Seven Vancouver Canucks prospects entered the quest for the Memorial Cup, and after completion of the first round, six remain.
Dane Fox, Brendan Gaunce and the Erie Otters will do battle against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.
The Otters took out the Saginaw Spirit in five games in the first round, but the series was a little closer than some expected. Erie finished 35 points ahead of the Spirit during the regular season, but had to win twice in overtime and once in the final minutes of the third period. Altogether, four of the five games were decided by one goal, three of them being in overtime.
After a superb regular season that saw Fox post 107 points (64-43-107) in just 67 games, it appears the Thamesville, Ontario product has taken it to another level in the playoffs. The gritty forward posted 12 points (6-6-12) in five games during the first round, which leads all OHL skaters in post-season scoring.
“You need to bring your game up a level for playoff hockey,” said Fox. “I like to play with a chip on my shoulder and play an energy game. I am an emotional player, so I think that benefits me in the playoffs.”
It has been a long time coming for Fox, not having played in the playoffs the last two seasons and with just eight post-season games under his belt in his OHL career, the 6-foot, 185-pounder admitted he was nervous before the start of the season. But those nerves appeared to wear off quickly as he netted the game-winner late in the third period of Game 1, before scoring the overtime-winner in Game 2.
“I forgot what playoff hockey felt like,” said Fox, who had a three-goal, one assist effort in Game 4 of the series. “But as soon as you get out there for that first shift in the first game you start getting in the groove of things and play like it’s just any other game.”
Now the focus shifts to the Soo Greyhounds, the second seed in the OHL’s Western Conference by virtue of winning their division. The Greyhounds will have home ice in the series, despite finishing 11 points behind the Otters in the regular season.
“They are a deep team,” said Fox. “They roll all four lines and compete hard. They play similar to Saginaw as they have great goaltending and good shutdown defensemen.”
The key to the Otters success is their depth. Erie is stacked with high-end talent, including Gaunce, who posted eight points (4-4-8) in the first round. The Canucks prospects duo play together on the first power-play unit, which also features OHL regular season scoring champion Connor Brown, potential 2015 first-overall pick Connor McDavid and Canadian World Junior Team defenseman Adam Pelech. Throw in Washington Capitals first-rounder Andre Burakovsky and goaltender Oscar Dansk, who back-stopped Sweden to a silver medal at the 2014 World Juniors, and the Otters may just be the most talented team in the OHL.
“I think we need to come out flying and steal some games from them in the Soo,” said Fox. “We need to get off to a good start and get that first goal of the game. If we can do that it will be a little bit easier to be successful.”
-Cole Cassels and the Oshawa Generals will take on the Peterborough Petes in second round of the OHL post-season starting on Friday. Cassels had nine points (2-7-9) including the overtime-winner in Game 2 of the Generals four-game sweep over the Mississauga Steelheads in Round 1.
-Memorial Cup hosts, the London Knights, will square-off with the top-ranked Guelph Storm in the second round of the OHL Playoffs. Bo Horvat had eight points (4-4-8) and was plus-5 in the Knights first-round sweep over the Windsor Spitfires. You can catch Game 1 live on Sportsnet on Friday at 4:30pm PST.
-Miles Liberati and his North Bay Battalion take on the Barrie Colts in the second round. The blue-liner had one assist in North Bay’s 4-3 series win over the Niagara IceDogs in the first round.
-Anton Cederholm didn’t pick up a point but his Portland Winterhawks made quick work of the Vancouver Giants in the first round of the WHL Playoffs with a four-game sweep. The Winterhawks will now face-off against the Victoria Royals in the second round. Every game in the series will be broadcast live on ShawTV.
-Evan McEneny is the lone Canucks prospect that didn’t survive the first round of the post-season. McEneny had two points (1-1-2) in seven games as his Kingston Frontenacs blew a 3-0 series lead, losing in Game 7 overtime to the Peterborough Petes.