It’s the first day of Spring, meaning things are about to get a little more interesting for some Sabres prospects. The CHL playoffs kick off on Thursday while the puck drops on the NCAA tourney a day later. And hey, that Armia kid will be looking to put together a playoff run, too.
The Sabres pair of QMJHL prospects, Jerome Gauthier-Leduc of the Rimouski Oceanic and Cedrick Henley of the Val-d’Or Foreurs, will square off in the first round beginning Friday. Leduc, a finalist for the QMJHL Defenseman of the Year, led all Canadian junior defensemen this season with 28 goals while tying for the CHL lead with 74 points. Henley captained the Foreurs to a second place finish in the Telus East Division.
The Niagara IceDogs earned the top seed in the OHL’s Eastern Conference, creating a matchup with 8th place Oshawa. Dogs forward Steven Shipley, who was a point-per-game player over the final 20 games, will look to continue his late season pace on a line with David Pacan and Mitchell Theoret.
Dan Catenacci will be front-and-center for the defending OHL champion Owen Sound Attack as they travel to Kitchener for Friday’s game #1. The Attack will be playing without captain and leading scorer Mike Halmo, who was suspended 10 games in the final week of the regular season after lambasting Nail Yakupov with an open-ice headshot.
With star forward Tanner Pearson out with a broken leg suffered in the final game of the regular season, grinding wing Gregg Sutch, who was bumped down the lineup for most of the year, could see an elevated role for the Barrie Colts in their first round battle with Mississauga. West Seneca native Alex Lepkowski will be counted on to set a physical tone while earning big minutes on the Barrie blueline.
Out west, Edmonton captain and World Junior participant Mark Pysyk will lead the #1 seed Oil Kings into battle against the defending league champs, the Kootenay ICE. The ICE won’t have Brayden McNabb playing 30 minutes a night this go-round, but will again be backstopped by reigning playoff MVP Nathan Lieuwen, who enters the postseason with just three wins in his last 13 starts.
The Brandon Wheat Kings are hoping to have their key deadline acquisition, Kevin Sundher, back in the lineup when they begin their first round series with Calgary on Thursday. The speedy six-footer accumulated 64 points in 40 games with Victoria prior to being dealt, but has played just once after suffering a concussion on Valentine’s Day.
In other Thursday action, Joel Armia and Assat will begin their best-of-seven first round series with JYP. The 18-year old scored 18 goals for the second consecutive season, including a impressive 10 goals and 20 points in 21 games upon returning from the World Junior Championship.
After leading the NCAA with a 1.59 goals against average, Connor Knapp will lead Miami (#2 seed in the East Region) into Friday's NCAA tourney matchup with #3 Lowell. Knapp has been the most dominant netminder in all of college hockey since January 1st, compiling an 11-3 mark while allowing three or more goals just twice along the way.
In the West bracket, Brad Eidsness is expected to serve as back-up when #1 seed North Dakota battles #4 Western Michigan. On the other side, #2 Minnesota will take on Boston University. Gophers forward Christian Isackson will likely be a scratch as he has been for the last nine games.
Colin Jacobs and the Seattle Thunderbirds missed the WHL playoffs by two points but on Wednesday were awarded the first overall pick in the WHL bantam draft lottery. Justin Jokinen (Minnesota St.), Drew MacKenzie (Vermont), Brad Navin (Wisconsin), and Mark Adams (Providence) all saw their seasons end with losses in their respective conference tourneys.