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Guelph Storm’s Scott Walker, on OHL playoff format: ‘There’s going to be one heck of a team out in Round 2′

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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Walker's Storm finished first overall, London finished third (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)

The Erie Otters could make a 2,000-km round trip to Sault Ste. Marie three times in their second-round series but perish the thought the OHL would ever adopt an interconference playoff format, because of travel concerns.

With all four of the top regular-season finishers residing in the Western Conference, the pondering over why the league doesn't have the Quebec League's 1-through-16 playoff format is more pointed than usual. The QMJHL's format owes to practicality since it uses a three-division alignment with six teams in the Maritimes and a dozen in Quebec. The OHL, with its 20 teams divvied equally into four divisions and two conferences, doesn't face the same issue. Yet the fact remains the current setup has created at least one matchup — the London-Guelph showdown that commences Friday — that probably shouldn't occur in the second round. The Storm and Knights finished first and third overall in the regular season; the other Western opponents, Erie and Sault Ste. Marie, were second and fourth.

Here's Storm coach Scott Walker, speaking to Ryan Pyette:

“I love playing the London Knights and I think the players, organizations and fans will benefit but there's going to be one heck of a team out in Round 2.

“I'm not saying this like there should be this great change but if you think about it, there's two teams with over 100 points, two ranked in the Canadian Hockey League's top 10 basically all year out of 60 teams, and they're playing in the second round.” (London Free Press, April 2)

Three 100-point teams in the Midwest Division was an aberration, notwithstanding that this group could produce the OHL champion for the fourth season in a row. Junior hockey goes in cycles, sure, but the problem that creates should be pretty obvious in a Memorial Cup season — what if Guelph ousts London, but the Knights use their month of R&R and win the Memorial Cup? Then the league has a perception problem where one team won the league but another won a four-game tournament (not that this has created cognitive dissonance all of the other times it's happened). Who was really No. 1?

Walker pointed out he doesn't know if a 1-through-16 format is fair. One can only dream of being a fly on the wall if less successful small-market teams get pitched on the change. "Sure," the answer might go, "right after we get a bigger cut in revenue sharing."

With one round in the books, it's easier to imagine an alternate scenario where the OHL did away with the conference format. In this hypothetical, the division winners get the first four seeds:

Round 1 matchups
(1) Guelph Storm (108 points) (16) Mississauga Steelheads (54)
(2) Soo Greyhounds (95) (15) Niagara IceDogs (57)
(3) Oshawa Generals (90) 14) Plymouth Whalers (63)
(4) North Bay Battalion (82) (13) Owen Sound (70)
(5) Erie Otters (106) (12) Peterborough Petes (70)
(6) London Knights (103) (11) Saginaw Spirit (71)
(7) Kingston Frontenacs (84) (10) Sudbury Wolves (77)
(8) Barrie Colts (77) (9) Windsor Spitfires (77)

For grins, since the Q usually has one double-digit seed advance, let's say Owen Sound knocked off North Bay, which in real life needed a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Niagara IceDogs. Believe in (Brandon and Kyle) Hope. Here's the second round the league could have:

Round 2
1) Guelph (13) Owen Sound
(2) Sault Ste. Marie (8) Barrie
(3) Oshawa (7) Kingston
(5) Erie (6) London

Sure, now 106-point Erie faces 103-point London. Again, it was an aberrant regular season. Now what if the league threw it wide-open and went to a true 1-through-16 that didn't reward a division winner with fewer points than a second or third-place team?

Round 1
(1) Guelph Storm (108 points) (16) Mississauga Steelheads (54)
(2) Erie Otters (106) (15) Niagara IceDogs (57)
(3) London Knights (103) 14) Plymouth Whalers (63)
(4) Soo Greyhounds (95) (13) Owen Sound (70)
(5) Oshawa Generals (90) (12) Peterborough Petes (70)
(6) Kingston Frontenacs (84) (11) Saginaw Spirit (71)
(7) North Bay Battalion (82) (10) Sudbury Wolves (77)
(8) Barrie Colts (77) (9) Windsor Spitfires (77)

Saginaw, which thrice extended Erie into overtime, knocks off Kingston. Yep, the Frontenacs can't even win a playoff series in a re-imagining unless they draw another foredoomed franchise.

Round 2
(1) Guelph (11) Saginaw
(2) Erie (8) Barrie
(3) London (7) North Bay
(4) Sault Ste. Marie (5) Oshawa

There are reasons for the status quo, of course, especially since meeting rivals earlier in the playoffs is often better for the bottom line. The OHL also had two series go the distance in the first round, which is two more than the QMJHL and WHL combined. That's not primarily because of its format, though. If it keeps having seasons where the top teams are bunched up in London's division, though, there will a clamour for change.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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