Guelph Storm star Robby Fabbri (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)
(3) Erie Otters vs. (1) Guelph Storm
Season series: Storm 4-1-1-0. Odds favour: Storm 54%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Storm in 7. Prediction: Storm in 7.
The Guelph Storm revolve around a cohort of homegrown cogs, while the Erie Otters, as everyone seems to say, were built to win this spring.
Beyond that, there very little to pick between the 108-point Storm and 106-point Otters in what seems like a better matchup than many Ontario Hockey League championship series of recent vintage. Erie has next season's surefire NHL first overall pick in Connor McDavid, but Guelph has a playmaking prodigy of its own with Robby Fabbri. The Storm go six deep across the blueline but Erie had the cleanest goals-against record. Each team did some early Christmas shopping for a big-bodied NHL first-rounder who's previously missed out on the OHL final — Vancouver Canucks pick Brendan Gaunce in the Erie tricolor and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Kerby Rychel in Guelph crimson. Each boasts a late-blooming overage who landed a NHL deal this season — Canucks pickup Dane Fox, Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell.
All but five Storm regulars have never played for another OHL team. Could that be a tipping point?
"Junior hockey is so much different from the National League," Storm coach Scott Walker says. "You can't expect one person to be a leader. There's just too much going on in the junior ranks to put it all on one guy. Matt would be the first to acknowledge we have no less than nine guys who are leaders. If one guy's falling offside another pulls him back. You only win if you demand it out of your teammates. The best thing is the respect they're showing each other. It's something that you don't see all the time."
Erie is 8-1 in the playoffs, has four world junior players (although Team Sweden goalie Oscar Dansk is now the backup behind Devin Williams). It scored 310 goals in the regular season. It might still be sneaking up on people after being out of the playoffs for the previous two seasons.
"I don't think any of our players are satisfied with what they've done so far," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch says. "They're proud but to say losing in the Western Conference finals is a successful season, that would upset some players."
Guelph hosts Games 1-2 back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, before a QMJHL-style two-day break before the series shifts to Erie. Here's some questions to ponder.
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