The first round playoff series between the London Knights and Windsor Spitfires ended last night with a Game 7 victory for London. For Leafs fans, that meant that two prospects – Nicolas Mattinen and J.J. Piccinich – extended their playoff run while another – Jeremy Bracco – ended his... for now.
Because Bracco and the Spitfires are hosting the Memorial Cup this year, their team has a guaranteed spot in the four-team CHL tournament, and so although they are no longer competing in the OHL playoffs, their season is not quite over. This is welcome news for many junior hockey fans, since many lamented the OHL conference-based ranking system that often eliminates good teams before bad.
Both Mattinen and Piccinich had some rough moments in the tournament, Mattinen struggling along the boards and Piccinich’s line being less effective on the cycle in the offensive zone, but they pulled up their socks as the series wore on.
After the game, Piccinich gave himself “a B or a B–” for his play. “It doesn’t always go great. I thought I could have been better in a lot of areas, but it is what it is. ... I guess I get an opportunity for redemption and an A+ in the next series.”
In London’s last playoff run, Piccinich’s line faced the toughest offensive matchups and succeeded in playing more often in their opponents’ zone, also effectively neutralizing talents such as the Erie Otters’ Dylan Strome, who Piccinich will undoubtedly see next series as well.
The difference is perhaps that Piccinich is now also facing more difficult defensive competition, as his line is looked upon as the top-producing line for London.
“Obviously, [I have to] start the cycle game against Erie. Against Windsor there, they’re big, hard ‘D’ so I’ve got to start finding some more success with my line.”
And what went well?
“I’d say D-zone. It was tough. The match-ups were tough. I was pretty much going up against them all series and ... to be able to shut them down the way we did ... it’s a team effort and I thought collectively, our D-zone was really good.”
Certainly, if Piccinich is going to earn a role for himself at the professional level, these are components of his game he is going to have to continue honing. And given that he he will be up against much stiffer competition on Thursday in Erie, he has his work cut out for him.
All quiet on the Bracco front
Bracco picked up a goal in Game 7, capitalizing on a bad turnover in the Knights’ zone, snapping home a great wrist shot past Knights’ goalie Tyler Parsons. Otherwise, Bracco struggled a bit to make his presence felt.
Through seven games, he tallied 5 points (2 G, 3 A) in 7 games, which is not terrible production, but still not quite the dominant play that one might have hoped for. One good stat to keep in mind: Bracco managed 26 shots in the series, tied for third most among both teams, and tied for most on his own team.
The Windsor power play often works through Montréal prospect Mikhail Sergachev, and so Bracco is somewhat less busy on the half wall. Certainly though, he had his fair share of chances to make plays, but the Knights checked him aggressively, and he found himself somewhat stifled.
Another aspect of Bracco’s game that was relatively quiet was his skating, particularly on the rush. Bracco is another player who, like NHLer Jeff Skinner, took figure skating lessons early on, and whose skating style continues to be influenced by that today. Alas, Bracco was unable to create much offensively off the rush, though perhaps it should also be noted that Windsor is not exactly a dynamic offensive team this season.
Outside the visitors’ dressing rooms the mood was tense, and Windsor did not make Bracco available for comment.