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London Knights’ Austin Watson first American to win OHL playoff MVP: Friday’s 3 Stars

Neate Sager
Buzzing The Net

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OHL playoff MVP Austin Watson (OHL Images)

No. 1 star: Austin Watson, London Knights (OHL)

The veteran is headed to his second MasterCard Memorial Cup after once again being the guts and glue of the green and gold in the OHL playoff clincher. Watson, the big mid-season addition whom London coach-GM Mark Hunter got from the Peterborough Petes amid heavy trading interest in January, gave the Knights a huge emotional lift in the second period of the 2-1 Game 5 victory over the Niagara IceDogs. The Nashville Predators prospect, whose persistent pressure and shot blocking gnawed away at Niagara throughout the series, came up big by keeping the 'Dogs from getting any rhythm or pressure during a four-minute power play in the second period. He actually had the best chance of that sequence, batting a pass out of the air and going in on goal for a shot. A few minutes later, when Scott Harrington fired a bad-angle shot that hit Niagara goalie Mark Visentin in the right pad and fell loose in the crease, Watson bulled to the net to poke it in for the opening goal.

Clearly, Watson's willingness to put his body in front of pucks has passed the realm of factual to the fantastical. The Ann Arbor, Mich., native told Metro London's John Matisz, "Not right now, I can't feel anything," when asked how many bruises he's absorbed.

The Nashville Predators prospect, who's the eldest of 10 children, scored 10 goals and 17 points in 19 post-season games while usually marking the opponents' top lines. The line of Watson centring the hyperkinetic Rupert twins, wings Matt and Ryan, kept Niagara's big guns off balance in the series. The IceDogs scored only 10 goals in five games. Captain Andrew Agozzino was the only one to tally more than once. And his four goals came in the first two games. Talk about being completely discombobulated.

Watson also won a Memorial Cup ring as a rookie with 2009 Windsor Spitfires.

No. 2 star: Michael Houser, London Knights (OHL)

Brick Houser, as he's become known, stopped 26-of-27 shots in a typical solid performance. He came up with a big glove save on IceDogs overage winger David Pacan in the second when the table was still open with the score 0-0 and also held down the fort when it occasionally got helter-skelter around London's goal when Niagara pushed in vain for the equalizer late in regulation. The Wexford, Pa., native finished the playoffs with a 2.25 average and .928 save percentage.

No. 3 star: Brett Cook, London Knights (OHL)

London's lone on-ice overage contributor — captain Jarred Tinordi made sure the other overage, Colin Martin, got to raise the J. Ross Robertson Cup early on as it was passed around among the victors — was a big part of the Knights' staunch defensive effort. Cook, who began the season with the basement-owning Erie Otters, played a solid game on the back end and helped keep Niagara to fewer than 30 shots. Not many teams did that all season long. He was also involved in killing off a Tinordi double minor in the second period.

Honourable mention: Brett Ritchie, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)

The Dallas Stars draft choice was one of the more effective Niagara forwards throughout the series. For all we know, it might have been a different outcome if the great chance Ritchie created in the first period had resulted in a goal for Mitchell Theoret instead of a shot off the goal post. Theoret also played a very strong game; he probably deserved a better fate than that. Both will be a big part of the IceDogs next season as 19-year-olds.

(Game recap available here.)

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at neatesager@yahoo.ca and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.

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