There is always an innate sense of excitement when it comes around to playoff time, but this year, OHL fans are salivating at the prospects that this season’s edition brings. Not that the WHL and QMJHL won’t have their own thrills, but it has been a while since there has been such a competitive set of teams vying for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. Feedback from my post-season preview (read it here) proves that no one has any clue who is going to take the OHL title, or even the Western Conference title for that matter. Even if their team is eliminated, OHL fans are going to be glued to their TVs from now until May, watching grainy Rogers broadcasts and indulging in the occasional spoiling that comes in the form of Sportsnet’s Friday Night Hockey broadcasts (#OHLFanProblems). We may even have to dish out the six bucks online to watch the games happening south of the border (thanks a lot, Erie). But it will be SO worth it.
Here are seven reasons that the 2014 OHL playoffs are going to be AWESOME.
7. The Knights don’t need to win, and everyone wants to beat them
As the host of this year’s Memorial Cup tournament, the London Knights don’t need to win during the playoffs. Sure, they would like to; every host team wants to go through the front door to compete in the tournament. But the bottom line is that they are going to be there no matter what. They have their eyes on May, and unless coach Dale Hunter can manage those starry eyes, there is a potential for the Knights to lose focus and fall out of the playoff race. In addition, as is tradition in the OHL, literally everyone wants to beat them. Every team that the Knights face will be gunning for them, which is going to make for fantastic hockey.
6. The Otters scare the crap out of me
Have you ever seen an otter in real life? You think they’re all cute and cuddly because they sleep holding hands so that they don’t drift away in the water, but they’re actually terrifying. They have sharp teeth and are ruthless when it comes to eating, repeatedly bashing rocks against their prey until the shell cracks. The Erie Otters are no different, and everyone should be apprehensive of them heading into the playoffs. One look at the OHL statistics shows that the Otters are a complete team. They have four players in the Top 20 OHL Scorers, and three of the top four of this list. Connor Brown, Dane Fox, and Connor McDavid have 128, 107 and 99 points, respectively. Connor Brown won both the Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy as OHL Top Scorer, plus the Jim Mahon Memorial Trophy as the Top Scoring Right Winger. Star goaltender Oscar Dansk tops the OHL standings for goalies with a 2.39 GAA, 0.909 Save % and 29 wins. He has already won silver with Team Sweden at the 2014 IIHF World Juniors Championship, and his backup, Devin Williams, is sixth in the standings for goalies. This goaltending pairing, winner of the Dave Pinkney Trophy, has allowed only 170 goals this season, the lowest number of goals against in the OHL. The Otters are entering the playoffs on an eight game winning streak, and aren’t showing any signs of slowing down. Best of luck to all that encounter them. Watch out for the teeth.
5. The Storm is rolling in
The Storm have made the weekly BMO CHL Top 10 List 26 times this season. In case anyone was counting, the standings have been published 26 times, meaning the Storm have made the nation-wide list every single week. They finished up in the number two spot, with 52 wins and 108 points. Some are knocking their goaltending, saying that the loss of last season’s brick wall, Garret Sparks, will be their downfall. However, rookie goalie Matt Mancina won the F.W. “Dinty” Moore Trophy as the rookie goaltender with the best GAA. Not to mention that Guelph allowed the second lowest number of goals in the West this season (191), and scored the most goals in the entire CHL, with 340. This may be due to having five players in the Top 20 OHL Scorers, with firepower coming from the likes of 100-point scorer Scott Kosmachuk and 90-point scorer Kerby Rychel. Kosmachuk is suspended for Game 1, but I think the Storm will be just fine.
4. The Western Conference is a complete toss-up
So I just highlighted the top three teams in the Western Conference, and reached zero conclusions about who is going to come out of it. It is impossible to tell who will be hot, who will slump at the wrong time, and who will have the bounces going their way. Who knows, maybe all three teams will be too cocky and will be upset in the first or second round. All I know is that only one team can come out of the West, and it is going to be a fight to accomplish it. Which, for fans, translates to great entertainment.
3. The Generals aren’t backing down
While I have a major Western Conference bias, I can’t forget the East. The Generals have quietly had a fantastic season, making the CHL Top 10 list eleven times and finishing as an honourable mention. Scott Laughton, who you may remember as the captain of Team Canada at the World Juniors, has been a force, and was listed seven times in the OHL Coaches Poll, winning first place as best face-off man and best penalty killer. Left-winger Michael Dal Colle also scored 95 points this season. With 90 points and 42 wins, the Generals are in a good spot to make a long run through these playoffs.
2. There are always dark horses…
What would playoffs be without upsets? Favourites collapsing in the first round? Eighth place seeds with Cinderella stories? Gruelling 7 game series ending in double overtime and sending the big boys home? You’ve got to love an underdog story, and with so much focus on the top teams this season, there is lots of opportunity for the lower seeds to make a splash. They have nothing to lose, and will come out with every ounce of gas in their tank each and every game. They aren’t supposed to win. And that’s what makes them dangerous.
1. Ummmm… it’s playoff hockey!
Let’s face it, do I really need a reason to pump the tires of the best source of entertainment in the modern day? People get crazy during playoffs. Beards get grown. Chirps get nasty. Equipment gets put on meticulously from left to right. Every single play of every single game means something. Not one player can take a shift off; everything is too important. Momentum can shift in an instant; a sure series win can turn in one game and become the next great comeback story… for the other team. Fans cheer louder and make road trips to opposing arenas. They chant, they shout, and ultimately, they cry. The players cry. Sometimes they are happy tears. Sometimes they are heartbroken tears. It’s all a part of the playoffs. And it’s all a part of the love for the game.
I love this sport.