Junior A Playoffs Set in Ontario

The situation was simple Friday night: one playoff spot remained in the OLA’s Jr A ranks. A win by the St Catharines Athletics would secure the position they’ve held for the better part of a month, while a loss combined with Toronto Beaches victories Friday and Saturday would push Toronto into the post season for the first time in eight years.

The Athletics had the unenviable task of taking on the Orangeville Northmen, while the Beach Boys would have to get past the Kitchener/Waterloo Braves, a team they lost to earlier in the week thanks to a late third period collapse. Though the Athletics game still took the required sixty minutes, it was over fairly quickly as the hometown Northmen continued St Catharines’ recent losing skid, handing them a 13-2 defeat. It was then up to the Beaches, who were on the floor at roughly the same time.

As was the case in Orangeville, however, this game was pretty well decided after the first period. The Braves opened up an 8-1 margin after one and Toronto could not come back. Their playoff hopes mathematically end with a 14-7 loss. With that, while some seeds have yet to be decided, teams one through eight have clinched a post-season berth. With two games left to play on Saturday, let’s look at these club’s chances heading into the ‘real’ season.

(Writer’s note: teams are ranked based on standings at the time of writing – prior to Saturday’s games)

1. Whitby Warriors, 17-3 season record
What more can you say about the defending Minto Cup champions. It was rare any of their twenty season games were even close this season. The key move of the season came off the floor, however, as the Warriors traded draft picks to St Catharines for one of the brightest young stars, Chris Attwood. The move suggests there may have been personality issues we don’t know about, but Attwood’s talent cannot be denied. If this is the case, however, the key question is: does the trade help or hurt Whitby’s chances? It’s been clear they have one goal on their minds – defending the Minto Cup on their home floor. They will be there as host city, and they will have a legitimate shot.

2. Six Nations Arrows, 16-3 season record, final game @ St Catharines
The Arrows have come on strong as the season has progressed challenging Whitby for top spot overall. While Whitby is guaranteed a spot in the Minto Cup, it will be up to the Arrows to play their way in. There is nothing, save for a certain team in Orangeville, to suggest they won’t make it. Six Nations is one of three teams who will finish the season wit ha goal differential of +100 or higher. The matchup everyone wants to see is Whitby vs Six Nations for the Jr A final. Oh, what a show that would be. It has a good chance of happening.

3. Orangeville Northmen, 15-4 season record, final game @ Toronto
Let’s assume Orangeville will finish their season 16-4, a fairly safe bet considering the way the Northmen and Beaches’ seasons have gone. If it does, the historic franchise has a shot to be a dark horse in the OLA playoffs coming out of the third seed. At the time of this writing they would face an inconsistent 2012 Brampton Excelsiors team, but anything could happen there. If Orangeville can make it out of the first round, they have a strong shot to not only go deep, but win the playoffs. Orangeville is always considered amongst the top teams in the league, but the 2012 version is a complete package. All the attention this season has been on Whitby and Six Nations, but Orangeville could fly under the radar to steal the show.

4. Peterborough Lakers, 14-5-1 season record
What can be said about Peterborough? The perennial bridesmaid team to the Warriors and Arrows has won enough games to keep them amongst the leaders in the OLA Jr A standings, but they have had to pull out games they should’ve won to get there. Most notably a 14-13 overtime victory against Toronto and a 15-13 back and forth battle against Brampton that could go down as Game of the Year. The reality is, neither of these games should’ve been close. Yes, Peterborough came away with Ws, but the fact they let teams back into games is scary. There’s nothing in their season that suggests they’ll be in Whitby for the Minto Cup. Unless, of course, they come through the box office entrance.

5. Kitchener/Waterloo Braves, 11-8-1 season record
Kitchener/Waterloo could be a dark horse in the first round. Their roster is stronger than their two games over 500 record suggests. With the offensive likes of Dhane Smith who can score from anywhere, the goaltending of Erik McLaren and a late season trade picking up Mike Triolo for transition, the Braves are solid. If, in fact, the four vs five matchup is Peterborough/Kitchener, the Lakers better watch out. The Braves cannot be allowed to linger, otherwise they’ll pounce. They are capable of putting runs of four and five goals together, which can be damaging on the scoreboard and demoralizing to a team.

6. Brampton Excelsiors, 10-9-1 season record
Brampton misses Michael Burke badly. Burke graduated to the Sr A Excelsiors for the 2012 season and left behind a Brampton team that did score the fifth highest goal total in the league, but on many nights looked flat. So many times key games down the stretch become a team’s playoff season. How Brampton will respond to their close loss to Peterborough in the 15-13 shootout will be the question. Yes, it was a loss, but Brampton had numerous chances to win the game and showed the league they’re fighters. The only problem, they will have to prove it to the Orangeville Northmen three times to move on.

7. Burlington Chiefs, 10-9-1 season record
Brampton and Burlington share season records, but their seasons have been anything but similar. While Brampton has been solid in their victories, and poor in their defeats, Burlington has been just on the edge all season long. Their consistency is what will bring them any success they may have. While they may have success from their strong season, it likely won’t be enough against either Six Nations or Whitby.

8. St Catharines Athletics, 5-13-1 season record, last game vs Six Nations
Kudos to the Athletics for holding on down the stretch despite losing their final two games of the season at the time of this writing, but if not for Toronto’s futility against Kitchener and Burlington, this could be a different story. Despite trading the majority of their squad as the season wound down, including Chris Attwood and Mike Triolo, the Athletics find themselves just holding onto a playoff berth. Again, this was not their doing but rather the fact Toronto couldn’t capitalize on the opportunities presented. Consider the first round is a best of five, and St Catharines had just five wins total in the 2012 season, it seems unlikely the Athletics can piece together three against teams as strong as Six Nations or Whitby.