J. Ross Robertson Cup Preview

The Niagara IceDogs and the London Knights will battle for the Ontario Hockey League Championship J. Ross Robertson Cup and the chance to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup.

Championship series

These same two teams battled for the Championship back in 2012, and after losing game one in double overtime, the Knights went on to win the next four. They would lose in the Memorial Cup Final against the host Shawinigan Cataractes by a score of 2-1 in overtime.

To date, I’ve picked eleven of fourteen series winners correctly. However, picking the correct number of games a series will go has proven to be a futile attempt for anyone. Niagara sweeping the Barrie Colts and Kingston Frontenacs was almost as much of a shock as London sweeping the Erie Otters. But as they say “This is why we play the games.”

Before I break down the Championship series, here’s how we got here:

Round One Results

Western Conference

(1) Erie vs (8) Saginaw: Erie wins four games to zero (my prediction: Erie in four)

(2) Sarnia vs (7) Sault Ste Marie: Sault Ste Marie wins four games to three (my prediction: Sarnia in six)

(3) London vs (6) Owen Sound: London wins four games to two (my prediction: London in five)

(4) Kitchener vs (5) Windsor: Kitchener wins four games to one (my prediction: Windsor in seven)

Eastern Conference

(1) Kingston vs (8) Oshawa: Kingston wins four games to one (my prediction: Kingston in four)

(2) Barrie vs (7) Mississauga: Barrie wins four games to three (my prediction: Barrie in six)

(3) North Bay vs (6) Peterborough: North Bay wins four games to three (my prediction: North Bay in six)

(4) Niagara vs (5) Ottawa: Niagara wins four games to one (my prediction: Niagara in six)

Round Two Results

Western Conference

(1) Erie vs (7) Sault Ste Marie: Erie wins four games to one (my prediction: Erie in six)

(3) London vs (4) Kitchener: London wins 4 games to zero (my prediction: London in 6)

Eastern Conference

(1) Kingston vs (5) Niagara: Niagara wins four games to zero (my prediction: Niagara in seven)

(2) Barrie vs (3) North Bay: Barrie wins four games to zero (my prediction: North Bay in six)

Conference Finals Results

Western Conference

(1) Erie vs (3) London:  London wins four games to zero (my prediction: London in seven)

Eastern Conference

(2) Barrie vs Niagara (5): Niagara wins four games to zero (my prediction: Niagara in seven)

The breakdown:

London Niagara
Head to head 1-1-0-0 1-1-0-0
Regular season record 51-14-2-1 35-26-4-3
Playoff record 12-2-0-0 12-1-0-0
Regular season home record 29-3-1-1 17-13-3-1
Playoff home record 5-2-0-0 7-0-0-0
Regular season away record 22-11-1-0 18-13-1-2
Playoff away record 7-0-0-0 5-1-0-0
Goals for regular season 319 213
Goals for playoffs 67 50
Goals against regular season 182 198
Goals against playoffs 33 31
Powerplay regular season 29.2% 19.1%
Powerplay playoffs 29.6% 26.0%
Penalty kill regular season 82.3% 84.2%
Penalty kill playoffs 73.6% 79.6%
Leading after first regular season 38-2-1-1 19-2-1-2
Leading after first playoffs 5-0-0-0 5-0-0-0
Leading after second regular season 44-0-1-1 27-3-1-1
Leading after second playoffs 9-0-0-0 9-0-0-0
Trailing after first regular season 6-8-1-0 4-15-1-1
Trailing after first playoffs 4-0-0-0 3-1-0-0
Trailing after second regular season 5-11-1-0 3-20-2-0
Trailing after second playoffs 2-1-1-0 2-1-0-0
One goal games regular season 9-4-2-1 10-6-4-3
One goal games playoffs 1-0-1-0 6-0-0-0

The IceDogs hold two huge advantages heading into the series, the first being goaltending. Alex Nedeljkovic has been nothing short of spectacular in these playoffs and he has shown time and again that not only is he capable of stealing a game, but a series. His Team USA counterpart Tyler Parsons has been no slouch for the Knights. My top ranked OHL goaltender for the NHL Draft for some time now has answered the bell when called upon. But in a winner take all scenarios, there isn’t a goaltender in the OHL I’d rather have than Nedeljkovic.

The second advantage belonging to the IceDogs is experience. And they have plenty of it. Their roster consists of thirteen players with a 1995 or 1996 birthdate compared to nine for the Knights. The IceDogs have four players in the lineup eligible for the 2016 NHL draft. Barring a complete meltdown or injury though, don’t expect Stephen Dhillon to get a start. The Knights on the other hand will have seven, led by Parsons.

The Knights hold a big advantage in the fact that they can throw the line of Matthew Tkachuk, Christian Dvorak and Mitchell Marner on the ice for 24 minutes per game and they’ve been scoring almost at will through these playoffs with Marner poised to set a franchise record for points in playoff year. As good as Nedeljkovic has been, he’s going to have to be even better to keep the trio from dominating the scoresheet.

Here are the teams’ leading scorers:

Player Team GP G A PTS +/-
Mitch Marner London 14 15 22 37 +24
Matthew Tkachuk London 14 16 17 33 +20
Christian Dvorak London 14 10 16 26 +22
Josh Ho-Sang Niagara 13 5 16 21 +7
Pavel Jenys Niagara 13 7 6 13 +8
Stephen Harper Niagara 13 4 8 12 +8

As in any playoff at any level, special teams will play a huge role. The Knights’ powerplay dominated in the regular season and with the exception of a hiccup have continued to do so in the playoffs with no drop off, in fact they have shown an ever so slight improvement.

The IceDogs on the other hand had a major improvement from the regular season to the playoffs of almost seven percent with the man advantage largely due to in season acquisitions Stephen Harper and Pavel Jenys and gelling at just the right time. Josh Ho-Sang has been nothing short of brilliant setting up his mates and leads all players with 10 powerplay helpers.

This is a tough series to predict. The IceDogs underachieved in the regular season and have peaked at just the right time. Despite picking them to win up until now, no one could have expected them to sweep through the Kingston Frontenacs and the Barrie Colts without losing a game. I also don’t think anyone would have predicted the Knights sweeping the Kitchener Rangers or the Erie Otters. If anyone bet on any of those scenarios happening, I’d like to shake their hand.

I find it difficult to bet against Nedeljkovic. To date, he is my M.V.P. of the playoffs. But I find it equally as difficult to bet against the trio of Tkachuk, Dvorak and Marner.

That said, here is my prediction:

London Knights in six games.

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