OHL playoff preview: London Knights vs Windsor Spitfires
The first thing you need to know about the Ontario Hockey League first round play-off match-up between the London Knights and the Windsor Spitfires is that during the regular season, it was as straightforward and comfortable as the couch in your living room. The team playing on their home ice won all six times the Knights and Spitfires played.
Some games were close. Some went to overtime. The final two ended with identical scores of 4-1.
It happens. Sometimes in reverse.
Flint and Sault Ste. Marie lived the ying to the London/Windsor yang. They played six times and the home team failed to win even once.
All playoff series have it. Every move is magnified. Mistakes mean momentum swings, not just in games, but in the whole series. Sometimes you run out of time to make up for them.
You could try to argue that the Knights have the bulk of the pressure. They won last year. They made moves at the deadline to try to repeat. They flirted with first overall throughout the regular season, and then ended the year fourth overall.
The Knights have made it through the first round every season since 2011. The expectations are always high. It’s one of the reasons they continue to have success. Still, it’s hard to top the pressure Windsor will feel if things don’t go their way from the beginning.
Windsor is the only Ontario Hockey League team that is opening the post-season knowing they will be playing in late May because they will be hosting OHL Championship series. Lose anytime before that series begins and the wait feels long. Lose early and it feels insurmountable. In line at the office of a specialist, long. One of those places where you are given a number and told to wait for it to be called only to realize that the numbers are supplied and called in a completely random order so that you have no idea how long that wait will be.
The Spitfires would much rather spend the next two months playing hockey at a higher and higher level against top competition than they would coming up with creative ways of keeping themselves occupied and hopefully sharp, waiting for the MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament to begin in their city.
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Tyler Parsons of the London Knights has spent the past 10 months winning the Memorial Cup, being selected in the second round of the NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames and leading the United States to World Junior Gold in Toronto and Montreal. He signed an entry-level contract with Calgary over the weekend.
Parsons fought through two separate injuries in his third OHL season, but came back in time to rediscover his groove, stopping more than 80 pucks on the final weekend in back-to-back wins over Flint. Parsons led the league in save percentage and finished third in goals against average.
At the start of the year, Windsor had question marks in net, not because of who was in it for them, but because that goalie was 17. Michael DiPietro earned his place in Windsor’s crease and proved he could be better than anyone else the Spitfires might want to pursue. He does not have high-end experience in the post-season, but you don’t always have to in order to shine in junior hockey. DiPietro needs to be the goalie he was during the regular season.
Look for DiPetro to be high on Team Canada’s radar for upcoming World Junior tournaments.
The Knights will have to begin without Sam Miletic. His slew-footing major brings an automatic two-game suspension and that means London’s top goal scorer out for Games 1 and 2.
Mitchell Stephens was hit hard by Kole Sherwood of the Firebirds with 55 seconds left in Saturday’s game and did not play on Sunday. Sherwood was not suspended by the OHL.
Windsor played their final regular-season game without Jalen Chatfield (eye), Logan Brown (groin), Julius Nattinen (flu) — but all could be back. Winnipeg Jets’ first rounder Logan Stanley suffered a knee injury that required surgery during the season. The Spitfires’ hope is that he will be ready for the Memorial Cup.
Could it be as simple as, “They who win on the road win the series?”
Windsor will have to. The London Knights will open at Budweiser Gardens and will be looking to take advantage of this year’s trend between the teams.
It’s the playoffs. Anything can happen, but not many fans will be expecting a short series either way.
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