This has the makings of a real dog fight. Soo Greyhounds and Hamilton Bulldogs are unleashed with their collars off and eager to mark their territory as champions of the Ontario Hockey League.
Both are top dogs in their respective houses.
The Greyhounds finished atop the Western Conference standings during the regular season and then won three playoff rounds as the no. 1 seed.
The Bulldogs finished atop the Eastern Conference standings during the regular season and then won three playoff rounds as the no. 1 seed.
The Soo and Hamilton split a pair of regular-season games with both teams winning on home ice.
Home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven championship series goes to the Soo by virtue of finishing first overall in the 20-team OHL during the regular season with 116 points compared to the 93 that Hamilton managed.
The Greyhounds take a playoff record of 12-6 into the finals. They swept the Saginaw Spirit in four straight before ousting the Owen Sound Attack and then the Kitchener Rangers in seventh-and-deciding games.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs take a playoff record of 12-3 into the finals. They have won all three of their playoff rounds by four-games-to-one margins, upending the Ottawa 67s, Niagara IceDogs and Kingston Frontenacs.
* Both teams added veteran, impact players via trade over the course of the 2017-2018 season.
Prize acquisitions for the Greyhounds were forward Taylor Raddysh and defenseman Jordan Sambrook (from the Erie Otters) while, among others, the Bulldogs obtained forwards Ryan Moore and Nick Caamano (from the Flint Firebirds) and Robert Thomas (from the London Knights.)
Thomas is a first-round, National Hockey League draft pick of the St. Louis Blues.
* Right winger Isaac Nurse is a Bulldog who has blossomed since becoming a lowly 11th-round draft pick in 2015.
A first cousin of former Greyhound defenseman Darnell Nurse (now a mainstay with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers) the younger Nurse had 17 goals, 13 assists, 30 points in 68 regular-season games with Hamilton and has followed that up with 7 goals, 3 assists, 10 points in 12 playoff outings.
Of note, Nurse scored four shorthanded goals during the regular season and has another one so far in the playoffs.
If goal-tending decides the outcome of the championship series, Hamilton’s Kaden Fulcher has better numbers than the Soo’s Matthew Villalta thus far in the playoffs.
While both goalies have 12 wins, Fulcher has a 2.35 goals against average and .911 save percentage while Villalta has a 3.14 goals against average and .893 save percentage.
Then again, in the Western Conference finals against Kitchener, Villalta was clearly out-played by Rangers goalie Mario Culina and the Soo still took the series, albeit in the second overtime of Game 7.