May 04, 2012
No. 1 star: Michael Houser, London Knights (OHL)
The league's most outstanding player did his utmost to give the Knights a chance to win Game 1 of the OHL final. The 19-year-old Houser made 51 saves and tracked pucks expertly amid steady pressure from the Niagara IceDogs before Dougie Hamilton ended the marathon by scoring after 29 minutes of extra time. Houser came up with some huge saves as he matched NHL first-round pick Mark Visentin (who was named first star in the arena after making 41 saves).
Houser robbed Freddie Hamilton in the third period and also made a great play with his stick in the second OT to thwart Andrew Agozzino after a turnover behind the goal. Houser also looked as calm as a man reading a newspaper in an easy chair when the Knights faced successive penalty kills in overtime against a team which has the OHL's best power play in the regular season.
It was a superlative performance by any account. There was only one goal, Agozzino's 2-1 marker in the second period, which could be put on Houser, who went down early on that play. Niagara's first goa; came on a Mitchell Theoret deflection, while Dougie Hamilton made an astute play on the winner, faking a shot to get London's Tyler Ferry to slide along the ice before using the defender as a screen.
No. 2 star: Dougie Hamilton, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
The Bostun Bruins first-rounder factored into all IceDogs scoring in their win at London, scoring the winner and also earning two assists while finishing as a +2. Hamilton played an impressive all-around game, throwing some big checks against the Knights forwards and keeping it relatively tidy in his defensive zone.
London had a great night blocking shots. Coupled with the way Houser and Visentin played, one wondered if the game would stretch into Friday morning. However, Hamilton's patience and creativity helped open a shooting lane for his heavy shot to beat Houser.
"I saw the opportunity," Hamilton said in a post-game media conference telecast on Rogers Television. "My brother [Freddie Hamilton] got the puck to me. They'd been blocking shots all game so a little pump fake and their guy [Ferry] went down. Then I just tried to put it on net and it just squeaked in the 5-hole [between Houser's pads]."
No. 3 star: Laurent Brossoit, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
Who else? Brossoit stopped 24-of-26 shots and made a big pad save on fellow Calgary Flames prospect Sven Bärtschi in the final 30 seconds to preserve Edmonton's 3-2 Game 1 win over the Portland Winterhawks.
Portland had some superb pushback in the game's final 25 minutes, even with offensive catalyst Ty Rattie out of the game after being crushed into the boards. (Rattie also missed time earlier in the playoffs with what was called a back ailment, so the situation bears monitoring, especially with no off-day before Game 2.)
Along with the late robbery of Bärtschi, Brossoit was also excellent in the second period when the Winterhawks came alive after falling into a 3-0 hole. Portland got two goals in that period, but could have had more. Who knows how the rest of the game could have unfolded.
Honourable mention: Mark Pysyk, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)
The Buffalo Sabres prospect was named the game's first star in Edmonton thanks to his work containing the Winterhawks' big guns. Bärtschi and Rattie collaborated on one goal, but that's a slow night for them. Pysyk also got the primary assist on the game's first goal when his shot deflected off the boards, off Rhett Rachinski (1G-1A) and into the net.
Edmonton got a lot of offence from its defence. Edmonton Oilers draft pick Martin Gernat, whom Portland play-by-play man Todd Vrooman believed was worthy of a star, scored a goal. Griffin Reinhart also had the primary assist on the Oil Kings' game-winner.
Honourable mention: Brett Ritchie, Niagara IceDogs (OHL)
The Dallas Stars second-round pick gave London fits in the OHL series opener. Ritchie, who assisted on the game's opening goal, played a stellar two-way game and also used his 6-foot-3 reach and his wits well to play keepaway with the Knights in the offensive zone. That might have contributed to Niagara gradually wearing down London's resistance before it finally won after nearly 30 minutes of overtime. (That's how much it takes to beat a Mark Hunterv team at home in the playoffs, eh?)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.