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Rangers, Generals survive and advance; Sudbury shuts out lights in Brampton: OHL post-game questions

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Tobias Rieder was the game's first star on his first day since joining the Phoenix Coyotes organization (OHL I …

Owen Sound's little big men have set the Attack up for a series clincher in Sault Ste. Marie on Easter Sunday. John Gibson has sentenced the Guelph Storm to five months of taking personal inventory. It's also next year country for the Battalion and IceDogs, although in one case it will come in a new city and in the other it's really two years and a new arena away. On with the sober second thoughts, I mean, post-game questions:

Western Conference

Kitchener 4 Guelph 2 (Rangers win 4-1) — So who should the Rangers want to face in the conference semi, London or Plymouth? Kitchener went 2-0-1-1 in the season series vs. the stacked Whalers, although the last win was on Dec. 1. It also has its recent history with Plymouth, having won the second of successive seven-game showdowns in the second round last season.

If Owen Sound advances, though, the Rangers will face the London Knights, who swept them 4-0 in the 2012 Western final. Kitchener was 2-4-0-0 against the Knights, with Gibson stopping 42-of-43 shots in one of those victories.

In the final analysis, can the Storm fall back on the reality Gibson was virtually unbeatable? That was the main series-over spin from Guelph coach Scott Walker, although he didn't do the 'calling out without naming names' thing. His leading scorers Scott Kosmachuk, Tanner Richard and Zack Mitchell combined for six points in five games.

From Josh Brown:

“It’s frustrating,” said Guelph coach Scott Walker. “It looked like sometimes we didn’t give up but you could almost sense on the bench that they just didn’t feel like they could beat him.”

Storm players were understandably dejected after the loss while shaking hands with the Rangers at centre ice. But Guelph returns a strong nucleus and should be a top team in the western conference next year.

“Our best players weren’t our best players and you’re not going to win in this league without them,” said Walker. (Waterloo Record)

Guelph Mercury beat writer Tony Saxon laid it on the line, though. Guelph has been projected to be a high-end team in 2013-14, when Kosmachuk, left wing Brock McGinn and captain Matt Finn (who missed the playoffs with a knee injury) hit their 19-year-old seasons. The potential is there but as an organization, Guelph has won six playoff games in five seasons. The London Knights, over the same stretch, have won eight playoff series and counting.

You can sugar coat it all you want, that's not success.

You can talk about how good Gibson was, how bad the refs were or what would have happened if Matt Finn were healthy. Bottom line is, the Storm wasn't good enough to beat the Kitchener Rangers. The Rangers did what it takes to win.

They might have got outplayed much of the time, they might not look like a team that could beat London or Plymouth, but they scored big goals when they had to, they leaned on their power play when chances were few and they got the big saves.

Yes, this team will return a core of solid players and has assets to trade for other ones. But they also lost arguably their top three players in [goalie Garret] Sparks, [centre Tanner] Richard and [defenceman Andrey] Pedan and have several holes to fill if they want to be a contender next season. (Saxon On The Storm)

Owen Sound 5 Sault Ste. Marie 3 (Attack lead 3-2) — Have the Attack regained the upper hand? Owen Sound, led by Dallas Stars draftee Gemel Smith (2G-2A, +3) and ex-'Hound Daniel Catenacci (2G, +3), delivered its most commanding performance of the series so far.

Each of the first four games was up for grabs with 1:30 left in the third period. The Attack had it in the vase after Smith beat Pittsburgh Penguins-drafted goalie Matt Murray shortside with 1:31 left in the second. The 'Hounds managed only six shots on Jordan Binnington over the rest of the night.

That being said, it's a Sheldon Keefe-coached team that should have a raucous Easter Sunday crowd of 4,000-plus backing it on Sunday night. The 'Hounds are from far done and shouldn't go down easily.

Eastern Conference

Sudbury 1 Brampton 0, OT (Wolves win 4-1) — What pre-series storyline was rebuffed with extreme prejudice? There was that line that the Wolves, who traded 19-year-old NHL draft picks Frank Corrado and Justin Sefton to big-market Western Conference teams in January, might be a little thin at the back.

So what happened? Eighteen-year-old first-pairing defenceman Jeff Corbett went down with an injury during the series and rookie Evan de Haan filled the vacancy and scored the series-winning overtime goal. Not bad, kid.

From Ben Leeson:

“I'm so happy for Evan,” Wolves head coach Trent Cull said. “He has done such a good job for us and really stepped up his game after the trade deadline. He got an opportunity, too, but he ran with it, so it's great to see him awarded this way.

“Evan's play, over the last month ... has really gone to another level. I hope the young man gets drafted, because he has become an integral part of this team and he deserves a lot of credit.”

So did other members of the Sudbury defence corps, including veterans like Charlie Dodero and Kevin Raine and younger players such as Cory Genovese and Conor Cummins, who split even more minutes with Jeff Corbett out injured. (The Sudbury Star)

De Haan is listed at 5-foot-11 and 150 pounds. He's probably not that slight (teenagers have a funny way of growing), but pointing that out underlines his challenge of getting NHL notice. Concern about Corbett and 18-year-old wing Brody Silk will carry over to Round 2. Sudbury faces either Barrie or Belleville.

It's probably too soon to ask, but is this result indicative that the Battalion might wish to deviate from their tried-and-true approach when they move to North Bay? This will probably be written off to, as graduating Battalion defenceman Cameron Wind put it, "losing track of our systems and what we had to do." The disruption from having Stan Butler feel the swift hand of #BranchJustice certainly was a contributor.

The things-left-unsaid is that change for change's sake might not be the worst thing here once the Troops get to the Gateway City. North Bay will pack the rink in the short run, but offering more than sound 'systems hockey' is part of the sizzle. Plus young players need something else occasionally. In any event, Sudbury looked like the team which didn't have a mental out.

Oshawa 3 Niagara 2 (Generals win series 4-1) — Will the Gens' power play, which was a sizzling 1-for-26 against the IceDogs, be a millstone in Round 2? Every team has that dry spell across a long season. Oshawa's just happened to start right when everyone reset to zero. It scored on its first extra-skater opportunity Friday when captain Boone Jenner (2G, +1) also broke his four-game drought, then it was back to bupkes.

If Oshawa hooks up with the Barrie Colts in Round 2, it will be facing a team whose regular-season penalty killing was seventh-best of the eight teams still in the hunt. That actually applies regardless of the outcomes of the two remaining series.

What can you expect next season in Niagara? IceDogs coach GM Marty Williamson promised "we’re not going to be a doormat and have a terrible year like some teams have." Realistically, the organization's energy, on and off the ice, ought to be on being ready to move into a new arena in September 2014. The ducks are in a row for a lame-duck season. Defencemen Jesse Graham and Luke Mercer and overager-to-be goaltender Chris Festarini could help with reaping a return of younger players. The youngsters from goalie Brent Moran on out are heading into their critical development years, where they need ample ice time.

Williamson has never missed the playoffs in the OHL. The Barrie Colts did have to rebuild in 2010-11 after he moved to Southern Ontario.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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