The Road to Regina has officially begun as the OHL playoffs start their opening round this week. Six months of traveling, hard work and dedication have come down to this. Now, 16 teams will compete for a chance to hoist the J. Ross Robertson Cup as champions and hit the Trans-Canada Highway en route to the Canadian Prairies and the 2018 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
In the Western Conference, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have been atop the national rankings for most of the season. With just seven regulation losses, they’re poised to bring the OHL title back to the Great White North. However, they’ve got some competition and a few teams that won’t make it easy.
As the first round gets started, part of our OHL crew, including myself and Andrew Forbes, have come up with our first-round predictions for the Western Conference. Take a look and let us know how right or wrong we are:
#1 Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds v. #8 Saginaw Spirit
Records: SSM – 55-7-3-3; Saginaw – 29-30-9-0
Head-to-head: SSM – 7-0-0-1, Saginaw – 1-6-1-0
Goals For-Goals Against:
SSM – 317-186
Saginaw – 196-238
Players to Watch:
SSM – With 33 goals and 50 assists this season, forward Taylor Raddysh came over from the Erie Otters to provide veteran depth. His post-season experience should go a long way for the Hounds.
Saginaw – Goaltender Evan Cormier won’t likely win this series for the Spirit but if anyone on the team can give the Hounds some fits, it’ll be him.
Jewell – “On paper, this is a total mismatch. On the ice, it shouldn’t be any different. While the Spirit are enthusiastic and have a potential game-changer in Cormier, the Hound are built to destroy. When you lose seven regular season games all season, losing four-of-seven in a playoff series seems unlikely, especially in this situation. Prediction: SSM in 4.”
Forbes – “Everyone already has the Soo picked as the OHL’s representative at the Memorial Cup this season, so is there any reason to believe that Saginaw will grab a win in this series? The Greyhounds are stacked and ready to tear through the Western Conference starting with stealing Saginaw’s spirit. Prediction: SSM in 4.”
#2 Kitchener Rangers v. #7 Guelph Storm
Records: Kitchener – 43-21-3-1; Guelph – 30-29-5-4
Head-to-head: Kitchener 5-2-1-0, Guelph 3-4-1
Goals for-Goals Against:
Kitchener – 246-218
Guelph – 228-263
Players to Watch:
Kitchener – Having missed just 13 regular season games in four seasons, forward Adam Mascherin is looking to end his OHL career on a high note. His 40 goals, 46 assists and 86 points this season led the Rangers and this is a great opportunity to prepare for the next level.
Guelph – With the 2018 NHL Draft just three months away, this is a chance for defenceman Ryan Merkley to show what he’s made of. After a 13-goal, 67-point regular season, the slick 5-foot-11, 170-pounder is staring at his first OHL playoff series and what better time to prove he’s worthy of being a future first-round NHL pick.
Jewell – “This is a series that will garner attention. The Rangers loaded up at the deadline, bringing in forwards Givani Smith and Logan Brown plus defenceman Austin McEneny and goaltender Mario Culina. A good team became a great team. However, the Storm are one of those teams that simply never quit. They’re not star-studded but they work hard and, before you realize it, you’re down. This series could last a while. Prediction: Kitchener in 7.”
Forbes – “I only expect one upset in the first round and it isn’t Guelph over Kitchener. While the Rangers were mediocre at best over the last month of the season, the only thing handing them a win in this series is that the Storm were worse. The Rangers are physical and have guys like Smith, (Kole) Sherwood and Brown who can put the puck in the net. The Storm shouldn’t be a struggle for Kitchener. Prediction: Kitchener in 5.”
#3 Sarnia Sting v. #6 Windsor Spitfires
Records: Sarnia – 46-17-4-1; Windsor – 32-30-4-2
Head-to-head: Sarnia – 5-1-0-0, Windsor – 1-5-0-0
Sarnia – 299-213
Windsor – 214-224
Players to Watch:
Sarnia –With a dynamic 39-goal, 109-point season, captain Jordan Kyrou has done it all for the Sting. He helped Canada win Gold at the 2018 World Juniors in Buffalo and now he has a chance to lead his powerhouse team on a long playoff run. This is his time to shine.
Windsor – A highly-touted prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, Curtis Douglas came to the Spitfires from the Barrie Colts in the Aaron Luchuk deal in December. The six-foot-eight, 232-pound forward had 22 goals this season and played the role of big brother well for the Spits. With scouts watching, this might be his best chance to show what he can truly do.
Jewell – “Sarnia is another team that went for it all this season. They brought in veterans Jonathan Ang, Cam Dineen and Michael Pezzetta, who complemented an already dynamic offence lead by Kyrou. The Spitfires, defending Memorial Cup champions, went the opposite route and sold off at the deadline. Unfortunately for the Spitfires, this meant the season series was lopsided. The X-factor in this might be Spitfires’ goaltender Michael DiPietro. He could easily steal a game or two for Windsor. Will he steal the series? That’s a tough one. Prediction: Sarnia in 5.”
Forbes – “The only thing that kept Windsor in it was their prolific goaltending in the form of Michael DiPietro. Otherwise, this team has a lot of holes that the Sting can expose. On the other side, the Sting have a lot of talent that should help them get through this first-round matchup with ease. With Kyrou and Ang, the Sting shouldn’t have an issue putting the puck behind DiPietro. Prediction: Sarnia in 5.”
#4 Owen Sound Attack v. #5 London Knights
Records: OS – 38-22-3-5; London – 39-25-2-2
Head-to-head: OS – 2-4-0-0, London – 4-1-1-0
Goals for-Goals Against:
OS – 289-247
London – 233-212
Players to Watch:
OS – The Vegas Golden Knights are watching this series closely as their golden child, 2017 first-round pick Nick Suzuki, gets ready to put on a show. Suzuki scored 100 points this year after a 96-point campaign a year ago. He’s a sneaky skater who simply gets the job done.
London – When you think of the Knights, you think of captain Evan Bouchard. The 18-year-old defenceman is a top prospect for the 2018 NHL Draft, posts crazy ice-time totals and led the Knights with 87 points this season (25 goals, 62 assists). He’s proving to be the real deal and will be a key for the Knights in this post-season.
Jewell – “This is another series that will get plenty of attention. The Knights had a shaky start to the season but, once they got rolling, they didn’t stop. While they’re a young team, they’ve got experience both on the ice and behind the bench. On the other side, the Attack are one of the deadliest offensive teams in the league. Their biggest question mark comes in goal; no more Michael McNiven. Will their offence be strong enough to eliminate the Knights? This could be interesting. Prediction: OS in 6.”
Forbes – “Finally, the four-five matchup should be a fun one in the Western Conference. This is a toss-up matchup that will depend on which team shows up for the London Knights. Proving that they could still put the puck in the net following a busy trade deadline, the Knights do give up a lot of shots. If Raaymakers can stand up to the test, this could be the one upset in the West in this year’s OHL first round. Prediction: London in 6.“
A nearly life-long resident of Windsor, ON, I graduated from St. Clair College (Journalism) and University of Windsor (Communications) and have attended Windsor Spitfires’ (and OHL) games for 30-years. My areas include multimedia journalism and photography.