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Monday, 27 April 2015

CHL Enters Conference Championship Week
The Road to the Memorial Cup trims the field

The Canadian Hockey League (CHL) started with 60 teams scattered over 3 leagues.  Teams from 9 provinces and 4 states began the season looking to hoist one of the toughest trophies to get your hands on, the Memorial Cup.  As we enter May, the field of possible champions has been reduced from 60 to 12!

Each league has entered the #FinalFour on the path to crowing their own league champion and the team who will represent the league at the Memorial Cup.  Here are a few #TwineTime hits and misses from the previous round:

  • The WHL for the most part has produced chalk results.  Overall, I sit with an average record of 10 - 2.  Of course both of those losses come from picking against the same team: Portland.  Will I finally learn my lesson or be burned again?
  • The OHL moved along as expected also.  With the completion of 2 playoff rounds, we have only seen 2 instances where a lower seed prevailed.  Even then, it was a 5 besting a 4 and a 3 beating a 2.  Last round I went a successful 4 for 4 in my predictions.
  • The QMJHL is usually known for upsets, not so much this year.  We have seen 3 upsets so far.  Last round I was a successful 3 for 4.  Oddly enough, I bet on Moncton to beat Halifax, even when I knew they were down 0-2 in the series.  Thanks Moncton for proving me right!  On the flip side, I picked an upset with Baie-Comeau to defeat Val d'Or.  Oh Drakkar!!  They were up 3-0 in the series and ended up losing, in OT, in game 7.

Ok so basically all the favorites have been rolling along in the CHL playoffs.  This should mean we have the best 12 teams in the nation still vying for the Memorial Cup.  This should also result in seeing the best 6 series of the playoffs if these are the best teams right?  Right?

WHL

Eastern Conference Championship

(1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs (2) Calgary Hitmen

This is the Eastern Conference Final series most people expected at the beginning of the season and neither team has disappointed.  The Wheaties are rolling along quite easily these playoffs, besting Edmonton and Regina in 5 games.  They have scored 39 goals in 10 games entering the series, while only allowing 21.  When you can outscore your opposition 2 to 1, your odds of winning double as well.  Calgary, on the other hand, had a tough opening round series.  The Hitmen barely survived their rivals, Kootenay Ice, in 7 games before squeaking by provincial rivals Medicine Hat in 5 games.  Sure a 5 game series win seems like they controlled the series but 3 of those games went into OT, with the series clincher going to double OT.  Both of these teams have played some close games in the playoffs and both have showed they can put the strong D-men to work to slow down their opposition.  The question will be if Calgary can stave off the Wheaties offense long enough to win 4 games.  I just don't see it happening.  Brandon should dominate the games at home and if they can win at least 1 game in Calgary, the series is over.  Odd Wheaties stat:  The final score in Games 3, 4 and 5 in both series was 3-2...all wins for Brandon.  Creepy?!

#TwineTime pick:  Brandon over Calgary in 5 games

Western Conference Championship

(1) Kelowna Rockets vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks

Ah the Drive for 5 continues in the Rose City.  Who would have thought?  Ok, most people...except myself.  I really thought Portland could be eliminated against both of their previous opponents, Seattle and Everett.  Boy was I wrong!  Being a UO alum, I should know better than to bet against an Oregon sports team.  The Hawks have looked great all playoffs, especially the duo of Nic Petan and Oli Bjorkstrand.  They have come through with 21 and 20 points so far these playoffs.  But can the firepower of these two top players be enough to derail the, arguably, top team in the country?  Kelowna has been destined for the Memorial Cup appearance since the beginning of the year.  Everyone has talked about his being the year of the Rockets and so far they have not disappointed.  And they are loaded with talent!  Leon Draisaitl and Madison Bowey lead the way in the playoffs but Kelowna has a ton of offense coming at you from all angles, see Josh Morrissey and Nick Merkley.  The pressure will be on PDX goalie Adin Hill.  If he can stand on his head like he has for most of the playoffs, the Winterhawks #DriveFor5 could continue.  But if he shows any sign of weakness, the Rockets will take advantage...quick!!  I know I have bet against Portland and been wrong twice but I just cannot see them stopping the Rockets destiny for another year.  If I am wrong this time, The Winterhawks Army may just want to send me a gift as I clearly am their reverse good luck charm.

#TwineTime pick:  Kelowna over Portland in 6 games

OHL

Eastern Conference Championship

(1) Oshawa Generals vs. (3) North Bay Battalion

The 2 hottest teams in the East meet up to see who gets smoked in the OHL final...how exciting!  Ok, I jest...both of these teams are very good and could give the favored West champion, whomever it is, a good test in the final.  Both of these teams have rolled through the opening two rounds.  Oshawa posted back to back 4-1 series wins while North Bay swept their opening round and "upset" Barrie in 5 games last round.  I say "upset" because those teams tied for the division lead and Barrie just won the tiebreaker.  I said Oshawa was the strong favorite in the East and I still believe it to be so.  Michael Dal Colle and Cole Cassels have been playing outstanding hockey for the Generals.  The Battalion are led on scoring by Nick Paul but their greatest asset is between the pipes with Jake Smith.  Smith is 9-2 in the playoffs with a save percentage of 0.934.  He is the key to the Battalian having a shot in this series.  Unfortunately though for North Bay, Oshawa happens to have the second best goalie in the playoffs protecting their net, Ken Appleby.  Appleby is 9-3 and sporting a 0.918save percentage.  Something has to give in this series.  I expect to see close games and a close series.  While the teams may draw even on the blue line and between the posts, Oshawa has the advantage on offense, scoring 292 goals this season (compared to 237 for North Bay).

#TwineTime pick:  Oshawa over North Bay in 6 games

Western Conference Championship

(1) Soo Greyhounds vs. (2) Erie Otters 

Arguable the two best teams in the OHL this season.  This is really the series everyone wanted to see.  Projected top draft pick Otters Connor McDavid vs Greyhounds stud Nick Ritchie.  Top goalies Brandon Halverson (Soo) vs. Devin Williams (Erie).  Two of the most efficient and highest scoring teams in the league square off.  The Greyhounds scored a league-best 342 goals this season vs. the Otters with a second-best 331 goals.  But let's be honest...this series comes down to McDavid.  If the Greyhounds can hold him in check, they win.  If McDavid goes all Egg McMuffin on the Soo D, Otters swim on.  McDavid has 32 points through 12 playoff games already....nobody has been able to slow this kid down.  Living out West I am sad I cannot watch every game of this series as I expect it to be a classic throw down.  I am really torn on this one...but I do have a soft spot for McDonalds french fries so...

#TwineTime pick:  Erie over Soo in 7 games

QMJHL

(1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. (6) Val d'Or Foreurs

The Q favorite Oceanic find themselves, possibly, one series win away from securing a Memorial Cup berth.  Depending on the result of the other series, more on that in a second, Rimouski is looking primed for a series win here.  The Oceanic have been the top team in the Q most of the season and there is no reason to doubt them here.  Now I should say it is a bit tough to tell how good they are since they throttled the 16 and 14 seeded teams in the first two rounds (4-0 and 4-1).  Are they really that unbeatable or are they just beating up on weaker teams?  The Foreurs enter the series on the other side of the spectrum.  After a 4-2 opening series win, they were pushed to their limits last round by Baie-Comeau.  With their backs against the wall down 0-3 in the series, they did the unthinkable and rattled off 4 straight wins including 2 on the road.  So does that kind of battle tested performance provide motivation and momentum carried forward or did playing so many do-or-die games drain this team of the energy they need to beat an even better team?

#TwineTime pick:  Rimouski over Val d'Or in 5 games

(2) Moncton Wildcats vs. (4) Quebec Remparts

What an up and down previous series for Moncton.  After losing the opening two games at home vs. Halifax, they win the next 3, lose game 6 on the road and fight off the Mooseheads at home in game 7.  At times the Wildcats looked dead in the series, at other times they looked like the best team in the Q.  It really was a case of Jekyll vs Hyde.  Which team shows up this round?  Quebec has taken an opposite path.  They were tested in the opening round, needing a home game 7 win to stave off Cape Breton.  Last round they dominated Charlottetown in a quick 4 game sweep.  They have all the momentum and confidence right now.  And oh by the way, did I mention they just happen to be the Memorial Cup hosts this year?  They already have a spot in the big tournament but are looking to enter not as hosts but as Q champions.  As I mentioned above, the winner of the other series would love to see Quebec win here.  If that happens, the other series winner would automatically qualify for the Memorial Cup.  That would sure take a bit of the stress off of playing the Q final.  Looking for a quirky Remparts stat?  Try this one on.  Remparts have only played and defeated Maritime teams in the playoffs: Nova Scotia in Round 1 (Cape Breton), P.E.I. in Round 2 (Charlottetown) and now New Brunswick.  Can they complete a Maritime sweep in the playoffs?

#TwineTime pick:  Quebec over Moncton in 7 games

So there you have it, the #TwineTime picks for league semi-final action.  Check back in a week or so to see how accurate I am.  And once again if you live in or around any of these cities hosting playoff games, go check out the action.  Junior hockey is fact paced, full of action, affordable and kid friendly (usually).  I think I will be checking out the Hitmen game on Wednesday with the godchildren.  Hopefully we will be in for a good game.