Three Canucks entered. Three remain.
Three Vancouver Canucks prospects, Frank Corrado and Evan McEneny of the Kitchener Rangers and Brendan Gaunce of the Belleville Bulls, are all off to the second-round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs and have kept their Memorial Cup hopes alive after Round 1 victories.
The Rangers made short work of the Guelph Storm in Round 1, winning the best-of-seven series 4-1. Although the series didn’t last long, Corrado says the Storm put up a good fight and Rangers goaltender John Gibson was the difference.
“It was a tough series; they played really well and really hard,” said Corrado. “Our goalie played really well and kept us in it and we were able to finish them off.”
McEneny, who was paired on the second defensive-unit that is counted on to produce offense with Carolina's top prospect Ryan Murphy, scored the game-winner in Game 1 and assisted on the game-winner in Game 4. Corrado on the other-hand is counted on in a shutdown role on the Rangers top defensive-unit, playing against the other team’s top line.
“I thought I played fine, I stuck to a good defensive game playing against their top line,” said Corrado. “I was pretty happy with my game.“
Up next for Corrado, McEneny and the Rangers is a tough second-round matchup against the top-seeded London Knights, who finished the regular season with a record of 50-13-2-3. The Knights rolled past the Saginaw Spirit in four games in Round 1, outscoring the Spirit 21-7.
“We know they are super skilled and speedy and they thrive off of turnovers and they want to play in the offensive zone,” said Corrado. “They are well coached and they are in first place for a reason, it’s going to be a tough series.”
Corrado says limiting the Knights offensive time-of-attack will be key to winning the series and moving on to Round 3.
“Limiting our turnovers and playing in the offensive zone as much as possible. We don’t want to give them too many chances in our own zone. We need to carry the play.”
One thing is for sure; the atmosphere in both London and Kitchener will be electric. The Rangers constantly pack over 7,000 fans into “The Aud” (the team carries a popular slogan called “Rock the Aud”). Meanwhile, at the Budweiser Gardens in London, 9,100 fans are expected each game, Corrado says it’s one of the tougher places to play in the league.
“The crowd is really behind them. It’s an NHL building so they can pack a few more people in there. It’s definitely one of the tougher rinks to play in.”
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, Gaunce and his Bulls found themselves playing a few extra games than people expected against the eighth-seeded Mississauga Steelheads. The Bulls were heavy favorites, but the Steelheads played them tough and took the series to six games.
“I think we were ready for their team,” said Gaunce. “They are a real hardworking team and their systems are up there with the best in the league. We knew it was going to be a tight-checking series.”
Gaunce adds that the longer series will help the inexperienced Bulls in the long-run.
“Obviously we wanted to finish them off in four games, but I think it was good for us to have those extra games for experience. Our teams not the most experienced team in the league with playoffs and going round-by-round playing a lot of games, but I think it will be good for us in the long run.”
Gaunce was dominant in the series, posting nine points in six games, including four points in Game 1 alone.
“I thought I played pretty well,” said Gaunce. “Game 6 was probably my worst game of the series, but obviously it doesn’t really matter because we won. I think I had a pretty strong series, again it was only my third year in the playoffs and the last two trips to the post-season I only played 10 games total.”
Up next, a tilt with the surprising Sudbury Wolves, who were sellers at the OHL Trade Deadline, dealing Canucks prospect Corrado and leading scorer Josh Leivo to the Rangers. The Wolves are a young team with speed, but Gaunce feels the depth of the Bulls will be a key to a series win.
“They traded a lot at the deadline, but obviously the guys that are getting a chance to play are playing really well right now,” said Gaunce. “They are a deep team with young guys and their depth has a lot of speed and a lot of skill. It’s going to be a tight series and we will be ready for them. I think we have to use our depth, we are not a one line team, we have four lines that can produce offensively and are able to play against the other team’s top line. I think that will help us in the series and obviously the goaltending will be big for us this series. They have a really good goalie, but if Malcom (Subban) plays well I think we will have a good chance.”Ty-Bits
We have all heard of whacky superstitions during playoff time, like players not changing their underwear or resisting from extra-curricular activity at home (wink, wink). Gaunce says he grows the playoff beard and that’s really it, while Corrado says besides growing the playoff beard, another playoff routine he has is changing his skate laces after a loss. Nothing too exciting, however, McEneny takes it up a notch; he wrestles a 600-pound black bear for 15 minutes prior to every game. Okay, that’s a lie; I didn’t get a chance to speak with him about his superstitions, it could be true though.