Well I hit the nail right on the head last round when I said I none of the Conference semi final match ups would go more than 5 games. North Bay, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, and Erie, largely dominated on route to easy victories. Going into the playoffs, it was clear to me that these four team were head and shoulders better than the others (call it the OHL hierarchy). All four teams are built for long playoff runs with depth, size, and experience.
So that brings us to the fun of the Conference finals. Both the Eastern final and the Western final should be a treat to watch, with the action kicking off on Thursday.
Thus far in these playoffs, I'm 11-1 in my predictions. Let's keep the good times rollin'.
Here's how I see Conference finals shaping up.
1. Oshawa Generals vs. 3. North Bay Battalion
Season Series: 4-0 (Oshawa)
Analysis: While Oshawa largely dominated the season series, I think you can safely throw those results out of the window. This one should be tight. Defensively, you've got a matchup of the two best teams in the entire Ontario Hockey League (Oshawa at 2.3 goals against, North Bay at 2.87). Both team captains are grizzled veterans of the league, looking for an OHL championship in their final OHL season. The Josh Brown vs. Marcus McIvor matchup is certainly one of the more underrated story lines heading into this one. In net, things are a wash. While Jake Smith has the experience of last year's playoff run, Ken Appleby has been great all year. Both goalies were terrific in round number two. So that means this series comes down to the forward groups IMO. Both teams have terrific size up front. Both teams play a very physical brand of hockey and are active on the forecheck. Both teams forward groups are responsible both ways and are fully committed to the systems that they play in. So what's (or who's) the difference maker? For me, Oshawa has more natural skill and intelligence among their forward group. And I also think that they're slightly deeper (even if North Bay has been getting terrific production from their 3rd line during these playoffs). No offence meant to the likes of Nick Paul, Nick Moutrey, Mike Amadio, etc, but Michael Dal Colle and Cole Cassels are the two most skilled players in this series and they've got a chance to be the real difference makers.
Prediction: Oshawa in 7
1. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 2. Erie Otters
Season Series: 1-1 (TIE)
Analysis: The Soo Greyhounds still haven't lost a game in these playoffs. They've scored the most goals and allowed the least amount (in the postseason). In a word…they've been dominant. While Erie's route hasn't been as easy, they've still only dropped one game. The Connor McDavid show has been just that, thus far. No offence meant to the goaltending and defences of either team, but I don't expect this one to be a low scoring affair. Shots and goals will be a plenty. My first inclination is for Sault Ste. Marie to continue rolling. Their roster is about as good as any we've had in the Ontario Hockey League in recent years. They roll four lines who can put the puck in the net, with each line possessing size and speed. You cut off one head and you've still got to worry about three more. In particular, Nick Ritchie has been an absolute beast thus far. However, my second inclination was, hold your horses, you're forgetting about Connor McDavid. He really is that good. His influence can not be underrated. He knows this is going to be his final OHL season. And he's incredibly motivated to bring home a Championship. His series against the London Knights may have been the most dominant individual performance in a single round that I've ever seen. All that said, I do think that the Hounds are too strong. Connor McDavid will (and the Otters) will take a couple of games, but in the end, the best team will come out on top.
Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 6