Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

  • (3) Erie Otters vs. (1) Guelph Storm

    Season series: Storm 4-1-1-0. Odds favour: Storm 54%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Storm in 7. Prediction: Storm in 7.

    The Guelph Storm revolve around a cohort of homegrown cogs, while the Erie Otters, as everyone seems to say, were built to win this spring.

    Beyond that, there very little to pick between the 108-point Storm and 106-point Otters in what seems like a better matchup than many Ontario Hockey League championship series of recent vintage. Erie has next season's surefire NHL first overall pick in Connor McDavid, but Guelph has a playmaking prodigy of its own with Robby Fabbri. The Storm go six deep across the blueline but Erie had the cleanest goals-against record. Each team did some early Christmas shopping for a big-bodied NHL first-rounder who's previously missed out on the OHL final — Vancouver Canucks pick Brendan Gaunce in the Erie tricolor and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Kerby Rychel in Guelph crimson. Each boasts a late-blooming overage who landed a NHL deal this season — Canucks pickup Dane Fox, Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell.

    All but five Storm regulars have never played for another OHL team. Could that be a tipping point?

    "Junior hockey is so much different from the National League," Storm coach Scott Walker says. "You can't expect one person to be a leader. There's just too much going on in the junior ranks to put it all on one guy. Matt would be the first to acknowledge we have no less than nine guys who are leaders. If one guy's falling offside another pulls him back. You only win if you demand it out of your teammates. The best thing is the respect they're showing each other. It's something that you don't see all the time."

    Erie is 8-1 in the playoffs, has four world junior players (although Team Sweden goalie Oscar Dansk is now the backup behind Devin Williams). It scored 310 goals in the regular season. It might still be sneaking up on people after being out of the playoffs for the previous two seasons.

    "I don't think any of our players are satisfied with what they've done so far," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch says. "They're proud but to say losing in the Western Conference finals is a successful season, that would upset some players."

    Guelph hosts Games 1-2 back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, before a QMJHL-style two-day break before the series shifts to Erie. Here's some questions to ponder.

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  • To the Ontario Hockey League, it's a procedural deal but to many others, it's going to come across like Anthony Stolarz is getting off lightly. The league believes it followed the rule of precedent.

    Any suspension the OHL applied during league playoffs can be removed before the Memorial Cup tournament, and often is. The end result of doing so with Stolarz is that the London Knights goalie will only end up missing 40 per cent as many games for his stick swing at Windsor's Josh Ho-Sang as Ho-Sang will miss for incidental contact that went horribly, horribly wrong.

    From Ryan Pyette (@@RyanatLFPress):

    last three games of the OHL final for spearing after racking up 35 missed regular-season games due to suspension.

    In 2000, Barrie's Ryan O'Keefe was handed an indefinite ban that lasted more than 20 games for a faceoff slewfoot of North Bay's Derrell Upton, who broke his ankle on the play.

    Those two players were granted permission to take part in the Memorial Cup that season. Their situations are a big reason why London goalie Anthony Stolarz had the final two games shaved off his eight-game penalty for a one-handed hack to the back of Windsor centre Josh Ho-Sang's head.

    “We rely on what happened in the past and the fact there was no injury on the play, fortunately,” OHL vice-president Ted Baker said. “We've addressed similar situations in the past. It was out of our control how many games London would play but we made it clear right from the start his participation in the Memorial Cup would be reviewed once the Knights' season was over.

    “It's not like something we're making up as we go along here. It was something communicated within the original suspension release.” (London Free Press)

    It is no shock, but there is an obvious difference that bears highlighting.

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  • For D.J. Smith, it's more fulfilling to be named OHL coach of the year with a team that feels more like his own.

    The Oshawa Generals skipper, who was named the Matt Leyden Trophy honouree Wednesday after edging Erie's Kris Knoblauch 48-47 in voting among general managers, was a finalist as a rookie. Had he won then, one would have made the case that the former pro defenceman reaped the benefit of falling heir to a collection talent. Few would say that of the current Generals, who went from contemplating a rebuild to getting Scott Laughton back from the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and soaring to the top of the Eastern Conference. Oshawa is also 8-0 so far in the playoffs ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern final against North Bay on Friday.

    "I would say this year's team, it's our team," said Smith, who cut his coaching teeth on the staff of the Windsor Spitfires' back-to-back Memorial Cup-winning teams in 2009 and '10. "Our coaching staff and Jeff Twohey as general manager, every player here is someone we've made a conscious decision to have here. It's a great group of kids. It's great to get a honour like this with a team like this. It doesn't come around very often that you have a group of kids with very little issues.

    "We weren't sure what direction we were going in, but with the return of Scott Laughton it gave our guys a lot of confidence," the 36-year-old Smith added. "It's a great honour, but it takes special players and special people to help a team win. I'm the one being honoured, but my coaching staff, ownership, Jeff as general manager and [Oshawa owner] Rocco Tullio deserve it too."

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  • (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.

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  • The series between the Portland Winterhawks and Victoria Royals effectively ended when Victoria’s Brandon Magee checked Portland’s Nic Petan in the head with 4:01 left in regulation of Game 5, which Portland led 4-1 at the time and won 5-1.

    The Winterhawks are moving on to face Kelowna in the highly anticipated Western Conference final, while the Royals franchise is a bit lighter in the wallet after stiff penalties were handed down by the WHL on Tuesday.

    Magee got a 12-game suspension for his actions, while Steven Hodges got five games for his role in a similarly ugly second-period brawl. Almost as eye-popping, the Royals were fined $10,000. That’s the WHL’s largest fine for on-ice conduct going back to 2007-08 (the previous high over that span was $3,500).

    Magee’s match penalty set off the second brawl of the night, a fracas that Petan unwisely reentered after getting up from the initial hit. Looking to get back at someone, Petan, jumped on the back of Royals defenceman Ryan Gagnon, who promptly battered Petan. The combination of Magee’s stick and Gagnon’s fists left the Hawks star recovering from a head injury this week (though Petan insists he’s fine after missing one practise).

    Magee’s suspension is the longest in the league since Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin received 12 games for a boarding major in October 2010.

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  • In a year without a consensus top prospect, the Florida Panthers will dictate how the draft floor domino effect will start as their ball was picked at the annual NHL draft lottery.

    Only behind the Buffalo Sabres (25 per cent), Florida (18.8 per cent) had the second best odds of winning the lottery. It's ultimately fitting that the Panthers jumped over the Sabres to capture the top pick because they finished 30th overall last season, but drafted second as the Colorado Avalanche won the 2013 lottery.

    This is the second time in the history of the franchise that the Panthers hold the first overall selection. In 1994, they chose Ed Jovanovski with the top pick.

    Here is a look at how the lottery affected the draft and a projection of the top 10 selections.

    1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, defence, Barrie Colts (OHL) – Since Florida is loaded up front with Alexsander Barkov, Jonathon Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, Ekblad is a no-brainer for the Panthers hockey brass. The 6-foot-4, 217-pounder, who potted 20 goals and 53 points in 58 matches, is the perfect player to slot beside Erik Grudbranson in their future top defensive pairing. All indications are that he will blossom into a cornerstone defenceman as he can dominate play at both ends of the ice much like Nashville Predators star Shea Weber.

    2. Buffalo Sabres: Sam Reinhart, centre, Kootenay Ice (WHL) – Reinhart seems to be the right prospect to complement the Sabres' young offensive core. The 6-foot-1, 183-pounder, who can play both centre and wing, would fit in nicely beside Cody Hodgson, Mikhail Grigorenko and Zemgus Girgensons. He has an enticing blend of impeccable instincts, vision and raw skill. The 18-year-old, who scored 36 goals and 105 points in 60 games, appears to be in the same calibre of talent as Edmonton Oilers centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, but he has a more complete game as he’s very responsible in all areas of the ice.

    3. Edmonton Oilers: Leon Draisaitl, centre, Prince Albert Raiders (WHL) – Albeit the Oilers’ most evident need is on the back end, Draisaitl still fills a void in their offense. In addition to adding size down the middle, the 6-foot-1, 209-pounder would take some pressure off Nugent-Hopkins’ shoulders. What appeals the most about the Germany native, who netted 38 goals and 105 points in 64 contests, is his ability to control the tempo of the game with his composure, hockey IQ and uncanny offensive abilities.

    4. Calgary Flames: Sam Bennett, centre, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL) – Bennett could very well be the top forward of the 2014 draft class. NHL Central Scouting Service thinks so as they ranked him first among North American skaters in their final ranking. That said, it should be an easy decision for Flames president Brian Burke to call Bennett’s name at the draft podium. The 6-foot, 180-pound Toronto native, who racked up 36 goals and 91 points in 57 games, and Sean Monahan would give the Flames a solid 1-2 punch at centre.

    5. New York Islanders: Michael Dal Colle, wing, Oshawa Generals (OHL) – Dal Colle could be the perfect fit for John Tavares’ go-to winger of the future. He has the size, standing 6-foot-2, 171-pounds, the skill, scored 39 goals and 95 points in 67 games, and puts in the work to take care of business in his own zone. The Islanders will need patience, but this seems to be a match made in heaven for a club that couldn’t keep Matt Moulson or Tomas Vanek in town.

    6. Vancouver Canucks: Brendan Perlini, wing, Niagara IceDogs (OHL) – Perlini alongside London Knights centre Bo Horvat, whom Vancouver chose ninth overall in 2013, would be a step forward in the Canucks’ rebuild. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Perlini skyrocketed up draft rankings this year because of his breakout season, where he potted 34 goals and 71 points in 58 games. Besides his enticing stature, he possesses strong offensive instincts, a smooth stride and top-notch speed.

    7. Carolina Hurricanes: William Nylander, centre/wing, Sodertalje (SWE) – With Nylander, who’s ranked fifth overall by International scouting Services, still available, it would make sense for the Hurricanes to go back to Sweden with their prized pick. They chose Elias Lindholm out of Brynas with their fifth-overall selection last year and plucked Victor Rask out of Leksands with the 42nd pick in 2011. The 5-foot-11, 170-pound Nylander, who’s the son of former NHLer Michael Nylander, is regarded as a dynamic player with superb hockey sense.

    8. Toronto Maple Leafs: Nick Ritchie, wing, Peterborough Petes (OHL) – Ritchie fits the bill to provide future secondary scoring behind Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk for the Leafs. He not only proved himself as an elite scorer this year by netting 39 goals and 74 points in 61 games, but he also brings an enticing 6-foot-3, 229-pound frame to the table. In addition, his 136 penalty minutes clearly show he isn’t afraid to throw his weight around.

    9. Winnipeg Jets: Alex Tuch, wing/centre, NTDP-18 (USA) – The Jets filled their blueline cupboard in the past two drafts by investing their first-round picks on former University of Michigan star Jacob Trouba and Prince Albert Raiders captain Josh Morrissey. Therefore, now is the time to add a high-end forward such as Tuch to their future offensive core. The 6-foot-3, 216-pound Tuch, who’s committed to Boston College for the 2015-16 season, uses his big frame to protect the puck well and is an above-average skater. He could be a good fit to ride shotgun with Mark Scheifele.

    10. Anaheim Ducks (Ottawa Senators): Nikolaj Ehlers, wing, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL) – With Teemu Selanne poised for retirement, the Ducks could use an explosive scorer like Ehlers to help replace his presence on the wing. The Denmark native quickly established himself as a major junior superstar this year by scoring 49 goals and 104 points in 63 contests in his rookie season. In doing so, the 5-foot-11, 163-pounder’s draft stock steadily rose into the top half of the first round.

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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

    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."

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  • 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."

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  • 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 »

  • Following in the footsteps of Columbus Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert and Dallas Stars first-rounder Scott Glennie, Jayce Hawryluk is the Brandon Wheat Kings’ latest highly-touted NHL draft prospect to hail from Manitoba.

    “I do feel fortunate (to stay in my home province),” says Hawryluk, who’s a native of Roblin, Man. “It’s nice to not have to move far away and get to be around family here. Some guys have to move far away from their homes, so I was happy when I got the chance to play in Brandon.”

    Hawryluk came into his sophomore season feeling some pressure on his shoulders. Besides the obvious pressure that comes with a draft year, the 18-year-old knew the rebuilding Wheat Kings were counting on him to help lead the offense after his 43-point rookie season.

    “I did feel a little bit of pressure,” says Hawryluk. “I knew we didn’t have a first-round pick or anything in our forward group, so guys like me would be expected to produce. But I have tried not to think about that and just play my game. Focus is key and I’ve worked on staying focused to just take one game at a time.”

    Hawryluk without a doubt lived up to any preconceived expectations this season. He has solidified himself as a top-line centre by potting 24 goals and 64 points in 59 contests. In addition to his goal-scoring abilities, the 5-foot-10, 190-pounder has a peskiness in his game. He’s thrived at getting under the skin of opponents with physicality and chirping.

    “I play hard and with that sometimes you get in some battles out there,” says Hawryluk, who is ranked 37th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting Service. “I try to play a bit bigger than I am like (Boston Bruins winger) Brad Marchand. So I like getting involved physically and battle hard in the dirty areas.”

    Roughly midway through the year, Hawryluk found some 'extra motivation' in his game because of the CHL’s decision not to invite him to the Top Prospects Game.

    “I didn’t let it bother me, but it did give me a little bit of extra motivation,” he says. “It’s one of those things that you want to get invited to and I thought I should have.”

    Hawryluk really hit his stride in the Wheat Kings’ first-round sweep over the Regina Pats. He scored five goals and 10 points, including a hat trick in Game 3, throughout the four games.

    “I have to credit my teammates,” says Hawryluk on his playoff production. “We have a great group that work hard out there and create scoring chances. I think we’ve all played well and with that the goals have come.”

    The skilled sniper also credits Wheat Kings GM-head coach Kelly McCrimmon for his post-season success.

    “He’s a great hockey mind to have helping you. He’s hard on us, but that’s because he tries to get the best of us. He has pushed me in my two seasons to improve in all areas of my game. At times it feels like he expects a lot, but it’s because of that why he gets results from us.”

    1. How would you describe yourself as a player?

    “I’m a hard-working player that has some skill. I like to set up plays and create opportunities anyway I can. I also play hard in the defensive zone.”

    2. Who’s your favourite NHL player?

    “I like (Boston Bruins forward) Brad Marchand. He plays much bigger than he is and he’s good at agitating guys.”

    3. Who’s your favourite NHL team?

    “I like the Chicago Blackhawks. I’ve always been a fan of Patrick Kane, so he’s the main reason why I like them.”

    4. What type of music do you like to listen to before a game?

    “I’m up for anything really. I’m not that picky; I listen to whatever the guys like.”

    5. What’s your favourite movie and TV show?

    “I’m into Suits right now. I like the show just because it keeps me interested. And Friday Night Lights is pretty good (for a movie).”

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

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