The London Knights will start their defence of last season’s Ontario Hockey League (OHL) championship as the fourth seed in the Western Conference. That means the club will have to start their run up against a tough opponent in the Windsor Spitfires.
The Knights finished the year 46-15-3-4 with 99 points. They were three points shy of third in the conference which would’ve had them playing the Kitchener Rangers in the first round. Instead, they’ll get set to take on a Spitfires team that finished the year in 41-19-5-3.
— Jim Parker (@winstarparker) March 19, 2017
The Spits will be led into the OHL’s postseason by Toronto Maple Leafs pick, Jeremy Bracco. Bracco finished the regular season with 83 points (25g-58a) in just 57 games and just recently signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Leafs.
Winning at Home: A Head-to-Head Look
Conference rivals, the Knights and Spitfires played six times during the regular season in 2016-17. The results were simple. The team with the home-ice advantage was the team that walked away with the win.
Both clubs scored 17 goals over six games. Windsor fired 180 shots on the Knights’ net – averaging 30 shots per game. The Knights had 183 over the same span. The Spitfires were 8-for-26 on the power play (a success rate of 30.8 percent) while the Knights went 5-for-27 (18.5 percent).
The only stat that one team really dominated over the other was in the face-off circle. The Knights won 213 draws compared to the 169 by the Spitfires. London went 55.8 percent on face-offs in their six meetings, but aside from that it was a pretty even season series.
Depth of the Round Table
They didn’t have the same big names as they did in past seasons, but the Knights ran with four lines during the regular season – something that paid off for the Dale Hunter-coached club. Six players tallied four or more points against the Spitfires this season with Cliff Pu leading the way.
Pu scored two goals and finished with nine points in six games against their first-round opponent, while Max Jones (five points in three games), Evan Bouchard (four assists in six games), Olli Juolevi (four points in five games), Janne Kuokkanen (four points in five games) and JJ Piccinich (four points in six games) all finished with four or more points.
While Calgary Flames’ prospect Tyler Parsons only played four of the six games, he had some good numbers against the Spitfires this season. He gave up 11 goals in almost 246 minutes of play. He finished with a 2.68 goals against average (GAA) in those six games to go along with his .902 save percentage and one shutout.
The Knights will be without Sam Miletic, who led the team in goals this season, after he was whistled for a slew foot in their final game of the season against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The call carries an automatic two-game suspension that the OHL decided to uphold. While he finished the season with 37 goals and 55 points in 65 games, he only had a goal and an assist to show in six games against the Spitfires this season.
Spitfires Gunning for the Upset
The season series was a tight one, but on paper the Spitfires are the underdog to this Knights team. Coming in as the fifth-ranked club, they aren’t expected to come away with the series victory against a fourth-ranked London team.
That being said, Windsor had a number of players that had their own success against the Knights this season. Logan Brown, an Ottawa Senators first-round pick in 2016, led the way with six assists in five games against London. Gabriel Vilardi and Jalen Chatfield both secured five points in six games each, while Jeremiah Addison (four points in six games), Julius Nattinen (four points in four games) and Sean Day (four assists in four games) all impressed against London this season.
In net, it was a duo that battled the Knights. Michael DiPietro played four games giving up 11 goals. He had a 2.68 GAA and a .909 save percentage. The other two games were handed to Mario Culina. He secured a 2.50 GAA and .918 save percentage during that time.
The Spits will be without Logan Stanley who suffered a leg injury and likely won’t be back until the Memorial Cup tournament at the earliest – which will be hosted by Windsor this season.
London Knights (4) vs. Windsor Spitfires (5)
Game #1: Windsor Spitfires (4) at London Knights (3) OT – Spitfires lead series 1-0
Game #2: Windsor Spitfires (2) at London Knights (5) – Series tied 1-1
Game #3: London Knights (1) at Windsor Spitfires (3) – Spitfires lead series 2-1
Game #4: London Knights (2) at Windsor Spitfires (3) OT – Spitfires lead series 3-1
Game #5: Windsor Spitfires (1) at London Knights (2) – Spitfires lead series 3-2
Game #6: London Knights (5) at Windsor Spitfires (3) – Series tied 3-3
Game #7: Windsor Spitfires (2) at London Knights (3) – Knights win series 4-3
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.