Path to the Finals
London – It has been smooth sailing for the Knights on their road to the Finals. Oddly enough, it was the first round that saw London face their toughest challenge, taking on an Owen Sound Attack team that many felt would fall in a sweep. Instead, it was Owen Sound stealing two games in London, and generally giving London fits with their hard hitting play. The Knights firepower was simply too much for the young Attack, with London taking the series in six games.
It was supposed to get tougher from there, but the Knights were on a roll, and nobody could get in their way. Kitchener was a 90 point team in the regular season, but they too found themselves out gunned and out matched. London was able to score 5+ goals in three of the games, with the one exception being Game 3, Kitchener’s best game of the series. Even that wasn’t enough, as London would sweep the Rangers to advance to the Conference Finals.
There was one team that had been able to consistently match the Knights all year. In fact, the Erie Otters finished ahead of the Knights in the standings, and split their season series. None of that matters when playoffs roll around, as Erie found out the hard way. London immediately stole momentum by winning the first two games of the series on the road, and by the time the series returned to London, injuries and a long season had wreaked havoc on the Erie roster. The Otters were thoroughly outplayed, being outscored 23-7 en route to a sweep, with the Knights securing a berth in the OHL Finals.
Niagara – In one month, the Niagara IceDogs have gone from one of the league’s biggest mysteries, to one of the league’s top teams. After finishing fourth in a season that began with high expectations, the IceDogs waited until the playoffs to meet them, and now head to the OHL Finals as the team we expected them be. Things started off well enough, with Niagara defeating the depleted Ottawa 67’s in five games. While the series ended in five games, it was not an entirely unexpected result. It was Barrie and Kingston that were supposed to be the real tests.
If Kingston was the first real test in the playoffs, the IceDogs grade would be an A++. After Kingston rolled through the East all season long, nobody gave the IceDogs much of a chance. Instead, Niagara stunned the Fronts by stealing Game 1, and after a hard fought OT showdown, Game 2 as well. The Fronts fought hard in Game 3, but again fell in OT. Alex Nedeljkovic took over Game 4 and led the IceDogs to the four game sweep of the East’s top team.
The final road block for the IceDogs came in the form of the Barrie Colts. Unfortunately, the Colts couldn’t even slow down the IceDogs. Barrie opened up a 2-0 lead on Niagara in Game 1, but the IceDogs stormed back with three unanswered goals to win 3-2. This seemed to take the wind out of the Colts’ sails, as they dropped the next two games, allowing 10 goals combined in those two games. The Colts raised their games again for Game 4, but it wasn’t enough as the IceDogs completed the sweep.
Players To Watch
London – Mitch Marner
To absolutely nobody’s surprise, Mitch Marner has been fantastic, just as he has been all season long. What is a surprise is the way he’s been able to find yet another level to raise his game to. With 37 points in 14 games, Marner has been an unstoppable force for London, but his 15 goals are the most surprising. Marner’s playoffs have asserted him as the best player in the OHL, and the Knights hopes revolve around him.
Niagara – Josh Ho-Sang
Like Marner, Ho-Sang has found another level to his game, pushing the IceDogs offence to new levels. Now he faces London, a team that, simply put, is even better offensively than Niagara. Now that it is going to be more difficult for the IceDogs to simply outscore opponents, the deciding factor could come down to how the IceDogs play defensively. Can Ho-Sang find another level to his defensive game, so that coach Marty Williamson can keep him on the ice when London puts out their big line? The answer could be the deciding factor for the series.
By The Numbers
London (51-14-2-1) – 3rd in West Conf., 2nd in Midwest Div.
Niagara (35-26-4-3) – 4th in East Conf., 3rd in Central Div.
Goals For: London 319, Niagara 213
Goals Against: London 182, Niagara 198
Head to Head: 1-1
H-to-H Goals: 5-4 for London
London: Tyler Parsons (37-9-2-1) 2.33 GAA 0.921 Sv%, 4 SO
Niagara: Alex Nedeljkovic (24-20-2-2) 2.91 GAA, 0.907 Sv%, 2 SO
Who has the edge – London
Sure, Niagara has had an incredible run to the Finals, and toppled some very strong teams on the way. However, London was the better regular season team, and arguably handled tougher playoff opponents just as well as Niagara handled theirs. As has been a theme all playoffs, London simply has too much firepower for their opponent to handle. Don’t expect another sweep, but look for London to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup.