What a first round it was. In the end, all four favourites came away as victors and booked their ticket to the 2019 OHL Cup, but there were certainly some tremendous battles along the way.
Related: Look back at our GTHL Playoff Preview: Quarterfinals
By far the most entertaining series of the Quarterfinals was the matchup between the 4th seed Toronto Red Wings and the 5th seed Mississauga Rebels. The Red Wings entered the series as heavy favourites, having not lost a game in their previous 20 GTHL contests. However, the Rebels were also riding high heading into the postseason.
After the Rebels dropped game one, they took control of the series by eliminating the Red Wings’ speed and time. Playing a hard forechecking game, the Rebels were able to force turnovers and pressure the Red Wings’ defence, while Justin Wu was spectacular between the pipes as Mississauga eventually took a commanding 6-4 series lead in points.
However, the Red Wings stormed back in game six thanks to a huge performance by Adam Fantilli, who led his team to a dominant 6-2 victory and set up game seven. Through two periods of the seventh game, the Red Wings were controlling the pace of play and held a 3-0 lead heading into the third and final period.
But, the Rebels came out flying in the third and managed to rally and tie the game at three with four minutes remaining. Then, the unthinkable happened. With just 46 seconds left in game seven, Andre Anania’s point shot made its way through a screened Justin Wu, giving the Red Wings a 4-3 lead and the eventual series victory.
Related: Catch up with all of our 2019 OHL Prospect Profiles
In the remaining three series, things were a little more straight forward. Both the Don Mills Flyers and Toronto Nationals swept their opponents with relative ease, while the Toronto Marlboros won their series 9-1 in points.
That would ultimately set up the expected Semi-Final matchups. The top four seeds facing off in what is sure to be two tremendously entertaining series. In fact, these four teams have been so consistently dominant that their records make up four of the best five records over the past three seasons of GTHL Minor Midget hockey.
Related: Check out all of Prospect Pipeline’s 2019 OHL Draft Rankings
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the two semi-final matchups and make some predictions.
Season Series: Don Mills 2-0-1
- Don Mills wins 3-1
- Don Mills wins 7-3
- Don Mills and Red Wings tie 3-3
Regular Season Records:
- Don Mills: 30-0-3 – 208GF – 44GA
- Red Wings: 23-5-5 – 134GF – 64GA
Don Mills Wins If:
They can continue to eliminate the speed of the Red Wings’ attack by pressuring and disabling their defencemen on breakouts and eliminating time and space in their transitions through the neutral zone. The Red Wings ran into severe trouble in their first round series when the Rebels were able to neutralize their speed and transitions.
If Don Mills’ forwards can continue to play a high-paced, hard on the puck style of game, they will be able to take down the Red Wings by attacking their Achilles’ heel. During the regular season, the Flyers faced a tough test when they matched up against the Red Wings, who were in the midst of a 20-game unbeaten streak.
The two ended up tying that game 3-3, as Don Mills fell victim to not moving the puck with enough authority. In order to find success in this series, the Flyers must focus on playing with a hard forecheck and bringing a top notch energy level to each game. On paper, Don Mills has the edge over the Red Wings in every major category, meaning they should be fine if they can play their style of game and play with an increased sense of urgency.
The Red Wings, who were once a one-line team, have been receiving more and more depth scoring lately from the line of Nolan Dann, Luca Del Bel Belluz, and Justin Ertel. The Flyers will need to focus their attention on this line, because when the Wings boast two scoring lines, they’re a tough team to stop.
Red Wings Win If:
They utilize their speed to pressure the Flyers’ breakouts and can trap them in their own end for extended periods of time. Although the Red Wings are arguably more of a rush team, Don Mills can run into serious trouble when they’re trapped in their defensive zone and pressured on their breakouts.
The Red Wings will need to bring an unparalleled energy level and work ethic to this series in order to find success. When they’re confident and flying on the ice, they can be just as unstoppable as the Flyers. However, they’ve shown traits of quickly that confidence once they fall behind on the score board.
It’s virtually impossible to stop Don Mills’ offence, so instead, the Red Wings must focus on increasing their offensive zone time and looking at the big picture of the series in order to not lose their energy level. In fact, they were one of only three teams to pry a tie out of the Flyers this year, a 3-3 contest that featured oodles of speed and skill.
Further, the Red Wings must keep their composure and stay out of the penalty box, as Don Mills’ power play features five potential first round picks for the 2019 OHL Draft. Joshua Rosenzweig will also need to be at his best to keep his team in this series, as he did during a tremendous performance in a 2-0 loss to Don Mills at the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic.
Prediction: Don Mills in 5
Although the Toronto Red Wings showcased their own ability to go undefeated over a 20-game stretch, there is still a wide gap between the Don Mills Flyers and their next closest competition. Their team is simply too deep at every position, and while the Red Wings were able to steal a point from their perfect season, the Flyers will prove too much to handle over the course of a playoff series, although the Red Wings may be able to force an extra game or two out of them.
Season Series: Nationals 2-1-0
- Nationals win 1-0
- Nationals win 4-1
- Marlboros win 4-2
Regular Season Records:
- Nationals: 24-5-4 – 132GF – 70GA
- Marlboros: 24-6-3 – 128GF – 62GA
Nationals Win If:
They continue to utilize their strengths. The Nationals boast a combination of defensive and goaltending depth that is second-to-none. Facing an opponent who can sometimes struggle to produce secondary scoring, the Nats will find success by sticking to their guns and playing a responsible and composed game.
With two of the top goaltenders in the GTHL on their side, the Nationals’ defensive core is given extra freedom to join the offensive side of things, often joining the play to create odd-man rushes and blasting shots on net from the point to create offensive opportunities.
Where the Nats can sometimes run into trouble is with their composure. This is a team that can be prone to penalty box parades, which can always come back to hurt against top teams. While the Marlies boast an impressive blue line of their own, their scoring depth usually doesn’t match up well against the Nats, which adds further incentive to eliminate any unnecessary power play opportunities.
In fact, when the Nationals stick to their game and play a physical, smart puck-moving game, the Marlies are generally overwhelmed by their depth. Being able to fall back on their goaltending as a last line of defence, and engaging their defencemen into the play is what has made the Nats so dangerous all year long. If they can stay out of penalty trouble and be smart with the puck, they should find great success in this series.
Marlboros Win If:
They manage to produce some secondary scoring and receive reliable goaltending. Whether the secondary scoring comes from their blue or from their second and third line is another topic, but they will need to find some extra offence from somewhere. Right now, the team relies far too heavily on its top players to produce every night.
If they can get their first and second lines firing on all cylinders simultaneously, then they will be able to compete with and expose the Nationals’ weaknesses. Further, the Marlies will need to be able to trust their goaltending more than usual in order to allow their top defenders to join in on the offensive side.
Too often, the Marlies’ skilled defencemen will tend to make safe decisions with the puck instead of taking chances to produce offensively. They certainly have the skating and skill to join the rush and create opportunities, but they will need to be able to trust their goaltending in order to jump into the play more often.
This is especially necessary against the Nats, where offence is tough to come by. During the regular season, the Nats have seemed to have the Marlies number in terms of how the two teams matchup. The Marlies have struggled to generate offence, seemingly overwhelmed by their speed, puck movement, and physicality. To find success in the Semi-Finals, The Marlies will need to be hard and fast on the puck, and work more effectively as a team to generate offence.
Prediction: Nationals in 6
Despite being relatively even in most aspects on paper, the Nationals’ goaltending and scoring depth should be the difference in this series. They have consistently overwhelmed the Marlies this year with a combination of smart and effective puck movement, hard forechecking, and excellent goaltending. The Nats are one of the few teams in Ontario who can roll all three lines without getting burned. The Marlies on the other hand, cannot say the same, and that could be the difference here.