Right now, the Brandon Wheat Kings and Rouyn-Noranda Huskies are in control of their respective championships in the WHL and QMJHL, with 3-1 series leads over Seattle and Shawinigan. The Wheaties lost yesterday, the Huskies the day before.
The OHL’s London Knights, on the other hand, haven’t lost a hockey game since the first day of April.
The Knights just swept Niagara in the OHL final, winning the J. Ross Robertson Cup in the process. London also swept aside Dylan Strome’s Erie Otters and Ryan MacInnis’ Kitchener Rangers before that. Other than dropping two games in the first round to a scrappy Owen Sound squad, London has been perfect in the post-season. Now they march on to the Memorial Cup in Red Deer in fine form.
Many impressive things have happened during this run. For example, you have the combined 119 points in 18 games rung up by the top line of Christian Dvorak (Arizona), Matthew Tkachuk (2016 draft) and Mitch Marner (Toronto), who was also named playoff MVP after already winning the league’s Red Tilson Trophy as the regular season’s most outstanding player.
There’s the fact that London’s sweeps came almost entirely without powerful winger Max Jones, a sure-fire 2016 first-rounder, due to a 12-game suspension he caught in the opening round against Owen Sound. Jones did manage to play Game 4 against Niagara, which was interesting itself in that the final score was 1-0.
But there’s another great factor for you: Tyler Parsons (who earned that shutout) has been the perfect clutch goaltender for a team that loves to run up and down the ice. Parsons boasted a .925 save percentage during the post-season, which was tops among starters. He’s also up for the 2016 draft and it will be interesting to see how his performance promotes his stock.
Perhaps most impressive is how the Knights can suck the soul out of an opponent. In Game 3 of the Niagara series, the IceDogs built up leads of 4-1 in the first period and 5-2 in the second, only to see the Knights storm back. And it’s not like Niagara had a scrub in net – their goalie was Carolina pick Alex Nedeljkovic, who was amazing with Team USA at the world juniors and stellar for most of the OHL playoffs. But on this occasion, London got to him and took the game in overtime.
That result reminded me of Game 4 in the Kitchener series, which I attended. The Rangers were at home and had built up a 3-0 lead in the game, only to see Marner score four goals and add an assist in the third period to ice the series with a 6-4 victory. One minute the Rangers were leading, the next their season was ending (literally – Marner scored the tying and winning goals ten seconds apart).
Can London win the Memorial Cup? The Knights certainly have all the elements. The offense is overpowering, the defense is mobile (I haven’t even mentioned 2016 prospects Olli Juolevi and Victor Mete on the back end) and goaltending is solid.
And really, they’re heading to Alberta at the peak of their power right now.