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Niagara IceDogs, Plymouth Whalers hold hot hand going into OHL playoffs

Wednesday, 03.21.2012 / 2:44 PM / News

The Canadian Press

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Niagara IceDogs, Plymouth Whalers hold hot hand going into OHL playoffs

The Niagara IceDogs are red-hot entering the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

The IceDogs enter the playoffs with nine wins in their last 10 games, including five straight as they open the post-season Thursday night against the eighth-seeded Oshawa Generals.

Deep at every position, the IceDogs feature arguably the league's top netminder in Mark Visentin. A member of Canada's world junior team, Visentin was the only OHL netminder to post a goals-against average under 2.00.

He led the league with a record 10 shutouts and ranked third in save percentage (.926).

Andrew Agozzino and Freddie Hamilton finished in the top 10 in league scoring while Ryan Strome likely would have as well had he not missed 22 games due to various reasons. The New York Islanders prospect finished the regular season with 30 goals and 68 points in 46 games.

The IceDogs feature a pair of elite defencemen in Dallas Stars prospect Jamie Oleksiak and Boston Bruins prospect Dougie Hamilton. Sophomore defenceman Jesse Graham has also been solid, finishing in the top 10 in scoring among defencemen with 41 points.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference, the second-seeded Ottawa 67's face the seventh-seeded Belleville Bulls.

The 67's, boasting two of the top five scorers in the OHL in Tyler Toffoli (second with 102) and Shane Prince (fourth with 90), enter the playoffs as one of the OHL's best teams on the road after finishing the regular season with a 20-9-3-2 record away from home. Bulls goaltender Malcolm Subbam, who has battle injuries this season, will be busy to be sure.

The No. 3 Barrie Colts meet a division rival in the No. 6 Mississauga St. Michael's Majors. The Colts will be in tough after losing leading scorer Tanner Pearson to injury and will need to rely heavily on Colin Behenna and Mark Scheifele to make a lengthy run.

The other Eastern Conference matchup has the No. 4 Sudbury Wolves against the No. 5 Brampton Battalion. The Wolves will rely on league scoring leader Michael Sgarbossa (102 points) while the Battalion counter with goaltender Matej Machovsky, who finished second in GAA to Mark Visentin.

In the Western Conference, the Plymouth Whalers — like Niagara — enter the playoffs having won nine of 10 games and feature a goaltending tandem that rivals any across the OHL.

Recently signed New Jersey Devils prospect Scott Wedgewood, Canada's other goaltender at the world juniors, received a bulk of the starts for the Whalers though Carolina prospect Matt Mahalak got into 30 games, posting 19 wins.

Though they don't have quite the star power on the blueline that teams like Niagara and the London Knights have, the Whalers boast a solid group of defencemen led by overage Beau Schmitz, a Carolina prospect.

The Whalers open the playoffs as the second seed in the West after finishing two points behind London in the standings and will face the seventh-seeded Guelph Storm in the opening round.

The Knights, who rode a 46-win regular season from goaltender Michael Houser to the top record (49-18-0-1)in the league and a meeting with the No. 8 Windsor Spitfires in the opening round. The workload faces by Houser may be cause for concern as fatigue could be a factor in a long run.

The third-seeded Kitchener Rangers face the sixth-seeded Owen Sound Attack in a battle of Midwest Division rivals.

Rangers goalies John Gibson (an Anaheim prospect) and Franky Palazzese own the top two save percentages in the league and were among the league leaders in GAA.

The Attack will look to veteran goaltenders Scott Stajcer, a New York Rangers prospect, and St. Louis Blues prospect Jordan Binnington to help orchestrate a run similar to the Attack's trip to the Memorial Cup last year in Mississauga.

The final series in the Western Conference features the No. 4 Sarnia Sting and No. 6 Saginaw Spirit (fifth) in a battle between teams separated by a single point in the standings.

The Spirit enter the playoffs having won four straight and are 22-10-1-5 since the hiring of Greg Gilbert on Dec. 10. Prior to that, the team was 11-17-0-2 under former coach Todd Watson.

Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie