With a 5-2 win last night the Niagara Ice Dogs eliminated the Oshawa Generals in 5 games of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. It was a very chippy series with plenty of penalties and where 2 players were suspended. Oshawa did their best to try and punish the Ice Dogs physically but Niagara did a great job after that first game of just settling down and playing their game and letting their skill take over. If you read my keys to the series I was banking on the Sam Miletic–Akil Thomas line having a big series, G Stephen Dhillon standing on his head and the PP of Niagara taking over. Well, that’s pretty much exactly what happened….
Niagara PP in Series – 7 for 23, 30.4%
Oshawa PP in Series – 3 for 28, 10.7%
Stephen Dhillon was brilliant this series. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – I can’t believe an NHL team has not signed this guy after going undrafted twice. Dhillon finished the series with a .932 SV% and made several highlight reel saves. He’s 6’4″, has great lateral movement and can make some acrobatic saves. I can honestly say watching Oilers prospect Dylan Wells and undrafted Stephen Dhillon probably 100 times each I would take Dhillon every single time. He has the big games like Wells does periodically but usually never has a terrible one something that plagued Wells in his career in the OHL. I would be absolutely shocked if some NHL team does not sign him after this season. He deserves an NHL contract.
The line of Sam Miletic & Akil Thomas (along with Daniel Singer) is technically the 2nd line but is more like a 1A line. I really thought they would be the difference and they were with both leading all scorers in the series with 7 points a piece. Miletic is 20 so you expect him to produce but since he got to Niagara, Akil Thomas’ game has taken off because of it. The dynamic duo really compliment each other’s game nicely as both use their speed to create space and both are capable of beating you with their good hard shot. Thomas who is draft eligible this year seems to be showing up more consistently every game since Miletic got there which is only going to increase his stock come June.
As for Oilers prospect Kirill Maksimov, I think he had a good but not great series. Don’t get me wrong he was very good defensively and had some real good chances but he missed the net too much, took too many penalties (14 PIMS) and did look a little tired during Games 2-4. In Game 1 he took a big hit by Serron Noel and although he responded with a few hits of his own later in the Game I think it threw him off a bit and took him a few games to get back to doing what he does. It is important to note that on Niagara’s PP typically he is not used on the left circle which used to be his sweet spot, Miletic mans that spot now with Maksimov along the half boards on the right side. It takes away his vaunted one-timer which I don’t like but the coaching staff seem to be comfortable with it. In addition to that, he plays with two less talented players in Ben Jones & Johnny Corneil 5 on 5 although in Game 5 he was moved to the Miletic-Thomas line for a bit and that trio absolutely dominated and caved the Oshawa defence. I would love to see those 3 together more moving forward. Please.
So in the next round it looks like Niagara will face the Hamilton Bulldogs – a team they have had success against this season winning their annual K9 Cup series (Dog vs. Dog) 5 games to 1 and outscoring them 26-16. Hamilton, who finished the season 1st overall in the Eastern Conference and is led by the dynamic Robert Thomas and Matthew Strome will have their hands full in what surely will be an exciting series. Stay tuned for my upcoming preview of that series.
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