AOHL Playoff Preview: Barrie vs Niagara
Technically the Barrie Colts have already beaten the Niagara IceDogs over the course of a series this year, winning the season series 4-2. But this is a different Niagara team than the one the Colts saw six times throughout the regular campaign. Niagara started slow but hit its stride through the season and finished with six wins in its last 10 games heading into the post-season. They went on to knock off a pesky 67’s squad, before re-cursing the first-place Frontenacs to qualify for the conference final. The Colts had a much more steady season on the way to clinching second place and after getting a scare from the Mississauga Steelheads in round one, made easy work of the North Bay Battalion to reach the final. To this point in the playoffs, both teams have relied on their top lines to account for the majority of scoring, so expect the goaltenders (both of whom represented their countries at the World Juniors) to steal the show. Both teams should be well rested too, after finishing the last round quickly.
Players To Watch:
Barrie – G – Mackenzie Blackwood
Mackenzie Blackwood has been an absolute stud for the Barrie Colts since joining the league and playing in 45 games in his 2013/14 rookie season. He’s coming off his best year numbers-wise (see below), which included a slightly disappointing world junior campaign with Team Canada (which he started with a suspension) and battled through an early-playoff injury to help the Colts to the conference final again. Despite that injury, he still has the best goals against average among playoff ‘tenders (.924) and has faced the fourth-most post-season shots (277). Blackwood is one of the coolest customers in the league and will be a major factor against a Niagara offense that is capable of filling the net.
Niagara – G – Alex Nedeljkovic
Alex Nedeljkovic had a slightly different career path than Blackwood, who jumped right into a starter role. Nedeljkovic had to wait a year or so, patiently backing up Matt Mahalak in Plymouth and has taken the reigns and run with them since becoming the number one. He was eventually shipped from the Plymouth/Flint franchise to Niagara in December, immediately strengthening the IceDogs’ back-end. Nedeljkovic’s resume speaks for itself, as he’s has earned himself a trip to the World Junior Championship twice with Team USA (winning a bronze medal), he’s won the World Under 18 Championship and has picked up numerous league awards and accolades. Even though he didn’t have his best year by the numbers, he’s talented enough to make a difference when it matters.
By The Numbers:
Barrie: (43-22-0-3) – 89 pts, 2nd in East Conf, 1st in Central Div.
Niagara: (35-26-4-3) – 77 pts, 4th in East Conf, 3rd in Central Div.
Goals For: Barrie – 295 Niagara – 213
Goals Against: Barrie – 207 Niagara – 198
Head to Head: Barrie wins 4-2
H-to-H Goals: 21-20 Barrie
Barrie: Mackenzie Blackwood – (28-13-0-0), 2.72 GAA, .921 SV%, 3 SO
Niagara: Alex Nedeljkovic – (24-20-2-2), 2.91 GAA, .907 SV%, 2 SO
Who has the edge?:
While the goalies will be the ones to watch in this series and will likely make the difference, it can’t be ignored that Barrie has more firepower and the regular season advantage. So, if the Colts can find some holes in Nedeljkovic’s armour, it could be trouble. That said (as mentioned in the last round preview) Niagara has made some outstanding roster moves to bolster the line-up and has enough impact guys (like Josh Ho-Sang, Jordan Maletta and Stephen Harper) to keep the series competitive. It will likely go six games at least, either way.