The GTHL playoffs are now just around the corner, with first round action getting underway on Saturday, January 19th. It was yet another spectacular regular season of hockey in the GTA, with plenty of movement in the standings throughout the year, a handful of memorable runs, and even the building of some serious rivalries.
Related: Catch up with all of our 2019 OHL Prospect Profiles
Once again, for the fourth consecutive season, it was the Don Mills Flyers who walked away with the Pro Hockey Life Cup as Regular Season Champions. The Flyers ran away as the first seed this year, posting an incredible 30-0-3 record with 208 goals for and just 44 goals against.
In the second tier, all three of the Toronto Nationals, Marlboros, and Red Wings battled in tight competition until the very end, where the teams were separated by just two points. The Mississauga Rebels also showed the potential to become a true contender, but a five-game losing streak in the middle of the season dropped them into the fifth seed with plenty of separation above and below them.
Related: Check out all of Prospect Pipeline’s 2019 OHL Draft Rankings
The final three playoff spots were rewarded to the Mississauga Senators, Vaughan Kings, and North York Rangers, in that order. The three teams each showed moments of promise, but faced inconsistencies which eventually derailed their pursuit for a higher seeding.
With that said, let’s take a closer look at the four quarterfinal matchups and make some predictions.
Season Series: Don Mills 3-0-0
- Don Mills wins 5-1
- Don Mills wins 4-3
- Don Mills wins 6-3
Regular Season Records:
- Don Mills: 30-0-3 – 208GF – 44GA
- North York: 10-19-4 – 83GF – 88GA
Don Mills Wins If:
If they continue to play their game. It’s no secret that the Don Mills Flyers are the consensus favourites for the GTHL Playoffs. They completed an undefeated regular season and went 3-0-0 against the North York Rangers, outscoring them 15-to-7 in those games.
Don Mills boasts a stacked lineup, headlined by a ridiculous top line that features Shane Wright down the middle with Brennan Othmann and Francesco Arcuri on the wings. They have received solid secondary scoring as well, and draw even more offence from a defensive core that isn’t afraid to join the rush and get pucks on net from the blue line.
Although the Rangers have given the Flyers a run for their money at times in their matchups, Don Mills has too much scoring depth and the ability to find a way to win close games. As long as Don Mills sticks to their game plan, they will have no trouble booking their ticket for the second round.
North York Wins If:
If they can trap Don Mills in their own zone and take advantage of average goaltending. At times, Don Mills has slight troubles exiting their own zone with controlled possession. If North York can buy into a tight-checking, hard on the puck style of play, they may be able to earn notable zone time.
Don Mills’ goaltending has been relatively average at some points of the season. If North York can take advantage of that by getting pucks on net and hunting for rebounds, they may be able to produce enough offence to stick around in this series.
The Rangers have shown that they are capable of scoring against Don Mills through regular season action, and Tony Theodoropoulos has shown the ability to keep his team within striking distance against some of Ontario’s top team this year, offering North York a fighting chance to earn some points in this series.
Prediction: Don Mills in 4
Don Mills are simply too strong, balanced, and deep for North York to contain. With a combined record of 59-1-4, it’s hard to envision the Flyers dropping a point in this series.
Season Series: Nationals 2-0-1
- Nationals win 5-1
- Nationals win 4-3
- Tie 2-2
Regular Season Records:
- Nationals: 24-5-4 – 132GF – 70GA
- Vaughan: 8-15-10 – 62GF – 102GA
Nationals Win If:
They stick to a fast and hard-hitting game. The Nationals boast some of the hardest-working players in the GTHL, with a combination of size and strength, they can be an intimidating team to go up against. With a deep group of forwards, the Nationals must play an offensive-minded game to find success against Vaughan.
A roster with virtually no holes, including two of the league’s top goaltenders, the Nats have the capability to beat teas at both ends of the ice. With that said, going up against the low-scoring Kings, they must focus on maintaining substantial offensive zone time and creating a high-scoring affair.
With a fast and highly-talented top line with Zach Dean down the middle and Ryan Del Monte and Josh Bloom on the wings, the Nats will need to play a confident, high-paced game and allow their defensive core to jump up and add further offence. So long as the Nats don’t get too comfortable and stray from their work ethic, they will have no issues reaching the second round.
Vaughan Wins If:
Vaughan finds their success in tight-checking, low-scoring games. Averaging just 1.88 goals per game through the regular season, the Kings were able grind out wins and ties by bottling up the neutral zone and making it tough for opponents to gain the blue line.
While they will be in tough against the Nats’ deep offensive group, their only shot at success will come through a complete determination to hold their blue line. Nicholas Von Kaufmann has shown the capability to keep the Kings in tight games, but he will need to bring his A-game each night to give Vaughan a shot.
Another aspect where Vaughan can potentially cash in is on turnovers, The Nationals tend to give their defencemen tons of leeway to join the rush or bring the puck up ice themselves. If Vaughan can pressure their top defenders and pick a few pockets, they may be able to generate enough offence to earn some points.
Prediction: Nationals in 5
The Nationals are too fast and too strong for Vaughan to contain over the course of a series. With the GTHL’s second-best offence, the Nats will be too potent for the Kings to contain, although they may be able to force a tie.
Season Series: Marlboros 3-0-0
- Marlboros win 2-1
- Marlboros win 4-1
- Marlboros win 6-1
Regular Season Records:
- Marlboros: 24-6-3 – 128GF – 62GA
- Senators: 10-14-9 – 67GF – 91GA
Marlboros Win If:
They play a low-risk game and stay out of the penalty box. The Marlboros often play to the level of their opponents, allowing them to find success against Ontario’s top competition, while also struggling at times against the GTHL’s basement dwellers. The Marlies will need to play up to their potential regardless of the opponent to find success in the playoffs.
It seems as though the Marlboros can sometimes get ahead of themselves in games they should win, playing a high-risk, dangerous style of game. Against the Senators, they will need to stick to what makes them successful; playing a clean, team game with a low turnover rate.
Keeping the end-goal in sight, the Marlboros must lean on their strengths. They boast an active defensive core with tremendous size and strength, making for an intimidating opponent to go up against. However, they can also get into penalty trouble, which is often how their opponents stick around in games.
Senators Win If:
They receive secondary scoring and strong goaltending. Braeden Kressler has been the undisputed offensive leader for the Senators from start to finish this year, but he won’t be able to find success on his own against a tough team like the Marlboros.
The Sens will need to find some substantial secondary scoring, at 5-on-5 and on the power play, from the likes of Jordan Frasca and Ethan Esposito. Their team has shown flashes of offence, but 2.12 goals per game against one of Ontario’s top teams simply won’t be enough
Further, James Norton will need to be at his best to limit the Marlies high-powered offence. A GTHL Top Prospect, Norton has shown flashes of high potential, as well as inconsistencies, throughout the 2018-19 campaign. He will need to find a calm and composed game if he hopes to keep the Sens in the series.
Prediction: Marlboros in 5
The Marlboros are an intimidating team to go up against. They will prove to be too strong and powerful on defence for the Senators to overcome, although they stand a chance to push the series to five game.
Season Series: Red Wings 2-1-0
- Rebels win 5-0
- Red Wings win 4-1
- Red Wings win 1-0
Regular Season Records:
- Red Wings: 23-5-5 – 134GF – 64GA
- Rebels: 19-12-2 – 83GF – 56GA
Red Wings Win If:
They can find their breakouts and transition game. The Red Wings boast a high-octane offence with scoring depth through their top two lines. They display high-end speed and skill throughout their entire lineup and certainly have the ability to run up the scoreboard.
With that said, their game can breakdown quickly when their breakouts are not on point. The neutral zone is where the Red Wings will have to place their focus, making tape-to-tape passes across their own blue line, and quick outlets to the wingers heading into the offensive zone.
The Red Wings boast one of the top goaltenders for the 2019 OHL Draft in Joshua Rosenzweig, allowing the team to make more high-risk decisions, but they will need to play a safe and structured game against the Rebels in order to replicate their regular season success, where they went 18-0-2 in their final 20 contests.
Rebels Wins If:
They can eliminate the Red Wings’ speed and zone time. The Rebels find their success when the entire team devotes to a defensive structure which clogs up the neutral zone and forces turnovers. This will be imperative against the high-powered Red Wings, whose bread and butter comes from speed on the rush.
The Rebels were the league’s second-best defensive team through the regular season, allowing just 1.76 goals per game, a testament to their forwards’ defensive responsibility and the play of goaltender, Justin Wu. In this series, they must focus on taking care of defence before offence.
The Red Wings give up their fair share of scoring chances against, but with Rosenzweig in the pipes, the Rebels will need to move the puck laterally to open up holes in the star netminder. Further, their defencemen must focus on being quick to the puck in their own zone, in order to limit the Red Wings’ zone possession.
Prediction: Red Wings in 6
This will undoubtedly be the closest series of the first round, but the Red Wings should be able to come way as victors so long as they are able to fine-tune their transition game. The Rebels will keep it close and likely force a few extra games, but the Red Wings offence should prove to be too much to handle.