Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Reaching for a Championship

While Ranger fans are understandably upset over the Ranger's loss to the Capitals in Game 7 ending the Ranger season; our season is still far from over as not one but two Ranger prospects are about to play for their respective league championships.

Evgeny Grachev leads his Brampton Battalion against the Windsor Spitfires in what should be a very entertaining OHL final series. The series will be getting underway with Game one on Wednesday evening in Windsor.

While Ranger fans know the exploits of Grachev, the Battalion are a lot more than that as a team as well as Coach Stan Butler. The Battalion are actually led by Cody Hodgson (2008 1st Vancouver) who was announced as the winner of the Red Tilson Trophy for the 2008-09 season.

The award is presented to the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player of the Year as selected by the writers and broadcasters that cover the league. We know because that is who we voted for in this award as no other player in the OHL reflected a win to win than Hodgson did.

During the OHL playoffs getting to watch Hodgson on the same line as Grachev has been such a guilty pleasure because these two of a big part of the NHL's future. Toss in Matt Duchene who should be the third player taken in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft as well as goalie Thomas McCollum who the Red Wings used their first round pick on.

That is 3 sure NHL first round picks as well as Grachev who was a third round pick only because of political issues between the NHL and the Russian Hockey Federation regarding transfer agreements. This is a very talented team who has come together over the last couple of months going 12-4 during the playoffs.

The Battalion are going to face the team that finished the OHL regular season with the best record in the Windsor Spitfires. The Spitfires were also been the top ranked team in the CHL Top Ten poll as the only team in the CHL to be ranked in all 24 polls.

Windsor would be a team for us to root for if they were not facing the Battalion. Coached by former NHLer Bob Boughner (who also is team president and part of the ownership group) and run by another former NHLer Warren Rychel at GM.

The Spitfires in our eyes are one of the best run teams in all of junior hockey; we are talking a first class organization in every area possible (check out their website for example here). We first got to pay attention to the Spitfires last season after their team captain Mickey Renaud passed away suddenly during the season.

Since then we have watch as this is a team built to win today as well as tomorrow starting with a player we have been saying will be the first pick in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft Taylor Hall. Hall is a 6 left wing who finished the OHL regular season 6th in scoring at 38-52-90 but has turned it up during the OHL playoffs as the leading scorer at 11-16-27 in 15 games.

The Spitfire also have defenseman Ryan Ellis (3rd 8-19-27), right wing Dale Mitchell (4th 12-14-26), and a old teammate of Grachev's in center
Andrei Loktionov (6th 6-18-24) to provide offense. Two players to keep an eye on are Eric Wellwood (9-9-18) who quietly has been a clutch scorer for the Spitfires and Greg Nemisz (8-7-15) a 6'4 201 right wing we expect to see matching up against Grachev.

The Spitfires are the highest scoring team in the OHL during both the regular season as well as the playoffs; the Battalion during the playoffs have been able to score just as much. Both teams like to play a physical game when need be but both play clean.

The difference in this series is going to come down to who gets the better goaltending as the Battalion's McCollum was the 2nd best goalie during the OHL regular season; Windsor goalie Andrew Engelage finished 3rd.

However during the OHL playoffs, McCollum has stay close to his regular season numbers, Engelage has slipped even though the Spitfires have advanced. Which ever goalie can do the better job, which ever team can limit the damage on the power play is going to win this series.

Our hearts want to see Grachev and the Battalion win this series and advance to the Memorial Cup to give Ranger fans a winner for the season.

Our logic has watched the Spitfires just run over everyone and winning their conference championship over London where every game went to overtime.

Call it a gut feeling but Evgeny Grachev is once again the key to the Battalion hopes, as good as he has played so far we believe that there is still more that Godzilla can do. So far Grachev has had to watch others win championships like the World Juniors and we think he is tired of losing.

If Grachev keeps scoring then the Battalion will win this series in 6 games and give him his championship. If he stops then the Battalion are in big trouble.

We find out starting Wednesday night.

(Grachev courtesy of the Brampton Battalion)

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