It’s always a shame when there aren’t any major playoff spot battles going into the last weekend. There just isn’t the same drama.
Western had first place locked up weeks ago and York clinched ninth (re: making them the only non-playoff team in the West) around the same time. Sure a few teams could have changed positions, but really, not much was settled.
So with that disappointing weekend behind us, we can look forward to what will be a very intriguing opening playoff round (schedule is here). Unlike most years, each playoff matchup could go either way. Yes, that does mean I legitimately think Windsor and UOIT have a shot at knocking off Western and Laurier. No, I haven’t been drinking.
Let’s have a look the first round:
#1 Western vs. #8 Windsor
Season series: Western 2-0-0-1
This really should be an easy series for Western. But there are two reasons why they will have to fight down to the wire to win this series: their incredible cold streak and Windsor’s goaltending.
Western hasn’t had anything to play for in about three weeks, and have spent a good portion of that time without six of their top players and their head coach. So naturally, they went cold. Getting back that team chemistry that served them so well early in the season is not going to be easy, and they haven’t been given much time to do it.
Not to mention they get the unfortunate task of having to go up against the goaltending duo of Jim Watt and Frank Dayus. Basically, you can take 50 shots on either of these guys, but you are only going to score two or three.
But fortunately Western has a pretty great goaltending pair of their own in Anthony Grieco and Josh Unice. Plus they have way more talent, especially offensively, and that should be more than enough for Western to take the series.
Western in 2
Western 4-3 Windsor (OT)
Western 3-1 Windsor
#2 Laurier vs. #7 UOIT
Season series: Laurier 3-0-0-1
This series is way closer than it appears. The Ridgeback forward group struggled in the first half, but their stars, namely Josh Vatri and Nathan Spaling, are on fire heading into the playoffs.
That’s a good thing because goaltender Jason Guy has been very hit-or-miss this season. At times, he looks like he could single-handedly win a series. At other times, he has the potential to cost them games. But if he performs, Laurier will be in trouble.
While Laurier doesn’t score with much consistency, they do have a few talented forwards they can count on in big situations. Expect Jean-Michel Rizk, Thomas Middup and Ryan Bellows to be on the ice quite a bit late in close games.
But, as they have all season, Laurier will live and die on the play of their defence and goalie Ryan Daniels. There is a reason why they have given up the second fewest goals in the West, and it is because of their excellent defensive coverage and one of the best goaltenders in the country.
Like I said, UOIT could legitimately win this series. But I think Laurier’s experience and a healthy dose of Daniels will be enough for the Hawks to squeak out a series victory.
Laurier in 3
Laurier 5-2 UOIT
UOIT 2-1 Laurier
Laurier 4-2 UOIT
#3 Lakehead vs. #6 Waterloo
Season series: Lakehead 2-0-2-0
This has the potential to be the best series of the first round. But both teams have struggled recently. Lakehead has been sub-.500 in the second half and Waterloo is 1-4-1 in their last six (four of which were road games).
Goaltending has been a problem for both teams. Keaton Hartigan and Justin Leclerc have given up four goals a game in Waterloo’s last six. Alex Dupuis, who will likely start in all of Lakehead’s games because of how bad Kyle Moir has been playing, has a season save percentage of .910 (to Moir's .892). That’s pretty average.
So don’t be surprised if we get a high scoring series. That doesn’t bode well for the Warriors, who beyond Chris Ray and Tyler Moir, aren’t great offensively. Lakehead, on the other hand, has 118 goals on the season, putting them third in the OUA behind Western and McGill.
But what will likely turn the tide in this series is home-ice advantage. Waterloo hosts the opener, but they get the unenviable task of travelling to Thunder Bay for two in the row. Lakehead is 10-3-1 at home. I’ve never been but I hear the playoff crowd at Fort William Gardens creates a pretty daunting atmosphere for Lakehead’s opposition.
Lakehead in 3
Waterloo 5-4 Lakehead (OT)
Lakehead 6-3 Waterloo
Lakehead 4-3 Waterloo
#4 Guelph vs. #5 Brock
Season series: Guelph 2-1-0-0
So I have no idea what to make of this series. Guelph was terrible up until a couple weeks ago, and they suddenly went on 5-0-1 run. Lucky for them, the team they simply couldn’t beat this year failed to make the playoffs. I’m not sure how any team went winless against York, but it happened.
Brock has a bad habit of playing at the level of their opposition. They have weekends where they beat the Gryphons in Guelph and then get shutout by Windsor at home. Or they beat Waterloo before squeaking by York in a shootout.
Both teams have gotten great goaltending one night, followed by an awful performance the next. Or weekends where they score 10 goals followed by weekends where they score once or twice. Basically, it is Jekyll and Hyde against Jekyll and Hyde. Try predicting a winner out of that.
I’d say this will come down to goaltenders Andrew Loverock and Kurt Jory. And I have way more faith in Jory.
Brock in 3
Brock 3-2 Guelph
Guelph 4-3 Brock (OT)
Brock 4-3 Guelph (OT)