OHL’s East Ripe For Upsets


While it may be a worst-case scenario for Ottawa to draw the red-hot Niagara IceDogs in the first round, it’s a breath of fresh air for the franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012.

The 67’s also aren’t alone in the Eastern Conference’s list of teams with home ice advantage that could receive a first-round scare.

There’s no doubt the 67’s and IceDogs are similiar; both are next-to-unbeatable on home ice, both will probably be better next year, both teams had dismal starts to the year — the 67’s starting 0-4 and Niagara starting 2-11 — and both were revived with great goaltending and depth scoring that didn’t dry up.

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But down the stretch, Niagara was the better team.  They took Ottawa to task with an 8-3 win just weeks ago.  Goaltender Brandon Hope has never lost in his OHL career to the 67’s, a stat that Jeff Brown joked he “won’t be telling the guys about.”

A majority of OHL experts see Niagara taking the first-round series, we’re at the point where the five-seed beating the four-seed wouldn’t even be seen as an upset.

“We’ll have to hold our serve,” added Brown, understanding the importance of winning on home ice, especially in this series.

If another bottom seed takes a series, it’ll be a big upset, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

2009’s third-seeded 67’s learned from that year’s sixth-seeded IceDogs how a lower-ranked team is impacted when a particular fourth-overall pick comes back mid-season, in this case, Alex Pietrangelo.

Fast forward to 2015 with the Kingston Frontenacs and Sam Bennett, in a nearly identical position, and they could pull off an upset the same way the 2009 Niagara squad did.

North Bay’s record down the stretch wasn’t terrible, but they got away from Stan Butler hockey a bit; their forwards not providing enough back-pressure through the neutral zone and losing the cycle game some nights.

It’s a good thing for the Battalion’s sake that they’re a disciplined team.  Kingston’s powerplay hasn’t changed a lot from the offensive dynamo they were last season.  Systematically, they could dismantle a penalty kill given enough time on the man advantage.

Oshawa is stacked and isn’t likely to lose to anybody in the East, let alone an eight-seed, but Peterborough plays them surprisingly well and could steal a game or two.

Barrie isn’t likely to let the Belleville Bulls franchise exist longer than the next two weeks, but again, nothing is a given.  Charlie Graham, although he doesn’t have playoff experience, is probably the better goalie right now than the Colts’ Mackenzie Blackwood (although the latter certainly has the higher ceiling).  Belleville has a bit of a mobile blueline, Barrie takes a lot of penalties, anything can happen.

Will there be an entire conference-worth of first round upsets, or even half of them panning out as upsets?  Probably not.

But now a rarity in the junior hockey world, it actually feels as though every team in the East has even the slightest chance to do some damage in round one.


If I’m a betting man, I say Oshawa wins in five, Kingston wins via upset in seven, Barrie wins in five and Niagara knocks out Ottawa in six.

You can take HFBoards’ OHL section with a grain of salt — its anonymity adds a less-serious nature and a lot of the lurkers to the junior board are nowhere to be seen between October and December, and again between January and February — but their predictions are made by a lot of the board’s regulars, and it’s pretty damning against the Barberpoles.

34 of 37 fans took Niagara to pull off the win, with two of the three selecting otherwise being frequents on the Ottawa boards.

Home ice is huge for the two teams who relocated to new homes this season, but don’t let home ice advantage fool you; the 67’s are treated as the underdogs by everyone in the OHL community.

Photo courtesy of Valerie Wutti

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