So here we go again. After another interesting regular season, the 2014 OHL playoffs will start off on Thursday, with a bevy of story-lines in store.
In the East, the Oshawa Generals look to be the team to beat, but the North Bay Battalion have been strong as of late and might be a stern test for them. Plus, the Barrie Colts and Sudbury Wolves are going head-to-head in a series that you could easily see happening in the conference finals, let alone the first round.
The opening set of series in the Western Conference should be straight forward, as all eyes are set on two insane second round affairs between Guelph/London and Sault Ste. Marie/Erie. However, anything can happen in the first round, so an upset might be in store that no one is expecting.
But before we get to all of that, we have to say our goodbyes to the four teams that missed out on the playoffs, and also take a look at what lies ahead for those clubs.
Sarnia Sting (17-44-2-5 – 5th in West Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on Friday, February 28)
What I Predicted: When it comes down to it, this might be a long winter for fans in Sarnia, as the Sting seem set to return to the bottom of the league.
What Actually Happened: Exactly that. Despite the scoring exploits of Nikolay Goldobin and Anthony DeAngelo, it wasn’t enough to keep the Sting out of the cellar. However, they did allow Soo Greyhounds forward Sergey Tolchinsky to score the goal of the season, so there is that.
What Lies Ahead: Other than a change in team ownership, the Sting is currently preparing to make the first overall pick in April’s draft. It’s the fourth time that the team has had the top selection, having drafted Jeff Brown (1994), Steven Stamkos (2006) and Alex Galchenyuk (2010) previously. Toronto Junior Canadians defenceman Jakob Chychrun is widely considered to be the top overall selection, but don’t be surprised if they end up taking Vaughn Kings forward Adam Mascherin.
Kitchener Rangers (22-41-2-3 – 5th in Midwest Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on Thursday, March 6)
What I Predicted: It seems like it might be a couple of years until the Rangers go back to the top of the mountain, but I have proven wrong by this team before.
What Actually Happened: My first instinct was right. The Rangers found themselves fighting for scraps in a division where Guelph, Erie, and London ran roughshod, and the massive changes in the roster from last season proved too much to overcome.
What Lies Ahead: There are some good pieces in the Rangers lineup, especially at forward, so I expect them to be in the playoff mix once again in 2014/15. The only question mark I have is the goaltending, and since no one can draft import netminders anymore (Thanks a lot David Branch), I am expecting Kitchener to take a long look at Michigan recruit Hayden Lavigne, whose rights they got at the deadline from Belleville.
Ottawa 67’s (23-39-3-3 – 5th in East Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on Sunday, March 16)
What I Predicted: There is a chance that this team could make the post-season again this season, despite finishing in the basement when things wrapped up last March.
What Actually Happened: The 67’s had an opportunity to force a tiebreaker game against Mississauga if they were able to beat North Bay on the last day of the season, but were blown out of the building in a 12-1 loss to the Battalion instead. As a result of that defeat, the club will miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time in its history.
What Lies Ahead: A move back to the Ottawa Civic Centre (or whatever it’s called these days) is the biggest thing, along with having a second season out of Travis Konecny to build the offence around. Chris Byrne will probably be the most likely coach on the hot seat at the start of the campaign, so the key will be not to get off to a slow start.
Belleville Bulls (23-38-4-3 – 4th in East Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on Friday, March 14)
What I Predicted: I think the Bulls will be around the bottom of that six team logjam that will contend for the Eastern Conference crown, but given the fact that the East is such a mess right now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bulls sneak into the discussion for the East Division title.
What Actually Happened: Well certainly not that. Despite a slow start, and trading away Brendan Gaunce to Erie, the Bulls still had a chance to sneak into the post-season before losing in overtime to Oshawa in it’s second last game of the season. Nevertheless, it was a quick drop-off from a team that was a win away from being in the finals a year earlier.
What Lies Ahead: The biggest question is where exactly the Bulls will be playing in a few years time. The team’s lease at the Yardmen Arena runs out next season, and the debate is raging on whether the facility will be renovated or if a new arena will be built. With Chatham seemingly always coming up now in relocation rumours, it will be interesting to see what happens next with this team.
It has come to my attention from a number of well-placed and reliable sources, that this former North Bay Centennials legend is no longer playing in the league, thus rendering the 2014 OHL playoffs meaningless.
Nevertheless, I suppose I should still go about making my soon-to-be wrong playoff picks here for the opening round of the post-season, since that’s what everyone is here for anyways.
1) Oshawa Generals vs. 8) Mississauga Steelheads: Oshawa in four (The Generals are just too strong for the Steelheads in this one. I expect this series to be rather one-sided.)
2) North Bay Battalion vs. 7) Niagara Ice Dogs: North Bay in four (For the first time since 2002, OHL playoff hockey has returned to the Gateway City, and the fans there should be rewarded for their long wait with a nice playoff run. Like the Generals/Steelheads series, this one should be over quickly.)
3) Kingston Frontenacs vs. 6) Peterborough Petes: Kingston in five (It’s nice to see the Petes back in the post-season, but I don’t think they have enough to match up with Kingston on offence.)
4) Barrie Colts vs. 5) Sudbury Wolves: Sudbury in seven (This is easily the most interesting series of the first round, and I can see this going either way. However, since I picked Sudbury to be in the OHL finals back in the fall, I’m not going to change things around now.)
1) Guelph Storm vs. 8) Plymouth Whalers: Guelph in five (Since the Whalers never miss the post-season, I can see them taking at least one game from the Storm. But an entire series? I doubt that will happen.)
2) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 7) Owen Sound Attack: Sault Ste. Marie in four (This series is a rematch of the awesome six-game affair the two sides had in the first round back in 2013, but I don’t think this one will be quite as exciting. However, since I picked the Greyhounds to win in a sweep, watch out for something truly strange to end up happening.)
3) Erie Otters vs. 6) Saginaw Spirit: Erie in five (Given everything that the Spirit have gone through since the death of Terry Trafford, I expect them to put in all that they have left in the tank into trying to pull off the upset. However, Erie has way too much firepower offensively to try and contain over a seven game series.)
4) London Knights vs. 5) Windsor Spitfires: London in five (For awhile, I thought this would be a really tough test for the Knights in the first round. But with Windsor; defender Slater Koekkoek suffering another season-ending shoulder injury, and London finishing off the season strongly, the Memorial Cup hosts should make their way to the second round with ease.)
Anyways, that does it for now, or until the second round at least. Enjoy the playoffs kids, it should be a heck of a ride.