Brampton ready to do battle

Brampton Battalion defenceman John de Gray upends London Knight forward Rob Schremp in a game...

Brampton Battalion defenceman John de Gray upends London Knight forward Rob Schremp in a game earlier this season. Red-hot Brampton will attempt to unseat the defending OHL champions when the playoffs begin today. (London Free Press File/Morris Lamont)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:21 AM ET

An NHL scout who has watched more junior games than he can count yesterday offered a fairly clear assessment of the Brampton Battalion on the eve of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs.

"There are no excuses for them," the scout said. "They have good goaltending, not a spectacular group of defencemen but a solid one, and a top player in the league in Wojtek Wolski. They should at least be in the conference final."

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Taking over the OHL in the past month has resulted in large expectations for the Battalion, which plays host to the Belleville Bulls in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarter-final tomorrow night. Paced by Wolski, who led all major junior players in Canada in the second half with 97 points in 34 games, the Battalion reeled off 14 consecutive wins to end the regular season.

That included a 7-3 drubbing of the Bulls on Sunday, a victory which enabled Brampton to clinch the Central Division crown.

While director of hockey operations/coach Stan Butler has seen 24 of his players drafted in the past seven years, the most in the OHL in that span, Brampton has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs. Will this be its year?

"(An OHL championship) is what motivates me every day when I come to work," Butler said. "But the reality is there is good parity in the league and our focus right now is the Belleville Bulls. It's the best regular-season team I have had here, but we have to see how it goes in the playoffs."

Wolski, who started the year with the Colorado Avalanche, is part of one of the league's most dynamic lines with Luch Aquino and Aaron Snow. Following the trio are three more forwards -- Howie Martin, Luke Lynes and Taylor Raszka -- who also had at least 24 goals each. It's depth Butler has not had before in Brampton.

Goalie Daren Machesney, who signed with the Washington Capitals last week, will carry the load. Michael Vernace was second in scoring among OHL defencemen and big Phil Oreskovic, a Maple Leafs pick, will keep the Bulls honest.

CHALLENGE

The Battalion knows the playoffs represent a new challenge but it won't completely forget about its 14-game winning streak.

"To have that momentum is important," Wolski said. "Any expectations from other people probably match the same ones we have for ourselves.

"I don't think we feel too much pressure."

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 1 PETERBOROUGH PETES

NO. 8 OTTAWA 67'S

Season series: Petes won 6-2-0

Skinny: F Steve Downie gives Petes an element few teams have ... Experience from Memorial Cup last year could help 67's ... Rematch of 2005 conference final, a sweep by Ottawa ... 67's Julian Talbot will miss first three games after being suspended for spearing.

Prediction: Petes in six

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NO. 2 BRAMPTON BATTALION

NO. 7 BELLEVILLE BULLS

Season series: Battalion won 4-0-0

Skinny: Battalion has not lost since Feb. 16 ... Bulls all-star G Kevin Lalande is out with a knee injury ... Belleville has no punch after leading scorer John Hughes ... Bulls' penalty-killing rate second only to Kitchener ... Brampton D Phil Oreskovic had a team-record 202 penalty minutes.

Prediction: Battalion in five

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NO. 3 BARRIE COLTS

NO. 6 ST. MICHAEL'S MAJORS

Season series: Colts won 5-1-0

Skinny: Barrie leading scorer Bryan Little, carried off the ice on a stretcher against St. Mike's on Sunday, will decide after the morning skate today if he plays tonight ... Majors' Justin Donati led the OHL with 11 game-winning goals ... Dan LaCosta of the Colts is hot.

Prediction: Colts in six

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NO. 4 KINGSTON FRONTENACS

NO. 5 SUDBURY WOLVES

Season series: Wolves won 2-0-0

Skinny: Wolves' Benoit Pouliot told the Sudbury Star his team "was hoping to play Kingston" ... Sudbury was most-penalized team in OHL this season ... Kingston's Bobby Hughes should be good to go after being out since early March with an injury.

Prediction: Fronts in seven

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WESTERN CONFERENCE

NO. 1 LONDON KNIGHTS

NO. 8 SAULT STE. MARIE GREYHOUNDS

Season series: Knights won 4-0-0

Skinny: The Knights had the OHL's best power play but the Greyhounds were the least-penalized team ... London's Rob Schremp set OHL record with 38 power-play goals ... Barring an upset, this series will mark the end of junior hockey in the Soo's Memorial Gardens.

Prediction: Knights in four

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NO. 2 PLYMOUTH WHALERS

NO. 7 WINDSOR SPITFIRES

Season series: Tied 4-4-0

Skinny: The Spits won four of their final five games with Plymouth ... The Whalers finished just four points ahead of Windsor this season ... Whalers won't have RW Dan Collins (back) ... Plymouth G Justin Peters has plenty of post-season experience, all gained with St. Michael's.

Prediction: Spitfires in seven

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NO. 3 KITCHENER RANGERS

NO. 6 OWEN SOUND ATTACK

Season series: Rangers won 6-0-0

Skinny: Rangers have beaten Attack 11 games in a row ... Of 16 playoff teams, Attack struggled most in final 10 games, winning just two ... Kitchener defence corps, as a whole, probably is best in the CHL ... Rangers G Dan Turple led OHL in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.

Prediction: Rangers in five

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NO. 4 GUELPH STORM

NO. 5 SAGINAW SPIRIT

Season series: Storm won 3-1-0

Skinny: The Spirit is in the playoffs for the first time since moving from North Bay in 2002 ... Saginaw took a dip after a strong start to the season ... Guelph's Ryan Callahan is one of the OHL's better two-way forwards and was second in league at plus-29 ... Storm has an edge with G Ryan MacDonald.

Prediction: Storm in five


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