With the playoffs starting throughout the Ontario Hockey League tonight (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday), the hot-stove is here to give you their picks as to which team is most likely to pull of an upset in the first round and why.
I'm going to go with the Owen Sound Attack beating the Kitchener Rangers for my upset pick. Not only are the Attack experienced and talented, but they have one of the best goaltending duo's in the OHL in Jordan Binnington and Scott Stajcer, both of whom were drafted by NHL franchises. The loss of Mike Halmo to suspension for his hit on Nail Yakupov will definitely hurt, but the Attack have some very good forwards to help pick up the slack in Daniel Catenacci, Gemel Smith and Cameron Brace, among others.
While Kitchener is not an easy opponent, I do think the Attack can - and will - win this series.
Belleville. How many times have we seen a hot goalie steal a series? Malcolm Subban is fully capable of taking over this series and shutting down the 67’s offence. I watched Ottawa twice in March and came away from both games relatively unimpressed with their performance in relation to what it had been at the start of the year. Their 4-5 record in the month including back-to-back losses to wrap up the season definitely bruised their ego to a degree. The 67’s are also missing John McFarland in a bad way. He provided depth in scoring and is a key piece missing heading into the playoffs.
Ottawa dominated the season series 7-1, BUT you could argue that Belleville could have won any of the three games decided by only one goal. I also have to believe that last season’s first-round upset loss to Sudbury is hanging over the 67’s like a dark cloud, especially considering that was a 2 vs. 7 matchup as well. Belleville had been battling for a spot in the year-end dance for over a month. They wrapped up their season with three straight victories and went 5-3 in the month of March, when they needed wins most. This is also one of the last chances for several Bulls to show what they can do prior to the NHL draft this summer. What better way for Gaunce, Zharkov and Subban to up their value than to upset a top-seeded team in the first round?
I do realistically see Ottawa exercising their demons from last year in this series, but if I have to choose a potential upset, I could see one in this series.
I guess by definition, Mississauga over Barrie or Sudbury over Brampton would be considered upsets. But in the true sense of the word I look to the Belleville Bulls and Ottawa 67's series. To put it mildly, Malcolm Subban did not have a very good regular season against the 67's. He's certainly capable of stealing a game at any time. Daniil Zharkov has the ability to be a prolific goal scorer but has been inconsistent this season. Brendan Gaunce has been, well, Gaunce like, a very bright spot for the Bulls.
That said, I predicted Ottawa in 5 games, but if Subban can stand on his head and shake the Ottawa curse he's had all year and Zharkov can find his rhythm, then anything is possible? To me, it would be an upset if Belleville can win more then 1 game in the series.
The team most likely to upset the higher seed in the first round is the Eastern Conference 6th seed Mississauga St. Michaels Majors over the 3rd seed Barrie Colts.
Barrie is a good young team on the rise who finished last in the league last year and really turned things around. But I think the experience that some of the Majors picked up in last years playoff run is the factor that will push them to the upset. Majors goalie Brandon Maxwell played very well down the stretch winning his last 5 games posting three shutouts and is playing as well as any tender in the OHL is right now. I like the way Coach James Boyd has brought his team together Riley Brace, Stuart Percy and Jamie Wise lead the charge and all will play a big part in the Majors moving on.
The Saginaw Spirit were one of the Ontario Hockey League's top teams throughout the second half of the season, and I feel they have the best chance of pulling off a first round upset, playing the highly touted Sarnia Sting. Ironically, the Sting were as dominant in the first half of the season as the Spirit were in the latter half, but Saginaw has been playing much better as of late, and star players like Brandon Saad and Josh Shalla have come to life, joining leading scorer Vincent Trocheck in leading the offence. The Sting have fought with injuries to two of their top stars, as Alex Galchenyuk just returned to the lineup after missing all season, and top prospect Nail Yakupov has fought a series of injuries which has his status for the first round questionable. If these teams continue to play as they have throughout 2012, it will be the Saginaw Spirit who advance.
My first round upset would be the Majors over the Colts. Without Pearson (injured), and Behenna (suspended until Game 3), the Colts will be a little offensively challenged. The Majors won 4 of 6 Reg Season games against Barrie, but all games were decided by one goal. Maxwell has beat Barrie twice, and is on a five game winning streak. The Majors have been playing playoff style hockey for the entire second half, just to stay ahead of Belleville, and Oshawa. It should be a hotly contested matchup. I predict Mississauga in 6.