OHL should look at QMJHL playoff experiment
RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
|Saint John Sea Dogs forward Tomas Jurco scores a goal against Mississauga St.Michael's Majors goalie J.P. Anderson (R) during the first period of their round-robin Memorial Cup ice hockey game in Mississauga May 20, 2011. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)
Take a cue from the 'Q', Ontario Hockey League governors.
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League experimented with scrapping the conferences and divisions at playoff time this spring and it appears the early-1980s, NHL-style 1 vs. 16 format will stick around.
"It's the most fair way to do it," Saint John Sea Dogs coach Gerard Gallant said. "I know there are legitimate concerns like travel costs and school is important and you're pulling kids out for long road trips early in the playoffs. But you play all year for the No. 1 seed and the team that gets there should benefit from it."
The Sea Dogs finished first overall last season, too. But under the old divisional format, they ended up playing in the first round against a 35-win Prince Edward Island Rocket club that actually boasted the eighth-best point total in the league.
"They gave us a good run and even took a game from us at home," Saint John defenceman Nathan Beaulieu said. "It was a good series but when you work hard for that No. 1 seed, you should be able to play the No. 16 team in the playoffs.
"That should be the reward for a long regular season. We liked the way it worked this year. It was all right."
This spring, the Quebec league champion Sea Dogs swept the No. 16 Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in the first round. Because of a number of upsets, they never ended up facing anyone higher than the fifth seed and that was the team they met in the final, the Gatineau Olympiques.
One thing the 1 vs. 16 format didn't do, interestingly enough, was increase the potential for longer first-round series. None of those opening matchups went beyond five games.
"We played against Cape Breton, Victoriaville, Lewiston (Maine) and Gatineau," the Quebec league's top NHL prospect, Jonathan Huberdeau, said. "There was a lot of travel. You miss some school and we're missing school this week, too, so you're going to have to make up something like three weeks.
"But we made it here (to the Memorial Cup) and that's what you strive for all year so you make it work."
The OHL and Western league still operate with a conference playoff setup like the NHL and the NBA. But this year's OHL season provided a pretty good argument it's time for a change.
Regular-season champion Mississauga drew Eastern Conference eight-seed Belleville in the first round. The Bulls scored one goal in four games.
Had the OHL employed a 1 vs. 16 format, the Majors would've faced off against the Sarnia Sting, who missed the playoffs despite finishing nine points ahead of the Bulls in a more competitive Western Conference.