And so it’s come to this. Six of the top teams in major junior hockey are left to battle it out to win their league titles, with only two spots left to grab in the Memorial Cup in Halifax as the QMJHL’s representatives have all been set.
When you look at each of the matchups in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL, there are no weak links. Each team has star power and depth for days, which should set the stage for some great games over the course of the next two weeks.
As such, let’s make some predictions that I can be made fun of for in the future.
Prince Albert Raiders vs. Vancouver Giants
Last Playoff Meeting: N/A
Prince Albert: 1-0 (Won over Kamloops in 1985)
Vancouver: 1-1 (Won over Moose Jaw in 2006 – Lost to Medicine Hat in 2007)
Regular Season Meeting: Vancouver 3 Prince Albert 1 (Jan 24 – Langley Events Centre – Davis Koch Two Goals – Trent Miner 31 Saves – Ian Scott 25 Saves)
Prediction: Prince Albert in six
It’s always tricky to predict the WHL final since each side only plays each other once a year, but it’s pretty easy to see that both teams are carried by their depth. Whether it’s veterans like Noah Gregor or Davis Koch, draft-eligible players like Aliaksei Protas or Bowen Byram and netminders like Ian Scott or David Tendeck (or Trent Miner depending on what the Giants want to do), each side has a number of weapons to draw from.
So why am I picking the Raiders? Well besides the fact that I work for a paper in Prince Albert the way that the Raiders have shut down the Saskatoon Blades and the Edmonton Oil Kings as each series went on has been very impressive. Plus, they have home ice advantage in their back pocket, so both of those things tip the scales in their favour.
However, a Giants win isn’t out of the cards. They have a potential top-five draft pick in Byram and a number of different weapons on offence. If their regular season matchup is any indication, this will be a great series.
Ottawa 67’s vs. Guelph Storm
Last Playoff Meeting: 1998 Final (Guelph won 4-1 – Ottawa last defeated Guelph 4-3 in the 1997 Semi-Final)
Ottawa: 3-5 (Won over London in 1977, Kitchener in 1984 and Plymouth in 2001 – Lost to Peterborough in 1972, Kitchener in 1982, Oshawa in 1997, Guelph in 1998, Kitchener in 2003 and London in 2005)
Guelph: 3-2 (Won over Ottawa in 1998, Mississauga in 2004 and North Bay in 2014 – Lost to Peterborough in 1995 and Detroit in 1996)
Season Series: Tied 1-1 (Guelph outscored Ottawa 11-9)
Season Series Scoring Leader
Ottawa – Tye Felhaber – 4 points (Kyle Maksimovich and Marco Rossi had 3 points each)
Guelph – Nate Schnarr and Nick Suzuki – 6 points (Isaac Ratcliffe and Keegan Stevenson had 4 points each)
Season Series Goaltending Leader
Ottawa – Michael DiPietro – 1-1 with a 5.22 GAA and an .843 save percentage
Guelph – Anthony Popovich – 1-1 with a 3.87 GAA and an .881 save percentage
Prediction: Ottawa in seven
These are two teams with dramatically different journeys to the final. The 67’s have rattled off a 12-0 record so far through the first three rounds, while the Storm have a team of destiny vibe about them after pulling off the reverse sweep over the London Knights in the quarter-finals and coming back from a 3-1 deficit to top the Saginaw Spirit in the Western Conference final.
Guelph bolstered their roster at the deadline and their acquisitions have made a huge impact, with Nick Suzuki destroying the league in the playoffs so far with 31 points and Sean Durzi putting up 19 points on the backend. Their long-time players are also leading the way, with forward Isaac Ratcliffe and defenceman Dmitri Samorukov each having 21 points in the playoffs and goaltender Anthony Popovich having a number of great showings when the Storm’s backs were against the wall.
While Ottawa also strengthened their squad with the additions of forwards Lucas Chiodo and Kyle Maksimovich, they kept their entire core from the start of the campaign. Tye Felhaber and Sasha Chmelevski are other veteran offensive contributors, while Austrian Marco Rossi is a name to watch for the 2020 NHL Draft and Noel Hofenmayer and Kevin Bahl are both drafted and are among the best blueliners in the league.
Oh yeah, and they also have some goalie named Michael DiPietro. The Vancouver Canucks prospect had some tough outings after he came back from the World Juniors, but he’s been great so far in the playoffs and he’s shown the ability to steal games in the past as a member of the Windsor Spitfires. His presence alone should make the difference for the 67’s, but this could go either way with the Storm’s never say die attitude.
Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. Halifax Mooseheads
Last Playoff Meeting: 2017 First Round (Rouyn-Noranda won 4-2 – Halifax last defeated Rouyn-Noranda 4-0 in the 2013 First Round)
Rouyn-Noranda: 1-1 (Won over Shawinigan in 2016 – Lost to Gatineau in 2008)
Halifax: 1-2 (Won over Baie-Comeau in 2013 – Lost to Hull in 2003 and Rimouski in 2005)
Season Series: Rouyn Noranda 2-0 (Rouyn-Noranda outscored Halifax 13-8)
Season Series Scoring Leader
Rouyn-Noranda – Joel Teasdale – 4 points (Peter Abbadonato, Alex Beaucage, Justin Bergeron and Noah Dobson had 3 points each)
Halifax – Samuel Asselin, Benoit-Olivier Groulx and Jared McIsaac – 3 points (Arnaud Durandeau, Keith Getson and Raphael Lavoie had 2 points each)
Season Series Goaltending Leader
Rouyn-Noranda – Samuel Harvey – 2-0 with a 4.00 GAA and a .877 save percentage
Halifax – Alexis Gravel – 0-2 with a 7.41 GAA and a .804 save percentage
Prediction: Rouyn-Noranda in five
The Mooseheads are looking to become the first host team since the 2008 Kitchener Rangers to enter the Memorial Cup through the front door and they have a good chance of doing so. Draft eligible forward Raphael Lavoie has had a crazy good playoffs so far with 27 points, while Antoine Morand and Samuel Asselin have the experience of winning it all last year with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Alexis Gravel has done well in goal and the Mooseheads have gone through some tough challenges along the way, especially in the first round where they avoided being upset by the Quebec Remparts and in a semi-final clash with a Drummondville Voltigeurs side that had the highest scoring offence in the Canadian Hockey League.
With that said, the Huskies are scary good. Sure, the status of their leading scorer Peter Abbandonato remains up in the air as he missed the semifinal round against the Rimouski Oceanic with mononucleosis, but their lineup is full of contributors like forward Felix Bibeau and goaltender Samuel Harvey, who has a 1.67 goals against average in the post-season.
The two biggest difference makers though are their deadline pickups in forward Joel Teasdale and defenceman Noah Dobson. Teasdale, who is a Montreal Canadiens prospect, has 26 points in 14 games, while Dobson, a New York Islanders first round pick, has put up 20 points on the blueline. They’ve both been on long playoff runs with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada and the Titan respectively, and they’ve played a key role into making the Huskies the potential favourite to win the Memorial Cup later this month, especially if they get their second league title in four years.