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Plymouth Whalers win, face London Knights in Western final: OHL post-game questions

Vince Trocheck is first in playoff scoring with 21 points (Rena Laverty, Plymouth Whalers)

The final four is no longer a mystery thanks to Matt Mistele, whose two early goals spurred the Plymouth Whalers to a series-clinching road win at Owen Sound. On with the post-game questions:

Plymouth 3 Owen Sound 1, empty-netter (Whalers win 4-2) — Will Plymouth do to London what it did to Owen Sound at the climax of this series? The Whalers, with their plethora of drafted forwards, eventually wore out the stingiest defensive team in the OHL, outscoring Owen Sound 10-1 over the series' final 153 minutes, excluding an empty-netter.

That reality became all the more grimly evident Sunday when they built a two-goal lead early after the Mitchell Heard-Garrett Meurs-Mistele line connected for a pair of markers, including one that came about from the overage Heard, a Colorado Avalanche priospect, outmatching Owen Sound's defence with his size and puck protection before whisking the puck out front to surehanded Mistele.

Point being, Plymouth eventually exposed holes in Owen Sound's usually tight checking, even if it took 3½ games. London is technically less seasoned on the back end on a strict age basis, but has at least four defenders who are ticketed for a higher level with captain Scott Harrington, Pittsburgh Penguins first-rounder Olli Määttä, recent New York Rangers signing Tommy Hughes and 6-foot-5 NHl draft prospect Nikita Zadorov, who's gaining more control over the moments of that big body with each passing game. That group has not seen anything on the order of what Plymouth can bring to the party when it's on.

Plymouth got through the round while lacking a full lineup. Washington Capitals first-rounder Tom Wilson made it back to throw his weight around for the final two games. Ryan Hartman, who marries on-the-edge agitating with some skill, missed the series' final three games with a severely cut wrist, while Columbus Blue Jackets-drafted D-man Gianluca Curcuruto missed the last four. (In Curcuruto's absence, Capitals pick Connor Carrick stepped up and took over the defenceman scoring lead, while Curtis Crombeen also filled in capably.)

Will Whalers star Vince Trocheck rise to the occasion, or more bluntly stated, rise above whatever distraction tactics are cooked up in the labs of Hunter Hockey? The Knights take pride in turning big shots into the little shots. Trocheck, who had a playoff-high 21 points after winning the scoring title with 109 in the regular season, is having a fantastic finale to his time in junior.

The Florida Panthers prospect also had a modicum of success last spring against London in the second round with the Saginaw Spirit, the only team that pushed the Knights past Game 5 during its run. Trocheck had five points in that six-game set, but he wasn't drawing as much heat as Saginaw's top-line centre Brandon Saad (now with the Chicago Blackhawks). The rub is Plymouth has enough firepower to make it difficult to build a game plan around fixating on shutting down one line.

Trocheck's influence on play, as you know, goes well beyond his numbers. His faceoff proficiency could help slow down London. He lost the most important draw that he took on Sunday with 17 seconds left, but ended up blocking the ensuing Attack point shot, which led to an empty-net goal.

In the final analysis, was it a successful season for Owen Sound? The Attack reaffirmed their status as a model small-market franchise, finishing with third overall with 94 points while playing in the tougher division within the tougher half of the OHL. On the whole, save for some outlier performances in the playoffs, there probably is not much more that coach Greg Ireland could have wrung out of a club buttressed by Jordan Binnington's goaltending and an indefatigable work ethic. It's all about representing, not necessarily the first-or-last mentality. Owen Sound, which will graduate overages Nathan Chiarlitti, Keevin Cutting and Daniel Zweep while likely also seeing Binnington, centre Daniel Catenacci and defenceman Cody Ceci off to the pros, did that commendably. Their ouster is probably easier to take since no one broadcast their intentions.

The Attack only slipped down to sixth in the Western Conference in 2011-12 while coming off their OHL championship season. All should be well as long as their public understands these past three seasons have been a high-water mark and the norm is just a skoosh lower. This season was a proof that GM Dale DeGray can reassemble quickly after losing the guts of a contender. Bouncing back in two years is remarkable when compared to the fellow small-marketers Belleville, who are just now scaling the heights that they did in 2009.

The Knights host games 1 and 2 on Friday and Sunday. Sportsnet is airing Game 1 of the Barrie-Belleville Eastern final on Friday.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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