CHL Playoff Preview, Part 3
by Bob Davis(NHL)
Posted on March 31, 2006, 7:31 AM
NOTE: This column was originally posted in the RCC on Monday, March 27th.
The battle for the 2006 Memorial Cup has begun in Canada. Three junior hockey leagues each run through a gruelling, 70+ game season; then host a four-round playoff system to crown 3 league champions. The respective league champions then travel out to a designated city to compete against the host team to crown the annual national junior champion. This year, the champions from the Western Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will compete against Moncton in the New Brunswick city for the Memorial Cup.
The Memorial Cup is the biggest stage for these young prospects to showcase their talents to potential NHL teams. Some of these players will become household names in the NHL; and a select few will win the Stanley Cup. Over the next few days, I will introduce you to some of the players in each of the three leagues who are hoping to jumpstart their NHL careers by leading their teams to the Memorial Cup Final. I’ll also put my psychic abilities to the test and put my predictions out for each of the first round series.
Part 1: The WHL Eastern Conference.
Part 2: The WHL Western Conference.
OHL Eastern Conference:
Unlike the WHL, the OHL uses a playoff ranking system similar to the NHL’s version, where the teams are ranked 1-10 based on total points regardless of their division.
Series A: Peterborough Petes vs. Ottawa 67s.
To earn the distinction of being the top ranked team in the Eastern Conference, Peterborough finished the 68 game schedule with 47 wins and 99 points, to set a new team record. Meanwhile, the Ottawa 67s qualified for the playoffs in 8th position, finishing the season 2 games below .500 and a team +/- rating of -4. Last year, these 2 clubs met in the Eastern Conference Finals, with Ottawa taking the series in 4 straight games.
Leading the charge for redemption for the Petes is 6’3, 200lb centre Jordan Staal. The younger brother of Carolina star Eric, Jordan tallied 68 points in 68 games with Peterborough, and is expected to be drafted very early in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft. Jordan, the third of 4 talented Staal hockey players, proved to be a very disciplined player, only taking an average of 1 penalty minute per game for the entire season. The 17-year-old centre will be an important part of the Petes’ run to the second round.
Mentioning the team from Peterborough without talking about Steve Downie would be almost criminal. The 18-year-old centre from Scarborough was the spark plug in Team Canada’s offence at the World Junior Hockey Championships during the holiday season. The 191lb Downie, a first round draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005, provided the same kind of lift all season long behind Staal on the Petes’ lineup. If Downie shows his true potential at Philly’s training camp in September, this will be his last shot to make it to the Memorial Cup.
Hoping to lead the 67s to a massive first round upset is 16 year old rookie Logan Couture. The 6’ tall centre racked up 64 points in 65 games for the 67s. Couture caused a stir before the 2005 OHL draft, stating that he may choose to take the college route as opposed to playing major junior hockey. The threat meant that he dropped from a first overall pick in that draft to the middle of the pack, allowing the 67s to take a gamble on him. The gamble has paid off already, and Couture changed his tone; stating instead that his first choice all along was to play major junior. The 67s are hoping that the gamble pays off further with a trip to the second round.
Couture had the first goal of the series for Ottawa in game 1, but Peterborough squeaked out a 3-2 double OT win. In game 2, Couture helped spark a 5 goal second period outburst to lead the 67s to an 8-4 victory to even the series. Staal has been held scoreless in the first 2 games, while Downie has 1 goal and 6 minutes in penalties. Those 2 big guns aren’t going to be held back for long; and Peterborough will begin to roll through the rest of this series.
PREDICTION: Peterborough over Ottawa 4 games to 2.
Series B: Brampton Battalion vs. Belleville Bulls.
Brampton gained the second seed in the first round by winning 44 of their 68 games for 91 points. The #2 ranked offence chalked up an average of 4 goals a game over the course of the season. Belleville is hoping to shut down the Brampton offence. The Bulls finished 4 games above .500 over the season, finishing just 6 points ahead of Ottawa for 7th overall.
The key for the Bellville Bulls will be shutting down Brampton’s main scoring threat, Wojtek Wolski. The 20 year old Wolski chalked up a very impressive 128 points in just 56 games with the Battalion. Wolski, acquired by Colorado in the 2004 Entry Draft, missed the first 12 games of Brampton’s season because he was a part of the NHL club’s roster for their first 9 games. During his brief stint in the NHL, the Polish sensation racked up 6 points for the Avalanche, and proved that he is going to be a major part of Colorado’s plans in the near future. Meanwhile, he is a key part of Brampton’s plans for an OHL title.
In net, Bellville had relied on their top goaltender, Kevin Lalande, for most of the season. Lalande did an admirable job in net for the Bulls, registering 24 wins in 50 games, while posting 3 shutouts and a .916 save percentage. However, the 5th round draft pick of the Flames in 2005 was injured in the first period of a game in late February against Guelph, and rookie backup Sebastian Dahm has had to carry the mail for the Bulls. In 25 games for the Bulls, the 19 year old Dahm posted a 7-10 record with 1 shutout and a .908 save percentage. Dahm will need to be big for the Bulls in order for Belleville to advance.
The first 2 games of this series went into overtime, with both teams winning one. In the first game, Wolski set up 2 goals, including the game winner in the first overtime to lift the Battalion to a 3-2 win. In game 2, Dahm stopped 41 of 43 shots to lead Belleville to an overtime win by the same 3-2 margin. Dahm is going to have to continue his stellar play in net for Belleville; but it seems like Wolski will always find a way to score.
PREDICTION: Brampton over Belleville in 7.
Series C: Barrie Colts vs. Toronto St. Michael’s Majors.
Barrie was relegated to third overall on the strength of the late season charge by Brampton, who won their final 14 regular season games to take first in the Central Division. This may be a blessing in disguise for the Colts, who will take their high octane offence into a series against Toronto, who allowed the third highest number of goals in the OHL this season.
Barrie’s offence is lead by Bryan Little. The 18-year-old Edmonton native registered 42 goals and 109 points in 64 games for the Colts. Little spent more time in the penalty box this season than he had in either of his previous 2 seasons with the Colts, registering 99 penalty minutes this year. However, the 5’11, 195lb centre tempered the time in the box with a +26 rating, meaning the 2-way forward will likely be a first or second round draft pick in the 2006 Entry Draft.
Hoping to limit Little to a little series is the Majors’ leading defenceman, Ryan Wilson. The 19-year-old Wilson went through the 2005 draft without a phone call, and responded this season by potting 10 power play goals and racking up 61 points. The 206lb Windsor native is ranked first among the International Scouting Service’s list of top undrafted 19-year-old players; and is a sure bet to be picked up in the 2006 draft in Vancouver. Toronto is going to need Wilson to have a big series to stop Barrie from advancing.
In Game 1 of this series, Barrie peppered 53 shots on Toronto goaltender Wayne Savage in a 5-4 overtime victory. Wilson had 2 assists in game 2 of the series, but it wasn’t enough for Toronto, as Little had 2 points in a 6-5 win. Little chalked up 2 more points to run his playoff total to 6 in game 3 as Barrie took a stranglehold on the series with a 7-5 win. Barrie can wrap up the series in game 4 with a win; I think Wilson and his team will respond with a big effort to send this series at least to 5.
PREDICTION: Barrie over Toronto 4 games to 1.
Series D: Kingston Frontenacs vs. Sudbury Wolves.
The Sudbury Wolves actually finished the season tied in points with Toronto; but Sudbury garnered the #5 seed on the strength of 2 more regulation wins. That earned Sudbury a date with #4 Kingston, who finished the season with 81 points on the strength of 37 wins. Kingston went into the playoffs on a losing note, having dropped 4 straight prior to the second season; while Sudbury capped the year with a trio of wins to head into the silly season strong.
Sudbury is lead into battle by the 4th overall pick in the 2005 Entry Draft, Benoit Pouliot. The Minnesota Wild prospect was expected by many before the season began to contend for the OHL scoring title; but Pouliot struggled towards the end of the season, finishing with 65 points in 51 games. Pouliot, who was also a part of Team Canada’s gold medal winning junior team, had 14 points in 12 games during Sudbury’s post-season run last year.
On defence for the Wolves is New York Rangers prospect Marc Staal. Drafted 12th overall in 2005, Staal is the second of 4 Staal brothers; behind Carolina superstar Eric, Peterborough centre Jordan and midget sensation Jared. The 6’4, 205lb defenceman posted career best totals of 38 assists and 49 points in 57 games for the Wolves.
The Frontenacs respond with a talented skater of their own. Left winger Cory Emmerton led the way for Kingston in 2005-06 with 90 points in 66 games; and posted a brilliant +37 rating. The 5th rated North American prospect heading into the 2006 draft, the 17-year-old Emmerton posted rookie numbers of 17 goals and 38 points in 51 games with Kingston last year. At 6’ and 190 lbs, the St. Thomas native will be the driving force behind a Frontenac playoff run.
In game 1 of this series, Emmerton scored Kingston’s 5th goal in a 5-3 win. Pouliot had 2 goals in game 1, and followed that up with the game-winning power play goal and an assist to lead Sudbury back to even terms with a 4-1 victory in game 2. Sudbury’s talent laden team will be too much for Kingston to handle in this series, and the Frontenacs will bow out in round 1.
PREDICTION: Sudbury over Kingston 4 games to 2.
In Part 4 of this series, I'll take a look at the London Knights first round series, against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Will the Knights be able to repeat as Memorial Cup champions? Will the Greyhounds be much of a challenge for London?
In Parts 5 and 6, the QMJHL playoffs will go under the spotlight. Sidney Crosby led his Rimouski Oceanic to the Memorial Cup final in 2005, where the Quebec champions were dominated from start to finish by London. With Crosby now in the NHL, how did the Oceanic fare?
In Part 7, I’ll take a look past round 1 at which teams are likely to contend for the Memorial Cup in Moncton. I’ll also wrap up by looking at some of the talents on non-playoff teams that could make a major impact in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.