U Sports MHKY: Playoff races become the focus as the OUA enters it’s final weekend of men’s hockey

Toronto,ON- One more weekend, one more playoff spot to be clinched and more seeds to be determined. That’s the focus of every team this week in the OUA’s Western Conference of men’s ice hockey, as the February 12th start date of the playoffs draws nearer.

Most teams at this point have a pair of games remaining, although Guelph and Brock break the trend, as they only have one game remaining. At this point, there are seven teams who have clinched a spot in the postseason, leaving one final slot up for grabs in the final weekend of the season.

Toronto, who faced a late-season charge from Ryerson, as well as a slip of their own, have regained form and clinched the top seed this past weekend. That guarantees the Varsity Blues a matchup with whoever is to be the 8th seed.

So who could that 8th seed be? It’s a tight race going into the final weekend. However, when all is said and done, I am expecting the Varsity Blues to be bussed down to London for game one of a three-game series against the Western Mustangs.

MHKY vs LAK Jan 18
Western, who are projected to finish 8th (Billie Barett/ Western University)

The Mustangs, who sit at 22 points and in the eighth spot have two games remaining, neither of which I am picking them to win. First, up is the Brock Badgers, who are coming off a disappointing 5-2 loss against Lakehead and will be seeking to regain their form ahead of the playoffs, while also avoiding the top-seed Varsity Blues. After Brock, the Mustangs face one of the other purple teams in the OUA, the Laurier Golden Hawks. Despite struggling at points this season, Laurier has hit a string of form, catapulted by a 5-2 win over the Varsity Blues.

These two results will keep the Mustangs at the current points total, although with the tiebreakers that they hold, and the expected performance of teams around them, the Londoners can expect a playoff date with Toronto.

Now, who we know who is grabbing the last playoff position at the end of the season, what are the other potential moves in the standings? This is where my head turns to Lakehead.

At the time of writing, the Lakehead Thunderwolves actually sit above the aforementioned Mustangs, however, they have not clinched a playoff spot. This is due to the fact the Mustangs hold a tiebreaker over the Waterloo Warriors, who remain on the edge of playoff contention, whilst the Thunderwolves don’t have the same tiebreaker, leaving the standings looking peculiar.

Image result for lakehead thunderwolves mhky
The Lakehead Thunderwolves are chasing the playoffs (Christian Bender)

In my final prediction for the season, I have Lakehead moving up from their current seventh spot, to the sixth seed. Their two remaining games are against the Waterloo Warriors, who are hanging onto their last hope of postseason. Playing against one of the weaker teams, aided by the drive that the Thunderwolves will have searching for the playoff spot, they are destined to get the four possible points, vaulting them into the sixth position.

Looking higher up in the standings, there are a couple of intresting races. First is the race for second place between the Ryerson Rams and Guelph Gryphons. The Gryphons, who are led by former Danish Junior international Mikel Aagard, sit in third at the moment, two points behind Ryerson. To finish in second, the Gryphons will have to beat the high-flying Varsity Blues while also counting on Ryerson to lose their two games, all-together, an unlikely combination.

The final three in the standings should look as such.

  1. Toronto Varsity Blues
    2. Ryerson Rams
    3. Guelph Gryphons
The Varsity Blues are going to finish atop the Wester Conference (Benjamin Steiner)

Now that that’s settled, there is still one more very important position up for grabs- the fourth and final home advantage seed. The Windsor Lancers currently inhabit the fourth spot, but by no means does that mean they’ve secured it. Western, Lakehead, Laurier and Brock could all technically catch up to the fourth position as they are all within the plausible four points. For Windsor, the task is clear as ice at centre ice at their Capri Ice Complex. They have to get two points out of their remaining two games. These games are not the easiest, one against Toronto and the other against Ryerson, however,

I’m picking them to get one of these wins. Why? The ferocity which will flow through the blood of the Lancers, against the nonchalant style that may encapsulate already clinched teams. With a win, they will clinch the final home seed, gearing them up for a possible playoff run.

It’s bound to be one big weekend of hockey in the OUA Western Conference, as nearly every team is set up to battle it out for something ahead of the first round of the playoffs.

Here is my final projection of the standings, how does your team do?

  1. Toronto Varsity Blues
    2. Ryerson Rams
    3. Guelph Gryphons
    4. Windsor Lancers
    5. Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks
    6. Lakehead Thunderwolves
    7. Brock Badgers
    8. Western Ontario Mustang

Playoffs look like 1v8 2v7 3v6 4v5, with reseeding after the first round. Each round is three games (excluding final) with game one being hosted by lower seed, while two and potentially three on the ice of the higher seeded team.

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