TORONTO, Ont. -- While there wasn't much left to decide in terms of who would be making the playoffs down the stretch, the ETA's playoff round could prove to have some compelling storylines with some competitive series' on tap starting in round one.
The eight qualifying teams will be competing through two rounds of the playoffs with the victors of each semi-final emerging to play in the coveted OMHA Championships which will be hosted from March 11-13 in Barrie, Ont. Those two finalists will join the host Colts - who will make the tournament regardless of how they fare in the playoffs - and the top-2 teams from their OMHA brethren in the SCTA.
All things considered, much like our GTHL playoffs preview, we'll take a stab at projecting how the OMHA's first round might go. Of course unlike the GTHL, please keep in mind that these are six point series. For the round two pairings, the winners of Series A and C will faceoff while B and D will meet up in the other semi-final.
SERIES A | Whitby Wildcats (54 pts) vs. Central Ontario Wolves (37 pts)
With two tournament victories under their belt already this season, Whitby capped off the regular season in style with the top record in the ETA's East Division, and the second best record in the league overall, finishing just one point behind the Barrie Jr. Colts for that honour. A team that is the textbook definition of scoring by committee, Whitby has got things done all season with overwhelming depth and by playing a tight system that really limits the amount of opportunities they concede.
Central Ontario punched their playoff ticket comfortably by turning it up when they needed to the most - finishing with a 6-2-2 record down the stretch in their last 10 games. The impressive run allowed them to bypass the Oshawa Generals, who wound up faltering to the tune of a mere two wins in their last 10. Will the momentum carry over to the playoffs? That remains to be seen.
Key Players: Blake Murray will determine how the series goes for Central Ontario as he's their offensive leader and really the driver of the team in general. If he's on, they have a chance to make it interesting. Take your pick from Whitby but we'd like to see Jacob Di Danieli have a big playoff run and it will start with getting off to a good start against the Wolves.
Prediction: Wildcats 6 - Wolves 2
Don't be surprised if Central Ontario pulls off one upset and potentially even keeps the scorelines close, but in the end Whitby's depth will prevail as they'll move onto round two with comfort.
SERIES C | Ajax-Pickering Raiders (47 pts) vs. York-Simcoe Express (44 pts)
Since the Port Huron Silver Stick the Raiders have elevated their game to another level with seven wins in their past 10 games. They won the season series against York-Simcoe with three wins in four games and will aim to replicate that success in the playoffs where they'll come into the series as the bonafide favourites in our books.
The Express put together an impressive .647 winning percentage this season but despite the positive record, they still wound up third place in a division that features two very good clubs in Barrie and Ajax-Pickering. Beyond team captain Alex Newhook the team has had some issues with getting consistent offensive production so it's safe to say that will be one of the big areas of focus, especially against a team that has several players capable of finding the back of the net.
Key Players: The aforementioned Newhook - a Newfoundland native - is really the key to YSE's chances in this series. When he's on, he's one of the top players in the loop and can change the dynamic of a game with his offensive tenacity. Wearing the 'C' on the other side, Connor McMichael has scored some very timely goals this season and will look to affirm why he's considered a potential top-50 player.
Prediction: Raiders 7 - Express 5
This series might see no shortage of hockey as both teams are close in calibre and have no major advantage over the other. Over the course of the series, we think Ajax's offensive depth will be what ultimately allows them to prevail.
SERIES B | Quinte Red Devils (52 pts) vs. Kingston Jr. Frontenacs (39 pts)
Quinte narrowly missed out on the top seed in the East Division, finishing a mere two points behind Whitby and ultimately settling in the two-hole. With 25 wins in 36 games, including a 9-1-0 record down the stretch, it's been nothing short of an impressive season for the Red Devils in league play and they're poised to be a legitimate threat to make their way to Barrie for the OMHA's.
Kingston lacks high-end talent throughout their lineup but have a scrappy team from top-to-bottom that allows them to stay in most games and maintain a chance at winning. Despite losing all four games against Quinte this season, the Jr. Frontenacs kept three of those four games within a one-goal margin so expect this series to stay competitive.
Key Players: Jacob Campbell is a lanky forward who is still raw in many areas but really drives the Quinte offense as a consistent source of production. Hayden Fowler is an undersized centre who despite lacking size, has no shortage of tenacity and scrappy elements to his game, plus the ability to find the back of the net.
Prediction: Red Devils 6 - Jr. Frontenacs 0
While Kingston may be able to keep it close, they don't quite have enough to take a game away from Quinte and it would likely be a surprise to see them take points off the Red Devils in the series.
SERIES D | Barrie Jr. Colts (55 pts) vs. Richmond Hill Coyotes (32 pts)
After winning the OMHA's in minor bantam, the Colts have picked up where they left off with an impressive regular season that saw them run up a league-best 26 wins and 55 points. While they aren't the flashiest team, the Colts are a highly competitive group that plays a tight-checking and in-your-face style of play that makes things very difficult on the opposition.
Richmond Hill secured their playoff berth in comfort with a 14 point margin over fifth place Markham. The Coyotes didn't fare overly well against the Colts this season with three blowout losses, however, they did manage to take a point off Barrie in a 3-3 tie back in October that actually required the Colts to make a third-period comeback to avoid what would have been their first ETA loss of the season at that time.
Key Players: Mitchell Russell is a legitimate top-20 talent and will look to show the rest of the ETA why he should be the first player selected from the league in next year's OHL Priority Selection. Kyle Kozma has had an intriguing season in goal for Richmond Hill and will need to be at the top of his game if the Coyotes are to stand a shot in the series.
Prediction: Jr. Colts 6 - Coyotes 0
While there's a chance that Richmond Hill could channel some elements of their tie earlier in the season, the Jr. Colts are more talented at every position and should be able to win the series with some relative comfort.