olympiques – 1973), Arena Iamgold (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies – 1951), Palais des Sports (Sherbrooke Phoenix – 1965), Centre Air Creebec (Val-d’Or Foreurs – 1949), Centre Harry Leonard (Baie-Comeau Drakkar – 1970), Centre Georges Vezina (Chicoutimi Sagueneens – 1949), Colisee Rimouski (Rimouski Oceanic – 1966), Colisee Desjardins (Victoriaville Tigres – 1980), Centre 200 (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles – 1987), Moncton Coliseum (Moncton Wildcats – 1973)

WHL: Keystone Centre (Brandon Wheat Kings – 1973), Art Hauser Centre (Prince Albert Raiders – 1971), Brandt Centre (Regina Pats – 1977), Credit Union iPlex (Swift Current Broncos – 1967), ENMAX Centre (Lethbridge Hurricanes – 1974), Medicine Hat Arena (Medicine Hat Tigers – 1970), Toyota Centre (Tri-City Americans – 1988)

So as you can see, there’s still quite a few of the older barns left. If you’re a junior hockey fan like I am, I highly recommend seeing these rinks before they are replaced.

WHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Brandon Regina

East Division Final: 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 2) Regina Pats: Brandon in four (Regina is gearing up for the future and facing the Wheat Kings will be a good test for them. With that said, Brandon should have little trouble moving on to the next round.)

Calgary Medicine Hat

Central Division Final: 1) Calgary Hitmen vs. 2) Medicine Hat Tigers: Medicine Hat in seven (These two teams went until the end of the season to win the division and I expect this series to go either way. I ended up going with the Tigers just because of how well they preformed in the series with Red Deer and that they got a little bit of rest while Calgary went the distance with Kootenay.)

WHL Western Conference Predictions

Victoria Kelowna

BC Division Final: 1) Kelowna Rockets vs. 2) Victoria Royals: Kelowna in four (The Rockets were 800 points (okay that’s probably not right) ahead of the Royals in the regular season, so a long series between the two teams would be a major surprise.)

Everett Portland

US Division Final: 1) Everett Silvertips vs. 2) Portland Winterhawks: Portland in six (I still can’t make heads or tails of Everett, especially after that series with Spokane. This will be a pretty good series, but Portland’s high-octane offence will be the difference maker.)

Well that’s it for now. Between these three leagues, the Frozen Four and the NHL playoffs, this should be an epic couple of weeks if you’re a hockey fan.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 1) & First Round Previews

Goodbye Plymouth

It’s that time of the year again. Over the course of the next two months I’ll be looking back to see where I went wrong in my pre-season predictions and what teams I had on the money in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL. Along with that, I’ll also be making my playoff predictions as well for each round.

Without further delay, let’s get things started with the OHL and showcasing the four teams that won’t make the playoffs, including one that will be heading to a new location come next city.

Pavel Jenys

Sudbury Wolves (12-54-1-1 – 5th in Central Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 18th)

What I Predicted: There’s a couple of decent players here, but there is not a lot to be desired, and I expect the Wolves to be at the bottom of the league standings

What Actually Happened: Not only was Sudbury the worst team in the OHL, but they ended up having the worst record in the entire Canadian Hockey League. At least we got that Paul Fixter rant.

What Lies Ahead: The Wolves have the number one overall pick in the draft and it seems like a fairly wide open class with Owen Tippett and David Levin among the top choices. Despite a couple of good pieces to build around in Matt Schmalz and Kyle Capobianco, it may be another long season ahead in Sudbury.

Owen Sound Attack v Windsor Spitfires

Windsor Spitfires (24-40-2-2 – 5th in West Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: I’m not quite convinced on the defence, but I really like the forwards Windsor has, and they are my sleeper pick in the Western Conference.

What Actually Happened: Well they traded Josh Ho-Sang away for starters, so that kind of messed with my predictions for a great forward core. An 11-game losing streak to end the season proved to be far more damaging.

What Lies Ahead: I still like the forwards here, especially Logan Brown, and 63-point defenceman Trevor Murphy could be a huge asset at the trade deadline next January. The rest of the back-end and the goaltending do have question marks still, and they will need to improve that if they hope to win a playoff game for the first time since 2011.

Sonny Milano

Plymouth Whalers (23-38-5-2 – 4th in West Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: Following a slight blip last season, the Whalers should return to form this year.

What Actually Happened: Not only did Plymouth fail to come close from being the Soo Greyhounds’ biggest threat, they missed the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. The only other time they missed was their first season as a franchise in 1990-91 as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors.

What Lies Ahead: The Whalers are moving to Flint to become the Firebirds and will have a brand new look in the management and coaching staff. With Sonny Milano, Alex Peters, Josh Wesley and Alex Nedeljkovic all coming back, not to mention a high-end draft pick, they should return to the playoffs.

Jimmy Lodge

Mississauga Steelheads (25-40-2-1 – 4th in Central Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 19th)

What I Predicted: Every year I bet against Mississauga making the playoffs, and they end up getting there, so I’ve decided to stop picking against them this season.

What Actually Happened: They actually missed the playoffs this time around. They went all-in by getting Jimmy Lodge in a trade from Saginaw but the season ending knee-injury of goalie Spencer Martin ended up costing them in the end.

What Lies Ahead: For starters, I would be surprised if James Boyd is brought back, so I expect that there will be a new coach behind the bench. Michael McLeod and Sean Day will be the building blocks to build around and the Steelheads might be back in the post-season, but I doubt they will be a high seed.

Bulls Final Win

The biggest storyline heading in the OHL playoffs if of course the impending end of the Belleville Bulls franchise. It was announced out of nowhere on March 12 that the Bulls had been sold and would be moving to Hamilton to become the Bulldogs.

I’ll save my thoughts over how this deal was done and the fact that junior hockey in Hamilton hasn’t really worked another day. Instead I’ll bid a fond farewell to a franchise that I’ve always considered to be one of the most well-run in the Eastern Conference. Those teams in 2008 and 2009 were sublime and they were a game away from playing London for the title in 2013. Those teams, and players like Mike Murphy, PK Subban and Luke Judson (who I got to know while working in Fort Frances), will be my lasting memories of the club.

Jack Miller

And of course, there’s Jack Miller, my second favourite announcer in all of junior hockey behind the London Knights’ Mike Stubbs. While Stubbs’ style is like throwing a hair dryer in a hot tub, Miller has the stylings of a master jazz musician who hits the right notes at the right moments. He will still be involved in the TSN Radio’s World Junior broadcasts, but the fact that he won’t be doing any more OHL games is an absolute crime.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Oshawa Peterborough

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 8) Peterborough Petes: Oshawa in four (This one won’t be close. While it’s good for the Petes to make it back to the playoffs again, the Generals are way to strong for them to pull off another massive upset.)

Barrie Belleville

2) Barrie Colts vs. 7) Belleville Bulls: Barrie in five (Obviously I’m rooting for Belleville here in this one, but they don’t have the firepower to matchup with the Colts on offence. Here’s hoping that the fans at the Yardmen Arena will get one more victory before the Bulls leave town for good.)

North Bay Kingston

3) North Bay Battalion vs. 6) Kingston Frontenacs: Kingston in 6 (Ever since Sam Bennett returned to Kingston after being injured at Calgary Flames training camp, the Frontenacs have been on fire. Now North Bay is the defending conference champions and they are a very good team, but Kingston’s offence has been sublime over the last month. I’ll probably regret this, but I have Kingston advancing to the second round for the first time since 1998.)

Ottawa Niagara

4) Ottawa 67’s vs. 5) Niagara IceDogs: Niagara in five (Back in September, I had Niagara as the runaway favourite in the Eastern Conference while Ottawa would be fighting it out to just make the playoffs. As you can see, I was way off the mark. When it comes to this series, I think Niagara has too many offensive weapons for Ottawa to try and slow down.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Soo Saginaw

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8) Saginaw Spirit: Sault Ste. Marie in four (If Jake Paterson was still in Saginaw I would be slightly worried that he could steal a few games from the Greyhounds. Since he’s now in Kitchener, the Greyhounds should have little trouble with the Spirit in the opening round. As a huge Greyhounds fan, I have now doomed them to a six game upset loss I’m sure.)

Erie Sarnia

2) Erie Otters vs. 7) Sarnia Sting: Erie in 5 (McJesus and Co. should have no problems at all in their opening round series. The only reason why I don’t have this as a sweep? Erie tends to have one odd game in a span where they lose to a team they shouldn’t, and Pavel Zacha might bust out a hat-trick when you least expect it.)

London Kitchener

3) London Knights vs. 6) Kitchener Rangers: London in five (I’m still surprised Sportsnet is showing the Oshawa and Peterborough series over this one, but I digress. Jake Paterson might steal a game or two, but I expect Kitchener’s defence will have a tough time trying to stop Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Mitchell Marner.)

Guelph Owen Sound

4) Guelph Storm vs. 5) Owen Sound Attack: Guelph in 6 (This one can go either way, but I think Guelph’s run to the Memorial Cup final last year will be a key factor in helping them advance to the next round. Plus, the question marks around Attack defenceman Chris Bigras’ health can’t be a good sign.)

Our next stop is the QMJHL, where only two teams missed out on the playoffs.

Mark Simpson

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (17-43-6-2 – 6th in Maritimes Division/18th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 2nd)

What I Predicted: For a team that doesn’t have a whole lot to begin with, there is still isn’t a whole lot here.

What Actually Happened: The lack of overall depth had me peg this team to be at the bottom of the QMJHL standings and that’s where they ended up. They weren’t Sudbury bad, but they did struggle on their way to being in the basement.

What Lies Ahead: The QMJHL draft lottery is in April so we won’t know if Acadie-Bathurst will have the number one pick, which is expected to be Shane Bowers (unless Joseph Veleno gets exceptional status, but that’s another story for another day). At the moment, the Titan do have some nice young pieces to build around with forward Jordan Maher and defenceman Guillaume Brisebois leading the way, so a return to the playoffs might not be far off.

Joey Ratelle

Drummondville Voltigeurs (26-38-1-3 – 6th in West Division/17th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 13th)

What I Predicted: The squad is fairly young on both forward and defence, but they have two 1995-born goalies who had strong seasons a year ago. If the duo of Joe Fleschler and Louis-Philip Guindon match their performances from last season, they might have a strong season.

What Actually Happened: Fleschler’s numbers much worse, Guindon got dealt to Rimouski and Anthony Brodeur was brought in after Christmas. That and a number of other trades resulted in a late-season slide in the standings and caused Drummondville to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: Drummondville’s draft pick ended up in Saint John so they won’t be involved in the draft lottery, (Saint John got the pick from Cape Breton at the trade deadline for captain Olivier LeBlanc. The Screaming Eagles got that pick from the Voltigeurs for William Carrier last year.) so that’s not good for the rebuilding process. They have two exciting forwards in Joey Ratelle and Alex Barre- Boulet, but it might be another tough season in Drummondville next winter.

Zach Fucale

The most intriguing player in the entire QMJHL playoffs might be Quebec Remparts netminder Zach Fucale, who will sadly not be rocking this awesome looking tuque.

After winning the Memorial Cup with Halifax in 2013 and becoming a second round pick by Montreal in the NHL Entry Draft, Fucale’s had a rough time over the last 12 months. Sure, he did win the gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors, but he lost his starting job in last year’s QMJHL semi-finals and his numbers so far with Quebec (an 8-8 record and a 3.22 GAA) leave a lot to be desired.

As the Memorial Cup hosts, a lot is expected of Quebec in the playoffs. But if Fucale continues to be just average, things might get ugly unless Callum Booth takes things over in a big way.

QMJHL Playoffs Predictions

Rimouski Victoriaville

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 16) Victoriaville Tigres: Rimouski in four (For me, the Oceanic are the class of the QMJHL and they should have no problem at all in their opening round series.)

Moncton Chicoutimi

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 15) Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Moncton in five (The Wildcats have the top scorer in the league in Conor Garland and Russian hero Ivan Barbashev on their roster. That should be more than enough for them to get the win.)

Blainville-Boisbriand Gatineau

3) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. 14) Gatineau Olympiques: Blainville-Boisbriand in five (I still have no idea how the Armada are pulling this off. Either way, they should move to the second round with ease, even though Gatineau has won 13 of their last 16 games heading into the playoffs.)

Quebec Cape Breton

4) Quebec Remparts vs. 13) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: Quebec in five (As much I’m hemming and hawing over Fucale’s play, and despite the fact that Cape Breton has two draft eligible Russian forwards in Maxim Lazarev and Evgeni Svechnikov, the Remparts are too good to not advance to the second round.)

Shawinigan Halifax

5) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 12) Halifax Mooseheads: Halifax in 6 (Now I know this isn’t the Mooseheads of the last couple of years, and Shawinigan does have a pretty good lineup that’s headlined by 94-point draft eligible centre Anthony Beauvillier. However, I saw Nikolaj Ehlers carry Denmark into the World Junior playoffs so who says lightning can’t strike twice. Okay, Olivier Bjorkstrand helped him out as well but still.)

Val-d'Or Rouyn-Noranda

6) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 11) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Val-d’Or in five (It’s a shame this isn’t being broadcast on Sportsnet because this might be a really fun series. In the end, the experience of winning the QMJHL title a year ago should help the Foreurs in this one, though I’m starting to think this might go the distance.)

Baie-Comeau Saint John

7) Baie-Comeau Drakkar vs. 10) Saint John Sea Dogs: Saint John in six (The Sea Dogs had a bit of slide in the later part of the year but I think they should be able to come out on top with a mild upset in this one.)

Sherbrooke Charlottetown

8) Sherbrooke Phoenix vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders: Sherbrooke in six (A Daniel Audette vs. Daniel Sprong matchup in the playoffs? Just take my money already. Mason McDonald may steal a game or two, but the Phoenix have too many offensive weapons for the Islanders to try and stop.)

Our last stop on our CHL playoff preview train is the WHL, where six teams will not be heading to the post-season.

Brett Stovin

Saskatoon Blades (19-49-2-2 – 6th in East Division/12th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 27th)

What I Predicted: With the team already putting Nikita Scherbak on the market and bringing in Alex Forsberg and Ty Mappin as reclamation projects, that should show you where the Blades will end up this year.

What Actually Happened: Scherbak was dealt to Everett only four days into the season, while Mappin ended up back in the AJHL with the Olds Grizzlys. The Forsberg move worked out as he had a good season (a career best 58 points) and was dealt to Victoria for a first round pick in 2017 at the deadline, but it was a long season yet again for the Blades.

What Lies Ahead: For the second year in a row, a first round pick that the Blades traded ended up in with another team, and the Spokane Chiefs will have a chance to take the top prospect in the draft (more than likely Ty Smith) with the first overall pick. Brycen Martin’s the lone high-end guy on the team at the moment, so it might get worse yet before things recover from the hot mess that was the 2013 Memorial Cup hosting experience.

Tyler Wong

Lethbridge Hurricanes (20-44-5-3 – 6th in Central Division/11th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 4th)

What I Predicted: I don’t think things will be as bad as last season, but with Macoy Erkamps wanting out, and Reid Duke visiting a USHL camp before reporting to Lethbridge, it’s going to be another long winter for the Hurricanes.

What Actually Happened: Duke and Erkamps were both traded to Brandon in yet another fleecing by the Wheat Kings on the Hurricanes, and both Drake Berehowsky and Brad Robson were let go of their head coach and general manager duties in early December. With that said, the Hurricanes were better in the second half and weren’t getting blown out of the water like they were a year ago, so there was some progress.

What Lies Ahead: The ownership situation remains the hot button topic and probably won’t be resolved until late in the summer. On the ice, goaltender Stuart Skinner was a star in his rookie year with the club and his future looks bright. Leading scorer Tyler Wong will probably be dealt at next year’s deadline but some good young players might put this team in the mix to contend for a wild card in 2016. Now if only they can sign last year’s second overall pick Jordy Bellerive.

Jackson Houck

Vancouver Giants (27-41-2-2 – 5th in BC Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 20th)

What I Predicted:  I don’t think they have the depth of Victoria or Kelowna, but the Giants have a pretty exciting lineup besides Benson, and they will be looking to impress all year long as they try to upend Red Deer’s bid of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2016

What Actually Happened: Troy Ward got canned in favour of Claude Noel in November, the Giants didn’t win the bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup and they lost 11 of their last 12 regular season games to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The Giants announced on Wednesday that Noel would not be coming back so the club is now looking for its fourth head coach in the last three seasons. The team is going to be built around sophomore forward Tyler Benson, so their might be a shake-up of the current roster to give him more high-end pieces to play with.

Cole Ully

Kamloops Blazers (28-37-4-3 – 4th in BC Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: Legendary coach Don Hay is back with the Blazers, but I’m not expecting them to be back in the playoff mix quite yet.

What Actually Happened: The Blazers were in it right until the end, but a loss to the Prince George Cougars on March 20th proved to be their undoing. That and only winning eight games on the road all season.

What Lies Ahead: Prior to the season, I expected NHL prospects Cole Ully and Ryan Rehill to be traded to help with the rebuild in Kamloops. That didn’t happen and that may prove to be a missed opportunity if both turn pro and no assets were gained. With that said, there are some nice young forwards on the roster like Deven Sideroff and Jake Kryski, and the Blazers have a solid starter in goal in Connor Ingram that might help them return to the playoffs next year.

Reid Gardiner

Prince Albert Raiders (31-37-2-2 – 5th in East Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 14th)

What I Predicted: Even with Leon Draisaitl more than likely not coming back to Prince Albert, the Raiders will still be a playoff team in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: Well that didn’t happen at all did it. Cory Clouston got fired in October, Draisaitl (who played in Edmonton for the first half of the season) and Josh Morrissey were both dealt to Kelowna and they weren’t able to overcome a slow start to get into the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The overall depth isn’t the greatest, but if Reid Gardiner has another strong season and Nick McBride improves in goal, the Raiders might sneak into the wild card discussion next year. They won’t challenge Brandon by any means for the division crowd, but things won’t be too bad.

Brayden Point

Moose Jaw Warriors (32-35-4-1 – 4th in East Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: I went back and forth between the Warriors and the Pats over who will finish in fourth place in the final standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Moose Jaw that ends up making the post-season as a wild card team when March rolls around.

What Actually Happened: Well I wasn’t right on Regina, but Moose Jaw ended up getting fourth and just missed out on making the playoffs after Swift Current went on a late season slide. A number of close losses over the last couple of months will leave the Warriors wondering what might have been.

What Lies Ahead: With a talented young goaltending duo in Zach Sawchenko and Brody Wilms, and Brayden Point leading the way up front, the Warriors should again be in the mix to make the playoffs. However, if it looks like they will miss the post-season for a fourth straight year, Point will become the biggest piece on the trade market in the WHL during the 2016 trade deadline.

Sam Steel

It’s not often that the loss of a rookie forward is considered a game-changer for the WHL playoffs, but Sam Steel is not your ordinary first year player.

Steel, the second overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft behind Vancouver’s Tyler Benson, is expected to miss the entire playoffs with an ankle injury that he suffered on March 10th against Prince Albert and will be a much missed weapon for the Pats as they look to win a playoff series for the first time since 2007.

After the Pats made a number of trades at this year’s deadline, the squad is now built around the 16-year-old centre, who had 54 points in 61 games this season.

With so much of the team going through Steel already, it’s disappointing that he won’t be involved in the post-season, but I figure this will give him extra motivation to be even better come next year. For the rest of the WHL, that’s not something they will want to hear.

WHL East Division Predictions

Brandon Edmonton

1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Wild Card 2) Edmonton Oil Kings: Brandon in five (Tristan Jarry might steal a game, but the Wheat Kings have way too much for the defending Memorial Cup champions to handle.)

Regina Swift Current

2) Regina Pats vs. 3) Swift Current Broncos: Regina in six (The Pats are a much different looking squad than they were two months ago and the Broncos stumbled big-time down the stretch. Given Swift Current’s struggles in form, I expect Regina to come out on top in a competitive series.)

WHL Central Division Predictions

Calgary Kootenay

1) Calgary Hitmen vs. Wild Card 1) Kootenay Ice: Calgary in five (The Ice stunned the Hitmen last year in the first round but I don’t see another upset happening this year. Calgary’s been on fire over the last few weeks and I don’t think Kootenay can matchup with them, even with Sam Reinhart on their roster.)

Red Deer Medicine Hat

2) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. 3) Red Deer Rebels: Red Deer in seven (This might be my favourite matchup in the entire first round of the CHL as both teams were dead even with Calgary for the division title. I’ve hemmed and hawed over this one, but I decided to go with Red Deer as they look to build some momentum for the 2016 Memorial Cup that they will host.)

WHL BC Division Predictions

Kelowna Tri-City

1) Kelowna Rockets vs. Wild Card 2) Tri-City Americans: Kelowna in 5 (This one is similar to the Brandon and Edmonton series.  Eric Comrie might steal a game for Tri-City, but Kelowna will probably run over the squad with their depth.)

Prince George Kelowna

2) Victoria Royals vs. 3) Prince George Cougars: Victoria in six (The Cougars have played great over the last few weeks and the CN Centre will be rocking. However, I think the Cougars have just enough to pull out the series win.)

WHL US Division Predictions

Everett Spokane

1) Everett Silvertips vs. Wild Card 1) Spokane Chiefs: Everett in four (I still have no idea what to make of either of these teams, but I think Everett is far stronger than Spokane in this matchup.)

Portland Seattle

2) Portland Winterhawks vs. 3) Seattle Thunderbirds: Portland in six (With both teams having high-end forwards this might be a really good series. Olivier Bjorkstrand has been a man possessed after the World Juniors though, and I think that might be the difference.)

Well that wraps things up. Here’s hoping the opening round of the playoffs in all three leagues have some wild upsets and triple overtime thrillers.


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Brier Review

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. third Ryan Kuhn, Ontario skip Mark Kean, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

This year’s Tim Hortons Brier will go down as one of the best in recent memory. There were so many twists, turns, drama filled games, broom smashing, broom breaking and insane shots. Yes there was the usual bad picks on the ice when it comes to big arenas but what can you do. Anyways, this goes to show how the men’s curling scene is the most competitive it has been in a while. Also for the first time since the playoff format began at the Brier in 1980, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta all failed to make it into the final weekend. Not only that, some big names had less than impressive weeks for their standards.

Best in recent memory? Try the greatest Brier of all time. Okay I wasn’t around for the ones in the 1980’s and my memory is vague on the 90’s and early 2000’s, but this was the best curling event I have ever seen. You’ll see why as this review goes on, but I doubt any event will top this Brier for the foreseeable future.

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Champions and Biggest Surprise: Team Canada (Pat Simmons)

As Team Canada sat at 2-3 on Monday night, things were bleak and my eighth place prediction seemed more and more likely, though they were not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. Then John Morris proposed to drop to vice and have Pat Simmons become the skip. Pat agreed, but only if he ran the show, and boy did it turn out to be a terrific move.

The team won all but one game (they lost Draw 16 to Northern Ontario) and had super close wins in the playoffs over Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador. Simmons was on fire in the championship final, including a huge runback double while facing two in the fourth end to force a blank. Morris’ play improved tremendously as a third, and at times it looked he was playing the same way he did when he was on Kevin Martin’s team. For Morris to step down to vice and give the confidence to have Simmons call the shots was huge on his part also.

Finally this is justice for Simmons to win the Brier as a skip after a terrible pick in 2008 cost him a playoff win against Kevin Martin at the Brier in Winnipeg.

The Curling Gods indeed came through for Simmons after they turned on him seven years ago, as he was lights out in the finals. For Morris to make the switch will go down as one of the all-time great moves in Brier history, and it shows just how much of a team player he has become. Unlike Brett, I felt that Team Canada was going to be in the final four but I never expected this, especially after their poor start. I’m not sure how they will do at the Worlds yet, but it looks like this group will stick together for another season, and possibly all the way until the 2017 Olympic Trials.

Team Stats

Lead: Nolan Thiessen – 3rd – 91%

Second: Carter Rycroft – 2nd – 90%

Vice: John Morris – 4th – 88% (80% as Skip)

Skip: Pat Simmons – Tied for 2nd – 84% (86 % as Vice)

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Runner-Up: Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

The reigning Olympic champions were definitely showing the stuff that made them Brier winners two years ago. They almost ran the table in the round-robin and they didn’t have that usual mid-week slump that we’re used to seeing, although they came close to that in the 1 vs. 2 page playoff game.

Although they turned up the intensity for the playoffs, they ran into a red-hot Pat Simmons in the final and one bad end (where they gave up three points in the 9th) cost them a chance at a second Brier crown. However, we know that this team will be back and out for blood next year, because the bigger the stage and the tougher the competition, the more intense this team becomes.

I still think there was a little bit of a mid-week slump for Team Jacobs as they probably should have lost a game against Saskatchewan. At any rate, the top team in the world (unless you’re a Mike McEwen supporter) were the best rink all week with only the bad ninth end and the lights out showing by Simmons prevented them from winning a second title. Nevertheless, they will probably enter the 2015-16 season as one of the top three teams in the world and it would be quite a surprise if they weren’t in the mix in Ottawa next March.

Team Stats

Lead: Ryan Harnden – Tied for 6th – 88%

Second: EJ Harnden – 4th – 87%

Vice: Ryan Fry – 1st – 92%

Skip: Brad Jacobs – 1st – 86%

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Saskatchewan, skip Steve Laycock, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Bronze Medalists: Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)

Steve Laycock was having a career year prior to the Brier and this is a rink that has been getting better and better over the past few season. The performance at the Brier has shown that they look primed for an Olympic Trials run as they can hang with some of the top teams in the country. The one thing they will need to work on is their soft shots, especially on their setup shots early in the ends, but other than that this looks to be Saskatchewan’s best hope to end their Brier drought in quite some time.

Prior to the Brier I had this rink ranked in seventh place and feared that I had them placed way lower than I should have. I was proved right on that assumption as the Saskatoon rink ended up being my surprise team of the week. I knew they were good, especially after strong showings over the last two season, but I didn’t expect them to be in the medal hunt. I don’t know if they will be a favourite to win it all quite yet, but I expect them to be in the discussion for a playoff spot if they make it back next year.

Saddledome

An honourable mention for my biggest surprise has to be Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey. Other than one really bad game against Northern Ontario, they were great for a first-year team as they worked through the pre-qualifying round and finished at 5-6. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak into the tiebreaker discussion over the next couple of years at the Brier.

Team Stats

Lead: Dallan Muyers – 8th – 87%

Second: Colton Flasch – 10th – 83%

Vice: Kirk Muyers – 5th – 87%

Skip: Steve Laycock – Tied for 2nd – 84%

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Fourth Place: Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

The way things looked throughout the week, it appeared that this would be the year that Brad Gushue’s Brier drought would end, especially after beating Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Team Canada in the round-robin. Unfortunately, one bad miss in the 1 vs. 2 game and two more close losses left Gushue on the outside looking in and leaving a real bitter taste of what could have been.

After Gushue made his insane game-winning shot against Alberta, I felt like this was finally going to be the year that the 2006 Olympic gold medalist would win it all. Alas, a couple of close misses against Northern Ontario and Team Canada in the playoffs proved to be his undoing. Since he’s not really good in even-numbered years at the Brier, I’m assuming he will finally win it all in 2017 when it will more than likely be held in St. John’s. I look forward to the hate mail I will receive from folks in my hometown about that last line.

Team Stats

Lead: Geoff Walker – Tied for 4th – 89%

Second: Brett Gallant – Tied for 7th – 84%

Vice: Mark Nichols – 9th – 81%

Skip: Brad Gushue – Tied for 4th – 82%

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Biggest Disappointment: Alberta (Kevin K0e)

During the course of the season, the new lineup for Team Koe would look great one game then really off the next. This week it was the struggles of the skip and three heroic game-winning shots (by British Columbia, Newfoundland & Labrador and Saskatchewan) that left Koe out of the playoffs for the very first time in his fourth trip to the Brier.

Kevin himself didn’t perform really well this week shooting wise, and while we can forgive him for his struggles early on because of food poisoning, the amount of shots he missed at key times was not like him at all. As a result, his confidence seemed to take a big hit. Hopefully he can regain that form in the final events of this season or at the start of next year and show the potential of this lineup.

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You could argue that Manitoba finishing at 4-7 was worse than Alberta’s result, but Reid Carruthers’ rink was ranked anywhere from fourth to ninth place in the standings heading into this week. Koe was expected to be in the finals or the semis at worse, so to finish at 6-5 is a huge shock. Granted a couple of those losses came on wild game-winning shots, but the skip’s struggles were too much to overcome in my opinion. I think this was more of a case of first year jitters for a new squad, as I expect them to be at the top of their game in the lead-up to the 2018 Olympics.

Patch

My other disappointment from this year’s event was the 0-11 week for cult hero Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories. After he lost to New Brunswick in Draw 2, I was worried that his one chance of avoiding relegation had disappeared, and that proved to be the case. He’s teased retirement on Twitter and I really hope that doesn’t happen, as I want to by him an adult beverage some day at the #Patch.

Team Stats

Lead: Ben Hebert – 2nd – 93%

Second: Brent Laing – 1st – 91%

Vice: Marc Kennedy – 2nd – 91%

Skip: Kevin Koe – Tied for 4th – 82%

Award Winners and All Stars

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Team Canada skip Pat Simmons, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Hec Gervais Playoff MVP: Pat Simmons- Team Canada

1st Team All-Stars

Lead: Colin Hodgson – Manitoba

Second: Carter Rycroft – Team Canada

Vice: Ryan Fry – Northern Ontario

Skip: Brad Jacobs – Northern Ontario

2nd Team All-Stars

Lead: Ben Hebert – Alberta

Second: Brent Laing – Alberta

Vice: Marc Kennedy – Alberta

Skip: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. skip Jim Cotter, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Ross Harstone Award (Most Sportsmanlike): Jim Cotter – British Columbia

The Punkari Brothers Shot of the Week: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador (Game winning double-runback double-takout in Draw 12 against Alberta)


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