Tue May 03 09:20am EDT
(1) Owen Sound Attack (46-17-1-4, def. London 4-2, Plymouth 4-0 and Windsor 4-1) vs. (1) Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors (53-13-0-2, def. Belleville 4-0, Sudbury 4-0 and Niagara 4-1)
The Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors have made a game out of asking questions of teams that aren't often asked.
There is a reason Majors coach-GM Dave Cameron says "execution" often enough during interviews that observers could use it as a basis for a drinking game. The MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts, at a level of hockey where youthful mistakes are almost part of the attraction, make so many fewer than their opponents. Coming into the third round, the Niagara IceDogs seemed to have a reasonable shot at making the Eastern Conference final a six- or seven-game series. They were home after five, done in by a Majors team who doesn't give an inch easily, especially when its forwards, led by likes of captain Casey Cizikas and Chicago Blackhawks-drafted centre Rob Flick (near right in photo), are on the forecheck or are cycling the puck. It's reasonable to take it on faith they'll pick out something in the Owen Sound Attack, the OHL's other Memorial Cup rep, before too long.
A bottom line is that when all people can do is theorize whether Mississauga has been tested enough, they're obviously solid (cue The Canadian Press preview: "A factor that could work against the Majors is the club has faced very little adversity this year.").
The A-word might have more currency in the Memorial Cup, which Cameron on Monday referred to as a "crapshoot," essentially a string of one-game playoffs against opponents (and with officials) from other leagues. Ultimately, the Majors were built to win a championship. Owen Sound, as GM Dale DeGray put it last week, was built merely to have a very good season.
Why Mississauga should win: They are the arguably better team which also doesn't have a mental out. The notion of entering the Memorial Cup through the front door, as league champion, has been drilled into every player's head since about five seconds after OHL commissioner David Branch got himself dropped from almost every Windsorite's Christmas-card list after last spring's host announcement.
There is the whole question about the relative strength of each team's conference. Mississauga is vying to become the first Eastern team to win the J. Ross Robertson Cup since the 2006 Peterborough Petes. They rolled through a half of the league whose strength fell off markedly beyond the top two or three teams. The Attack have been stress-tested in a deep Western Conference which had 4-5 teams with a credible shot of reaching the final.
That being said, the Majors have shown few obvious dents in their armour for a reason. They have experience on the back end, with Boston Bruins prospect Marc Cantin, fellow overage Michael D'Orazio and 19-year-olds Brett Flemming and David Corrente. Between their two world junior forwards, Cizikas and Maxim Kitsyn, on through to drafted forwards Flick, Justin Shugg and Devante Smith-Pelly, there's always someone around to pop in the timely goal. Cameron has his forward group so moulded into their roles so well that Buffalo Sabres fifth-round choice Gregg Sutch has only dressed when there's been injuries.
The Majors boast the best playoff penalty kill (90.5 per cent). Curiously, they are 12-1 in the post-season while having 16 fewer opportunities with an extra skater than their opponents. Owen Sound's games tend to feature a lot of power plays (a combined 178 through their 15 playoffs games, split 89-89 between the Attack and the other guys).
With the way Mississauga cycles the puck in the other team's zone, one can see the Attack's penalty problems resurfacing. If that happens on any given night, Owen Sound could be in a for a longer night than Michael Ignatieff was on Monday.
Why Owen Sound could win: Attack stars Jesse Blacker, Joey Hishon and Garrett Wilson (near left in photo), cut from the Cameron-coached Team Canada in December, could give Owen Sound a little extra lift, presuming the trio has another notch after stepping it up to oust Windsor in the Western Conference final. They also boast a better and deeper defence corps than any of the Majors' first three opponents. They are close to a legit six deep on the back end, with the likes of Blacker, overage Matt Stanisz and undrafted 18-year-old Matt Petgrave (far left in photo), is adept at launching offensive rushes from deep in their own end.
The Attack are also an older team which, with the likes of forward Andrew Shaw, isn't going to pull back if the struggle proves monumental. Shaw, overage Robby Mignardi and forward Mike Halmo are all good glue guys. Some of the ingredients for the upset are here, especially since most upsets are perceived that way because one team has been winning so much and for so long people just figure it's a habit.
Mississauga really hasn't seen anything like that in the Eastern Conference, save for in small doses in a Round 2 against the Sudbury Wolves and Josh McFadden. The Attack really haven't seen any forechecking like the Majors', so it's a jump ball at best.
The Attack, under coach Mark Reeds and assistant coach Terry Virtue, are at least capable of coming out even on the power play (they did lead the league in that stat) and penalty kill. Goaltender Scott Stajcer is the kind of solid 19-year-old often peculiar to winning teams. He did have a dip in his performance over the final three games of the Windsor series, allowing 10 goals on 89 shots. The Attack were controlling play so thoroughly, though, that barely anyone noticed.
Meantime, Owen Sound has not lost at home since January. So they've got that going for them, which is nice.
Odds favour: Mississauga 64%.
Prediction: Majors in 6.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photos: OHL Images).