The latest hockey season has come to an end for some of the teams in the Alliance but there is still hockey being played which includes four Alliance teams trying their hand at the illustrious OHL Cup championship title. The London Jr. Knights, Waterloo Wolves and Cambridge Hawks have all punched their ticket to the dance with the Kitchener Jr. Rangers just one win away from joining them. Last year was a disappointing tournament for the Alliance with no teams from the association making it past the round robin portion of the tournament. This season, the Alliance enters the tournament with London being ranked at the top and legitimate contenders to take the crown.
Let’s just go through the divisions and see exactly what each team has in store for them later this week.
Quinte Red Devils
Elite Hockey Group
Grey-Bruce Highlanders/Toronto Young Nationals
The Cambridge Hawks were able to solidify their spot in the OHL Cup with a sweep of Kitchener in their wild card series. The Hawks relied on good goaltending from Jet Greaves and timely scoring from their secondary forwards to get the win.
The Hawks came in with a lot of buzz to begin the season but injuries have kept them from having a complete lineup nearly the entire season. When they are on their game, Cambridge can provide multiple lines up front that can contribute on both the offensive and defensive side of the game.
The Hawks won’t have an easy road through the OHL Cup round robin. They are grouped with the GTHL champion Mississauga Rebels along with a Quinte Red Devils team that has been a mainstay in the OHL Cup rankings this season. The Elite Hockey Group from the United States is always a wild card in this tournament and currently have one of the better rosters in recent years coming up for the tournament. The Young Nationals are heavily favoured to defeat Grey-Bruce, which would add another GTHL powerhouse to the division. Cambridge owns a victory over Grey-Bruce earlier this year, a 3-2 victory at the Marlies Holiday Classic.
Day one for Cambridge will be key for their success as they have games against both EHG and Quinte. A strong 2-0 start to the week could be a big step towards a quarter-final appearance.
London Jr. Knights
Toronto Jr. Canadiens
Mississauga Senators/York-Simcoe Express
The Alliance champion London Jr. Knights will roll into the OHL Cup after winning the league title with a combined record of 10-0-1 through their 11 postseason games. London has been ranked as the #1 team in the OHL Cup rankings since their big win at the Marlies Holiday Tournament back in December. A team that is three lines deep, the Jr. Knights have a plethora of OHL Draft prospects that includes Ryan Suzuki, Jeffery Burridge and Aidan Prueter plus current QMJHL prospect Brett Budgell.
London did not have a good OHL Cup tournament back in 2016 with the Jr. Knights going winless including a blowout loss to the Rebels in their final game. This year, London will have a good Brantford 45’s team and a surging Jr. Canadiens squad as well. The Jr. Knights hold wins over both the 45’s and JRC. London defeated Brantford 5-1 way back at the Titans tournament in September while the Jr. Canadiens fell to the Jr. Knights 3-1 in London at the Wendy Dufton tournament.
The biggest test could be the American TPH Thunder team. This year’s edition of the Thunder includes top OHL Draft prospects Tag Bertuzzi and Johnny Beecher among others. Both wild card teams in the Senators and YSE are perennially strong teams that could also make noise. London will get things started on Day One with a late matchup against the Jr. Canadiens once the wild card spots are decided.
Toronto Titans/Kitchener Jr. Rangers
After their streak of consecutive Alliance championships came to an end last week, the Waterloo Wolves will now head into the OHL Cup in what I believe is the toughest division in the tournament this season.
At the 2016 OHL Cup, Waterloo came within one goal of advancing to the quarter-finals. It was a tough loss to Ryan Merkley and the Jr. Canadiens that sent the Wolves home packing. This season, the Wolves are grouped together with one of the best in the province in the Whitby Wildcats. The Wildcats were the provincial champions of this age group last season. In addition, the always tough Vaughan Kings and Team NOHA round out the remaining confirmed teams. Waterloo could use a big win against either the Wildcats or the Kings to further their shot at advancing.
Waterloo could see a familiar face in round robin action with the Kitchener Jr. Rangers taking on the Toronto Titans in the final wild card game, with the winner joining the Lindros division.
Kitchener fell to Waterloo in a very tough eight game series and then followed that up with a disappointing sweep at the hands of Cambridge. The Jr. Rangers will want to avoid heartbreak for the second year in a row. Last season, Kitchener fell in double overtime in their wild card game against the Don Mills Flyers. Kitchener will face off against a Toronto Titans team that they faced a couple months ago at the Marlies Tournament. Titans edged them out 4-3 in their single meeting.
Jr. Rangers will be a bit shorthanded in this game as both Chris Adlys and Tyler Ballantyne will be serving suspensions they received in the dying minutes of their game two loss to Cambridge. The pressure will be on the other four D as Kitchener will need a strong effort from them and their goaltending to advance into the tournament.
All the action gets underway tomorrow morning all the way through until the final on Monday night. I will be in attendance all week beginning tomorrow afternoon until the final.