OHL Conference finals sure to entertain

By: Chris Messina

@cmessina85

OHL LogoIt doesn’t get much better than this. The Ontario League playoffs might have disappointed in the opening two rounds, but after the opening weekend of the Conference finals, fans have been reengaged.

Only the top two seeds in the East and the West are left which is how it is supposed to be. To add to the excitement both series are close, the London Knights and Plymouth Whalers are tied at one game apiece and the Barrie Colts have a 2-1 lead on the Belleville Bulls; if it wasn’t for Barrie’s 5-0 thrashing of Belleville on Saturday in game 2 all the games played would have been decided by just one goal.

There is a trip to the Memorial Cup at stake and the intensity of both series shows it. All four teams gave up pieces of the future prior to the trade deadline back in January and now they must leave it all on the ice because as good as the four remaining teams are (they are all really good) three of them are going to lose. That is the way it works in junior hockey, teams that are strong want to get stronger, but only a couple manage to make moves at the deadline that payoff. London of course usually finds a way to prior talent away from the NCAA, so they don’t have to hurt themselves too much to bolster their lineup.

Sunday afternoon was the perfect example of how fickle a playoff series can be. The Knights took Friday’s opener 2-1 and looked poised to win another close one in Game 2. London had three separate one goal leads, but couldn’t close out the Whalers. It was Washington Capitals prospect Tom Wilson completing the hat trick with just 48 seconds left on the clock sending the game to overtime. It was Rickard Rakell in the double OT winning it for Plymouth and tying the series up. If London finds a way to hold on and win in regulation or score on one of the three power plays they had before being unable to kill of the only penalty they took in OT, then they are up 2-0 going heading to Michigan. They didn’t and the series is tied while the Whalers now have home ice advantage.

Over in the other series Belleville took the first game of the series on a late power play goal from Austin Brassard. Moments before that Colt’s defenseman Jake Dotchin hauled down Bulls forward Brendan Gaunce while he was drive towards the net. Barrie got their revenge the next net by torching them 5-0. Despite the blowout the tone was set for the Game 3 as tempers started to flare up in the dying minutes of the third. Andreas Athanasiou was drilled in the head by Bulls defenseman Jordan Subban after he missed on a breakaway attempt. Then moments later after the whistle was blown in front of the Colts net Alex Yuill went toe-to-toe in a scrap with Chad Heffernan, despite being drastically outsized. The Barrie Colts took the series lead on Monday night, winning in overtime after allowing a two-goal lead to slip away in the final minutes of the second period. Boston Bruins prospect Anthony Camara netted the winner with five seconds remaining in the first overtime period to nullify a tremendous effort by Bulls defenseman Jake Cardwell who had a goal and three assists in the loss, including scoring the game-tying marker at 17:27 of the second period.

If the opening weekend was any indication of how good the Conference finals will be then OHL fans are in for a real treat. Any of the four teams left could win it all and that is what makes it all so exciting.

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