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ECF Preview: #1 Niagara Ice Dogs vs. #2 Ottawa 67's

by Alex Quevillon
The Ottawa 67’s will meet the Niagara Ice Dogs in the Eastern Conference Finals, and while these two teams finished right next to each other in the standings, their paths to get to the third round couldn’t be any more different.

Niagara made quick work of the Bramtpon Battalion in a four-game sweep, while the 67’s allowed the Barrie Colts to tie the seventh and deciding game of their series with eight seconds left in regulation, before Brett Gustavsen put the series away for good with an overtime winner.

The struggles that Ottawa faced playing lower seeds (although Barrie wasn’t far behind), mixed with their poor record against the Ice Dogs this year, make OHL fans believe that this will be a very short series in Niagara’s favour.

For Ottawa to win:

As tired as the 67’s may be, they have to try and catch the well-rested Ice Dogs flat-footed and get to Mark Visentin early on – something they’ve had no trouble doing this season.

In the Ice Dogs’ two visits to the Nation’s Capital this season, Visentin allowed goals on four of the first nine shots he faced. He was pulled in November in a 5-2 loss, while he recovered nicely in the second game and helped hand Ottawa a 5-1 loss.

(See: Is Mark Visentin Ready to Fall? - Brandon Sudeyko)

The 67’s are going to have to flex their physical muscles in this series. In their lone win on the year, they played their most physical game of the season and that, combined with Visentin’s poor performance at the time, the then-visiting Ice Dogs were out of the game early.

For Niagara to win:

Niagara needs to pepper Petr Mrazek, keep the 67’s to the perimeter and get under their skin. With the Ice Dogs’ offencive ability, a stacked defence with guys like Jamie Oleksiak, Dougie Hamilton and Brock Beukeboom, and the styles of play employed by the likes of Andrew Agozzino and Alex Friesen, none of those should be any problem for the one-seed.

Mrazek was highly criticized for the number of goals he has allowed from long-range so far in the postseason but when he was called upon in high pressure situations, he did somewhat step up to the plate. We’ll see how well he does against a team that sends shots his way all game, not to mention get in his face on numerous occasions. Ottawa’s netminder doesn’t shy away from scrums, but Niagara could use that to get him off his game.

Much like the 67's had to try to avoid in the first two rounds, Niagara can't get into any bad habits early in the series. They were pretty dominant in their first two series wins against Oshawa and Brampton, and won the season series 3-1 with 18 goals for and 10 against, so the Ice Dogs should be set.

Bad Blood:

Niagara has been a hated team in Ottawa since a game last March where Thomas Nesbitt and Shane Prince were knocked out of the 67’s lineup via unnecessary cheapshots from Myles Doan and Tim Billingsley respectively. The first re-match between these two teams here in Ottawa this season was a heated one, but not as nasty as last year’s event.

With this history and the aformentioned antagonizing skills of a pair of Ice Dogs, mixed with the boatloads of toughness these two teams possess, we may be in for a physical and perhaps even nasty third round. Am I predicting that this series will re-enact the Flyers and Penguins? Not quite. But it should be more hostile than the second round for these two squads.

Another Makeshift Asylum:

Well, Barrie’s attempt to mock our asylum was laughable to say the least. Now, the 67’s get to put up with another group of wannabe hooligans. The drummer in Niagara doesn't even bother with a real drum, electing instead to bang straight on the glass (an infraction that would have you escorted out of the J. Benson Cartage Centre). Even still, you won't see Chris Byrne ask the refs for them to stop (See: Hawerchuk, Dale)

Prediction: Niagara in Six

Game one goes Friday night in St. Catharines, with game two going on Sunday. The series heads to Ottawa on Monday and Wednesday.

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