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Youngblood: OHL Conference Finals Preview/Predictions

Anaheim prospect Nick Ritchie is red hot for the soaring Greyhounds (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)
Anaheim prospect Nick Ritchie is red hot for the soaring Greyhounds (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Don’t blink or else you might just miss the OHL Playoffs altogether. With two rounds already in the books and the league dwindled down to just four contenders after only 18 days of action. To date, no series has exceeded six games (2) with five four-game sweeps and four series decided in only five games. All in all, the Western Conference has figured out their two best teams out in just 28 games of a possible 42 games while the Eastern Conference used 29. After whittling down the league, we’re left with four of the expected finalists in each conference including the top teams in each conference in Oshawa and Sault Ste. Marie plus Erie (2nd in the West) and North Bay (3rd in the East).  Get out the face paint and first aid kits because neither of these feisty series will be completed as quickly as the first two rounds.



Eastern Conference Final – Bobby Orr Trophy

Oshawa Generals (1) vs North Bay Battalion (3)


Season Series: 4-0 Oshawa

Breakdown:  The third round series features a rematch of 2014 where the Battalion captured the Bobby Orr Trophy over the Generals with a 4-0 series victory.  This season’s matchup features two of the top three teams in the OHL’s Eastern Conference standings during the 2014-15 regular season.  The first place Generals earned their second straight East Division title with 108 points from a 51-11-2-4 record, while the third place Battalion posted a 37-20-6-5 record for 85 points. With lots of NHL drafted prospects lining up against each other and both teams boasting great size throughout their lineup, it’s bound to be a battle to the end. Oshawa’s DJ Smith and North Bay’s Stan Butler are both respected coaches and among the best in the OHL.

Goaltending is strong in both crease as Battalion puckstopper Jake Smith and Generals’ Ken Appleby sit 1st and 3rd, respectively, in OHL goals-against-average. Michael Dal Colle (NYI), Cole Cassels (VAN), Hunter Smith (CGY), Michael McCarron (MTL) and Tobias Lindberg (OTT) are all clipping along at a point-per-game pace (or more) for Oshawa and will be supported with the likes of Matt Mistele (LAK),  Brent Pedersen (CAR) and Anthony Cirelli (2015 NHL Draft). To counter, the Troops will send out gunslingers Mike Amadio (LAK), Nick Paul (OTT), Nick Moutrey (CBJ), Ryan Kujawinski (NJD) and Zach Bratina.

Patrolling the blue lines are talented offensive defenseman like Brendan Bell, Kyle Wood and Marcus McIvor for North Bay and Oshawa’s Mitchell Vande Sompel, Dakota Mermis and overager Chris Carlisle. Expect this series to be extremely physical and neither team will surrounder “easy goals” as both are top of the league in special team units. 

In the end, despite North Bay’s experience I feel as though Oshawa has the depth to persevere and complete their revenge on North Bay from last post-season., despite my initial thoughts on Twitter.

Prediction: Oshawa in 7


Game 1: Fri., April 24 North Bay at Oshawa, 7:35
Game 2: Sun., April 26 North Bay at Oshawa, 6:05
Game 3: Tues., April 28 Oshawa at North Bay, 7:00
Game 4: Wed., April 29 Oshawa at North Bay, 7:00
Game 5: Fri., May 1 North Bay at Oshawa, 7:35*
Game 6: Sun., May 3 Oshawa at North Bay, 2:00*
Game 7: Mon., May 4 North Bay at Oshawa, 7:05*
*if necessary 

Battalion to Watch: Nick Paul (OTT), Mike Amadio (LAK) and Nick Moutrey (CBJ)

Generals to Watch: Michael Dal Colle (NYI), Cole Cassels (VAN) and Mitchell Vande Sompel (2015 NHL Draft)



Western Conference Final - Wayne Gretzky Trophy

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (1) vs Erie Otters (2)



Season Series: Tied 1-1

Breakdown:  The third round series features the top two teams in the OHL’s Western Conference standings during the 2014-15 regular season schedule competing for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy.  This season the first place Greyhounds earned the Hamilton Spectator Trophy and West Division title with a league-best 54-12-0-2 record for 110 points, while the second place Otters captured the Midwest Division title with a 50-14-2-2 record for 104 points. During the 2014 Western Semi-Final, Erie knocked off Sault Ste. Marie in four straight and the ‘Hounds will be looking to bite back.

The Greyhounds have lost only two games on home ice this season which is a remarkable feat but extremely important as the top seed who gets home ice advantage. The mighty Greyhounds have yet to lose a series in their 2015 OHL Playoff run sweeping series against Saginaw and Guelph but that’ll be tested by the Connor McDavids, Dylan Stromes, Remi Elies and Nick Baptistes.

Just like the Eastern Conference Final, the ‘Hounds and Otters are well coached with Soo’s bench boss Sheldon Keefe (2015 OHL Coach of the Year) and Otters Kris Knoblauch manning the benches. Overall, there are 3 players on the ‘Hounds and Otters who are NHL property including Nick Baptiste (BUF), Remi Elie (DAL) and Troy Donnay (NYR) on Erie while Sergey Tolchinsky (CAR), Nick Ritchie (ANA), Jared McCann (VAN), Darnell Nurse (EDM), Justin Bailey (BUF), Michael Bunting (ARI), Jean Dupuy (BUF) and Brandon Halverson (NYR) represent NHL teams with the Soo. In addition, there are a slew of eligible players for the upcoming 2015 NHL Draft including top ranked Connor McDavid, who is destined for the Edmonton Oilers after the club won the NHL Draft lottery this past weekend. Erie’s Dylan Strome and Travis Dermott joins McDavid, along with Greyhounds Zach Senyshyn, Blake Speers, Gustav Bouramman, Cedric Mercier and Colton White will all be names to watch for the upcoming draft.

In my opinion, the Soo-Erie series has the potential to be one of the best in a long time as it’s loaded with lofty expectations for two passionate fan-bases, is chalked full of high-end talent and features two teams who’ve spent years building up for this OHL Championship run. Despite playing the fewest playoff games (8), Sault Ste. Marie has posted the most goals for (47) and fewest goals against (15) of any OHL team making it past the opening round – impressive. Operating at a remarkable 40%, the ‘Hounds ice the deadliest powerplay unit. However, Erie’s 93.5% penalty killing rate is equally as impressive. 

Can the ‘Hounds find a way to shut down Connor McDavid -the OHL’s playoff leading scorer with 11 goals and 23 points in only nine games? Nick Ritchie’s 10 goals and 19 points have him playing his best junior hockey and that won’t make it easy for Erie’s Devin Williams in the crease.

The Greyhounds should edge out the Otters simply due to their waves of talented attacks, stronger backend and more reliable goaltender. The Otters won’t go down easy and I expect this one to be very chippy.

Prediction: Sault Ste. Marie in 6

Game 1: Thurs., April 23  Erie at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:07
Game 2: Fri., April 24  Erie at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:07
Game 3: Sun., April 26  Sault Ste. Marie at Erie, 7:00
Game 4: Tues., April 28  Sault Ste. Marie at Erie, 7:00
Game 5: Thurs., April 30  Erie at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:07*
Game 6: Sat., May 2  Sault Ste. Marie at Erie, 7:00*
Game 7: Mon., May 4  Erie at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:07*

*if necessary 

Greyhounds to Watch: Sergey Tolchinski (CAR), Nick Ritchie (ANA) and Anthony DeAngelo (TBL)

Otters to Watch: Connor McDavid (2015 NHL Draft), Dylan Strome (2015 NHL Draft) and Remi Elie (DAL)



Follow @RossyYoungblood on Twitter as he covers the OHL Playoffs and prospects involved.