After an entertaining conclusion to a very competitive regular season on Tuesday, rest is for the weary as the GTHL's playoff season kicks off this evening with the Mississauga Rebels and Toronto Titans headlining the opening act. With no shortage of parity in the league this season, the second season is shaping up to be most intriguing.
Today, we'll take a shot at handicapping how the first-round series' might play out. Of course, don't put too much stock into the predictions but if they wind up happening to be right, just remember, we told you so. ;-)
1. Mississauga Rebels (63 pts) vs. 8 Toronto Titans (30 pts)
After running up an incredible 30-0-3 record in minor bantam a season ago, the Rebels followed up their remarkable season with an identical record this season. Yes, you're reading this correctly; the last two regular seasons have resulted in a 60-0-6 record which really doesn't need any more superlatives to describe just how impressive that is.
The Titans enter the series as David, riding a productive end to the season where they finished 6-4 over their last 10 games. After a very disappointing start to the season - despite the fact they had no shortage of success in major tournaments - the team started to play to their potential in the second half and wound up solidifying their spot in the playoffs with an eight-point cushion over the Markham Majors for the final playoff spot.
Key Players: The Rebels could use a strong showing from Philip Tomasino, who has had some inconsistencies turning his scoring chances into numbers on the scoreboard. David Cunti has been very impressive in goal for the Toronto Titans of late and he'll have to be at the absolute top of his game against the Rebels to give the Titans a chance in the series.
Prediction: Rebels 8 - Titans 0
The Titans should be able to keep a few of the games pretty close as they do have some quality depth up front and one of the better goaltenders in the age group in net but in the end, they will probably be lucky to get more than a point off the Rebels.
2. Mississauga Reps (51 pts) vs. 7. Toronto Marlboros (32 pts)
In a rematch of last year's semi-final matchup, the Reps come into the series looking to avenge a 9-5 series point loss that ended their season last spring. With only six losses on their ledger this regular season, the Reps comfortably finished in second place and head into the series as certain favourites over the Marlboros, who have really struggled to find an identity this year.
The Marlboros probably are feeling like they've limped into the playoffs after a significant drop in the standings this year, falling from second to seventh. That said, the playoffs are a new season and the team will look to put the regular season behind them as they are more than capable of making this a close one. The team had a good showing in the Port Huron Silver Stick, which included an impressive win over Shattuck-St. Mary's that may have showed they can turn a corner.
Key Players: Jamieson Rees will need to be in top flight this series to ensure the Reps get off to a good start in the series and can put up some offense against a quality goaltender in Justin Lee. When he's on, Daniel D'Amico can be a gamebreaker and will need to perform at that level to help drive a Marlboros' offense that is a bit lean in scoring depth.
Prediction: Reps 8 - Marlboros 4
This series has the potential to be a close one, and while the Marlboros are more than capable of winning a couple of games, the Reps should ultimately prevail in the end as the team is rolling at an impressive clip.
3. Vaughan Kings (41 pts) vs. 6. Toronto Young Nationals (39 pts)
A complete team makeover saw the Kings move from the depths of the GTHL's basement last season (11th place) to a very respectable 4th place finish this season. While there's a lot to be proud of with the turnaround, in many ways the team still hasn't quite lived up to the level of talent they possess and will need to show they're capable of making noise this playoff season to solidify their place as an elite team in the age group.
The Young Nats have no shortage of talent at every position and this will be the big litnus test to see where they're at as a team. In many ways it could be perceived as a bit disappointing for the team not to finish in the top-4, or top-5 of the standings but the pressure will be on to see if they're truly capable of living up to the potential they've shown signs of.
Key Players: Vaughan has no shortage of talent at every position but will need their key guys like Porco, Robertson, and Gilberds to be impact players all throughout and create some consistent offense against a pretty solid defense/goaltending group on the other side. The Nats will rely heavily on their big line and need Mason Primeau to realize some of his potential in this series.
Prediction: Kings 8 - Young Nationals 6
This projects to be an excellent series with two very balanced teams that feature no shortage of talent with their skaters and a matchup of two of the GTHL's top goaltenders, even though Wu possesses far from ideal size in the Nat's crease. That said, we think that in the end it will be Vaughan that will come out on top, although you could really say this one is basically a coin flip either way.
4. Jr. Canadiens (41 pts) vs. 5. Mississauga Senators (40 pts)
After starting strong for most of the regular season, the Jr. Canadiens are somewhat limping into the playoffs with only two wins in their past 10 games. Only one point separated these two teams - and at this point you could make a compelling argument that the Jr. Canadiens will enter the series as the underdog despite the higher regular season seed.
The Senators could be described as being somewhat similar to the NHL team they derive their moniker from - pesky. While they don't have the most talent or the biggest players, the team competes hard and plays a very structured game that makes them a difficult team to beat.
Key Players: It's a battle of forward duos with Horsley and Morgan matching up against Tabak and Wong. Whichever duo has the bigger series will likely be advancing to round two as both teams need these players to be in peak form to win.
Prediction: Jr. Canadiens 8 - Senators 6
With Xavier Henry back in the lineup, could this be the series where it all starts clicking for the Jr. Canadiens again? We'll see, but either way this one will be nail-biter as both teams really have no relative advantage over the other. We'll take the JRC in what broils down to a toss-up.