After one of the most exciting regular seasons of OLA Junior “A” lacrosse in recent memory, the playoffs are set to kick off on Thursday evening. However before we get to the playoff preview, it’s important to recognize the parity throughout the league this season. The Mimico Moutaineers won five games and tied one this season, for 11 points, after winning just one game in the last three seasons. Meanwhile the Toronto Beaches make their return to the OLA Junior playoffs this season, after previously missing out on post season play for the past six season. Even some of the weaker teams during the 2015 season had tons of bright spots, the St. Catharines Athletics possessed one of the most lethal scorers in the loop this season in Eric Fannell who finished the year with 30 goals and 59 points. The K-W Braves trotted out one of the best goalies in the loop in Kevin Orleman, while also boasting the elite scoring prowess of Chris Cloutier. If the 2015 regular season was any indication of what we can expect during the playoffs, we should in for one of the most intriguing playoffs in Ontario in years.
1) Six Nations Arrows Vs. 8) Burlington Chiefs
Season Series: 7-6 Burlington Win, 10-8 Six Nations Win
The defending champs enter the 2015 OLA Junior “A” playoffs as the favorite to bring home the Ontario Championship once again, and for good reason, after going 17-3 during the regular season. The Arrows are arguably the deepest of all the playoff teams boasting upwards of eight offensive guns that can put the ball in the net at the drop of a hat. Leading that group of scorers is youngster Austin Staats, who finished 5th in league scoring with 91 points in 17 games. Meanwhile Jordan Durston and Brendan Bomberry who are both lethal scorers themselves, have played the setup role for their teammates as both players picked up over 40+ assists this season. John Johnson and Joe Maracle who both saw time in the NLL this past season also ply their trade with the Arrows and are as lethal as any scorers in the loop. When you round out the offense with the likes of Dallas John, Tehoka Nanticoke and recent deadline acquisition Ryan Lee, the Arrows will be tough to keep off the board. Defensively the Arrows allowed a league low 119 goals in 20 games, thanks in large part to a stout defense and excellent netminding from Doug Jamieson. Leo Stourus and Marcus Elvin lead the Arrows back end, while the likes of Jamie Dilks and Tyson Bomberry both have also been impressive throughout the season. Jamieson led the league in wins, goals against average and save percentage this season, and easily has the talent to win games on his own, should the deep offensive of the Arrows sputter.
Meanwhile the Burlington Chiefs come into the playoffs playing some very good lacrosse, despite a loss to the Whitby Warriors in their final regular season game. While the Chiefs went just 3-4 to end the regular season, they did elevate their play, finding the secondary scoring they so desperately needed early on in the season. While the offense is know where near as deep as the Arrows, they do possess a 50 goal scorer in Andrew Kew, who finished the season with 88 points, good for seventh overall in the league. Behind Kew, look for Nolan Apers and Ryan Marchand to thrive for the Chiefs, as they often picked up the slack when Kew was limited offensively. Depth guys like Ryan Lanchbury, Gianni Bianchin and Spencer Edler will need to pick up the offense in round one if the Chiefs hope to knock off the Arrows. The Chiefs split the season series with Six Nations this season and looked very good in their narrow 10-8 loss to the Arrows just last week. While the Chiefs would certainly have hoped to find a more favorable matchup in round 1, they did have some success against the Arrows this season, and should play them tough in this best 4 out of 7 series.
Prediction – Six Nations in Five
2) Peterborough Lakers Vs. 7) Barrie Lakeshores
Season Series: 15-6 Peterborough Win, 10-9 Peterborough Win
The Peterborough Lakers just capped off an excellent regular season, with a regular season finale win over the powerhouse Six Nations Arrows, which should provide yet another confidence boost heading into the playoffs. The Lakers rode a very strong offense and some timely goaltending to their second place finish this season. The Lakers possess an excellent combination of strength up front, depth on the back end and a talent young goalie in Brett Lafonte. While there where some inconsistencies throughout the regular season the Lakers come into the playoffs riding a seven game winning streak. Offensively the Lakers are led by Cam Milligan who racked up 98 points this season, placing him second overall in league scoring. The emergence of Kyle Killen and the addition of rookie Zach Bryant provided the Lakers with even more offense this season, while Jake Fox, Zac Currier and Dan Michel produced effectively throughout the regular season. With Holden Cattoni returning the Lakers late in the season, the Lakers offense may only be rivaled by that of the Six Nations Arrows. Fast in transition and physical on defense, the Lakers can beat you offensively or shut you down defensively, led by Jake Withers, Thomas Hoggarth, Parker Sands, Bryce Sweeting and Tyler Roche the Lakers look to be a serious contender to host the Minto Cup in 2015.
The Lakeshores came into the 2015 season with little hype, as the club was expected to be on the outside looking in when the pre-season predictions came out, however they surprised numerous people this season, piecing together a very impressive season that saw them capture wins over Brampton, Orangeville and Burlington twice. While the Lakeshores aren’t as deep as some of the top teams who are expected to battle for the league title this season, they do boast an impressive quartet of offensive studs in Austin Murphy, Spencer Pyke, Nick Chaykowksy and Brenden Welsh. While depth guys Steph Charbonneau, Colin Mawdsley and Jeremy Vatour provide solid secondary options. Defensively the Lakeshores finished fifth in goals against, which is a credit to both an unheralded defense and a very underrated netminder in Zach Rex, who sports an impressive 8.58 goals against average. While Barrie was dominated in the first regular season match up between these two teams, the gave the Lakers everything they had in meeting number two, narrowly dropping a one game decision. Barrie will give the Lakers everything they have in this first round match up, however I can’t see them pulling the upset in round one.
Prediction: Lakers in Five
3) Brampton Excelsiors Vs. 6) Toronto Beaches
Season Series: 13-10 Brampton Win, 13-7 Brampton Win
Heading into the 2015 season the Brampton Excelsiors boasted a roster that only the Six Nations Arrows could rival on paper, since then the Excelsiors have only gotten deeper with the additions of BCJALL stars Brett Hawrys, Jeremy Roe and Cole Kryworuchka. While the Excelsiors offense is extremely deep and extremely talented, their defense still had holes to it, while Quintan Martin struggled at times this season, after a very impressive 2014 season. Offensively the Excelsiors are lead by youngster Jeff Teat who tallied 93 points in 20 games this season, placing him third in league scoring. With so much depth behind Teat, no other Excelsior cracked 60 points or more, however seven Excelsiors reached double digits in goals, while six of those seven snipers racked up at 30 points or more. The Excelsiors share the ball extremely well on offense and anyone who is trotted out at the offensive end of the floor can find the back of the net with relative ease. BC Import Brett Hawrys only adds to the Excelsiors depth as prior to joining Brampton he had racked up 53 points in 14 games. The additions of Roe and Kryworuchka will help the Excelsiors tighten up their back end, while mainstays Luke Van Schepen, Travis Burton and Connor McClelland will be expected to raise their game to the next level. If Quintan Martin can improve on his 8.32 goals against average, the Excelsiors very well could find themselves in a position to battle for the Minto Cup come August.
One would have to think the Toronto Beaches would be happy to simply just reach the playoffs in 2015, as it had been six seasons since the Beaches last competed for the right to play for the Minto Cup. However the Beaches showed throughout the season that they where more then just a bottom feeding team, they should they could play with the big boys in 2015, defeating powerhouses Peterborough and Orangeville, while tying the Whitby Warriors and picking up wins over the teams they where expected to battle with for the final playoff spot heading into the season. Michael Lalani has been stellar in goal for the Beaches this season, surprising many after not showing much prior to this season. Meanwhile John St. John is a strong candidate to win the Most Valuable Player award this season after producing a 92 point campaign, which placed him fourth overall in league scoring. With that being said the Beaches are much more then just two players, as veteran Anthony Joaquim along with youngsters Garrett Lewis, Tristan Hanna and Bryce Keats all produced fluently for the Beaches, while Aaron Forster and Jake Cook also found the score sheet with regularity. Toronto added Matt Clearwater to their D-Core at the trade deadline, while Jake Wilkinson, Zach McCulligh and Michael Harris should continue to provide solid defense. The late season arrival of Joel Tinney only strengthens an already strong young Beaches squad. I really feel the Beaches can give the Excelsiors a run for their money in round one, however the depth of the Excelsiors is very hard to ignore, and for that reason I seem them advancing in four hard fought games.
Prediction: Excelsiors in Five
4) Whitby Warriors Vs. 5) Orangeville Northmen
Season Series: 9-9 Tie , 11-9 Orangeville Win
In argubably the most intriguing first round match up, the fourth place Whitby Warriors will hold home floor advantage over the Orangeville Northmen, whom they finished just two points a head of during the regular season, despite going 0-1-1 against them. Despite going just 4-4 in their final eight games of the 2015 regular season, the Warriors seemed to be finding their grove, as the team looked much better as the regular season wound down. Austin Shanks tore up the OLA Junior”A” loop this season to the tune of 107 points on 50 goals and 57 assists. The lone 100 point scorer this season and only one of two players to reach the 50 goal plateau, if the Northmen are unable to shut down Shanks, he has the ability to single handily take over a game at the Junior A level. Playing across from Shanks on the Warriors left side is Ryan Keenan, a potent point producer in his own right Keenan picked up 90 points this season, finishing 6th in league scoring. Playing the role of setup man, Keenan’s floor vision is as elite as you can find in the Junior A loop. Following closely behind Shanks and Keenan offensively are the likes of Connor Kearnan and Luke Keenan, both of whom reached the 50 + point plateau this season with Kearnan recording 60 and Keenan 52. Bennett Drake, Tristan Rai and Dawson Theede round out an impressive offensive attack for the Warriors. Goaltending was somewhat of an issue for the Warriors early on, however Mike DeGirolamo settled in between the pipes as the season went on, finishing second in the league with a 7.76 GAA and a respectable 8-7-2 record. Defensively the Warriors will be led by Matt Hossack as he follows in his brothers footsteps as one of the best defenders in the Junior A loop this season. Sean Darrock, Riley Palmer, Jordi Jones-Smith and the physical Tanner Theede will be expected to pick up their game in the post season, as they look to quite a deep Orangeville offense.
Despite the Northmen going 2-5 in their final seven games to end the regular season, Orangeville, like the Warriors began to play much better lacrosse. While inconsistencies have plagued the Northmen at times this season, Orangeville is never an easy out come playoff time, and boast enough talent to not only pull a first round upset, but ride that momentum to an OLA Junior “A” title. Offensively the Northmen are led by Ian MacKay, however MacKay recorded just 46 points in 20 games, as the Northmen had the lowest scoring team leader among the eleven junior A clubs. However with that being said, the Northmen possess a deep offense with Neal Davis, Matt Vangalen, Lucas Ducharme, Owen MacDonald, Brandon Slade, Joel Coyle, Dallas Bridle and Daniel Craig all following closely behind MacKay. The depth of the Northmen offense may ultimately play a big role in this series, as you cannot just key in on one or two guys, as any of the nine aforementioned players can break out for huge offensive games at any notice. In goal Nolan Clayton made the seamless jump from the Junior B ranks, going 9-9-1, with a 8.03 GAA place him 3rd overall in GAA. Clayton will need bring his “A” game in the opening round of the 2015 playoffs, while the Northmen defense will be expected to play close attention to both Austin Shanks and Ryan Keenan if Orangeville hope to pull of the upset. With both team excelling over the years come playoff time, you can expect a hard fought, war of a series, however I feel the Warriors recent string of success and playoff experience may play ultimately play a factor in the outcome of this series. None the less I expect the series to go the full five games, with the Warriors narrowly edging the Northmen in Game 7.
Prediction: Warriors in Seven