Neate Sager

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Neate Sager is a blogger for Yahoo! Sports.

  • The Generals and captain Josh Brown are 8-0 in the playoffs (OHL Images)

    (2) North Bay Battalion vs. (1) Oshawa Generals

    Season series: Battalion 2-1-1-0. Odds favour: Generals 51%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Generals in 7. Prediction: Generals in 7.

    The story is going to be penalties and power plays. There is a little sense dancing around the obvious with an Eastern Conference affray directly out of the old Leyden Division, with the Oshawa Generals seeking to distance itself from a string of underachieving seasons and the North Bay Battalion looking for an OHL final berth in their first season up north.

    Oshawa, under OHL coach of the year D.J. Smith, has a chippy disposition and plenty of back-end bulk with the likes of captain Josh Brown (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds), Colin Suellentrop (6-1, 205) and Alex Lepkowski (6-4, 214), one of just two players involved who has been to the final. North Bay has a passel of power forwards, most notably in San Jose Sharks signing Barclay Goodrow and New Jersey Devils pick Ben Thomson, who can wear teams down into mistakes. There might not be a lot of space for creativity by times, so how the penalties are spread out will be a storyline.

    "You can't change the way you play — they got a lot of big bodies, we've got a lot of big bodies," Battalion coach Stan Butler says. "We want to play a physical but clean game. Sometimes officials let you play that way and sometimes you don't. You have to adjust period by period, game by game, depending on the standard and where's the game's going."

    There isn't necessarily carryover from one series to another with special teams play. North Bay's penalty killing is second-best in the second season at 91.5 per cent. The Generals' Scott Laughton and Michael Dal Colle-led power play, at 30.2%, is the best of any team which can only reach the Memorial Cup by qualifying.

    "Sometimes you have to pull it back," Smith says. "It's a fine line and sometimes it's frustrating for us as coaches and for players. You want to keep it as clean as possible but you want to make sure you finish all your checks. I think both coaches would be happy with four power plays a side each game, but we know that's not what's going to happen.

    "We both rely on our depth, we're both physical, we both are going to work and grind, try not to give up odd-man rushes and really, there's not going to be a whole lot of cheating going on," Smith adds.

    Here's some burning questions to ponder before the series begins Friday at Oshawa.

    Read More »from Rugged Battalion and Generals have to walk ‘fine line’: OHL Eastern Conference final preview
  • Brown was originally a 13th-round choice out of minor hockey (OHL Images)

    Connor Brown and Matt Finn's hockey paths, which once diverged, have crossed again to create a diversion for Leafs fans.

    Finn bounced back from a season-ending knee injury last season (OHL Images)The two captains in the Western Conference final that many believe to be the true Ontario Hockey League final had a deep bond long before both heard their names called by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2012 NHL draft. Brown, the Erie Otters captain who won the league scoring title, and Finn, the Guelph Storm's leader who posted the OHL's best plus-minus, also wore in blue and white throughout their formative years with the Marlboros minor hockey program. They'll likely see a lot of each other over the next two weeks, with the winner moving one step closer to the OHL title.

    "Even when we play against each other now, it's pretty cool," Brown says. "Sometimes you catch a bit of eye contact and you smile. You lose focus for a half-second there. It's awesome to see Matt have the success that he did. He didn't have many doubters. At the same time, nothing was given to him. He works hard day in, day out. It's going to be an interesting series, and who knows, we might even be matched up together.

    "Me and Matt had a conversation earlier in the week," added Brown, who had to wait until his likely final year of junior to experience the OHL playoffs. "We said that our friendship's going to be on hold while this series is going on. You get one shot at this. We're never going to hold back on each other."

    Read More »from Toronto Maple Leafs picks Connor Brown, Matt Finn rivals in Erie Otters-Guelph Storm showdown
  • NHL draft tracker: Josh Sterk, Oshawa Generals

    A move from Kitchener to Oshawa revitalized Sterk's NHL draft prospects (OHL Images)

    Calling his coach's bluff, in a matter of speaking, led to the Oshawa Generals' Josh Sterk making the change that should lead to him landing in a NHL organization this summer.

    Aside from a select few, young players who put up points at will in minor hockey have to adapt in junior. After an up-and-down sophomore season with the Kitchener Rangers, Sterk capitalized on an opportunity to be the No. 2 centre with the Generals after coming east in a preseason trade. As the season went along, though, coach D.J. Smith, as a former pro defenceman, challenged Sterk to be more vigilant behind his own blueline. The message was received, eventually.

    "He pretty much told me that if I didn't start playing defence I wouldn't be playing," says Sterk, whose Gens begin the OHL Eastern Conference final vs. North Bay on Friday. "At first I didn't think he was serious and I saw my time going down and down with every game. When I started getting frustrated, that's when I started bearing down and now my numbers are up to 20, 25 minutes a game. I can't thank him enough for making him the player I am.

    "I wouldn't have had my breakout year if I didn't get that trade," adds Sterk, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound centre who is ranked No. 84 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. "Obviously [Generals GM] Jeff Twohey did a good job to get me. As for the opportunity I got in Oshawa, I worked hard this summer, but the OHL is all about opportunity. D.J. Smith put me on the second line with [surefire NHL first-rounder] Michael Dal Colle and Hunter Smith at the beginning of the year and I started off hot. Then they put me in more of a shutdown role in the second half because we knew we would need that coming into playoff time. He switched me over to over to Dal Colle and Cole Cassels."

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Josh Sterk, Oshawa Generals
  • Rimouski, Medicine Hat hosting Game 7s: the coast-to-coast

    Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    The Kootenay-Medicine Hat Game 7 will be the first the Tigers have hosted since the 2007 WHL final, and I think we all know how that turned out. (Medicine Hat News)

    Kootenay's Sam Reinhart is on top of at least one draft ranking. (Hockey's Future)

    The prospect neither Kelowna's nor Portland's scoring aces, Myles Bell and Nic Petan, will be ready for the Western final is very high. (Kelowna Capital News, Portland Tribune, The Oregonian)

    Colorado Avalanche defenceman Nick Holden is a pro without an old junior hockey haunt, since there was very little carryover from the Chilliwack Bruins to the Victoria Royals. (Vancouver Province)

    Portland rookie Tyson Predinchuk gave up being a Millionaire to join one of the Dub's mint franchises. (Regina Leader-Post)

    OHL

    Aaron Ekblad, on the possibility that Sunday was his final game in Barrie Colts navy and gold: “I hate to think about it and I love to think about it at the same time, because the future is pretty fun to look at." (Barrie Examiner)

    After falling one win shy of the 2013 final, Vancouver Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce is a pivotal figure in the Erie-Guelph showdown. (Erie Times-News)

    Former Kitchener teammates Ben Thomson and Josh Sterk will renew acquaintances in the North Bay-Oshawa series. (Waterloo Region Record)

    Read More »from Rimouski, Medicine Hat hosting Game 7s: the coast-to-coast
  • Petan not practising for Portland: the coast-to-coast

    Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    Winnipeg Jets prospect Nic Petan has yet to practise for Portland since being cross-checked in the head last Thursday. (The Oregonian)

    Epic gets used way too loosely, but for a Portland-Kelowna matchup, it's permissible. (Castanet)

    A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

    Amazing story if Medicine Hat comes back to beat Kootenay after losing Hunter Shinkaruk halfway through the season. (Medicine Hat News)

    Brandon's young group made huge strides over the season, and its core could still have two more seasons together. (Brandon Sun)

    Showing he could handle centre at the junior level helped Regina's Chandler Stephenson earn a contract with the Washington Capitals. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

    OHL

    Sudbury coach Paul Fixter isn't acknowledging that the team's midseason moves altered the dressing room chemistry: "I think it's a cop out. Mathew Campagna's production went down because we added a good player? Makes no sense." (Sudbury Star)

    It was a very quiet Sunday in London on what could have been Game 6 against Guelph. (Metro London, London Free Press)

    Which forward will Toronto Maple Leafs fans imbue with completely unrealistic expectations and not pay $25 to watch in the OHL? Niagara's Brendan Perlini? Peterborough's Nick Ritchie? (Toronto Star)

    Read More »from Petan not practising for Portland: the coast-to-coast
  • Devils pick Ben Thomson scored 2 goals in North Bay's clincher (OHL Images)

    New Jersey Devils pick Ben Thomson's short-hander midway through the third created just enough separation for North Bay to exorcise the ghosts of playoffs past against Barrie. The Battalion's 3-2 win wrapped up a six-game Eastern semifinal triumph and the second round of the OHL playoffs.

    Erie-Guelph will begin Thursday and North Bay-Oshawa commences the following night, with Generals star Scott Laughton slated to miss the opener due to the final game of a butt-ending suspension. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from North Bay Battalion bounce Barrie, reach Eastern Conference final: OHL post-game questions
  • Medicine Hat's Cole Sanford (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)No. 1 star: Cole Sanford, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

    Now that's a reversal of future: Sanford (4G-2A, +4) pulled a Sam Reinhart, or a Jaedon Deschaneau if you need your reference to be obscure, by scoring six points during Medicine Hat's series-extending 9-2 win over the Kootenay Ice on Saturday. The 18-year-old Vernon, B.C., native who had 33 goals in the regular season had been flummoxed by Ice goalies during the Tigers' two losses in Kootenay that put it one loss from elimination. But everything Sanford and Trevor Cox (1G-3A, +4) sent toward the goal "just seemed to be going into the net" as the Tigers went from trailing 2-1 at the game's midpoint to winning by a touchdown.

    Sanford redirected a shot into the net for his second of the night to level 2-2 with 6:31 left in the second period. That caused the Ice to sag and Medicine Hat scored just 97 seconds later to take lead. In the third period, Sanford threw the floodgate open with a power-play goal 5:43 into the frame. The rest was cake.

    Game 6 of the series is on Monday, back in Cranbrook, B.C.

    Read More »from Medicine Hat’s Cole Sanford gets 6 points to force Game 6: weekend 3 Stars
  • Bertuzzi and the Storm begin the OHL semifinal vs. Erie on Thursday (OHL Images)

    Only one series remains in Round 2, between North and Barrie. Meantime, as you might have heard, the London Knights are in "competitive hibernation" until the start of the Memorial Cup on May 16, leaving them lots of time to catch up on all those PVR'd episodes of Quest For The Cup. On with the post-game questions!

    Read More »from Storm’s defensive soundness an X factor in ouster of Knights: OHL post-game questions
  • Mantha's hat trick included a short-handed goal (CP)

    No. 1 star: Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL)

    The Quebec League MVP had the hat trick plus an apple as he put Val-d'Or on his broad back in a 5-2 home-ice Game 5 win that opened a 3-2 series lead on the Drummondville Voltigeurs. Right off the hop, the Detroit Red Wings first-round pick and two-time 50-goal scorer established a tone. First, Mantha wired in a goal 1:15 into the contest, just 12 seconds into a Foreurs power play.

    The Longueuil, Que., native struck again just past the nine-minute mark, putting Val-d'Or in good stead with a 2-0 lead. The margin was still at two late in the second when Mantha went into beast mode, stealing the puck and scoring a short-handed unassisted goal to give Val-d'Or a 4-1 lead. Just for good measure, Mantha got a helper on Louick Marcotte's insurance goal 2:59 into the third that put the game out of reach.

    Mantha's five goals and 15 points over nine games is the most by any Quebec league player who's not Jonathan Drouin, or who doesn't regularly share the ice with Jonathan Drouin.

    Read More »from Anthony Mantha’s hat trick puts Val-d’Or one win from QMJHL semifinal: Friday’s 3 Stars
  • Playing hurt, Max Domi set up a crucial goal to keep London in Friday's game (OHL Images)

    The number on goalie Jake Patterson's back was hugely symbolic. Thirty-five. As in the number of days before the London Knights' next game — the opener of the Memorial Cup on May 16.

    For the sixth season in a row, the Cup hosts will enter through the much-maligned, oft-loathed 'back door' after the Knights' 5-4 loss Friday to the high-octane, healthier Guelph Storm, whose five-game Western Conference semifinal win assured the OHL of a new champion this spring. Some might try to make a case that the long stretch since a Cup host actually won its league title embodies a problem for the Canadian Hockey League, but if the CHL doesn't mind while it's wading in its deeper revenue stream, then well, life's too short to inveigh against the trend.

    The Storm, which pulled out of bidding to host once it became apparent London with its 9,046-seat arena was a slam-dunk preferred destination, went ahead for good late in the second period after Winnipeg Jets prospect Scott Kosmachuk banked a shot in off Patterson. That was just the last in a series of unfortunate events that encumbered London in the series. The combo of a stacked Midwest Division all playing in the same division and the league's playoff format meant a pair of the OHL's three 100-points teams met in the second round instead of, say, the conference final or championship. London also had star Max Domi playing hurt, goalie Anthony Stolarz suspended for stick-swinging and its two most seasoned defenceman out of action (Zach Bell with a broken fibula, Brady Austin with mononucleosis). Concurrently, though, the Storm persevered despite the fact its nominee for the OHL most outstanding player award, Brock McGinn, was also suspended.

    Those are the extenuating circumstances, but some schadenfreude should be indulged. The Knights, on some level, probably know that is the cross to bear for being a dominant franchise. Being off for five weeks might not even be a fail; it's a credit to the Storm and a mark against the league's playoff format.

    Guelph will face Erie in the Western Conference final, beginning April 17.

    Read More »from London Knights’ long layoff before Memorial Cup: how does it stack up in recent CHL history?

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