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Friday, 29 May 2015

The #RoadToOmaha Is A Dirt Path For Some
Teams prepare for College World Series action

The 2015 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament raises the banner on the #RoadToOmaha this weekend.   For a season that started with 298 eligible teams, the selection committee has seeded the top 64 teams in the nation.  In similar fashion to #MarchMadness, a selection committee invites half the teams into the tournament (33) while the remaining spots are giving to the 31 conference champions. 

This tournament format is quite unique though.  Teams are seeded 1 to 8 by the selection committee, known as the national seeds.  All 64 teams are then placed into 16 regional pods, each regional consisting of 4 teams.  These 4 teams play a double knockout format this weekend to determine the regional champion.  The 16 regional champions advance to the super regional, where they battle one another in a best of three elimination series.  The 8 super regional champions then advance to Omaha, Nebraska for the College World Series.  Got all that?  I told you the #RoadToOmaha can seem more like a dirt path right?

As tournament play begins, here are a few story lines to keep an eye on:
  1. #1 National Seed Curse - Usually in any sporting event, being billed as the best team in the tournament/nation would be a blessing.  Oddly enough, this is not the case in college baseball.  The top seeds in the past have struggled....as in they never win.  Ok not never but not recently.    The last top seed to win the College World Series was Miami in 1999.  For 2015, the UCLA Bruins are tasked with trying to break the curse.  Interestingly enough, this is also the first time the Bruins have been the top overall seed heading into the tournament.  Can they do what so many top teams before them have failed to do?  Step 1 will be surviving their own regional this weekend....something last year's top seeded team failed to do (Oregon State)
  2. PAC 12 / SEC Domination - Since the start of this tournament (1947), the Pac 12/10 (17) and the SEC (10) have owned the championship, taking 27 total combined titles.  In comparison, the next highest conference is the Big 10 with 6.  Heck, even independents have won more titles than most conferences (5).  But if you are a betting person, hedge your bet on a Pac-12 or SEC school to reign supreme in Omaha.  Over the past 10 years, these two power conferences have won 9 of the championships (Fresno State, 2008 being the exception).  On the flip side, care to guess which power conference has never won a national championship?  The answer below....
  3. Upsets, Upsets, Upsets -  As with any sporting event, people love to see the upsets and the college world series often produces some classic ones.  We only have to look back to the 2014 tournament to see some perfect examples.  Last year, only 2 of the 8 national seeds even qualified for the world series.  2014 saw three #3 seed teams win their regionals (UC Irvine, Stanford and Kennesaw State).  Oh you haven't heard of Kennesaw State before?  Well neither had most until last year's run to the Super Regionals.  We also saw a #4 seed team (College of Charleston) win a regional.  Of these upsets, only UC Irvine was able to capitalize and win a super regional.  Credit to the Anteaters though, they knocked off the #1 overall seed (Oregon State) and Oklahoma State to make it.  UC Irvine would go 1-2 in Omaha unfortunately.  It is worth noting though that an underdog can win this whole tournament....looking at you Fresno State!  In 2008, the Bulldogs entered as a #4 seed in their regional and ran the gauntlet to the title.  In fact, in the past 11 years only 2 national seeded teams (LSU #3 2009 and South Carolina #4 2011) have won it all.
  4. ACC Not A-OK - A power conference known for producing numerous NCAA championship in almost every sport possible still has the 0 for in baseball.  Hard to believe actually considering the teams that compete in this conference.  Now to be fair, there are past champions in the ACC (Miami for instance) but they were not members when they won so they don't count.  And who is the leader of the misery pack?  Why Florida State of course!  The Seminoles have 21 tournament appearances to their credit but have yet to win the lay claim to World Series champion.  They may be a dominant ACC team but once they reach this stage of the season, they seem to fall apart.  For 2015, the ACC has 7 teams in the bracket, tied for the most with the SEC.  Of the 7 teams selected, Florida State, Miami and Louisville have the best shot at a College World Series spot and ending the drought.
Before #TwineTime goes out on a limb trying to predict the 16 regional champions, here is a quick overview of the 2015 tournament:

  • The National Seeds for 2015 are (in order):  UCLA, LSU, Louisville, Florida, Miami, Illinois, TCU, Missouri State
  • The argument every year is the last teams in from the selection committee and who was snubbed.  For this year, the Final 4 teams in were:  Oregon, Clemson, South Florida and Maryland.  There will be huge debate if all 4 of these teams go 0-2 this weekend.  Particular scrutiny will come from last year's upset darling UC Irvine and 10-time tournament regular North Carolina.
  • If history is going to repeat, Vanderbilt will have some work to do.  Luckily the defending champions are a top seed for their regional, meaning they also get to play all their games this weekend at home in Nashville.  If they survive though, they could find themselves traveling up North to Champagne, Ill. to play the #6 seeded Fightin' Illini.
  • Who can wear the glass slipper this year?  Will 2015 see a Kennesaw State or Fresno State type of cinderella team to dazzle and wow us all?  If it is to happen, the #TwineTime dark horse picks (teams not seeded #1 or #2) would have to be: Virginia, Pepperdine, Oregon and Louisiana-Lafayette.
  • Easiest path to Omaha?  LSU and TCU seem to have the direct path entry to Omaha and both should be expected to be there.  The selection committee really gave LSU the easiest path to the Super Regional.  The #2 seed Tigers should find little challenge from UNC-Wilmington, Tulane and Lehigh.  Hardly a daunting lineup.  The Super Regional may find a rematch with Houston, the team who eliminated the Tigers last season.  But that's if the Cougars even survive their own regional, not a for sure thing.  The #7 Horned Frogs also should find a quick 3-0 to the weekend with little difficulty from NC State, Stony Brook and Sacred Heart.  TCU also received a favorable match up for the Super Regional, opposite of the College Station pod with Texas A&M.  The Aggies may not even survive their own regional though, making things possibly easier for the Frogs. 
  • Looking for the most difficult regional?  The #TwineTime vote goes to Fullerton.  Cal State Fullerton is the home team and top seed but I almost consider them the underdog.  Arizona State has had an outstanding season and Pepperdine is the perfect definition of an underdog #4 seed.  Clemson has a low 56 RPI ranking but could prove to also be a dark horse.  
Ok, let's get onto the Regional Predictions.  Here are the 16 regional breakdowns:

Los Angeles Super Regional

Los Angeles Region

Teams:  UCLA, Ole Miss, Maryland, Cal State Bakersfield
#TwineTime pick:  UCLA over Ole Miss

Lake Elsinore Region

Teams:  UC Santa Barbara, USC, Virginia, San Diego State
#TwineTime pick:  Virginia over USC

Springfield Super Regional

Springfield Region

Teams:  Missouri State, Iowa, Oregon, Canisius
#TwineTime pick:  Oregon over Iowa

Stillwater Region

Teams:  Oklahoma State, Arkansas, Oral Roberts, St. John's
#TwineTime pick:  Arkansas over Oklahoma State

Gainesville Super Regional

Gainesville Region

Teams:  Florida, Florida Atlantic, South Florida, Florida A&M
#TwineTime pick:  Florida over South Florida

Tallahassee Region

Teams:  Florida State, College of Charleston, Auburn, Mercer
#TwineTime pick:  College of Charleston over Florida State

Coral Gables Super Regional

Coral Gables Region

Teams:  Miami, East Carolina, Columbia, Florida International
#TwineTime pick:  Miami over East Carolina

Dallas Region

Teams:  Dallas Baptist, Oregon State, Texas, VCU
#TwineTime pick:  Oregon State over Dallas Baptist

Baton Rouge Super Regional

Baton Rouge Region

Teams:  LSU, UNC Wilmington, Tulane, Lehigh
#TwineTime pick:  LSU over UNC Wilmington

Houston Region

Teams:  Houston, Rice, Louisiana-Lafayette, Houston Baptist
#TwineTime pick:  Louisiana-Lafayette over Houston

Fort Worth Super Regional

Fort Worth Region

Teams:  TCU, NC State, Stony Brook, Sacred Heart
#TwineTime pick:  TCU over NC State

College Station Region

Teams:  Texas A&M, Coastal Carolina, California, Texas Southern
#TwineTime pick:  California over Texas A&M

Louisville Super Regional

Louisville Region

Teams:  Louisville, Bradley, Michigan, Morehead State
#TwineTime pick:  Louisville over Michigan

Fullerton Region

Teams:  Cal State Fullerton, Arizona State, Clemson, Pepperdine
#TwineTime pick:  Arizona State over Pepperdine

Champaign Super Regional

Champaign Region

Teams:  Illinois, Notre Dame, Wright State, Ohio
#TwineTime pick:  Illinois over Notre Dame

Nashville Region

Teams:  Vanderbilt, Radford, Indiana, Lipscomb
#TwineTime pick:  Vanderbilt over Indiana

There you have it bat-heads and knuckleballers....those are my picks for the regional round.  #TwineTime will return for the Super Regional predictions and to see how my picks stand up with the actual results this weekend.  Follow along on the NCAA website or ESPN for updated scores and bracket watching.


Monday, 25 May 2015

Les hommes cherchent a coup de pied dans un peu d'argile
A two-man race for the Roland Garros title?

The second Grand Slam of the season has been one where predictability and dominance have reigned supreme.  The Coupe des Mousquetaires has been glued to the hands of Rafael Nadal for 9 of the past 10 years.  Sure we still have seen some great tennis over these two weeks in the past but the end result continues to be the same.

This year could be different though.  Nadal enters as the #6 seed and has struggled the past few years with injuries.  If he fails to win this major, it will be the longest he has gone between major wins (4) since 2010, and that has included two injuries which sidelined him. But come on, this is Rafa right?  Should we really doubt him in Paris?

Well, of any year, this seems to be the one.  There are a few challenges who may be ready to step up and take the top spot as King of Clay for 2015.  And we all know who the big favorite is right?

Let's take a look at the #TwineTime preview and predictions:

The Favorite

Novak Djokovic (#1) - Besides Nadal a few seasons back, I don't think any player has entered this event on more of a tear to start the season and having this large of a target on his back.  He is not just the favorite to win....but he is EVERYONE'S pick to win.  And rightfully so.  The Djoker has lost only 2 matches this season and has steamrolled through every player who has been on the other side of the net.  Fresh off the 2015 Australian Open, at this point of the season Novak is a threat to win the ultimate Grand Slam of all 4 majors in one year.  Novak has also put a lot of pressure on himself to win this event.  This is the only title he is missing from the career grand slam and this is the year he is most primed to pull it off.  Honestly, if anyone other than Novak is hoisting the championship trophy in 2 weeks, consider it a HUGE shock!  Although look who he drew as a possible quarterfinal opponent....

Watch Out For

Rafa Nadal (#6) - Ok so he is not having his best season.  His ranking has dropped to its lowest point in years and he enters a tournament he has dominated for 10 years as an underdog.  But let's not count the guy out.  Winning this event 9 of the past 10 years, including the previous 5, automatically makes you a threat.  The big question will be how the knees hold up and if he still has the magic to pull off the wins.  The expected quarterfinal between Rafa and Novak is going to be surreal to watch, if it happens.  These are guys used to playing one another in slam finals or semifinals, not quarterfinals.  It almost seems  unfair to think one of them will not be in the final 4.  Consider this, if Milos Raonic had not withdrew due to injury, Nadal would be seeded even lower.  Crazy....

Andy Murray (#3) - The 28 year old has never really excelled on the clay but he has put a ton of effort into improving his clay court game in hopes of being a real threat for this title.  Murray has won his last two events (Madrid and Rome), including the jaw-dropping destruction of Nadal in Madrid.  His clay court game seems to be at its highest peak and this could be the opportunity for him to cash in.  The biggest downside to Murray will be his draw.  He is played on the same side of the draw as Djokovic and Nadal.

Roger Federer (#2) - The resurgent RFed is back and looks to have a stellar shot at a deep run here in Paris.  With the focus and attention being on Novak, Nadal and Andy, Roger could just quietly go about his business and find himself in another French Open final.  His biggest competitors are all on the other side of the draw so he has to consider himself lucky.  His toughest opponent until the quarterfinal will probably come in the second round.  If he can avoid the early upset bid, he should be smooth sailing until the Final 8, where he could see fellow Swiss star Stan the Man Wawrinka.  Is he a threat to win?  Probably not.  Can he pull it off though?  Well, he is Roger Federer after all and you don't get to 17 Grand Slam titles on luck of the draw. 

Dark Horse

Dominic Thiem - If you have been following along with my twitter account (shameless plug: why aren't you following me by the way?), you won't be surprised by this mention.  I have been a HUGE supporter of this up and coming Austrian for quite some time now.  Austria has not been a major player on the tennis circuit since Thomas Muster but Thiem could be the guy to resurrect the single's game in Austria.  Entering the French Open ranked #48 in the world, Thiem enters Roland Garros fresh off his first ATP tour title in Nice where he beat quality players like John Isner and Nick Kyrgios.  Technically the tour win propelled his ranking to #31, which would have given him a seed at this event but it was after the cut off point.  He is a dangerous young player most other players on tour will be wanting to avoid, especially in those early rounds.  Remember, this is the same guy who made the 4th round at the US Open last year so he is familiar with making deep runs at a slam now.  the question is when will he pull it to the next level?  Unfortunately for Dominic, he finds himself in the same section of the draw as French favorite Gael Monfils and Roger Federer.  The draw could be his biggest road block this time around.

So how will it all shake down?  According to #TwineTime, here are the picks:

4th Round

(1) Novak Djokovic def. (20) Richard Gasquet
(6) Rafa Nadal def. (10) Grigor Dimitrov
(3) Andy Murray def. (17) David Goffin
(7) David Ferrer def. (23) Leonard Mayer
(19) Roberto Bautista Agut def. (5) Kei Nishikori
(4) Tomas Berdych def. (14) J-W Tsonga
(8) Stan Wawrinka def. (12) Gilles Simon
(2) Roger Federer def. Dominic Thiem

Quarterfinals

(1) Djokovic def. (6) Nadal
(3) Murray def. (7) Ferrer
(4) Berdych def. (19) Bautista Agut
(2) Federer def. (8) Wawrinka

Semifinals

(1) Djokovic def. (3) Murray
(2) Federer def. (4) Berdych

2015 FRENCH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP:  (1) Novak Djokovic over (2) Roger Federer in 3 sets - Novak is just too strong right now.  I really do not see anyone beating him, unless an injury or something weird happens (and let's hope it doesn't).  He is amazing to watch and his clay court game has been elevated the past few years.  Plus, who doesn't want to see him earn the career Grand Slam?  He deserves it.  And what better way then to eliminate Nadal, Murray and Federer all in a row!

Ok ball boys and girls, there is the #TwineTime preview and predictions for the second slam of the year.  What do you think?  Do you foresee a different outcome this year?  Maybe a different dark horse?  Or did I forget or overlook your fav player?  If so, let me know and let's keep the conversation going.  Enjoy the romantic setting of Paris over the next two weeks...

Also, take a look at my preview of the ladies draw HERE

Les dames aiment Paris
And the fans love the ladies of the WTA tour

The second Grand Slam of the tennis season is underway at Roland Garros.  The French Open often produces the most upsets of all the slams and the opportunity where a true dark horse can emerge from the field and take home the title.  One only has to look back at the history books and see past champion names like: Iva Majoli (1997), Anastasia Myskina (2004) and Francesca Schiavone (2010).  Sure these are all great champions and great players but none of these names would be considered top contenders for a major.  Could we see another upset winner this year?

Defending champion Maria Sharapova is back and looking to claim her 3rd Coupe Suzanne Lenglen.  Can she duplicate the success of last year?  What about last year's finalist Simona Halep?  Oh and of course what can we expect from Serena Williams?  Let's take a look at a few of the names to watch over the next two weeks in the #TwineTime picks:

The Favorites

Maria Sharapova (#2) - The defending champ is back and looking primed to pull the back-to-back.  We have not seen a repeat champion on the women's draw since Justine Henin won three straight from 2005 - 2007.  Sharapova has the game to do it though.  She loves the clay surface and excels on it.  Let's remember, over the past three years Sharapova has won the title, lost the final and won the title.  Basically, pencil her into the final now and if Serena isn't on the other side of the net, should we just assume she wins this title?  Her draw is also very favorable and she really shouldn't be challenged until maybe the quarterfinals.

Serena Williams (#1) - The top ranked player in the world is always going to be listed as a favorite, regardless of how she has played during the season.  However, the French Open has not been kind to Ms. Williams.  A second round defeat last year only contributed to the lack of success of the red dirt.  In fact, if you take out the championship win of 2013, Serena hasn't been past the second round since 2010 (ignore 2011 when she was injured and did not play of course).  This is the one slam of the year where most of the top players feel they can get the better of Serena.  And her draw is not kind....especially a crucial third round possible match with rival Vika Azarenka.

Watch Out For

Simona Halep (#3) - Last year was a breakthrough year for the young Romanian.  A quarterfinal appearance at the Aussie Open, finalist at Roland Garros and a semi-finalist at Wimbledon, 2014 was the year when the tour took notice of Halep.  Halep has the mental strength to weave her way through this tournament.  She has the belief she can beat anyone and that can be dangerous.  Hmmm, she made the quarterfinals again this year in Australia, should we see the Grand Slam pattern of results continue here?  She is in the bottom half of the draw with Sharapova, meaning she also avoids Serena until a possible final.  Let's also remember...she is only 23 years old!

Petra Kvitova (#4) - The two-time Wimbledon champ and former semi-finalist here back in 2012 could be the real one to watch over the next two weeks.  Kvitova enters Paris fresh off a title in Madrid, where she beat Serena.  Her results at the French have not been stellar, with back-to-back third round losses the past two years so that is a reason of concern.  But Petra has the game to do well on clay and, if she can make it through to the middle of the second week, don't underestimate her ability to win the entire tournament.

Dark Horse

Camila Giorgi - Another 23 year old worth keeping your eyes on is the Italian Giorgi.  The question surrounding Camila is no longer if she can have a breakthrough slam performance but when.  Expectations are starting to rise and for good reason.  How many players can you name that have a winning record vs Top 10 players?  Giorgi has a remarkable 19-15 record.  She can hang with the best.  If she can find the confidence, get on a roll and perhaps find a bit of luck as well, the 2015 French Open could be her coming out party.  Her draw is going to be tricky mind you and she will have to battle through the weakness everyone has said of her: she steps up her game against the top players but often falters against the mid to lower ranked players she could easily beat.

The #TwineTime picks:

4th Round

(27) Victoria Azarenka def. Tsvetana Pironkova
(5) Caro Wozniacki def. (17) Sara Errani
(4) Petra Kvitova def. (23) Timea Bacsinszky
(18) Svetlana Kuznetsova def. (6) Genie Bouchard
(7) Ana Ivanovic def. (9) Ekaterina Makarova
(3) Simona Halep def. (19) Elina Svitolina
(8) Carla Suarez Navarro def. Camila Giorgi
(2) Maria Sharapova def. (13) Lucie Safarova

Quarterfinals

(5) Wozniacki def. (27) Azarenka
(4) Kvitova def. (18) Kuznetsova
(3) Halep def. (7) Ivanovic
(2) Sharapova def. (8) CSN

Semifinals

(4) Kvitova def. (5) Wozniacki
(2) Sharapova def. (3) Halep

2015 FRENCH OPEN CHAMPIONSHIP:  (2) Maria Sharapova def. (4) Petra Kvitova in 3 sets - This may seem like a #TwineTime repeat lesson as this was the same Australian Open final I predicted.  I really believe these are the two best players in the world right now though and capable of fighting through the draw.  This would also be a classic final.  Sharapova is coming off a tough Aussie Open loss though and, as the defending champion, will want to continue her rise to trying to become the #1 player in the world.  These two could really start a stellar rivalry this year as both would be heavy favorites entering Wimbledon as well.

There you have it my tennis fanatics.  Hope you enjoyed the preview and predictions.  Feel free to share this post with other tennis fans and offer up your own thoughts and comments.  Most importantly, enjoy the action on the red clay.

For a preview of the men's tournament, visit the #TwineTime blog HERE!!


Friday, 22 May 2015

The Champs Are Here!!
Welcome to Quebec and the #MCMemorialCup



The Edmonton Oil Kings have just over one week remaining to call themselves Memorial Cup champions.  The current holders of the cup will relinquish the title next weekend when a new champion will be crowned.  As a huge Oil Kings fan living in Edmonton the past few seasons, including being a season ticket holder, I can say the excitement one gets watching these young guys win the Memorial Cup is a memory I will never forget.  I loved every moment of our championship run last season and will be a bit sad to see the cup shift to another city.  But like all good things, this too must come to an end so another can enjoy.  The 2014-15 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) season winds down starting tonight in Quebec City.  A season that began with 60 hopeful teams wanting to call themselves "Champions" has weeded it's way down to 4.

A few ice shavings to wet your whistle on the Memorial Cup tournament:

  • The host is determined a year in advance and rotates amongst the 3 leagues.  Next year's tournament will be held in the WHL, with Red Deer being named the host team earlier this season.  Expect to see #TwineTime in attendance :)
  • Since adoption of the Memorial Cup in 1983, the WHL has won a record 16 tournaments, followed by the OHL with 9 and the QMJHL with 7.  Interestingly enough though, the QMJHL has won 3 of the past 4 Memorial Cups (2011 - 2013).  The WHL (Edmonton) ended the Q domination last season in London.
  • The most successful team in Memorial Cup history (and happens to be the hometown of yours truly) are the Regina Pats.  The Pats have 15 championship appearances (the most) and 4 tournament wins (tied for the most with Oshawa).
  • There have been 9 host teams who have gone on to capture the cup, with the most recent being Shawinigan in 2012.  2015 contenders Kelowna Rockets were one of these teams, winning the Memorial Cup on home ice in 2004.
  • The Memorial Cup was first awarded in 1919 and, until 1928, was a two-game aggregate goals championship final between the champions of Eastern Canada and Western Canada.
  • 1983 marked many firsts.  The inaugural Memorial Cup tournament took place in Portland, Oregon, also marking the first year the tournament would be held outside of Canada.  Coincidentally enough, it also became the first year an American team would hoist the trophy, as the host Winterhawks defeated the Oshawa Generals in the final.  Portland was the first team to host the tournament and win without having won their league championship.
  • The Quebec Remparts could have history on their side.  The Remparts were the first team to win the Memorial Cup without actually winning their league championship and without being a host city.  In 2006, the Remparts lost the QMJHL final to the Moncton Wildcats.  Moncton was already the Memorial Cup hosts so both teams qualified.  Quebec would go on to win the Memorial Cup, extracting revenge by beating the Wildcats in the final.
  • The 2008 Memorial Cup Champion Spokane Chiefs will always be remembered not for their championship run but for their celebration on the ice after.  After receiving the replica trophy (given on ice to the championship team every year), the replica actually broke.  While being heckled by the host Belleville fans, the Chiefs didn't hide from it.  Oh no, like true champions, instead they broke off pieces of the cup and shared it will all members of the team.  You can find a video of this HERE. The video and reaction of the players is PRICELESS!
  • 2015 marks a unique collection of competing teams.  All 4 of the teams vying for the cup have won the Memorial Cup in the past.  Oshawa leads the way with 4 (1939, 1940, 1944, 1990).  Quebec has 2 (1971, 2006) while Kelowna (2004) and Rimouski (2000) have 1 title.
#TwineTime hit a snag in the championship round, suffering it's first loss in the OHL playoffs (what a time for that to happen too).  The QMJHL final came down to a Game 7, double OT goal (another miss for #TwineTime).  And the WHL final was a total snore fest of one-sided domination (at least I accurately called that one). 

So who made it to Quebec?  Who are the players to watch?  Who "should" come through at the end and be the last team standing?  #TwineTime offers up the 2015 Memorial Cup preview:

Western Hockey League (WHL) Champions:  Kelowna Rockets

If you have followed along with the #TwineTime posts all season, including the playoffs, you will know how high I am on the Rockets.  I have been pumping their tires all season and why not?  Call it West coast bias if you must but once you see these guys on the ice (especially live), how can you argue with me?  The Rockets steamrolled Brandon in the WHL final, sweeping the Wheaties and having little problem in doing so.  Having to travel the farthest distance to get to Quebec, the quick sweep was a nice chance to relax, heal and prepare for the upcoming week.  The key to success for Kelowna will be their blueline.  The Rockets will be led by Josh Morrissey and Madison Bowey (both recent World Junior champions for Team Canada).  In fact, Kelowna seems to be a hot bed for top defensemen with alumni including Duncan Keith, Shea Weber and Tyler Myers.  They have allowed for the least amount of goals in the WHL this season (183) and will be a tough team to score on.  But don't think this is just a team of defense.  The Rockets also score the second most goals in the WHL (305).  They can light the lamp as well, led by Edmonton Oilers prospect Leon Draisaitl.  Draisaitl racked up 10 goals and 18 assists in 19 playoff games to be named the WHL Playoff MVP.  Expect these numbers to continue in Quebec.  But look out for contributions to scoring from Nick Merkley and up and coming 16 year old Dillon Dube as well.  Teams would be wise to not focus too hard on just one or two players on this Rockets team as they have extreme bench depth as well. 

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 2009
All-time record: 7 wins, 8 losses / 36 GF, 36 GA
Best result: 2004 Champions

Ontario Hockey League (OHL) Champions:  Oshawa Generals

Well Oshawa, #TwineTime owes you an apology.  I completely underestimated you in the OHL playoffs.  Yes, I was confident you would make it to the OHL Championship but I really did not give you a fair chance to be here.  Yet, here you are.  Teams should be very weary of the Generals.  This team did something in the OHL final no team has been able to do all season, stop the wonderkid Connor McDavid.  So how do you stop the best junior player on the planet you ask?  Well with physical brute and size of course.  This team is tough.  Not just regular hockey tough either....I mean get the f*ck out of their way if they come charging you.  They will inflict some black and blue marks on these teams over the week.  Remember Demolition from the WWF years?  Think of this team as them: 

"We're Demolition, walking disaster.
Pain and destruction are our middle names.
Search and destroy you, run and we'll find you,
there's no place to hide, the demos will get you
Were Demolition"
 
When you have matching players standing at 6'6 (Michael McCarron and Hunter Smith), pain and destruction is bound to find you.  These guys didn't just neutralize McDavid and his Erie Otters team, they owned them.  Oshawa made quick work of the Otters in 5 games and had McDavid and the Otters look like they were swimming upstream against an unbeatable current all series.  The key to the Generals success will also come from between the pipes.  Led by Ken Appleby, the Generals allowed a CHL-low 157 goals ALL SEASON!  Yikes!  If teams want to have any luck vs. Oshawa, they need to solve Appleby and solve him quick.  Don't give this team a lead on you either, with their size and strength, you do not want to spend your night playing catch up.  Oshawa will attempt to become the most successful team in Memorial Cup history this year, trying to become the first team to win 5 championships.
 
MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 1997
All-time record: 12 wins, 7 losses / 77 GF, 72 GA
Best result: 4-time champions (1990, 1944, 1940, 1939)


Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) Champions:  Rimouski Oceanic

Rimouski, you are one stubborn team!  Your rival Remparts had you on the edge of defeat a few times in the Q final but you fought back and here you are...QMJHL Champions!  This team will be riding a huge wave of momentum and confidence heading into this tournament.  Having trailed Quebec 2-0 and 3-2 in the final series, they overcame both deficits and pulled out the victory.  Even more of a positive though is their play in Quebec.  They won all 3 games played in the Colisee Pepsi.  They may almost feel at home in games here.  The Q final was interesting with away teams winning the opening 6 games and Rimouski finally winning a home game in the pivotal game 7 (in double OT no less).  But let's not undersell this team either.  They were the top team in the Q all season and the favorites to be here.  While other teams may have size and strength, the Oceanic have speed.  Led by 44 goal scorer Anthony DeLuca, the 5'8 "little guy" has the speed to breeze right through any defensive pairing and find the back of the net.  He will be hard to catch...and hard to stop.  Watch out for Jan Kostalek as well.  The Winnipeg Jets prospect led the league in goals by a defenseman during the playoffs and has quite the shot from the point.  Interesting factoid about the Oceanic, they scored a CHL-leading 25 shorthanded goals this season.  That is what speed can do for you!  Even on a penalty kill, this team finds a way to score on you.  If they can keep that momentum going and land a few of those pivotal shorthanded goals, they could be a tough team to slow down.

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 4th
Last appearance: 2009
All-time record: 8 wins, 5 losses / 51 GF, 43 GA
Best result: 2000 Champions

2015 Memorial Cup Hosts:  Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)

Welcome home Remparts....or at least we hope it is a welcome.  It has been awhile since you have won at home, dating back to a Game 4 series clinching win on April 28 vs. Moncton.  The Q final was a tough loss for this team and they will need to put it behind them quickly.  They have to enter the Memorial Cup with some confidence knowing they really outplayed the Oceanic for almost the entire championship final.  And a double OT loss is a double OT loss....one bad luck bounce here, one lucky bounce there and Quebec could easily have been the champions.  This is a team you do not want to take penalties against, they will make you pay!  Adam Erne (30 points) and Anthony Duclair (26) led this team throughout the Q playoffs and will look to do the same on home ice this week.  But watch out for the youngster Dmytro Timashov.  Timashov led the TEAM in points this season (90 in 66 games played) and was named the QMJHL Rookie of the Year.  Another huge strength of the Remparts is in the goalie position.  World Junior gold medalist (Canada) Zach Fucale has been a key player in the success of the Remparts in their playoff run.  Owning a 14-3-3 record, 2.56 goals against and .913 save percentage in the playoffs, Fucale can steal a win on any given night even if the team is outplayed and outshot.  The Remparts will want to reclaim their winning ways at home early, opening the Memorial Cup Friday night vs. Kelowna.  The faster you get a win, the sooner you get the home town crowd really rallying behind you, the quicker you erase those 3 playoffs losses in the Q final from your head (and from the memories of your fans). 

MasterCard Memorial Cup History
Appearances: 5th
Last appearance: 2006
All-time record: 7 wins, 7 losses / 58 GF, 62 GA
Best result: 2-time Champions (2006, 1971)

#TwineTime Projected Round Robin Standings

1. Kelowna Rockets
2. Oshawa Generals
3. Rimouski Oceanic
4. Quebec Remparts

Tie-breaker:  Quebec def. Rimouski

Semi final:  Quebec def. Oshawa

2015 Memorial Cup Championship:  Kelowna Rockets def. Quebec Remparts

There you have it loyal readers.  I bring the CHL season to a close by proclaiming the Memorial Cup will remain out West for another season.  The WHL Champion Rockets are just too strong, too fast and have too much skill to be stopped this week.  I expect some classic games though and would encourage you to watch all the games on Sportsnet.  These players are the future of the NHL....get to see them now!  If you are in the Quebec City area, get down to a few games and take in the action.  And if you do, please send me some pics on twitter, I would love to see them and RT them.

Enjoy the Memorial Cup everyone.....


Friday, 15 May 2015

NHL'S #FINAL4 Hit The Ice
The Conference Finals start this weekend...closing in on the Cup


Well, #TwineTime sure seemed dead on with second round predictions wouldn't you say?  Ok, yes the Rangers came back with the improbable Game 7 win but I did say that series would go the distance...just figured a different result.  The rest of Round 2 was mostly a bore, as I expected.  Two quick series out West and Tampa completely dominating Montreal out East.  In fact, if we want to get even more specific, #TwineTime accurately projected a Ducks win in 5 and a Bolts victory in 6.  How do you like that?  Maybe I should start putting money on this?

After two rounds of playoffs, I have a prediction record of 8 - 4 with the East and West sitting at 4 - 2.  So not the most impressive winning percentage out there but not embarrassing myself in front of my loyal readers either. 

Now we enter Championship Finals territory.  Teams battle all season and this is really the round you hate to be eliminated in the most.  Fighting through two round of playoffs only to have your dream of playing in a Stanley Cup final dashed right before the finish line.  Hockey fans will be in for a treat though with these two match ups.  And there won't be a shortage of all-star players to cheer for!

Bring on the Stanley Cup #Final4....

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) New York Rangers vs. (2) Tampa Bay Lightning

The Presidents Cup winning Rangers are on a roll right now.  Coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the Capitals will provide a ton of momentum in that dressing room.  In typical Caps playoff history fashion, Ovi and the boys couldn't put the nail in the Blue Shirts coffin.  The Rangers were impressive in those final 3 elimination games and looked to have finally found their groove.  They struggled against the Pens in the opening round but had enough to eliminate them even without playing their best hockey.  They looked prone to the upset (as I expected) in the opening 4 games vs. Washington and it appears a return trip to the Conference Finals were not to play out on this Broadway stage.  But like any good play, the story line reached an ultimate climatic finish and the Rangers are back looking to repeat last year's Eastern Conference Championship.  In fact, this is the Rangers' third appearance in the past four season in the Eastern finals.  A dynasty out East seems to be forming.

The Rangers have multiple talent sources to beat you.  Nash has come alive.  Stepan and Brassard are making the big plays at the big moments.  And of course King Henrik is King Henrik.  With the heroic Game 7 OT win, Lundqvist joined Marty Brodeur and Patty Roy as the only goalies to have 6 career Game 7 wins.  The longer this series goes, advantage NYC!  A big story line will be the return of Marty St. Louis in Tampa.  Being traded to the Rangers last year, St. Louis is looking to wrap his mitts around a cup.  He came close last season but he wants another shot...which is going to be harder to come by as he gets up there in age.  Knocking off his former team would be a nice added bonus as well.  Expect to hear some loud Boo's from the rafters in Tampa when he steps on the ice.

Lightning fans...and maybe players...have to be happy with this matchup.  The Bolts swept the Rangers this season, winning all 3 games.  Tampa was able to solve the King between the pipes, lighting the lamp 14 times in 3 games.  Tyler Johnson has been a beast the entire playoffs.  This guy is just a stud on the ice and will be a key factor in whether the Bolts advance to their first Stanley Cup final since 2004 (when they won it all).  Super Steve Stamkos was good for 7 points in 3 games vs. the Rangers this season as well.  Ben Bishop looked much better vs. Montreal last round than the opening round vs. Detroit.  Could his new found confidence be enough to withstand the Rangers offense and carry Tampa to the promise land?

I like Tampa, I have all year and I have throughout these playoffs.  They were my pick to win the East when the bracket was finalized and I cannot go against them now.  I think finishing off the Canadiens in 6 games will be a plus.  They controlled the entire series and never really seemed to be in a threatening position.  The Rangers had their backs up against the wall, fought off numerous elimination games and have the emotional rollercoaster to go along with winning a Game 7.  All that play, all that stress, all the pressure and emotion could either hurt or hinder them in this series.  These teams have never met in the playoffs but if Tampa can pull off the opening game win and deflate the fans at MSG early, this series could be over quick.

#TwineTime pick:  Tampa Bay over New York - 6 games

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

Look who's back...back again....it's the Blackhawks!  I mentioned above the recent string of playoff successes for New York, well how about Chicago?  This marks their third straight conference finals appearance and fifth in the past seven years.  How crazy is that?  Only 2 years removed from their last Stanley Cup win, the boys from Chi-Town seems poised and ready for another cup run.  Don't write off the #QuackAttack quite yet though.  Interestingly enough, similar to the Eastern final, this will be the first playoff series between these clubs.

Anaheim enters their first conference finals since 2007.  And they enter looking very dominant.  They easily dispatched two Canadian teams in the previous rounds, losing only 1 game (a game I was at actually so there is that!).  The Ducks are going to rely on the leadership of Getzlaf and Perry once again and why not?  Both of these guys combine to bring the 3 S's to Success:  Speed, Size, Skill!  The wildcard may be the play of Frederik Anderson in goal.  This will be unchartered territory for the Danish goalie.  He will also be tested in ways he has not seen in these playoffs.  Nothing against Winnipeg or Calgary but the offensive talents of Chicago outrank both of those teams..combined!  If Anderson can keep cool and not put the Ducks in a position of playing catch up every game, the Ducks can win this series.  Watch out for big boy Patrick Maroon too.  If he continues to throw his large frame all around the boards, he could neutralize some of the talent on the other side of the ice.

Chicago is Chicago.  I honestly do not even know what I can say about this team that every other media outlet and blog in the world hasn't said already.  Toews is once again going to produce in this series.  We all know it...we all expect it.  He is a natural born leader on, and off, the ice and can captain this team right to a championship.  He is just so damn good!  27 years old, 2 cups...yup he knows how to win.  But look who he has around him too.  Patty Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook.  This team as a whole could probably head over to the World Championships and win a medal on their own.  But, even the best teams have a crack in their armor.  Chicago is no exception.  Similar to Anaheim, their success will be a result of the play in net.  Corey Crawford can look remarkable at times and look like the worst goalie in the league at others.  Do the 'Hawks ride the Crawford train all series and will that be enough?  Or, should they get in trouble early, can future Hollywood story Scott Darling become the Darling of the Playoffs?  You do have to like this kid and his back story.  Overcame a bout of alcoholism, never really found a stable hockey home and now here he is in the conference finals with a chance to play for the Stanley Cup.  You want to cheer him on and see him succeed.  He played outstanding when it counted against Nashville.  Can he do the same vs. Anaheim? 

Everyone seems to be behind Chicago and it is hard to argue against it.  I admit, I thought the Duck Hunting season would be over early, predicting them to lose vs. Winnipeg in the opening round.  But this team has stepped up their play every game.  The wild card of course being have they looked better or have they just been beating up overmatched teams?  I can respect that argument but, at this time of the playoffs, winning is winning and the confidence that comes from it can be an intangible outcome.  I like the upset here...and I would like to say the dark horse difference maker of the series will rest on the stick of the young Swede Jakob Silfverberg.  With Getzlaf, Perry and Maroon garnishing most of the attention, this young stud could become the difference maker.

#TwineTime pick:  Anaheim over Chicago - 7 games

There you have it my little puck heads.  The #TwineTime prediction for the 2015 Stanley Cup final: Tampa Bay vs. Anaheim.  The hockey hotbed states of California vs. Florida.  The Canadian hockey fan in me just died a bit inside thinking how probable this could be....

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

And The Champs Are?
CHL crowns it's annual champions

60 turned to 48 which became 12 and now sits at 6.  6 teams vying for 3 spots in the 2015 Memorial Cup.  Ok, this year is a bit different as 2 of the final 6 teams already know they will be playing in the Memorial Cup but more on that later.

#TwineTime had a successful prediction round last time we checked in.....in fact I went a perfect 100% in my picks.  Accurate on both series in all 3 leagues.  How many people pulled that off?  Combine my perfect record last round with my opening round picks and here is where I sit:

WHL: 12 - 2 (86%)
OHL:  6 - 0 (100%)
QMJHL:  5 - 1 (83%)
 
CHL Overall:  21 - 3 (88%)

The Championship Round is often the most difficult to call though.  These are usually the two best teams in the league and teams who have proven success throughout the playoffs.  This year might actually produce the 3 strongest championship series we have ever seen.  All 3 league finals have match ups of teams where there are strong arguments for either team to lay claim to the championship trophy.

For this blog, in addition to the regular CHL picks, I am also going to offer up my thoughts on the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Cup, happening right now in Portage, MB.  Stay tuned for that at the end of this blog.

Let's find out if #TwineTime can continue along the winning path...

WHL

(East Champion) Brandon Wheat Kings vs (West Champion) Kelowna Rockets

The battle for the Ed Chynoweth Cup could not have been scripted any better.  The two best teams in the league all season have brushed aside their competition and have earned the right to be here.  Brandon won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the regular season champion, finished with 114 points.  Only two points back however was the Kelowna Rockets.  The argument could be made Brandon won based on playing in a weaker conference overall and being able to beat up on weaker teams like Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Lethbridge.  Regardless, Brandon will have home ice advantage for this series.  Interesting note though for the WHL final, rather than the normal series schedule of 2-2-1-1-1, this final will see a 2-3-2 format.

Props to Kelowna for finally ending the Portland stranglehold on the Western Championship.  They kicked a monkey off their own backs in eliminating the 4-time Western Champs in 6 games last round.  Brandon, on the other hand, has seen little competition on their path.  They breezed by Calgary in 5 games.  In fact, Brandon has won all 3 of their playoff series in 5 games.  With the opening 2 games in Brandon, Kelowna would be wise to win at least 1 game on the road to open the series if they want to have any luck taking home the hardware.

This final should provide the offense hockey fans love to see.  Both of these teams have the offensive capabilities to light the lamp...and light it often, average more than 4 goals per game.  Brandon has dropped 8 goals on their opposition three times (including the final two games to wrap up the series vs. Calgary).  Impressed?  Well how about this: Brandon also light up the Hitmen for 9 goals in the series opener.  If Kelowna can hold the Wheaties to 3 goals or less per game, they should be able to pick up the victory.  But what about the Rockets?  Well they dropped an 8 pack on Portland in the series clincher at the Moda Centre and added a few 7 goal and 6 goal games on their road to the final.

The offensive output on the ice to watch will be a battle between Leon Draisaitl and Tyson Baillie of the Rockets vs. the Bro Code of Peter and John Quenneville reppin' the Wheaties Black and Yellow.  All 4 of these players are the one's to watch in this series.  Whichever duo can stay hot should help propel their team to victory.

The final format I think favors the stronger team, Kelowna.  I have felt all season Kelowna was the best team in the CHL and I am sticking by my thought process.  I think the Rockets can at least split the opening 2 games and, coming home for 3 straight games, should be able to have a 3-2 series lead (at worst) after 5 games.  If they can get that far, I like their odds to pull off another road win for the championship.  If they can take 2 of 3 at the Moda Centre in Portland, arguably the loudest barn in the WHL, I am confident they can do the same in Brandon.  We already know they can win at home too.

#TwineTime pick:  Kelowna over Brandon in 5 games
 
OHL

(East Champion) Oshawa Generals vs (West Champion) Erie Otters

Ok let's be honest, the J. Ross Robertson Cup will go through Connor McDavid.  Either the Otters forward will hoist the cup or he will watch in disbelief (as will most of the country) when the Generals skate away with the automatic Memorial Cup berth.  McDavid has found the back of the net often in these playoffs and as of press time sits with 20 goals in 18 games with 45 points.  The next closest player in the playoff scoring leaderboard is Michael Dal Colle with 28 points.  And of course what team does Dal Colle play for?  The Oshawa Generals. 

While the hockey world seems focused on McDavid and his Otters, they enter the OHL final as the lower seed and without home ice advantage.  The Generals may not be getting lots of love throughout the playoffs but that doesn't mean they are not a high quality team capable of breaking the little McHearts of hockey fans across the nation.  The key to an Oshawa win will rest on the shoulders of goalie Ken Appleby.  Appleby has been a brick wall on consistency throughout the playoffs.  A 0.926 save percentage and a goals against of 2.12 are hard numbers not be impressed by.

So basically it will come down to McDavid vs. Appleby right?  For the most part yes, but there are other factors to consider.  The Generals will need to contain McDavid but they cannot just worry about him.  The Otters can attack from a few different points, with Dylan Strome and Nicholas Baptiste proving to be a threat when teams focus solely on McDavid.  Ok, let's say the Generals can contain McDavid for a few games in this series, can they find the back of the net themselves?  Well, overall they may not have the highest profile names leading their attack, combine Dal Colle with Cole Cassels and Oshawa presents a strong double threat.

Heading into the conference championships, many (myself included) really doubted whether Oshawa could challenge either West team.  After paying closer attention to both series last round, I think I stand corrected.  I actually can see Oshawa making this a very close series....closer than many want or expect.  Think about it, if the Generals just take care of business at home (where they are 8-1 entering this series), they win the title.  Can McDavid and the Otters swim away with at least 1 road win this series?

#TwineTime pick:  Erie over Oshawa in 7 games 

QMJHL

(1) Rimouski Oceanic vs (4) Quebec Remparts

The President's Cup final many expected to see will take place.  Ok maybe when the playoffs were set people doubted Quebec would be in this position.  Sure they are the #4 seed but they finished well back of the top 3 teams in the league.  In fact, they finished second in their division (16 points back) to the team they will now see on the other side of the ice.  The Rimouski Oceanic have been considered the class of the league this year, winning the Jean Rougeau Trophy as regular season champions (99 points).  It is a bit crazy to see a regular season champion not break the 100 point barrier though isn't it?  That stat tells a compelling story though, the Q was a tight league this year.

The real story here involves a thank you from the Oceanic.  With the Remparts hosting the Memorial Cup and already earning an automatic berth, once the Oceanic quickly swept away Val d'Or and watched Quebec do the same to Moncton, they were also awarded the Q auto berth.  Both of these teams will be in Quebec playing for the national championship, regardless of who wins the league.  Hmm sound a bit familiar?  The last time a Q team hosted the Memorial Cup (Shawinigan, 2012), the host Cataractes didn't win the league title but went through a tiebreaker, semi and championship final to hoist the Memorial Cup.  Perhaps the Remparts are wise to save some energy in this final and follow the Shawinigan model (although Shawinigan did lose in the opening round of the 2012 playoffs).

These Eastern Division rivals are quite familiar with one another and nothing will come as a surprise in this final.  This final will really come down to a dog fight on who wants it more.  Just because both teams have the Memorial Cup spots locked up, don't expect a weak or less than normal physical series. 

Entering this series, Rimouski has lost 1 game (to Gatineau in the quarterfinal round).  They have been VERY impressive and enter on an 8-game winning streak.  To say the Oceanic have been consistent is an understatement.  They won't cause the red light to burn out anytime soon as they are quite happy with the lower scoring games and finding the back of the net 3 to 4 times per game.  The defense is what makes them so strong.  Scoring 3 goals a game during a playoff series does not seem to give you a fairly good chance at winning yet here they are.  In fact, in the Q playoff scoring race, they have 1 player in the top 10, Alexis Loiseau sitting in 10th.  A smothering D backstopped by the #1 goalie in the Q playoffs, Louis-Philip Guindon, could be all they need.  Guindon is a perfect 9-0 in the playoffs, with a save percentage of 0.951 and a goals against of 1.12.  Score 3 + Allow 1 = Winning!  A team with few big name all-star players but a team capable of grinding out wins as a collective unit can be just as dangerous, if not more.

The Remparts won't be as easy as previous opponents for the Oceanic though.  Remember, the playoff seeds Rimouski has eliminated include 16, 14 and 6.  Not exactly the most challenging of playoff teams.  The Remparts have eliminated 13, 9 and 2.  They also enter the series on a winning streak...a 9-game winning streak.  They have not lost a game since falling in game 6 to Cape Breton in the opening round.  Back to back sweeps over Maritime teams Charlottetown and Moncton will provide a lot of confidence.  This is the team with the star power: Adam Erne, Anthony Duclair, Kurt Etchegary and of course Zachary Fucale between the pipes.  They have the offense going, they have the strong defense and are backstopped by a top goalie.  Fucale is 11-2 in the playoffs right now with a .920 save percentage and goals against of 2.23.  If Fucale is on his game and Erne/Duclair/Etchegary continue to light the lamp, the Remparts auto berth in the Memorial Cup will be a distant memory because they will have technically qualified the proper way...as QMJHL Champs!  But can they actually beat a team not from the Maritimes in these playoffs?

#TwineTime pick:  Quebec over Rimouski in 6 games


RBC Cup

The Royal Bank Cup (RBC Cup) is an annual tournament set to crown the Canadian Junior A Champion.  The 5 teams will play a round robin format with the top 4 advancing to the semi finals (1 vs 4, 2 vs 3).  Here is just a few quick banking notes on this tournament:
  •  The RBC Cup started in 1996 but the tournament itself has been around since 1971 (known then as the Centennial Cup)
  • British Columbia has produced the most champions (12) with Saskatchewan next (10).  New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and <surprisingly> Quebec have yet to produce a winner
  • The RBC Cup tournament now consists of teams winning regional tournaments: Fred Page Cup (Eastern Champ), Dudley Hewitt Cup (Central Champ) and Western Canada Cup (Western Champ).  These 3 winners are joined by the rotating annual host and the Western runner-up.
  • This is known to be one of the hardest trophies to win in hockey.  Only 2 teams have ever repeated and are oddly enough from the same city: Vernon Vipers (2009/2010) and Vernon Lakers (1990/1991).  There will be no repeat this year as last year's champion, Yorkton Terriers, were eliminated in SJHL playoff action.
 A quick preview of the 2015 RBC Cup teams:

Portage Terriers (Hosts) - Finished with only 3 regulation losses all season and have been the #1 team in the country all season.  They did not lose a game during the MJHL playoffs but struggled at the Western Canada Cup, finished in second place.  Playing back on home ice, they will be considered the strong favorites given how they have played all season.

Penticton Vees (Western) - Finished 1st in the BCHL, also only suffering 3 regulation losses.  They were pushed to 7 games in a playoff series with Vernon but found their way through and have looked unstoppable since.  They won the Western Canada Cup, defeating the favorite Portage Terriers in both the round robin game and the championship final.  The Vees could be considered co-favorites and have the confidence of knocking off the top team in the country already...twice!

Melfort Mustangs (Western Runner-Up) - The SJHL champions technically finished 3rd at the Western Canada Cup but with Portage having the automatic berth, the Mustangs live to skate another day.  Melfort breezed through the SJHL playoffs, losing only 2 games, and were the class of the league all season.  They struggled at the Western Canada Cup though against Penticton and Portage and will need to turn those results around to have a shot.

Soo Thunderbirds (Dudley Hewitt Champs) - Representing the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL), the Thunderbirds will try to become the first NOJHL champs to win the RBC Cup.  Finishing top of the league, they suffered only 7 regulation losses all season, only 2 losses in the playoffs and dominated the Dudley Hewitt Cup.  A longshot though to win against this competition.

Carleton Place Canadians (Fred Page Champs) - From the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL), the Canadians are no stranger to this tournament.  Last year they finished the round robin in 4th place, barely making the playoffs.  They upset the top seed and favorites Dauphin Kings in the semifinal before losing a heartbreaking final to Yorkton in overtime.  The familiarity of being here last year and the sting of a tough championship final loss should only help this team.  Carleton Place should be considered the dark horse pick to win it all.

#TwineTime Projected Final Standings

1. Portage Terriers
2. Penticton Vees
3. Melfort Mustangs
4. Carleton Place Canadians
5. Soo Thunderbirds

Semi finals:  Portage def. Carleton Place
                     Penticton def. Melfort

RBC Cup Championship:  Penticton Vees def. Portage Terriers

Ok puck heads, there you have it!  I know this was a long blog post but lots of great playoff hockey going on right now.  Enjoy the action on the ice and share your thoughts with me here or on twitter anytime.

Gotta love hockey playoff time of the year right?

Monday, 4 May 2015

Here Come the Blowouts!!
#BecauseItsTheCup reaches second round



<Disclaimer: These picks were made prior to the start of the round. My apologies for the delay in blog publishing though.  I assure you my thoughts have not been waived by the action on the ice so far.  If you want to debate it with me, come at me bro!>

Ah the Stanley Cup playoffs have hockey fans around the globe screaming in excitement, jumping for joy and crying in agony.  The opening round of the playoffs are always the most exciting.  All 16 teams...and their fans...feel they have a shot at the cup.  Energy, excitement and hope ring out across the land...from sunny Anaheim to mild Calgary to windy Chicago.

But now we enter round two.  Round two of the playoffs often feels like the forgotten middle child in a 5 person family home.  You kind of forget they are there...and sometimes for good reason.  This round has often seen more blowout games and quick series than any other round in the playoffs.  I expect this year to be no different.  Perhaps one series will add some intrigue...but given the weak fan base of both of those teams outside their playing cities, will anyone care if one series goes the distance?  I expect most fans would rather jump into the DeLorean and move into the future so we can get to the conference finals.

Let's take a quick look back at the opening round.  #TwineTime struggled a bit with predictions.  I must have drank too much Molson Canadian because I went full steam ahead with the Go Canada mentality.  Overall, I went a marginal 5-3.  Quick points:

  • Hmm so the East went chalk with the favorites all winning.  The West saw 3 of the 4 series result in upsets.  Wait, didn't someone say that would happen?  Yup, point the finger to this guy! <pats himself on the back since nobody else will>  But will we see the opposite happen in round 2?
  • Does the 2015 West look a lot like the 2014 West?  Hmmm, (3) Chi vs (WC) Min and (1) Ana vs a (3) as well.  Weird how that played out?
  • Winnipeg was completely dominated in their series with Anaheim and while the #WhiteOut was impressive, Perry, Getzlaf and company sure didn't find it intimidating.  Will the #CofRed be any different?
  • Oh Ottawa....how I loathe you sometimes.  What happened?  Perhaps the Sens just used up all their magic in just squeezing into the playoffs.  I will say the series was very close and could have gone either way but the luck (the magic if you will) just wasn't on the Sens side vs. Montreal.
  • Tampa Bay gave me a serious heart attack.  I thought they would run over the Wings...not the case.  They barely survived.  The Bolts will need to step it up if they want their playoff run to last longer than 4 or 5 more games.  
  • Chicago looks like...well...Chicago.  Good effort Nashville but the 'Hawks look in prime playoff form right now.
  • We go WILD for the Wild!  Great job Minny, I wasn't so sure you had it in you.  Your series vs. the Blues was the one I wavered on the most mind you.  Damn that quarter for coming up heads...I gave that quarter to Tim Horton's to buy a playoff doughnut after the Wild advanced!

Bring on round 2....

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Metro Division

(1) New York Rangers vs. (2) Washington Capitals

Lots of talk over how good the Rangers look to make the Cup final and many have them still as the favorite.  I disagree here...a lot!  The Rangers eliminated the Penguins in 5 games, sure, but were they impressive?  King Henrik perhaps but the story was really more on the lack of offense from the Penguins, the story of their entire season really, than the Rangers outplaying the Penguins.  Each game was close and Fleury stood on his head the entire series.  Had Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz and co. actually been able to produce, this could be a much different series.  As for the Caps, they looked impressive in one game and mediocre the next vs. the Islanders.  They need to find the consistency in their game.  We know Ovi will come to play and factor into each game.  But can Holtby be the backstop to a Washington upset?  The Caps are infamous for tanking in the playoffs, especially at this stage, but this could be the year.  I think the Rangers look very prone to the upset.  This series should go the distance.  Can Ovi and team knock off BOTH New York teams?

#TwineTime pick:  Washington over New York - 7 games

Atlantic Division

(1) Montreal Canadians vs. (2) Tampa Bay Lightning

A 2014 playoffs rematch.  And a rematch players and fans in Tampa would like to forget.  Last year there was lots of hype around Tampa but Montreal smoked them out in a sweep and the series never really got the traction people expected.  Hop into the DeLorean again and welcome to 2015.  This will be a MUCH different series.  Neither team impressed me in the opening round but both came through when it mattered and found ways to win.  That is what championship teams do...they win when they need to, even if they are outplayed for 60 minutes.  Credit both teams but this battle is going to come down to two things: play of Price vs Bishop and avoiding the big penalties.  Price looked average against Ottawa, not something we expected.  Bishop, at times, looked absolutely horrible vs. Detroit.  Which of these two will find their A game first?  Also, these teams do not like one another.  Expect a hard hitting, violent series.  The winner will not escape unharmed in this one.  But which team will show the better discipline when it matters most?  Sure defending a teammate and standing up for yourself is expected and encouraged but there is a right and a wrong time to do that, especially in a playoff series.  I think if the Bolts can pull out a win in Montreal and head home at least even in the series, they pull this one out.  With New York and Washington more than likely going the limit, if one of these teams can pull out a 5 game (or sweep again?) series win, it will only help them in the long run.

#TwineTime pick:  Tampa Bay over Montreal - 6 games

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central Division

(3) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild

Congratulations once again Wild, you knocked off the favored Blues team and made the second round of the playoffs.  Your reward?  Your playoff rival Chicago Blackhawks!  The Wild enter the series 0-5 in Chicago in the playoffs.  Not exactly a record that gives you confidence.  With the 'Hawks holding home ice advantage in the series, the Wild will be forced to find a way to win in the United Centre to have any shot in this series.  I will say I have often criticized the Wild as being a less-than-exciting shall we say team to watch.  However, I actually really enjoyed watching them battle the Blues.  They were impressive!  Unfortunately, this series will come down to sheer star power: Chicago has it, Minny doesn't.  Toews, Kane, Hossa, Sharp...the same list I gave for why Chicago would knock off Nashville in the opening round applies once again.  And now they have a playoff series under their belt for the year.  When this 'Hawks team gets rolling, can anyone stop them?  Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk was able to keep the Blues attack at bay but unless he has the series of his life, the Wild are going to be in trouble.  I am not sure Parise, Vanek and Granlund can provide the offense needed to win this series.  I expect a similar route to last year's matchup with Chicago winning both at home and Minnesota taking game 3 at home.  The difference will be the pivotal game 4.  Chicago wins that game and series over.  The Wild pull it out and tie the series (as they did last year) and who knows what will happen.  Can the Wild reverse last year's playoff disappointment?

#TwineTime pick:  Chicago over Minnesota - 5 games

Pacific Division

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (3) Calgary Flames

The #CofRed was alive and well in the opening round.  I was fortunate enough to attend Game 4 in Calgary and celebrate a nice Flames victory on the Red Mile after the game.  It was unreal and something I had yet to experience in my hockey fan lifetime.  However, the celebrations along 17th might be hard to come by this round.  The Ducks are no Canucks!  Anaheim looked great in their opening series vs. Winnipeg.  Yes, the Jets led many games and had numerous chances to win but they didn't.  The Ducks never lost focus, poured on the intensity when needed and the Jets just could not match it or survive it.  This is a fast team with high offensive output from its stars, namely Perry and Getzlaf.  The Flames were successful in roughing up Vancouver, pushing them around, skating faster and creating better chances.  This will be 100% more difficult this time around.  Hiller looked great but, at times, even had Flames fans squirming in their seats.  A strong goalie can backstop a championship and Hiller (or Ramo if needed) would not be the goalie I would put my faith in for a long playoff run.  Johnny Hockey and my fav Flames player Michael Ferland were great to watch in the opening series win but they may find themselves overmatched this time around.  I mentioned the Wild's horrible record in Chicago...well Flames fans may want to just run and hide now.  Calgary has not won in Anaheim since 2006.  2006!  NINE YEARS!!  Seriously...that's a real stat!  Yikes!  The Flames will need to win at least once in Anaheim and sweep the home games to have a shot.  You think many in Vegas are willing to jump on that bet?

#TwineTime pick:  Anaheim over Calgary - 5 games

Alright puck heads, there you have it.  The #TwineTime predictions for Round 2.  Enjoy the action and please feel free to share your thoughts with me (good or bad).  At the end of the day remember we all love this sport and playoff time is when we come together and chirp, cheer and cry as hockey fans....#becauseitsthecup