OHL Playoff Preview : Belleville Bulls (1) Vs Mississauga Steelheads (8)
The 2012-13 OHL regular season is in the books and now the real fun beings, The Playoffs. In the Eastern Conference the Belleville Bulls are the top seed finishing the season with a impressive record of 44-16-5-3 good for 96 points. Belleville's opponents the Mississauga Steelheads finished 36 points back with 60 points and a record of 26-34-0-8. The Steelheads fought for their playoff lives, only clinching the 8th seed on the final day of the regular season. On paper you would think that the Bulls would have this in the bag, but in the regular season the Bulls and Steelheads split the season series 2-2, with each team winning two games in the others building. Mississauga out scored Belleville 9-6 in the four regular season match ups, winning 6-1 on Oct 24th and 3-1 on Dec 15th. Belleville picked up their victories by a score of 1-0 on Feb 15th and 3-0 on Mar 15th.
The Bulls and Steelheads franchise have meet twice in pervious playoff years. The first time was in 2002-2003. That season the Bulls were lead by the "Executive Line" of Adam Paiement, Cody McCormick and Matt Stajan, but it wasn't enough as the then Toronto St. Michael's Majors defeated Belleville in 7 games, thanks in part to the fine play of Andy Chiodo, Tim Brent and Scott Horvath. The next time was in 2010-2011, by that time the franchise had moved to Mississauga but was still using the St. Michael's moniker. That series was a quick one with Mississauga taking out the Bulls in 4 straight. The then Majors were the host on the Memorial Cup that season and lost to the Owen Sound Attack in seven games in the OHL Final and had their hearts broke again in the Memorial Cup Final 3-1 to the Saint John Sea Dogs. The Steelheads have some hold overs from that team still on the roster this season, they are Riley Brace, Dylan DeMelo and Stuart Percy. Another player that played for Mississauga that season was Belleville Bulls power forward Joseph Cramarossa. Current Steelheads net minder Tyson Teichmann was on the Bulls roster that season. Belleville has 8 players still remaining from that team, Captain Brendan Gaunce, line mate Scott Simmonds and this years winner of the Jake Gilmour Award Adam Bignell were all in their rookie seasons. Austen Brassard, Michael Curtis, Carter Sandlak all in their second year and Stephen Silas in his third season are the others. One guy who you could say had his coming out party in that series was Malcolm Subban. At the time Subban was serving as the back-up and in his rookie season (played 13 min in 2009-10). After game one Coach Burnett turned to Subban and he was great he didn't win any games, but he put up a 2.02 GAA, and a .933 SV%, and only giving up six goals in three games, but that was then and this is now.
Series Breakdown :
Home Ice : Belleville has the edge in this category. The right to host four out of the seven games was earned and speaks for its self. But in this series all Bulls fans could make a difference. In the first half of the season the Bulls had a hard time filling the Yardman, but in the second have they having being drawing close or over 3000 a game and that shouldn't change going forward as the Yardman faithful are seeing red and are prepared for a long playoff run. On the other hand Mississauga announces some attendance numbers that sound fair, but its easy to see that those numbers are based on tickets sold not bodies through the turnstiles. With that said the Bulls normally have a strong fan base at games in Mississagua in part because more then half of the roster is from the GTA.
Advantage : Belleville. The Steelheads should expect an ear full of Cow Bell, and More Cowbell.
Coaching : Mississauga's General Manager and Head Coach James Boyd has history with the Belleville Bulls. Boyd is a former player (95-97), Assistant Coach (00-03) and Head Coach in 03-04 in Belleville. After being relieved of his duties, he immediately joined the Steeheads organization and served as an Associate Coach and Co-Coach from 2004 to 2012 before taking over the bosses chair this season. Coach Boyd knows his lineup and what it offers, he gets them to work hard and it paid off early. In November the Steelheads were really playing strong hockey and cracked the BMO CHL Top 10. Coach Boyd and his staff of Jason Nobili, Adam DeLeeuw and an other former Bull, goaltending Coach Kory Cooper. They will have their hands full matching lines with Belleville's General Manager and Head Coach George Burnett. Coach Burnett is a former OHLer himself playing for the London Knights from 79-82. He's been a head Coach in the OHL, AHL and NHL. He knows this league, and has been successful in most of his OHL stops. Burnett has already made his mark in Belleville. In the history of the franchise the Bulls have won six East Division titles, four have came with George at the helm. Some of the Bulls most successful regular season and playoff teams have been under his watch, only thing missing from his time in Belleville is an OHL Championship banner. His staff of Jake Grimes, Jason Supryka and Sebastien Farrese will be prepared and will run a system that has proven to be successful.
Advantage : Belleville. James Boyd is a fine Coach, but Coach Burnett has the advantage based on experienced.
Special Teams : Bulls penalty killing is as good as there is in OHL. Its been ranked first almost all season and with Belleville normally taking few penalties. They will target to keep it under two minors a game, a number that Burnett has mentioned he believes they have stay under. The Bulls power play has improved in the 2nd half and should not be taken lightly, when its on its really dangerous, but when its off it can be a real momentum killer and some times had Bulls fans wishing that hockey had the same option as football where you can decline the opposing teams penalty. The Steelheads power play and penalty killing units are ranked 12th in the OHL. Riley Brace was named the 3rd Best Penalty Killer in this years Coaches Poll.
Advantage : Belleville. The Bulls PK unit is to strong and will be a factor.
Forwards : Mississauga's charge is lead by Riley Brace and Dylan Smoskowitz. Brace lead the Steelheads with 73 pts (21G,52A) and along with the mention for penalty killing in the Coaches Poll, Riley was also named the 3rd Best Playmaker and 3rd Smartest Player. Brace set a new career high in assists and can dish the puck like nobodies business, but he can score too, every year in the OHL minus his rookie season he has scored more then 15 goals, hitting the mesh 33 times in 2011-2012. After an off season with the Barrie Colts in 2011-2012 Dylan Smoskowitz has returned to form netting 33 goals. Kristoff Kontos, Josh Burnside and Brett Foy each scored over 10 goals this season. Rookie Damian Bourne scored his first OHL goal at the Yardman. Belleville has improved since the additions of Tyler Graovac and Alan Quine. Graovac's name was also seen on the Coaches Poll he took 3rd Most Dangerous and 2nd Best shot honours. Both players are game changers. Captain Brendan Gaunce was named the Best Defensive Forward but he's the whole package he set career high in goals scored with 33. Daniil Zharkov has been real good in the 2nd half. The Bulls are deep and have a strong top six and strong bottom six.
Advantage : Belleville. Former Major Joseph Cramarossa will be a difference maker , in the second half of the season he has been the Bulls MVP. Putting up 43 points (12G, 31A) since the new year began.
Defencemen : Belleville has a real tight six. Draft eligible Jordan Subban is the top points guy, but Jake Cardwell, Stephen Silas, Jake Worrad, and Brady Austin have all shown signs of offensive flare this season. Adam Bignell doesn't score a bunch but he does everything else right that you want a D-Man to do. Bignell sticks up for teammates, is a great penalty killer and is a shot blocking machine, really all of the Bulls and especially their D core block shots, but Bignell makes a living doing it. On the back end the Steelheads have some of the best at both ends of the ice. Dylan DeMelo and Stuart Percy might be the biggest weapon Coach Boyd has. Alex Cord is one of the best defensive defence man in the OHL and is also a very effective shot blocker.
Advantage : Even. The Bulls have a stronger group as a whole, but you can't discredit how strong DeMelo, Percy and Cord are.
Goaltenders : The Steelheads have a very cable duo in goal. Former Bull and Belleville native Tyson Teichmann has had his finest season statistically in Mississauga this season, with a career best 2.77 GAA and .908 SV%. He had a front row seat last season to a OHL Championship run with the London Knights. As the back up he didn't play a lot but his experience in the dressing room and watching the games unfold will help the Steelheads. Draft eligible Spencer Martin put up number similar to that of Teichmann with a 3.02 GAA and a .906 SV%. Martin proved he can win games and show up and win big games against elite level players. In this season's Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game Spencer shared the first ever shutout victory in the 18 year history of the game. The Bulls have the best one two punch in the OHL as far as goaltenders go. Belleville is one of just a handful of teams where both goalies have a GAA under 3.00 and a save % over .900. Charlie Graham (2.59 GAA, .922 SV%) played really well this season and gave notice to the OHL and NHL scouts that he is more then capable of being a number one net minder in this league. Good news for the Bulls and their fans Charlie will serve as the back up to all world goalie Malcolm Subban. This was a great MVP type season for Malcolm with a 2.14 GAA and a .934 SV% he posted some of the best numbers in the OHL. Subban can and has and will win games on his own, he is rarely off, and if he is he always bounces back.
Advantage : Belleville. Malcolm Subban is the best their is and thats hard to beat.
Predictions : The Steelheads have matched up ok with the Bulls this season and have shown they can beat the Bulls in Belleville, both victories came before the Christmas break and the Bulls are different team since then and shutout the Steelheads both times at the Hersey Centre. Belleville is to strong and will use there depth at all positions to defeat Mississauga.
Belleville in 5