Sixteen teams — eight from each of the Western and Eastern conferences — begin the annual quest for Ontario Hockey League supremacy this week with sights set on the 2015 Memorial Cup tournament that will be held in Quebec City, beginning on May 21.
Soo Greyhounds, by virtue of finishing first overall in the 20-team OHL, will have home-ice advantage in every series that they play in.
The Greyhounds will play the Saginaw Spirit in the opening round of the Western Conference playoffs and figure to have little difficulty with a team that they finished 49 points ahead of during the regular season.
Saginaw has only one real impact player — forward Dylan Sadowy — and lacks experience between the pipes with rookie starter Evan Cormier, who would be a backup on most OHL teams.
But we give credit to the Spirit just for securing the eighth-and-final playoff spot in the Western Conference ahead of the more-talented Windsor Spitfires and Plymouth Whalers.
As for the high-test, high-end Hounds of Sault Ste. Marie, this is a team with multiple 30-goal scorers and a defenceman in Anthony DeAngelo, who has averaged two points per game since being acquired from the Sarnia Sting at the OHL trade deadline.
Of note, the series will be a homecoming of sorts for Saginaw’s rookie forward Adam McPhail, a Sault Ste. Marie native who made the Spirit roster this season as a ninth-round pick from the 2013 OHL draft.
McPhail saw spot duty as a fourth-liner with the Spirit during 50 regular-season games and impressed the coaching staff with his work ethic and attitude. He will be up against his old Soo Thunder minor midget teammate Blake Speers — who is one of those high-performance Greyhound forwards — in this playoff series.
While the Soo is heavily-favoured to not only defeat Saginaw but to win the series in four straight, Hounds head coach Sheldon Keefe will no doubt take steps to try to insure that his players do not look past the Spirit and ahead to the second round of the playoffs.
It says here that a single victory in the series will serve as a feel-good story for the Spirit players and staff — if only to themselves.
In reality, the Greyhounds should — should — win the series in four and outscore the Spirit by a five-to-one margin, for those who may be part of an OHL playoff pool.