With the OHL Cup set to kick off this evening, three Alliance teams will be given the chance to step up on the big stage and try to upset the tradition of GTHL dominating this tournament.
After the Kitchener Jr. Rangers lost in double overtime to the Don Mills Flyers, the three teams challenging for the title will be Alliance champion Waterloo Wolves, the London Jr. Knights and the Windsor Jr. Spitfires. All three teams are in tough with some very talented squads in each division. Luckily, no Alliance teams are in the same division so fans will be able to see some fresh matchups.
Toronto Red Wings
Windsor Jr. Spitfires
Kingston Jr. Frontenacs
The team from Windsor is in the only division at the OHL Cup to feature two wild card teams with both Mississauga and Kingston gaining entry with the extra win. Windsor is coming into this tournament playing their best hockey of the season and they showed some great heart in their final game of the Alliance season, coming from behind to take down Kitchener in their four point mini series.
The key for Windsor will be to continue playing some defense up the middle and having great play from goaltenders James Walker and Eric Pillon. All eyes will be on top prospect Owen Lalonde, who is coming off an impressive showing at the Jr. B level where he scored twice for the Lasalle Vipers this past weekend. Other players such as Kory Silverio and Evan Ferguson will be relied on to exploit the opposing defense and try to grab a lead for the Jr. Spits to clamp down and defend.
Going into the tournament, the statistics don’t look great for Windsor. They are 0-4 against teams in the tournament, which includes a 5-1 loss to the Toronto Red Wings back at the Titans tournament at the beginning of the year. Of course, that was one of the first games each team played this season and there is no doubt both teams have improved immensely since then.
Windsor did have a good showing at the Silver Stick tournament in November and that was kind of the beginning of the resurgence to where they are now.
I do think that the York-Simcoe Express will win the Subban division, but the outcome of tonight’s Windsor/Toronto game could go a long way to seeing who will claim the 2nd spot out of the division.
Barrie Jr. Colts
Elite Hockey Group
London Jr. Knights
Don Mills Flyers
In soccer, they have the group of death for the World Cup and the Euro Cup. If we were to apply that to the OHL Cup this season, the Shanahan division would easily hold that crown.
This division has three teams who were ranked in the last top ten ranking, plus the Don Mills Flyers who were honorable mentions. It’s unfortunate that only two of these teams will advance further in this tournament as I could see any one of these teams making a run to the finals.
London is coming off a devastating loss to Waterloo in six games in the Alliance championship. Despite falling short for a second year in a row, London has an abundance of positives to take from the series. Firstly, the goaltending was fantastic. Keaghan Brett is the more touted goalie, but it was Jukka Schotter who shined the most in the Alliance championships. Up front, the offense was led by some familiar faces. Eric Guest played his best hockey of the season and was complimented well by the likes of Kyle Fisher and Joel Mazzilli.
London does hold a respectable 3-4 record against OHL Cup teams, but are 0-2 against teams in their division. London played both Don Mills and Barrie at the Silver Stick tournament, losing 5-1 and 2-0 respectively. With that said, London did not play well at all that weekend and the offense has never been more stagnant this year.
With only two teams advancing from the division, the Jr. Knights are going to have their work cut out for them. They are talented enough to advance and try to duplicate the semi-final appearance the team had last season. Much will be determined when London battles both the Flyers and Jr. Colts of Barrie. Strong showings against those two squads could mean some Saturday play for London.
Hamilton Jr. Bulldogs
Thunder Bay Kings
Toronto Jr. Canadiens
Niagara North Stars
The Alliance champions will look at the OHL Cup as the chance to continue their strong play and make some noise on the provincial level.
The Wolves, who battled a rash of injuries to take out London in six games, are arguably the best team in the Lindros division if healthy. Waterloo top scorer Mitch Hoelscher played in game six, but was still nursing an injury that seemed to hamper him a tad. Mason McMahon and Liam Hartman both missed a majority of the series and it is still unclear whether or not they will suit up in Toronto this week.
Should McMahon not play and if Hoelscher still isn’t 100%, the offense will need to be carried once again by centres Chris Playfair and Alex Gritz. In addition to Playfair and Gritz, guys like Spencer Kersten and Derek Jensen will need to add some needed support and threaten on the outside.
In goal, the Wolves may possibly have the best goaltender of the tournament in Nathan Torchia, Torchia saved his best hockey of the season for the end of the Alliance Championship and it was incredible to watch. Torchia, along with a big, strong and physical defense is going to be a nightmare for some of the teams in the Lindros division. Although Torchia has been outstanding since his Game 2 loss to Kitchener, don’t be shocked to see Alex Metzger get some action as he also played very well against London even in defeat.
The Wolves, much like London, had a decent record against OHL Cup teams at 3-4-2. Waterloo has played every team in their division, with the exception of Thunder Bay, and played to a 1-2-1 record. The most notable matchup was a loss to the Jr. Canadiens in the semi-finals of the Toronto Marlies Holiday Classic Tournament.
I do believe Waterloo will be suiting up on Saturday for some quarter-final games, IF they are healthy enough. These games will come quick and if fatigue begins to set in, the Wolves will need the extra bodies to stay fresh.