With the 1st round of the OHL playoffs now complete and the Niagara Ice Dogs moving on it’s time to preview Round 2……
2nd Round Matchup
#4 Niagara (35-23-7) vs. #1 Hamilton (43-18-7)
Niagara Ice Dogs won the Season series 5 games to 1 outscoring their K9 Rivals 26-16. Kirill Maksimov in 5 GP vs. Hamilton this year (He was suspended during one matchup) had 4G, 5A, 9 Pts, +2 & 16 shots. Hamilton boasts two players with Edmonton Oiler bloodlines – Isaac Nurse (cousin of Darnell) & Matthew Strome (brother of Ryan).
2017-18 Regular Season Rankings:
PP: Niagara 19.5% (12th), Hamilton 24.6% (4th)
PK: Niagara 80.1% (8th), Hamilton 77.1% (16th)
Goals for: Niagara 240 (6th), Hamilton 252 (3rd)
Goals against: Niagara 235 (4th), Hamilton 207 (2nd)
The Bulldogs are coming off a rather easy first round matchup vs. Ottawa where they won the series 4-1 scoring a whopping 27 goals in 5 games. They were the number one team in the Eastern Conference this year & despite losing the season series to Niagara – are still the favourites.
Offensively, Hamilton is LOADED and deep. They have SEVEN forwards who scored 20 or more goals this year led by Matthew Strome who had 37 goals while guys like Ryan Moore & Isaac Nurse even chipped in with 18 & 17 goals respectively. Plus, they have a 16 yr old named Arthur Kaliyev who had 31 goals this year and looks like a future Top NHL pick. That’s a lot of firepower spread out over 3 lines. They’re a smaller team but are quick, move the puck around extremely well and love to crash the net and pounce on juicy rebounds. STL 1st rounder C Robert Thomas is the best of the group having come over from London at the deadline. His speed & vision are both elite and he creates so much havoc in the offensive zone it opens up gimme goals for his teammates. Just one example:
Robert Thomas is putting on a show in game 1 of the OHL playoffs. 1 goal and 2 assists so far. Here's one of the assists: pic.twitter.com/fpSrcZmAyK
— Joey Palazzola (@Palazzola_RTN) March 23, 2018
On the Powerplay, Hamilton is also deadly having the 4th best PP during the Regular season and went 10 for 21 (for a ridiculous 47.6%) in the opening round against the 67’s. They are adept at cross ice passes and are a high shot volume team. Niagara would be best served NOT to take unnecessary penalties or the Bulldogs will make them pay.
— Hamilton Bulldogs (@BulldogsOHL) March 30, 2018
Defensively, the Bulldogs don’t generate a lot of offence from their defencemen. Instead, they rely on playing sound positional defence and don’t get caught running around too much. They’re a big group with 6 of the 7 guys being 6’1″ or more & they are experienced with four 19 yr olds & two 20 yr olds. Collectively, they do a good job of clearing guys in front and getting sticks in lanes especially. They can at times struggle with speedy teams and Niagara has beat them with their aggressive forecheck in the past creating numerous turnovers which will something to watch for. Their goalie 19 yr old Kaden Fulcher is solid but not unbeatable. Hamilton gave up the 2nd least goals in the OHL this year but he still had a .899 SV%. The Ottawa 67’s did manage to score 8 goals total in the 1st two games of the opening round which reinforces my point. Good group on the back end but not great.
16 yr old phenom Arthur Kaliyev. Courtesy of ontariohockeyleague.com
Robert Thomas – 24G, 51A, 75 pts in 49 games.
Matthew Strome – 37G, 31A, 68 pts
Brandon Saigeon – 35G, 35A, 70 pts
Will Bitten – 20G, 44A, 64 pts
Kaden Fulcher – 32-17-3, 2.86 GAA, .899 SV%
Niagara Ice Dogs
Offensively, the Ice Dogs 1A line as I call it in Sam Miletic–Akil Thomas–Danial Singer won them the series in the 1st round vs. Oshawa. They had 19 points combined and were frankly too much for Oshawa to contain. In Game 5, Coach Burke replace Singer with Maksimov for a lot of the game and they were even more dangerous. What really surprised me is how much offense they got from everyone else especially some unlikely sources. D Drew Hunter had 4 goals all year but scored twice. D Liam Ham had 6 goals all year but he also had 2 goals. In fact, Niagara had goals from 13 different players in the 5 games. I didn’t see that coming and certainly wouldn’t expect that to continue moving forward. The line of Corneil-Jones-Maksimov did not have a real good series and needs to be MUCH better in the 2nd round. Their Top 6 and PP unit has the ability to match Hamilton in terms of production.
Oilers Prospect #13 Kirill Maksimov
Defensively, it all starts with goalie Stephen Dhillon. Yes, there were defensive breakdowns but he bailed out his team by making some incredible saves. He had a .899 SV% in the Regular season but sports a .932% after Round 1. He will need to continue to be brilliant as the defensive group in front of him struggle at times with shot containment. They aren’t a very physical group either but are speedy and might actually match up better with the smaller, quicker Bulldogs. 4 Dmen chipping in with 6 goals total certainly was a pleasant surprise. They are an average to good group who typically bends but doesn’t break – as long as Dhillon is on his game.
#30 Stephen Dhillon. Courtesy of OHL Images.
Sam Miletic – 36G, 56A, 92 pts
Akil Thomas – 22G, 59A, 81 pts
Kirill Maksimov – 34G, 46A, 80 pts
Stephen Dhillon – 27-16-4, 3.34 GAA, .899 SV%
Difference in Series:
Despite the success in the Regular Season vs. the Bulldogs, Niagara is going to be in tough in this matchup. Last round, they got away with being basically a one line offensive team (Miletic-Akil Thomas). In this round, if they are going to have any chance at pulling off the upset they need the line of Corneil-Jones-Maksimov to show up big time and take pressure of the first group. Maksimov in particular did not have a great series last round he took way too many penalties and got away from his game. He has however had a history of showing up on the scoresheet versus this team so he will need to continue to do so if the Ice Dogs are indeed going to move on. He is the key to Niagara winning this series. It was a very chippy opening round vs. Oshawa so Niagara needs to forget all that and prepare for a much faster Hamilton team. Simply put, if Niagara continues to put Hamilton on the Powerplay they will lose the series. Stephen Dhillon also needs to outperform Kaden Fulcher if the Ice Dogs are to have any chance.
Niagara will be the underdog and is going to need their 3rd & 4th lines to outperform Hamilton’s which is a tall order to ask. I think Maksimov has an excellent series but in the end the Ice Dogs still fall short. I’m hoping I’m wrong but I’m going with Hamilton in 6 games.
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