Junior Hockey / News

Western Conference Round Two Preview

The first round of the 2019 Ontario Hockey League post-season ended quickly.

If every series in the opening round had ended in a four-game sweep, the minimum number of games played would have been 32. Instead, it went 35. There were five sweeps, while Oshawa, Niagara and Sault Ste. Marie each won in five games.

Much of this was expected following the trade deadline back on Jan. 10. It was felt even then that four teams in each conference had separated themselves from the pack, and that’s exactly what Round 1 demonstrated.

Now, Round 2 is set to begin, and this is when things are expected to become very interesting. A case can truly be made for any of the remaining eight teams to advance to the conference finals.

[1] London Knights vs [5] Guelph Storm

Season series: Guelph won it, going 4-1-0-1 against the Knights.

After trade deadline: The Storm won twice and London won once. None of the games were close. The smallest margin of victory was four goals.

Things to know

London Knights

The Knights had the No. 1 power-play unit during the first round of the playoffs. They clicked at 53.8 per cent against the Windsor Spitfires. (Adam Boqvist is tied with Graeme Clarke of Ottawa for the playoff lead in power-play goals with four.) London’s power play on home ice was a perfect three-for-three.

Alex Formenton put up 11 points in four games in the first round to lead all scorers.

London became the fifth No. 1 seed to sweep the No. 8 seed in the first round of the playoffs. The last time a No. 8 seed won a game was 2014 when the Plymouth Whalers lost to the Guelph Storm 4-1.

Guelph Storm

The Storm are finally healthy. Guelph has battled major injury issues all season. Jack Hanley, Pavel Gogolev, Sean Durzi, Keegan Stevenson and Cam Hillis have all missed chunks of time. Hillis was the final one to return. He suffered an early season knee injury, got back into the lineup and broke his collarbone. The Canadiens draft pick played in just one game in the opening round.

The Storm were one of three teams that didn’t allow a power-play goal in the first round of the playoffs, going 11-for-11 on the penalty kill (Saginaw 15-15 and Niagara 16-16 were the others). Guelph was also the least penalized team, averaging just eight minutes in penalties per game.

Guelph’s roster ranks No. 1 in OHL experience, averaging 3.9 years per player. They made more moves than any other team leading up to the trade deadline.

What to expect

Both teams come in rolling after first-round sweeps, and both clubs are getting outstanding play from their veteran players. The Knights will want to review the video from Feb. 13 in which they dominated in the faceoff circle and won 6-1. Guelph will want to duplicate their victories from February and March. This will come down to which team can contain the other’s stars the best, especially on special teams.

[2] Saginaw Spirit vs. [3] Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Season series: The teams split the eight games against one another. Saginaw had the slight edge thanks to an overtime loss in their final meeting.

After trade deadline: Not as enlightening as it might look. The Greyhounds won two of three, but the last game between the teams came on the last day of the season when there wasn’t anything on the line. It ended 5-2 in favour of Sault Ste. Marie.

Things to know

Saginaw Spirit

Florida Panthers prospect Owen Tippett led the Spirit with five goals and eight points in Round 1.

Overage defenceman Justin Murray had the kind of opening series you want a leader to have. He was everywhere on the ice offensively and defensively. Murray had a short-handed goal and five points overall with nine shots on goal and 13 minutes in penalties.

Both Rookie of the Year candidate Cole Perfetti and forward Nicholas Porco missed the last game against the Sting with upper body injuries.

Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

The Greyhounds have allowed the most goals (15) among teams that advanced to Round 2.

‘Hounds forward Jaden Peca told the Sault Star that consistency has been the team’s biggest challenge.

“There wasn’t one game in which all 20 guys were going at their best consistently,” Peca said.

Sault Ste. Marie is the youngest of all playoff teams with an average age of 18.53 years old.

What to expect

The Greyhounds came through the first round feeling as though they kept giving Owen Sound chances to stay in games. If they treat the Spirit the same way, Saginaw will take over. Sarnia roughed up the Spirit without causing them to lose a game. There are health concerns on their side coming in. Expect more of the same from their season series.

Photos by Terry Wilson/OHL Images

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