Thursday will mark the start of the 2011 OHL Playoffs.
That means...it's prediction time. Last year, I went 8-7 over the course of the playoffs. In 2009, I went 11-4 over the course of the playoffs. Let's see if I can mimic the results of 2009, rather than last year's mediocre performance.
Also, in the coming days, look for an OHL playoff pool that I've organized involving some of the OHL's brightest minds.
1. Mississauga Majors vs. 8. Belleville Bulls
Season Series: Majors 3-1
My Analysis: The Majors are winners of their last 10 games, with their last loss coming (ironically) against the Belleville Bulls. That was the Bulls only win of the season in the season series. Let's be honest, with the Majors playing perhaps the best hockey they've played all season right now, is there anyone out there who actually believes the Bulls have a chance?
Prediction: Mississauga in 4
2. Ottawa 67's vs. 7. Sudbury Wolves
Season Series: 67's 2-0
My Analysis: OK, so this is the one series in the East that has everyone talking. Why? The Ottawa 67's are about as banged up as you can get. While Cody Lindsay and Shane Prince are expected to play in the series, the biggest loss comes in the form of defenseman Travis Gibbons (broken ankle), one of the anchors of the 67's blueline. Not to mention that forward Thomas Nesbitt is still questionable, amongst other more minor injuries on the squad. The good news for the 67's, they beat Sudbury quite handily in their final game of the season without all of these players. The difference will likely be Petr Mrazek in net for Ottawa, who was solid last year and is completely capable of leading this team far into the OHL playoffs. Sudbury is definitely not an opponent you want to sleep on because they've got depth at forward and play hard, but I'm just not sure they can outlast Ottawa for a whole series.
Prediction: Ottawa in 6
3. Niagara IceDogs vs. 6. Brampton Battalion
Season Series: IceDogs 4-2
My Analysis: Brampton is never a team you want to face in the OHL playoffs. Stan Butler is a quality coach and his system has made things very tough for a lot of teams in the post season. Niagara is obviously the better team on paper, but that doesn't always give you a guaranteed win. That being said, the Dogs should win this series. Brampton's younger defense should have some trouble in the barn in Niagara where the Dogs forecheck and physicality will likely wear them down. Niagara has developed such a balanced scoring attack, it'll be tough to shut down Niagara from scoring, and they certainly don't have the offense to keep up with them (second lowest goals scored in the league).
Prediction: Niagara in 5
4. Oshawa Generals vs. 5. Kingston Frontenacs
Season Series: Generals 5-3
My Analysis: You have to feel for the Fronts a bit. Their prized offseason acquisition, the guy who was supposed to help them in this exact situation, is currently unavailable. Grubauer is back in Germany recovering from mono which means that Frank Palazzese will have to take this team to the promised land. The same Palazzese who was pulled in his final two OHL games. The Fronts will also be without Ethan Werek for the first two games due to a suspension. The Generals are an incredibly explosive offensive team and that means Erik Gudbranson and Taylor Doherty need to step up huge for Kingston to have a chance. This will likely be a bit of a shoot 'em up series. Over/under on the total amount of goals scored in the series? I'm just not sure Kingston can go up against an offensive superpower like Oshawa with an unproven youngster in net.
Prediction: Oshawa in 6
1. Owen Sound Attack vs. 8. London Knights
Season Series: Tie 3-3 (Attack won the last two meetings)
My Analysis: I really don't know what to make of this series. Owen Sound is a great team and they've had a great season. Yet, I'm not sure I feel comfortable calling them a sure bet to make it out of the first round. That's even with Owen Sound on fire to close the season and London on the downswing. Goaltending will be a big part of this series. London's Michael Houser has been big all season for the Knights and he'll need to have saved his best performances for now. Meanwhile, Jordan Binnington will continue to carry the load for Owen Sound while they wait for Scott Stajcer to return (possibly by round 2). Owen Sound should win this series, they're the better team. But London could surprise people, if some of the younger players they rely on still have some energy left in the tank. In the end, I think the Attack still win this one, but it'll be closer than your typical 1 vs 8 match up.
Prediction: Owen Sound in 6
2. Saginaw Spirit vs. 7. Guelph Storm
Season Series: Tie 2-2
My Analysis: Another interesting series (which could really be said about any of the West match ups). Guelph has actually been playing some good hockey lately, while Saginaw has kind of struggled since all those deadline acquisitions. The Spirit managed to hang on for to win their division, but there is no question that they aren't playing up to their capability level right now. Will they get their act together in this round? I guess that's the million dollar question. Defensively, I think the Spirit should still be able to get the better of Guelph in a 7 game series, not to mention that Mavric Parks has the experience to lead his team to victory.
Prediction: Saginaw in 6
3. Kitchener Rangers vs. 6. Plymouth Whalers
Season Series: Rangers 3-1
My Analysis: I definitely wouldn't want to play Plymouth in round 1, as they battle and wear you down physically. Kitchener definitely has the firepower to get past Plymouth, but do they have the momentum? They sure didn't look like a three seed in the conference during the final month (of which coach Steve Spott accredits to his team giving up once they realized they couldn't catch Owen Sound for the division title). Plymouth has the edge in goaltending IMO, with Scott Wedgewood, but they'll need all their lines rolling offensively to match Kitchener. In the end, it'll be a damn close series, but I think the Rangers skill will outmatch the Whalers determination in a hard fought series.
Prediction: Kitchener in 7
4. Windsor Spitfires vs. 5. Erie Otters
Season Series: Tie 2-2
My Analysis: This is the big one of the first round IMO. Two of the hottest teams in the league, firing on all cylinders, clashing in an epic battle. If either of these two teams were playing other teams in the Conference, I think they'd have the potential to really go on a deep run. But alas, someone's going home. Erie has all their big guns back and are just running over the competition of late. Ramis Sadikov has been great too. Meanwhile, the Spits are a deep team who just can't be counted out. Bottom line is this. Erie's got a veteran laden team, and a defense that is more experienced and reliable than Windsor's. It'll be close, but I think the Otters can really make some noise in this year's playoffs.
Prediction: Erie in 7
Quite frankly, I thought I'd be predicting more upsets in the first round, considering the closeness of many teams. But the only one I'm going with is Erie over Windsor.
Would absolutely love to hear your predictions as comments!