KINGSTON — The Brampton Battalion, with 13 players back from the team’s run to the Ontario Hockey League championship series last year, hold a decided edge in playoff experience over the Kingston Frontenacs.
Both sides, however, are down-playing any advantage there is to icing a more playoff-tested lineup as they prepare for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal on Friday at the K-Rock Centre.
Brampton coach Stan Butler saw his club play 21 games in last year’s playoffs, losing out 4-1 to the favoured Windsor Spitfires in the OHL championship.
Still, Butler isn’t about to say experience is a key to the best-of-seven series — the first playoff meeting between Kingston and Brampton.
“I don’t know if (experience) is that big of a factor,” said Brampton coach Stan Butler.
“If it works that way, great. But once the first game or two is done, the kids gets untracked. They warm up to the playoffs pretty quick.”
Brampton star Cody Hodgson (broken foot), whose status for Game 1 remains unknown according to Butler, has scored 17 times in 30 playoff games over his four-year Battalion career.
Forwards Sam Carrick, Scott Tanski, Thomas Stajan and Sean Jones (with Erie and Sault Ste. Marie) are all playoff veterans, too.
The Frontenacs have 11 players with playoff experience. All but one of them — Nathan Moon — picked up that experience elsewhere. Kingston hasn’t played in the post-season since 2007.
“I think it always helps to have been in the playoffs but in the end it is overrated,” said Frontenacs overager Zach Harnden, who played in two past playoffs with the Peterborough Petes.
“I don’t know if experience is going to help you win. It just might make you more prepared for the first couple of games.”
All of Kingston’s overage forwards — Joe Pleckaitis, Kingston native Kaine Geldart and Harnden — have playoff experience with other teams. In 2007, Geldart was a rookie with the Plymouth Whalers, a team that went to the Memorial Cup.
Moon was as rookie on the 2007 Kingston team that was knocked out in five games by the Oshawa Generals.
“You prepare like a regular season game but there is a lot more at stake,” said Moon.
“The atmosphere is really different. We’re playing for something. Throw everything out from the (regular) season. It’s a new season.”
Pleckaitis said even players like himself who have been in post-season play — he has played a team-leading 17 games with Saginaw and Barrie — are both excited and edgy.
“The legs are going to be shaky at the start. Once you’ve done a few shifts, then you are really into it,” said Pleckaitis, who has played very well since being picked up at the trade deadline by the Frontenacs.
He said the team focus is different in a playoff series.
“It’s one game plan. We’re working on every weakness (Brampton) has so we can capitalize,” Pleckaitis said.
“We’re working hard on our power play. Speciality teams pretty much make or break you in the playoffs.”
Butler said the biggest determining factor in a playoff series is goaltending.
“You need to have good goaltending. That and having players performing at the level they are capable of playing,” Butler said.
Both goaltenders, Patrick Killeen of Brampton and Kingston’s Tyler Beskorowany, have played less than 30 minutes of playoff hockey.
Beskorowany said the playoffs can be the stage when a role player can become a star player.
“Playoffs is where it counts. Playoffs are what could make or break someone’s career. I think a lot of guys are looking for that kind of experience,” Beskorowany said.
Michael Fine, second on the Frontenacs in playoff game seniority with 14 games from the 2008 playoffs with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, remembers how he approached his first playoffs two years ago.
“You listen to what the older guys say and what they do out there. It’s always good to have a guy that’s been through it,” Fine said.
Harnden said the sense of urgency to games is what drives the playoff excitement in players.
“Games matter now. You play until you have to go home,” Harnden said.
“Every game is way more important and the guys are way more excited.”
Kingston Frontenacs forward Nathan Moon has tied a franchise record by leading the team in scoring for the third straight season.
Moon finished with 69 points, the lowest number to lead the team since Anthony Stewart’s 67 points in the 2004-05 season.
Moon had 77 points in 2007-08 and 72 last season.
Moon joined Colin Chaulk (1996 to 1998) as the only other three-time scoring champion in the Kingston club’s history.
Elsewhere, the Windsor Spitfires’ Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin of the Plymouth Whalers finished in a tie for the league scoring title.
It's the first time there has been a tie in that race since Jack Valiquette of Sault Ste. Marie and Rick Adduono of St. Catharines drew for top spot in 1973-74 — and just the third tie overall.
Hall, a Kingston minor hockey graduate and a favourite to be the first player selected in June’s NHL Entry Draft, held a one-point lead over Seguin going into Sunday’s final day of play. Windsor already was done its schedule, with Hall finishing with 106 points in 57 games.
Seguin, who played 63 games, scored a goal, his 48th of the season, at 19:34 of the third period in a 4-1 Plymouth loss to the Saginaw Spirit. It was his 106th point.