CHL Playoff Preview, Part 7
by Bob Davis(NHL)
Posted on April 3, 2006, 10:32 PM
Over the past week, I have been previewing the first round of the Canadian Hockey League’s road to the Memorial Cup. 58 Canadian junior hockey clubs started the season; over the course of an average 70 game season, that number dwindled down to 48 teams. After this round, just 24 will remain.
Through the first 6 parts of this series, I previewed each of the first round battles; and highlighted some of the key players for each team involved. Not only that, but I put my powers of prognostication to the test, and predicted how each of the 24 first-round series will wind up. The half-dozen links below will take you to the respective conference previews.
Part 1: The WHL Eastern Conference.
Part 2: The WHL Western Conference.
Part 3: The OHL Eastern Conference.
Part 4: The OHL Western Conference.
Part 5: The QMJHL Eastern Conference.
Part 6: The QMJHL Western Conference.
At the end of round 1, 24 teams will find themselves out of the playoffs. They will be joined by the 10 teams that made early reservations at the local putt and chip, thanks to some less than stellar play through the season. Despite the fact that these teams didn’t make the second season, there are a number of talented prospects that may be seen in the NHL soon; some of whom are far too talented to be spending time working on replacing divots. Allow me to introduce you to just a few of those talents.
QMJHL: Rimouski Oceanic
The Memorial Cup runner-up from 2005 had a bunch of their top players depart for bigger and better things after the national championship; the most notable being Pittsburgh Penguins’ number one draft pick Sydney Crosby. The Oceanic plummeted down the standings this season, going from first to worst with a 10 win and 23 point season.
Holding the distinction of being the best player on the worst team is not something that most people would tell their grandchildren. Maxime Lincourt is the Oceanic player that has earned that honour. The 6’1” 18-year-old from Montreal scored 30 goals and 66 points for Rimouski to lead the team in both departments. Lincourt is eligible for the 2006 draft in Vancouver, but his -47 season rating is likely to make a lot of teams pass on the right winger.
Saint John Sea Dogs
The Quebec league’s newest franchise struggled throughout their debut season, finishing with a record of 15 wins against 55 losses. On a team with 18 rookies, the leading scorer, predictably, was a rookie. 19-year-old Felix Schutz had 31 assists and 52 points in 65 games for the Sea Dogs. The 5’9 centre led the Dogs with 6 short handed goals on the season. On a team where most players had a +/- rating worse than -20, Schutz had a relatively good rating of just -14, which, when put into perspective, will help his chances of being a late-round draft pick this season.
OHL: Oshawa Generals
In a particularly tough OHL East Division, the Oshawa Generals floundered worse than a fish out of water. Over the course of the 70-game 05-06 season, the Generals mustered only 18 wins and 41 points, while giving up 330 goals as a team. In their final 10 games of the season, the Generals allowed 43 goals against, and were only able to put together 3 victories, all in shootouts, in those 10 games.
Former Ottawa 67s star Peter Tsimikalis had a career year for Oshawa. The 20-year-old centre notched 70 assists and 99 points to lead the Generals in both categories. At 6’1, 193 lbs, Tsimikalis served as a mentor of sorts to 15-year-old rookie John Tavares. In fact, Tsimikalis and Tavares even billeted together in Oshawa, which gave the 6’, 183lb Tavares the confidence necessary to post 45 goals and 77 points. Tavares will have 4 seasons in the OHL before becoming eligible for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft; if he improves on his 2005-06 numbers, he will be a highly sought-after draft pick, similar to the likes of Sidney Crosby.
Missassauga Ice Dogs
The Ice Dogs are a relatively young OHL franchise, having joined the Ontario league at the start of the 1998-99 season. Missassauga is owned in part by CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada loudmouth Don Cherry. In their first 3 seasons, the Ice Dogs managed a grand total of 16 wins, thanks in part to Cherry’s refusal to participate in the European draft. At the beginning of the 2001-02 season, Cherry took the reigns of the team, and led the Dogs to a 11 win season.
Cherry stepped down at the end of that season, and the Ice Dogs’ draft restriction ended. Missassauga made the playoffs each of the next 3 years, including taking the #1 seed into the first round last season, where they were upset by Toronto. This year, the Ice Dogs wound up 5th in the Central, taking only 21 out of 70 games for 49 points. 17-year-old Jordan Owens and 18-year-old centre Michael Swift led the way this year for the Dogs with 54 points each.
In the Midwest Division, the Otters sealed their fate by dropping 5 out of 7 games at the end of February, allowing Owen Sound to clinch the final playoff spot. Erie finished the season with a 26-35-4-3 record on the season, good for 59 points. Despite losing games by margins of 10-0 and 6-0 during that decisive stretch at the end of February, the Otters wrapped up the year with a team goal differential of only -47, which was the best goal differential among the 4 non-playoff teams in the OHL.
The Chicago Blackhawks watched with great interest to see how their second round pick from the 2005 Entry draft fared. 19-year-old right winger Michael Blunden, the #43 pick overall in 2005 by Chicago, enjoyed his best year as an Otter, scoring 46 goals and 84 points in just 60 games with Erie. The Toronto native missed 10 games with the OHL club due to an assignment with the Norfolk Admirals of the AHL, where he posted his first AHL assist in 2 games with the Virginia-based club. As a 6’3, 215lb winger, Blunden looks to make an impact with the Blackhawks next season.
Looking at the statistics for the Sting this season, a person doesn’t need to go into too much depth to understand how Sarnia finished last overall in the OHL. The leading scorer for the Sting had just 31 goals in 49 games with the club; Chad Painchaud also took 65 minutes in penalties on the season and finished with a -7 rating. In fact, the average Sarnia player spent one complete game in the penalty box this season, meaning that the Sting found themselves killing crucial penalties at key times in important games. Sarnia finished the season with just 17 wins for 39 points, and little chance of having a member of the roster drafted in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft.
WHL: Prince Albert Raiders
In a very competitive East division, the Raiders found themselves as the odd men out. A lack of scoring plagued the northern Saskatchewan team all season long, as the Raiders scored only 167 goals during the 72-game season. Prince Albert was in the playoff hunt until the final 10 games of the season, when a 4-6 stretch eliminated them from contention. The Raiders wrapped up the season with 26 wins and 61 points, 9 back of 4th place Brandon in the East.
The Raiders were led this season by 20-year-old centre Kyle Chipchura. The Vimy, Alberta native had 21 goals and 55 points in just 59 games with the junior club. At 6’3 and 192lbs, the Montreal Canadiens have already sent their 1st round, 18th overall pick from 2004 to Hamilton to continue his development in the hopes of having Chipchura crack the main roster soon. Chipchura is described by scouts as being a player who will not have a flashy career, but will enjoy a long, productive NHL career.
Red Deer Rebels
The only team who scored fewer goals in the WHL than the Prince Albert Raiders this season hails from Alberta. The Rebels posted an abysmal 166 goals over the 72 game season, leading to 25 wins and just 58 points in the Central division. On the strength of 6 wins in their last 10 games, Red Deer was excruciatingly close to a playoff berth, finishing just 4 points back of Swift Current for 4th place.
Red Deer’s head coach, general manager, president and owner all happen to be members of one of hockey’s most famous families; and they all happen to be the same man. Viking, Alberta’s Brent Sutter wears all of those caps for the Rebels, as well as leading team Canada to the World Junior Hockey gold medal each of the last 2 years. Sutter’s leading scorer, ironically enough, is Calgary Flames draft prospect Brett Sutter. The 18-year-old centre, drafted 179th overall by Darryl Sutter’s team in 2005, had 50 points in 73 games this season. The 5’11, 192lb Sutter, acquired by Red Deer from Kootenay early in the season, hopes to join his father’s team in the NHL to become one of the few father-son duos to play in the big league.
Out west, the Blazers are the only team in the country this season to finish with a record above .500 and still miss the playoffs. Kamloops’ 3-1 victory over Prince George on the final day of the regular season gave the Blazers 34 wins and 33 regulation losses on the season. The 73 points that the Blazers posted on the year put them 3 points back of the Cougars for the 4th playoff spot in the B.C. division.
The only 30-goal scorer on the roster for Kamloops this season was 20-year-old Ashton Rome. The 6’2, 202lb Rome potted 19 goals and 28 assists in 51 games for the Blazers, after being acquired a month into the season from Red Deer. The 4th round, 108th overall draft pick in 2004, Rome is hoping to crack the Boston Bruins’ roster in time for the 2006-07 season.
Spokane wound down a penalty-filled season with 6 losses in their final 10 games. A major reason that the Chiefs failed to make the playoffs this season is the 1673 minutes in penalties that Chiefs’ players spent in the penalty box, which ranked them second-worst in the league. Spokane won 25 games despite the penalty problems, leaving them 9 points out of a playoff spot with a total of 58.
Mid-season acquisition Kevin Armstrong will help Spokane avenge their last place finish in the U.S. division in 2006-07. The 18-year-old goaltender had 14 wins and a 2.49 goals against average with Saskatoon before being traded to Spokane in January. Since then, the 6’1, 179lb Armstrong suffered with a lack of offensive support on the Chiefs, posting an 8-13 record and a 3.48 goals against average. His early-season play with the Blades should give NHL clubs enough confidence to take a chance on the Winnipeg native in the 2006 draft.
Out of the 48 teams that started the playoffs, 29 teams are left. 19 teams have hung up their jerseys for the season, trading them in for golf clubs and baseball gloves. Let’s do a quick recap of round 1 to this point:
Eastern Conference: Moncton over Victoriaville 4 games to 1
Acadie-Bathurst over P.E.I. 4-2.
Cape Breton over St. John’s 4-2.
Halifax defeats Lewiston 4-2.
Western Conference: Quebec over Val d’Or 4-1
Chicoutimi over Baie-Comeau 4-0
Shawinigan over Rouyn-Noranda 4-1
Gatineau and Drummondville are tied 3-3.
OHL PREDICTIONS RECAP:
Peterborough over Ottawa 4-2
Brampton over Belleville 4-2
Barrie over Toronto 4-0
Sudbury over Kingston 4-2
London over Sault Ste. Marie 4-0
Plymouth and Windsor tied 3-3
Owen Sound over Kitchener 4-1
Guelph over Saginaw 4-0.
WHL PREDICTONS RECAP:
Moose Jaw leads Brandon 3-2.
Saskatoon leads Regina 3-2.
Medicine Hat over Swift Current 4-0.
Calgary over Lethbridge 4-2.
Vancouver over Prince George 4-1.
Kelowna over Kootenay 4-2
Everett over Tri-City 4-1
Portland leads Seattle 3-2.
Through round 1, my prognostications stand with a 14-5 record, which isn’t too shabby... unless you consider the fact that I had 2 games in most of the series to judge how they would turn out before I made my picks. This time around, I’m taking a leap into a complete unknown. Out of 24 teams, there are 5 who haven’t booked their spots into Round 2 as of yet. Assuming my predictions for the remaining 5 series hold up, let’s see who will take the Memorial Cup.
WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUE:
Round 2: Medicine Hat vs. Saskatoon.
While my hometown Blades have fantastic talent and great depth, the Tigers have to be considered the prohibitive favourites in this series. The WHL’s regular season champs will win the series, but Saskatoon will give the Tigers more fight in round 2 than Swift Current did in Round 1.
PREDICTION: Medicine Hat wins in 6.
Calgary vs. Moose Jaw.
Calgary’s strong goaltending will give the Warrior’s offence fits in this series. Justin Pogge has proven himself to be a quality goaltender, and Troy Brouwer’s team won’t be able to take the Hitmen down in this one.
PREDICTION: Calgary defeats Moose Jaw in 7.
Vancouver vs. Seattle.
Seattle will need to win 2 consecutive just to get here. The Giants have been resting comfortably after taking out Prince George in 5 games. Vancouver has an excellent goaltender in Dustin Slade, who went through the season allowing fewer than 2 goals a game. If Slade plays that well, Seattle will be done very quickly.
PREDICTION: Vancouver over Seattle in 5.
Kelowna vs. Everett.
Blake Comeau led the way for the Rockets in their round 1 victory over Kootenay with 7 points; while Shaun Heshka had 7 of his own in a first-round win over Tri-City. Leland Irving was fantastic in the round 1 win, posting 2 shutouts and a stellar 0.79 GAA in 5 games. Look for Irving to do more of the same.
PREDICTION: Everett over Kelowna in 5.
ROUND 3: Calgary vs. Medicine Hat.
This one will be the toughest series to call. The 2 best teams in the WHL used different techniques to rise to the top. The Tigers played a very offensive style of hockey, while the Hitmen rode superb goaltending from Pogge to finish second in the WHL. Pogge’s play will be key, but the Tigers have too much depth on offence to deny.
PREDICTION: Medicine Hat beats Calgary in 7.
Everett vs. Vancouver.
In a battle of 2 excellent goaltenders, the Giants have the better one in Dustin Slade. Irving has been absolutely stunning for the Silvertips, but the Giants have more offensive firepower than Everett does, so Leland Irving will be ousted. This one won’t be a quick one, though.
PREDICTION: Vancouver defeats Everett in 7.
WHL FINALS: Vancouver vs. Medicine Hat.
Excellent offence meets excellent offence. On paper, these teams are very evenly matched. Both teams scored well over 250 goals on the year; both gave up fewer than 170. The Giants have a better goaltender, which will make the difference in a long series. Expect a couple of long overtime games in this one, though.
PREDICTION: Vancouver defeats Medicine Hat in 7.
ONTARIO HOCKEY LEAGUE:
Round 2: Peterborough vs. Sudbury.
Carolina Hurricanes’ star forward Eric Staal’s 2 brothers face each other in this second round series. Peterborough’s Jordan is going to need an excellent series to eliminate Sudbury’s Marc from the second round. Marc will be an excellent defenceman for the Rangers, and he will have more time than Jordan to do some off-season conditioning.
PREDICTION: Peterborough defeats Sudbury in 6.
Brampton vs. Barrie:
Avalanche prospect Wojtek Wolski led the Battalion in scoring with 8 points through 4 games thus far in the playoffs. While Brampton is on the verge of taking their round 1 series, Barrie has already advanced and is taking a bit of time off before getting ready for this series. The Battalion should advance, but the Colts will make it interesting.
PREDICTION: Brampton defeats Barrie in 7.
London vs. Owen Sound:
The defending Memorial Cup champions dispatched Sault Ste. Marie in 4 games, although the final 2 were tougher than the Knights expected. Owen Sound won’t fare much better, although they might steal one at home.
PREDICTION: London defeats Owen Sound in 5.
Guelph vs. Plymouth:
Guelph swept through Saginaw in very impressive fashion, outscoring the Spirit 15-6 in 4 straight victories. Meanwhile, Plymouth will be playing a 7th and deciding game; and games one and two of this series are the equivalent of a home-and-home on back-to-back nights. Guelph is likely going to sweep both games, and Plymouth is going to be in a deep hole.
PREDICTION: Guelph over Plymouth in 6.
Semi-Finals: Peterborough vs. Brampton.
Belleville took Brampton to 6, and Barrie should take Brampton to 7. The Battalion will come into this series feeling energized from surviving 2 tough series; while Peterborough will come in having had a couple extra days off, which beats added adrenaline any day of the week, and twice on Saturdays.
PREDICTION: Peterborough over Brampton in 6.
London vs. Guelph.
If you’ve read my predictions for Guelph, you’d think I am going to take them to win the Memorial Cup. I’ll respond with 8 words: Sergei Kostitsyn, Rob Schremp, David Bolland, Dylan Hunter. Sorry, Guelph. Game over.
PREDICTION: London over Guelph in 5.
OHL Final: London vs. Peterborough.
Peterborough has relied on Jordan Staal so far in the playoffs; and Staal will be brilliant in rounds 2 and 3. However, to beat the London Knights, the Petes are going to need Eric Staal... and Mark Recchi... and Wayne Gretzky... and the entire Ottawa Senators’ roster... and about 300lbs of fireworks... and a bazooka.
PREDICTION: London over Peterborough in 5.
QUEBEC MAJOR JUNIOR HOCKEY LEAGUE.
Round 2: Moncton vs. Halifax
Moncton, as I alluded to in part 5, has a guaranteed shot at the Memorial Cup. They didn’t rest on that shot, choosing instead to win the conference and take the number one seed into the playoffs. Former Sabres coach Ted Nolan has the Wildcats clicking on all cylinders at just the right time.
PREDICTION: Moncton over Halifax in 6.
Acadie-Bathurst vs. Cape Breton.
When I posted the preview of the Cape Breton/St John’s series, I mentioned the winter storm that hit the Atlantic provinces, forcing the postponement of game 3. Cape Breton didn’t let that experience throw them, winning 3 straight to end the series. Les Titans will provide a tougher test, but Cape Breton will face Moncton in round 3.
PREDICTION: Cape Breton over Acadie-Bathurst in 6.
Quebec vs. Shawinigan
Ok, so on one hand, you have Patrick Roy leading Radulov and Esposito into battle; on the other hand, you have Alex Bourret leading the Cataractes. To put this in perspective, this is about as big of a mismatch as 50 giant sumo wrestlers taking on 3 blind mice in a pie-eating contest.
PREDICTION: Quebec over Shawinigan in 4.
Chicoutimi vs. Gatineau/Drummondville.
Gatineau vs. Drummondville is one series I predicted would be over in 4, especially after Gatineau jumped out to a 3-0 lead. Here we are, almost a week later, and game 7 is scheduled for Tuesday night. If Gatineau holds on, they will be little opposition for Chicoutimi. If Drummondville finishes the comeback, it will be a battle for the Sagueneens. Either way, Chicoutimi is moving on up.
PREDICTION: Chicoutimi advances in no more than 6 games.
ROUND 3: Moncton vs. Cape Breton.
Here’s a little recipe for you: Take a former NHL coach, an aggressive style of play, a top prospect, a goaltender who lost only once in 17 starts, and absolutely no pressure. Pour mixture into a 3x5 cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 70 games. Serves up delicious beatings all year long.
PREDICTION: Moncton over Cape Breton in 6.
Quebec vs. Chicoutimi.
The winner of this series will likely find themselves in the Memorial Cup. You see, Moncton is guaranteed the berth that goes to the host team, so if Moncton makes it to the QMJHL final, their opposition will get the berth that normally goes to the Quebec league champs. So, let’s call this one the league final and get it over with, shall we? Oh yeah... the winner... well, I was just filling up space here.
PREDICTION: Quebec over Chicoutimi in 5.
QMJHL Final: Quebec vs. Moncton.
These 2 teams are very evenly matched. Both have former Stanley Cup champions that know what it takes to win the big games. Both have superstar prospects who will make a big impact in the NHL; and both have fantastic goaltending. I’ll make my prediction in a very scientific fashion: My wife would have my head if I picked against her cousin.
PREDICTION: Quebec over Moncton in 7.
Vancouver, Moncton, Quebec and London will appear in the Memorial Cup final. All 4 teams possess fantastic talent, and any one of them could win it all. However, the team that has the most talent, the team that has the most opportunity, and the team that has the most explosive offence is the London Knights. I expect them to repeat in style.
MEMORIAL CUP CHAMPIONS: London Knights.
There you have it. After 15,000 words and 7 separate columns, I have just spoiled the winner of the Memorial Cup. The London Knights are the strongest team in the country on paper, and they should become repeat winners of a trophy dedicated to the memory of the brave men and women who fought for Canada in World War 1.
Of course, the games are not played on paper, and it will be interesting to watch this post-season play out to see how many of the prospects that I have introduced you to over the past week make a huge impact this time around. There is a 95% chance that someone I overlooked will catch the eye of at least one NHL scout in the next few weeks. Maybe that player will be the next Sydney Crosby; and maybe he’ll be taken by your favourite NHL team.