For the 2nd time in three years, the Owen Sound Attack and London Knights will square off in the opening round of the Ontario Hockey League Playoffs.
Beginning on Thursday, Mar. 22 at the Bayshore, the Midwest Division Rivals will go toe to toe in a best of seven series after a 68 game regular season that came right down to the wire in terms of determining who earned home ice.
Entering the final week of the 2017-18 campaign, the Attack found themselves two points back of London with both teams having three games remaining to play. Owen Sound went on to win all three of those games, outscoring their opponents 25-6 in the process, while London was defeated by Sarnia and Sault Ste. Marie, allowing the Attack to lay claim to 4th place in the Western Conference and the upper hand - on paper - in the 4 vs 5 match up in the West.
And while Owen Sound may have home ice advantage, when it comes to head to head matchups between the teams, it was London who had the upper hand in the season series, winning four out of the six contests between the squad.
The majority of those games, however, came before the OHL's trade deadline - date that saw the two teams go in opposite directions.
Owen Sound made a pair of trades to acquire depth up front, bringing in Brett McKenzie from the North Bay Battalion and Cade Robinson from the Erie Otters.
With the acquisitions, the Attack raced from, at one point, 8th place in the Western Conference to their current position holding home ice over the Knights.
Immediately upon being acquired, McKenzie stepped into a prominent role with the Bears, scoring 13 times and adding another 13 helpers in 33 appearances with the club.
His presence down the middle for Owen Sound gave the Bears seven 20 goal scorers, led by a trio of 30 goal men in Nick Suzuki, Maksim Sushko, and Aidan Dudas.
A London native, Suzuki finished the year with a team best 42 goals and a career high 100 points, becoming just the 5th player in franchise history to hit the century club. Suzuki's dominant season helped him finish 4th in the OHL in points, one year after finishing 5th with 96 points. Also breaking out for impressive campaigns were the aforementioned Dudas and Sushko.
Dudas saw his draft stock rise thanks to his 31 goals and 34 assists for 65 points in 68 games, while Sushko earned an entry level contract with the Philadelphia Flyers after scoring 31 times and adding 29 helpers to finish at 60 points in 60 contests.
If not for injuries, Owen Sound could have had even more players feature prominently in the scoring race. Vancouver Canucks prospect Jonah Gadjovich was limited to just 42 games, missing time with Team Canada at the World Juniors as well as injuries. Despite missing 26 games, Gadjovich still managed to find the back of the net 25 times and add 23 assists for an impressive 48 points.
Joining Gadjovich on the injured reserve list for quite a bit of time this season were Sean Durzi and Kevin Hancock, who also were offensive catalysts for the Attack.
In 40 games, Durzi set a career high with 49 points and still finished in the top 10 in defensive scoring despite missing 28 games of action.
Hancock, one year removed from an 85 point campaign, was shelved for 15 games, yet still finished 2nd in team scoring with 69 points thanks to 24 goals and 45 helpers.
Now, with a full lineup, the deadly firepower of the Attack could be a major turning point in the series against the Knights, who opted to get younger at the trade deadline.
Trading away key players like Robert Thomas, Cliff Pu, Max Jones, Sam Miletic, and Adrian Carbonara, London kept pace in the Western Conference thanks to the play of veterans Evan Bouchard, Alex Formenton, and Joseph Raaymakers.
The OHL's top scoring defenceman, Bouchard finished the year with 87 points in 67 games to lead the Knights' offensively. His play over the season helped earn him some consideration for a top five pick in this summer's NHL Entry Draft, while also giving London a lethal weapon on the blueline.
Formenton, meanwhile, also missed significant time for the Knights this season, appearing in just 48 games. In those 48 games, though, the Ottawa Senators' prospect scored 29 goals and added 19 assists to finish at a point per game pace - just nine points back of Nathan Dunkley, who London acquired from the Kingston Frontenacs at the trade deadline.
London's biggest acquisition on the year, however, may have been netminder Joseph Raaymakers.
In 46 games for the Knights, Raaymakers posted a 29-13-1-1 record and had the OHL's 5th best goals against average at 2.84, along with the 8th best save percentage, a .910 mark, giving the Knights a star forward, defenceman, and goalie.
Action in the series will get under at 7:00pm at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre tonight. Games 3 and 4, which will take place in London, will also be broadcast on Kia of Owen Sound/Terry's Trailer Service Bear Radio on 560 CFOS.
A full look at the season series, a schedule for the Western Conference Quarterfinal, and a By The Numbers infographic can be found below.
Tickets for Games 1 and 2 of the series can be purchased at the MacVicar & McComb ReMax Attack Box Office, online at www.attackhockey.com, or by calling 519-371-7452.
Season Ticket Holders are reminded that they have until 1:00pm THE BUSINESS DAY PRIOR TO EACH HOME GAME to claim their seats before they are released for sale to the general public.
SEASON SERIES RECAP
Oct. 15, 2017 - Owen Sound 4 @ London 3, OT
The Attack jumped out to an early lead when Aidan Dudas opened the scoring in the first period before Maksim Sushko made it 2-0 midway through the 2nd. London eventually responded though, getting on the board less than a minute into the 3rd to set up what would be an epic final frame. While Nick Suzuki restored Owen Sound's two goal lead in short ordered, a pair of Knights' tallies late in the frame forced overtime where Sean Durzi secured the full two points for the Attack by scoring on a breakaway to give the Bears a 4-3 victory.
Nov. 4, 2017 - London 4 @ Owen Sound 1
Scoreless through two periods of play, Owen Sound got the Bayshore fired up when Aidan Dudas scored early in the 3rd to break the deadlock and put his side up 1-0. It was all downhill from there though, as London would rattle off four straight goals over the span of 10:00 to come from behind and even the season series at a game apiece.
Nov. 24, 2017 - Owen Sound 3 @ London 5
Nick Suzuki opened the scoring in his hometown to give Owen Sound the lead on a shorthanded tally less than 2:00 into the game. But like the previous meeting between the teams, London would reel off four consecutive tallies - three of which came in a seven minute span before the 1st period TV timeout - that would cause the Attack's comeback attempt to come up short. Markus Phillips and Suzuki would both score again to bring Owen Sound within a goal, but eventually a London empty net marker sealed the deal and handed the Knights a 5-3 win.
Dec 17, 2017 - London 1 @ Owen Sound 0
One of the most exciting games of the season saw just one goal scored as Owen Sound's Olivier Lafreniere and London's Joseph Raaymakers put on a goaltending clinic. Raaymakers made 32 saves on 32 shots on the afternoon while just an Evan Bouchard powerplay tally in the 2nd period bested Lafreniere as London would win the final came before the Christmas Break by a 1-0 score.
Jan. 26, 2018 - Owen Sound 4 @ London 7
A barnburner at the Beer Can, London's final win in the season series between the Midwest Division rivals saw the teams trade goals early, and often. The Knights got on the board first under 2:00 into the game before Jackson Doherty answered just over a minute later to make it 1-1. Then, the 2nd period happened, and the teams exchanged a total of six goals - four for the Knights and two for the Attack - that saw London take a 5-3 lead into the 3rd period. Nick Suzuki sparked some hopes of a comeback by making it a 5-4 game early into the final stanza, but a pair of Knights' markers late in the frame erased all hopes of an Owen Sound victory.
Feb. 14, 2018 - London 2 @ Owen Sound 4
Love was in the air on Valentine's Day - especially for Attack fans. No goals were scored until the 1:06 mark of the 2nd when London got on the board first, but Owen Sound was just too dominant in the final regular season meeting between the teams. Back to back goals by Nick Suzuki, including a shorthanded tally near the midway mark of the game put the Attack ahead for good. Maksim Sushko and Ethan Szypula added tallies in the 3rd to cap off a dominant 4-2 victory for the Bears.
The Canadian Hockey League today announced the week 26 and final edition of the CHL Top-10 Rankings for the 2017-18 season. The weekly rankings of the CHL's Top-10 teams are selected by a panel of National Hockey League scouts.
Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (55-7-3-3)
Moose Jaw Warriors (52-15-2-3)
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (50-11-4-3)
Swift Current Broncos (48-17-5-2)
Sarnia Sting (46-17-4-1)
Acadie-Bathurst Titan (43-15-8-2)
Everett Silvertips (47-20-2-3)
Hamilton Bulldogs (43-18-4-3)
Halifax Mooseheads (43-18-6-1)
Kitchener Rangers (43-21-3-1)
Rimouski Oceanic (42-17-6-3)
Portland Winterhawks (44-22-1-5)
Barrie Colts (42-21-4-1)