Facing off for the 2016-2017 Ontario Hockey League championship are the no. 1 seed from the Western Conference and the no. 2 seed from the Eastern Conference.
Erie Otters, with the best record in the entire OHL over the course of the regular season, are up against the Eastern Conference champion Mississauga Steelheads for the right to advance to the 2017 Memorial Cup tournament, which is slated for later this month in Windsor.
Erie has a record of 12-5 thus far in the playoffs. The Otters swept the Sarnia Sting in the first round and then needed seven games to eliminate the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights in the second round before taking the measure of the Owen Sound Attack in six games in the Western Conference final.
Mississauga has a record of 12-3 thus far in the playoffs. The Steelheads required six games to shake off the Ottawa 67’s in the first round of the playoffs before cuffing the Oshawa Generals in five games in the second round and then sweeping the no. 1 seed Peterborough Petes in four games in the Eastern Conference final. Mississauga has won eight straight games dating back to the Oshawa series.
WHAT A LINE
Through 17 playoff games to date, Erie’s top line of Alex DeBrincat, Taylor Raddysh and Dylan Styrome has combined for 29 goals and 82 points.
DeBrincat has 9 goals, 22 assists, 31 points while Raddysh is 9-17-26 and Strome is 11-14-25.
Mid-season acquisitions Anthony Cirelli and Warren Foegele have added a lot to the Erie forward lines through the playoffs.
Cirelli, obtained from the Oshawa Generals, has 13 goals, 10 assists, 23 points while Foegele, formerly of the Kingston Frontenacs, is 8-10–18.
The Otters also added smooth-skating, top 6 defenseman Owen Headrick from the Lake Superior State Lakers of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association late in the season.
Meanwhile, overage forward Spencer Watson, acquired by Mississauga from Kingston during the regular season, has 14 goals in 15 games for the Steelheads thus far in the playoffs.
Through 26 games of the regular season, the Steelheads were last overall in the 20-team OHL with a record of 6-14-6. At one point, Mississauga lost nine straight games and rumours were swirling that first-year head coach James Richmond was about to be fired.
But among other major improvements, world-class center Michael McLeod started to produce offensively after a slow start.
And following that league-worst 6-14-6 beginning, the Steelheads posted a record of 28-7-7 over the last 42 games of the regular season to finish as the no. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Playoffs included, Mississauga has a record of 40-10-7 over its last 57 games.
A pair of veteran goalies who are without National Hockey League draft status are in the spotlight as the Otters and Steelheads chase the OHL crown.
1997 birth-year goalie Troy Timpano of Erie and 1996 birth-year (overage) tender Matthew Mancina of Mississauga will attempt to lead their teams to title triumphs.
Both were acquired in trades by their respective teams this season with Erie getting Timpano from the Sudbury Wolves and Mississauga acquiring Mancina from Peterborough.
Erie and Mississauga are both high-scoring, free-wheeling teams capable of multiple-goal explosions. But at the end of the day, it could be either Timpano or Mancina who ultimately decide the series.
HEAD TO HEAD
Erie won all four games against Mississauga during the regular season.
But to editorialize just a bit — that was then, this is now.
HOOKED ON A FEELING
Which team will advance to win the OHL championship?
As is the case before any series in any league in any sport, it comes down to a feeling or a guess, educated or otherwise.
My feeling/my guess: Mississauga in seven.