Though it seems the London Knights hoisted the Memorial Cup in Red Deer just yesterday, another season has come to an end and the playoffs are upon us once again as 48 CHL teams set out to win it all.
Series from coast-to-coast get underway on Thursday and Friday as Sportsnet will bring fans playoff action from across the country beginning on Friday in London as the defending Memorial Cup Champion Knights host the 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup host Windsor Spitfires at 7:30pm Eastern.
The Knights and Spitfires go head-to-head, continuing a long-established rivalry between the two Western Conference foes.
Despite missing big blueliner Logan Stanley to injury, the Spits ended their season with a 41-19-5-3 record. Getting out of the first round won’t be easy for the Memorial Cup hosts though, not in an extremely competitive Western Conference that saw three teams finish with over 100 points.
Fresh off making CHL history with their fourth straight 50-win season, the Erie Otters take another run at an OHL title boasting a core entered around Arizona Coyotes first round pick Dylan Strome, OHL scoring champion Alex DeBrincat, and Canadian World Junior Team members Anthony Cirelli and Taylor Raddysh.
While the Otters, Knights, Spitfires, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, red hot Owen Sound Attack and the Eastern Conference’s Peterborough Petes and Mississauga Steelheads are worth keeping an eye on in the OHL, the Western Hockey League Playoffs get underway with the CHL’s top-ranked Regina Pats garnering plenty of attention.
The heavyweight Pats feature WHL scoring champion Sam Steel who led all CHL players with 131 points this season. The Anaheim Ducks first round pick edged out teammate Adam Brooks by one point for the scoring title, a figure that included 50 goals and 81 assists.
The defensively sound Everett Silvertips finished atop the WHL’s Western Conference featuring Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart posting a league-low 1.99 goals-against average. The ‘Tips allowed a CHL-low 169 goals this season and the reigning CHL Goaltender of the Year played a big part in that. He’ll have a first round showdown with Victoria Royals goaltending standout Griffen Outhouse in the crease.
Elsewhere in the WHL, the Seattle Thunderbirds have unfinished business after coming up short in the WHL Championship Series last spring. With offensive dynamo Mathew Barzal likely taking his last crack at a title, the T-Birds’ championship window remains open for now.
Fans won’t want to miss a BC Interior battle between the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers in a repeat of last year’s seven game first round matchup. The high-scoring Medicine Hat Tigers are also worth keeping an eye on as they battle the defending WHL Champion Brandon Wheat Kings in first round play.
Shifting to the QMJHL, the Saint John Sea Dogs are as serious a contender as any after winning the QMJHL’s regular season title with 102 points.
Winners of nine of their last 10, Saint John is built to win now with the goaltending of Carolina Hurricanes prospect Callum Booth stabilizing a start-studded blue line featuring Ottawa Senators first round pick Thomas Chabot, Boston Bruins prospect Jakub Zboril, former QMJHL first overall pick Luke Green and recently acquired veteran Simon Bourque.
The Sea Dogs are powered offensively by Canadian World Junior Team standouts Julien Gauthier and Mathieu Joseph along with top scorer Matthew Highmore, 30-goal man Spencer Smallman, power winger Bokondji Imama and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Nathan Noel.
Who can step up to challenge Saint John?
The defending QMJHL Champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, always-competitive Shawinigan Cataractes, Maritimes Division opponent Charlottetown Islanders and defensively sound Blainville-Boisbriand Armada would undoubtedly like a chance.
Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Vitalii Abramov of the Gatineau Olympiques claimed the QMJHL scoring title with 104 points including 46 goals and 58 assists in 66 games. The Olympiques will face the seventh ranked Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the first round of the QMJHL Playoffs.
Tyler Boland helped the Rimouski Oceanic sneak into the QMJHL Playoffs as the 16th seed. The overage centreman led all players with 48 goals and finished a point behind Abramov with 103 on the campaign.
The Drummondville Voltigeurs and Blainville-Boisbriand Armada get the QMJHL Playoffs started on Thursday before an eight game schedule rolls out on Friday.
Here’s a look at first round playoff matchups across the Canadian Hockey League:
WHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(ED1) Regina Pats (52-12-7-1) vs. (WC2) Calgary Hitmen (30-32-8-2)
(ED 2) Moose Jaw Warriors (42-21-8-1) vs. (ED 3) Swift Current Broncos (39-23-4-6)
(CD 1) Medicine Hat Tigers (51-20-1-0) vs. (WC 1) Brandon Wheat Kings (31-31-7-3)
(CD 2) Lethbridge Hurricanes (44-21-4-3) vs. (CD 3) Red Deer Rebels (30-29-9-4)
(BC 1) Prince George Cougars (45-21-3-3) vs. (WC 1) Portland Winterhawks (40-28-1-3)
(BC 2) Kelowna Rockets (45-22-5-0) vs. (BC 3) Kamloops Blazers (42-24-2-4)
(US 1) Everett Silvertips (44-16-9-3) vs. (WC 2) Victoria Royals (37-29-5-1)
(US 2) Seattle Thunderbirds (46-20-4-2) vs. (US 3) Tri-City Americans (41-28-3-0)
OHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(1) Peterborough Petes (42-21-2-3) vs. (8) Niagara IceDogs (23-35-6-4)
(2) Mississauga Steelheads (34-21-6-7) vs. (7) Ottawa 67’s (26-34-7-1)
(3) Oshawa Generals (40-23-3-2) vs. (6) Sudbury Wolves (27-34-7-0)
(4) Kingston Frontenacs (33-26-5-4) vs. Hamilton Bulldogs (33-27-4-4)
(1) Erie Otters (50-15-2-1) vs. (8) Sarnia Sting (31-30-6-1)
(2) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (48-16-3-1) vs. (7) Flint Firebirds (32-28-3-5)
(3) Owen Sound Attack (49-15-2-2) vs. (6) Kitchener Rangers (36-27-3-2)
(4) London Knights vs. (5) Windsor Spitfires (41-19-5-3)
QMJHL (Full Playoff Bracket):
(1) Saint John Sea Dogs (48-14-5-1) vs. (16) Rimouski Oceanic (26-35-6-1)
(2) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (43-18-2-5) vs. (15) Halifax Mooseheads (27-35-3-3)
(3) Shawinigan Cataractes (42-20-4-2) vs. (14) Val-d’Or Foreurs (28-35-3-2)
(4) Charlottetown Islanders (46-18-4-0) vs. (13) Baie-Comeau Drakkar (26-32-6-4)
(5) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (43-19-4-2) vs. (12) Drummondville Voltigeurs (28-34-1-5)
(6) Acadie-Bathurst Titan (39-23-4-2) vs. (11) Quebec Remparts (31-30-4-3)
(7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (39-25-2-2) vs. (10) Gatineau Olympiques (33-31-4-0)
(8) Chicoutimi Sagueneens (38-25-3-2) vs. (9) Victoriaville Tigres (35-25-6-2)
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