Bring on round two.
That seems to be the sentiment surrounding the remaining teams in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and the Brampton Battalion are certainly no different.
After dispatching the Sudbury Wolves in four straight games, the Battalion have had over a week to rest up and await the start of the second round. In what should have been a trying, physical series, Brampton emerged unscathed by the Wolves and even welcomed injured forward Brandon Robinson back into the lineup.
With a victory over the Oshawa Generals, and some help from the other top seeded teams, the Niagara IceDogs drew Brampton as their round two rivals.
As the fourth seed, the Battalion held home ice in the series against Sudbury, but will forfeit that luxury for the remainder of the playoffs, barring a meeting with Saginaw in the OHL finals. This will be crucial in a series against an IceDogs squad with so much firepower. One of the strengths the Battalion had in round one was the ability to get their matchups. Cameron Wind and Zach Bell combined to almost completely shut down league leading scorer Michael Sgarbossa.
With that being said, behind that top line, the Wolves didn’t have significant depth scoring. That won’t be the case with the triple headed monster that is the Niagara offense. For Battalion Coach Stan Butler, it will be about picking his poison. Does he put the Wind-Bell unit up against the OA’s in Pacan-Friesen-Agozzino? Or are they better served up against the Strome-Hamilton line? That’s not to forget about other players like Tom Kuhnackl, Brett Ritchie and Steven Shipley. This will increase the pressure on unit two pairing Dylan Blujus and Marcus McIvor significantly.
“That whole team, we gotta give them credit, they’re a great hockey team” said Bell referring to his round two opponents. “If we don’t have home ice, then we just have to take care of what’s on the ice and leave it in the other four D’s hands. I believe in those guys a lot.”
This all isn't to suggest that Brampton hasn’t had its share of firepower. Sam Carrick will be looked upon to continue his stellar offensive play for the Battalion. After recently signing his entry-level contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, it’s safe to assume that this will be Carrick’s last run at an OHL championship. He has centred Barclay Goodrow all season and the pair show undeniable chemistry in the offensive zone. Phil Lane has contributed in all areas for Brampton all year and hasn't shown signs of slowing in the playoffs. Brandon Robinson has been matched with the duo of Carrick and Goodrow at different points throughout the season and has rounded out that line nicely.
“It was key that I got into at least a couple games last series. We knew we’d probably be playing Niagara in the next series and I didn’t want to jump back in against those guys” said Robinson of his return in the Sudbury series. “They took four off of us this year, we got two from them so it’s going to be a close battle all series.”
In a close battle, Brampton will rely heavily on role players like OA Brett Mackie and versatile centre and former IceDog property Jamie Lewis.
“We definitely have to match up lines and play Battalion hockey and just work” said Lewis. “It’s definitely tough when they have last change, but we’re going to have to do our best.”
Mackie, who played the agitator role to perfection against the Wolves, will be looking to do much of the same against Niagara. “I’ve always kind of played that role and I try to stick to my own game whether it’s in the playoffs or the regular season” said Mackie. “With the guys on my line, it’s good because I can play that role and they’ll put the puck in the net.”
With a significant number of players returning from last year’s series sweep by Niagara, there is added intensity to this rivalry. “It’s going to be chippy, it’s going to be gritty, a lot of little battles and a lot of chirping, but it’s playoff hockey and you have to expect that” said Bell. As a relatively new face to this rivalry, Brett Mackie may have summed up the feelings best heading into the series. “Obviously with the guys coming back from last year, they’re going to want to win as bad as I do because I don’t like playing against Niagara at all.”