The Semi-Finals are set to begin in the OHL tonight, which means it's time for a new edition of the hot-stove. Today the hot-stove members will predict the winner of both series and leave a few reasons as to why those teams will advance.
In the Ottawa - Niagara series I think the Ice Dogs will advance in six. Niagara is extremely deep in all positions, and I think that will pay off in this series. They have home ice advantage, and had a good amount of time to rest their injured players as they swept Brampton; meanwhile, the 67's just had to give everything they had to pull out an overtime win in Game Seven. Ottawa's top line will keep them in some games and help them win one or two, but in the end I think Niagara will prevail.
As for the London - Kitchener series, I'm going to go with an upset and pick the Kitchener Rangers. London's a very young and inexperienced team and I think a battle tested Rangers team that just took down what I thought was the best team in the OHL - the Plymouth Whalers - will grind out a series win and advance to the finals. My prediction is Kitchener in six.
Niagara vs. Kitchener I see this matchup being the final for 3 reasons: 1) The Niagara Ice Dogs have 3 lines that are all top lines on other teams. The 67's had a tough time with a depleted Colts team...their defense is slow and goaltending has been suspect. Look for the 'Dogs to light Mrazek up. 2) Kitchener and London have had the longest and most intense rivalry in the league. Every time they get together you are in for a real barn burner. The Knights, possibly losing McKegg isn't good because they will struggle to score goals as it is on the Kitchener D and goaltender John Gibson. 3) Because everyone else is going to pick London :)
Judging by the way my predictions have gone so far - a worst ever 7 for 12 - you should probably go the opposite way of what I predict if you're betting money.
Niagara pretty much dominated Ottawa in the regular season winning the season series 3-1 and outscoring them 18-10. But you can't count out the 67's with the offense their top line can produce. They'll have their hands full going up against Hamilton, Oleksiak and Beukeboom. You can even throw in Luke Mercer who led all draft eligible defensemen in plus/minus. I picked Niagara to win the East back in September and will stick with the old adage that the best defense beats the best offense and thus will pick Niagara to come out on top.
Some may be surprised to know that Kitchener won the season series against London 4-1-1 with each team winning a game in a shoot out and Kitchener outscoring London 22-19. It's hard to bet against London's depth versus Kitchener's. The story line here will be Team USA WJC goaltender John Gibson versus the guy who probably should have been on Team USA's roster, Michael Houser. Gibson has had a phenomenal playoff, especially against Plymouth while Houser hasn't had to be his best yet. With the longer rest going to London, for that reason, I'll pick the Knights.
There you have it. My prediction is London and Niagara in the Finals.