Sabres pick Alex Lepkowski and the Colts are 8-0 in the playoffs (OHL Images)
The Barrie Colts-Belleville Bulls series is wide-open and so is the choice of tipping points.
In Colts centre Mark Scheifele and Bulls goalie Malcolm Subban respectively, each of the OHL's Eastern Conference finalists is fronted by a marquee star who could give his team the boost to go the final. Based on performance, they grade out as dead-even possibilities to win the series and advance to the championship against the Plymouth Whalers-London Knights victor, or whatever's left of the survivor should that saw-off go six to seven games. Who knows, maybe even one quirk in the scheduling could prove to be the biggest obstacle.
Belleville opted to start the series with back-to-back games on its Olympic-sized ice surface. There is also no rest day skedded in between Game 5 at Belleville and Game 6 in Barrie. Depth and recovery is going to have to kick in for the Colts. For whatever this scrap of a sample is worth, they were shut out by Subban during their only visit to Belleville, which was the home leg of a back-to-back. But don't bank that too quickly, since it came while star defenceman Aaron Ekblad was injured.
"I think it's going to be fine," says Colts defenceman Alex Lepkowski, a 20-year-old Buffalo Sabres draft pick "We've been preparing well for the Olympic ice here in Barrie. From our forwards down to our defence, I think we have a mobile team and it's not going to be too much of a factor."
The goalie matchup of Subban and the seemingly ever underappreciated Mathias Niederberger might inveigle both teams to play run and gun. The Plymouth-London Western final shapes up as more of a grind.
The Dale Hawerchuk-guided Colts scored an Eastern-high 239 goals and had the league's most efficient power play. They managed to do that despite the limited availability of Scheifele (78 points in 45 games) and Boston Bruins prospect Anthony Camara (36 goals, 60 points in 50 games). The Bulls, with six NHL draft picks up front and speedy defenceman Jordan Subban occasionally becoming a de facto fourth forward, prefer to pick their spots to run and gun. They are capable of it with the likes of Vancouver Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce and recent Minnesota Wild signing Tyler Graovac.
"They have a high-tempo explosive attack, a terrific power play," Bulls coach George Burnett says of Barrie. "I think they've maintained their high level of play despite extended absences of three of their top players in Scheifele, Camara and Niederberger.
"When you play back-to-back in your own building, it's something that you want to take advantage of," Burnett adds. "We've worked all year to have that."
Here is a capsule look at the series, which begins Friday (7 p.m. ET, Sportsnet ONE).
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