Neate Sager

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Neate Sager is a blogger for Yahoo! Sports.

  • Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

    Erie took the first seven shots, then Guelph commenced to score seven goals to maintain its eerie mastery of the Otters on home ice. Meantime, Oshawa allowed an opponent to hit half-a-hundred on the shot counter — say shot clock, and it's fine — for the first time all year as North Bay was full value for the effort in its Game 1 road win in the Eastern final. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from Storm take 2-0 lead into Erie, Battalion nab opener ahead of Scott Laughton’s return: OHL post-game questions
  • Kosmachuk's 17 points is 2nd in OHL playoff scoring (John Woods, The Canadian Press)

    No. 1 star: Scott Kosmachuk, Guelph Storm (OHL)

    Kosmachuk (2G-2A, +3), Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Kerby Rychel (2G-1A, +3) and Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell (2G-1A, +3, including an unassisted shorty) each had a double during the 7-2 blowout of Erie that opened a 2-0 lead in the OHL semifinal. The former was given first-star honours at the Sleeman Centre. Kosmachuk, a Winnipeg Jets signing, manoeuvred into the slot to snap in the opening goal 9:33 into the contest, then made a slick entry past to set up Rychel for the 2-0 goal three minutes later.

    Erie made a half-push to pare Guelph's edge to 4-2 late in the second. Kosmachuk promptly finished off a give-and-go with Tyler Bertuzzi to reopen a three-goal lead, then broke away 2-on-1 to set up Mitchell's second of the night early in the third.

    Read More »from Kosmachuk’s 4 points helps Storm Jet out to 2-0 lead over Erie: Friday’s 3 Stars
  • Bertuzzi scored twice on Thursday, including third-period equalizer (OHL Images)

    For weeks that became months, Tyler Bertuzzi was a power winger rendered powerless.

    As late as Feb. 24, it appeared the Guelph Storm would have to forge a run for the Ontario Hockey League championship without the rugged forward who worked his way up into being a Detroit Red Wings late second-round choice in 2013. A lingering head/neck issue stemming from a fight in early December — never diagnosed as a brain injury — turned one of the Storm's vital cogs into an ethereal presence around the Sleeman Centre, one of the names listed among the scratches night after night when the lineups are posted in the media room before the game. Since coming back for the second playoff game, though, Bertuzzi has fortified the Storm forward corps with seven goals and 11 points over nine contests, including a two-goal effort in Thursday's 5-4 win over Erie in the opener of the Western Conference final. That makes him a minor medical marvel.

    "I've been out four months or so, when I was coming back, I was just working out every day, skating," Bertuzzi told a post-game press conference following Guelph's win. "Just being able to be back with the guys and have that positivity... it's good to be back and working hard."

    Read More »from Red Wings pick Tyler Bertuzzi’s ‘one last shot’ at comeback pays off for Guelph Storm
  • Horvat had the game-winner and big penalty-kill shot block in the third period (OHL Images)

    Ryan Horvat, Guelph's glue guy, got the decider after all six current or future NHL first-round picks — Guelph's Jason Dickinson, Robby Fabbri and Kerby Rychel and Erie's André Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce and Connor McDavid — recorded at least one point in an Erie-Guelph opener that lived up to its billing. Perhaps Horvat seems like an unlikely game-winning goal scorer, but do recall the series winner gets the Wayne Gretzky Trophy and the Simcoe, Ont., native's minor midget team was the Brantford 99ers, so there is that totally cherry-picked coincidence.

    Tyler Bertuzzi's second of the night 25 seconds after the Erie Otters took its third lead of the night gave Guelph a much-needed boost. Erie's comeback hope shrank considerably with 2:37 to go when Vancouver Canucks signing Dane Fox got an offensive zone tripping penalty and a misconduct, leaving the Otters to kill off penalty and try to tie the game without the OHL's top goal scorer. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from Guelph Storm grab Game 1 win ahead of Brock McGinn’s return: OHL post-game questions
  • NHL draft tracker: Devin Williams, Erie Otters

    Williams recovered from a summer layoff to have a solid season for Erie (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)With an arsenal of attackers that goes far beyond phenom Connor McDavid, the Erie Otters seldom have to resort to rope-a-dope tactics.

    Conversely, Otters goalie Devin Williams has found succor from both his faith and his admiration of The Greatest. The 18-year-old who has shepherded Erie to the OHL Western Conference final vs. the Guelph Storm wears a mask adorned with a cross and a depiction of Muhummad Ali.

    "My dad [Clarence Williams] is assistant pastor at our church so I have the cross to symbolize my love for Christ," says Williams, a lithe 5-foot-11¾ 'tender who earned the nod as Erie's No. 1 over Oscar Dansk, a Columbus Blue Jackets high second-round pick who started the world junior gold-medal game for Sweden in January. "I got Muhummad Ali after watching his videos. My dad, being a big boxer when he was young, he showed me a lot of Ali videos. I like to see the cockiness and the arrogance from Muhummad Ali.

    "He was a huge competitor. I like his quickness too. So I try to symbolize that with my quickness on the ice."

    The Saginaw, Mich., native is second in the OHL with a 1.88 average and .934 save percentage across nine playoff appearances (including eight starts). Williams' season started inauspiciously after July groin surgery truncated his summer training — "you'd think that would put a damper on your development but when I got here the coaches worked with me," he says" — but he steadily improved while sharing the net with Dansk.

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Devin Williams, Erie Otters
  • Mike Williamson canned by Calgary Hitmen, creating third WHL coaching vacancy

    Williamson guided Calgary to a WHL title in 2010 (Aaron Bell, CHL Images)

    In January, the Calgary Hitmen parted with their first-round pick for what could be as little as a half-season's work from New York Rangers prospect Adam Tambellini and proceeded to lose in the first round of the playoffs. In a results-based business, that is not going to pass muster, which means the law of diminishing returns has kicked in with five-year coach Mike Williamson.

    Such are the breaks of the game, even for the Western Hockey League franchise's winningest coach.

    [CHL Chatravaganza: 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT]

    From Scott Fisher:

    Hitmen GM Mike Moore said the high-powered squad just didn’t live up to expectations.

    “We had a good regular season,” Moore said. “But there were holes where we didn’t play the way we needed to and that carried over into the playoffs.

    “Mike’s a good coach. But we felt in order to get to the next level, we needed to make a move.”

    Read More »from Mike Williamson canned by Calgary Hitmen, creating third WHL coaching vacancy
  • Hitmen sack Mike Williamson: the coast-to-coast

    Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ... come for the Chatravaganza at 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT!

    WHL

    As one of the two coaches whose higher-seeded team didn't get by Round 1, Mike Williamson is out the door in Calgary. (Calgary Herald, Taking Note)

    Trevor Cox for mayor of Medicine Hat, unless linemate Cole Sanford also files and splits the voting base. (Medicine Hat News)

    So with Kootenay eliminated, will the next jersey Sam Reinhart wears be from the Buffalo Sabres? (Buffalo News, Sportsnet)

    Talking about Portland's power play vs. Kelowna's penalty kill is a more exhaustive topic than, "Religion: what is the one true faith?" (CastanetKelowna Daily CourierPortland Tribune)

    How did Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke come back stronger from a late-season illness? (His predecessor in Portland, Mac Carruth, is soaking up some Stanley Cup playoffs atmosphere with the Chicago Blackhawks.) (The Oregonian)

    Saskatoon Blades minority owner Colin Priestner is doing a lot of the pre-bantam draft scouting since the team has no GM in place. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

    OHL

    Kingston Frontenacs centre Sam Bennett will miss the world under-18 due to a groin injury; meantime, how would he look as a potential future linemate for Sean Monahan with the Calgary Flames? (Flames Nation)

    That's a jump up from coaching in Bathurst: former Titan coach Danny Dupont, who was on staff when Shawinigan had a month off before the 2012 Memorial Cup, is consulting for the London Knights now that they are in similar straits. (Le Nouvelliste)

    The respective cases for Erie and Guelph to prevail in the Western final. Can't we just bet that all the players will have a good time? (Erie Times-News, Guelph Mercury)

    Read More »from Hitmen sack Mike Williamson: the coast-to-coast
  • 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.

    Read More »from Guelph Storm slight favourite over Erie Otters: OHL Western Conference final preview
  • Stolarz missed 6 weeks of the OHL season due to a severe skate cut (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)

    To the Ontario Hockey League, it's a procedural deal but to many others, it's going to come across like Anthony Stolarz is getting off lightly. The league believes it followed the rule of precedent.

    Any suspension the OHL applied during league playoffs can be removed before the Memorial Cup tournament, and often is. The end result of doing so with Stolarz is that the London Knights goalie will only end up missing 40 per cent as many games for his stick swing at Windsor's Josh Ho-Sang as Ho-Sang will miss for incidental contact that went horribly, horribly wrong.

    From Ryan Pyette (@@RyanatLFPress):

    last three games of the OHL final for spearing after racking up 35 missed regular-season games due to suspension.

    In 2000, Barrie's Ryan O'Keefe was handed an indefinite ban that lasted more than 20 games for a faceoff slewfoot of North Bay's Derrell Upton, who broke his ankle on the play.

    Those two players were granted permission to take part in the Memorial Cup that season. Their situations are a big reason why London goalie Anthony Stolarz had the final two games shaved off his eight-game penalty for a one-handed hack to the back of Windsor centre Josh Ho-Sang's head.

    “We rely on what happened in the past and the fact there was no injury on the play, fortunately,” OHL vice-president Ted Baker said. “We've addressed similar situations in the past. It was out of our control how many games London would play but we made it clear right from the start his participation in the Memorial Cup would be reviewed once the Knights' season was over.

    “It's not like something we're making up as we go along here. It was something communicated within the original suspension release.” (London Free Press)

    It is no shock, but there is an obvious difference that bears highlighting.

    Read More »from London Knights’ Anthony Stolarz has stick-swinging suspension lifted for Memorial Cup
  • D.J. Smith (left) with assistant coach Paul McFarland (OHL Images)

    For D.J. Smith, it's more fulfilling to be named OHL coach of the year with a team that feels more like his own.

    The Oshawa Generals skipper, who was named the Matt Leyden Trophy honouree Wednesday after edging Erie's Kris Knoblauch 48-47 in voting among general managers, was a finalist as a rookie. Had he won then, one would have made the case that the former pro defenceman reaped the benefit of falling heir to a collection talent. Few would say that of the current Generals, who went from contemplating a rebuild to getting Scott Laughton back from the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and soaring to the top of the Eastern Conference. Oshawa is also 8-0 so far in the playoffs ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern final against North Bay on Friday.

    "I would say this year's team, it's our team," said Smith, who cut his coaching teeth on the staff of the Windsor Spitfires' back-to-back Memorial Cup-winning teams in 2009 and '10. "Our coaching staff and Jeff Twohey as general manager, every player here is someone we've made a conscious decision to have here. It's a great group of kids. It's great to get a honour like this with a team like this. It doesn't come around very often that you have a group of kids with very little issues.

    "We weren't sure what direction we were going in, but with the return of Scott Laughton it gave our guys a lot of confidence," the 36-year-old Smith added. "It's a great honour, but it takes special players and special people to help a team win. I'm the one being honoured, but my coaching staff, ownership, Jeff as general manager and [Oshawa owner] Rocco Tullio deserve it too."

    Read More »from Oshawa Generals’ D.J. Smith wins OHL coach of the year: ‘I hope they know I have their backs’

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