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London’s OHL MVP & Championship Series Preview

May 3, 2012

Not long after being named the OHL’s top goaltender of the year, it wasn’t surprising that London Knights goalie, Michael Houser, would also be in the running for the Red Tilson award for league MVP. Not only was Houser in the running, but he would outstrip his rivals  by 18 pts; Michael Sgarbossa, Sudbury Wolves, 76 pts; Tyler Toffoli, Ottawa 67’s and78 pts; Mark Visentin, Niagara IceDogs, receiving 30 first place votes. And why shouldn’t he win?  This season, all Houser has done is win.

He’s only the 5th Knight to win the award after, most recently, Corey Perry (’05) of the Anaheim Ducks.  Being only the 5th goalie and 3rd American player overall puts him in very heady junior company. Especially when you consider his inauspicious beginnings.

Houser came to the Knights as an undrafted free agent after the Hunters took a look at him and invited him to join the team.  Three years later and he’s the centrepiece of the Knights’ regular season and key to their playoff run.  Without his stellar goaltending, its uncertain how the otherwise deep team would fare.  After Houser, there is Tyson Teichmann and Jake Patterson (two ‘t’s), neither of whom has the depth of experience required to take a team deep into the playoffs.

Looking forward, there is more to come, starting with the OHL Championship series against the Niagara IceDogs and their own stellar goaltender, Mark Visentin.

The series to determine which team represents the OHL at the Memorial Cup starts Thursday 3 May 2012 and will likely prove to be a goaltender’s battle.  Visentin is a veteran of two World Junior Championships (2011, 2012), was  named the OHL’s top goaltender in 2011 and was drafted in the first round, 27th overall, by the Phoenix Coyotes in 2010. By comparison, Houser went undrafted by both the OHL and NHL, was passed over by Team USA for the WJC, but was named the OHL’s 2012 top goaltender.

Niagara has 5 members from the 2012 edition of Team Canada, while London has 1, plus 1 from Team USA and 1 from Team Finland.  Both teams are deep with veterans and skill, with a certain degree of sandpaper in the mix. Each have strong defensive cores, from the IceDogs’ recently named OHL Defenceman of the Year, Dougie Hamilton to the Knights’ runner up, Scott Harrington.  It will be up to the depth players to continue to put up numbers for their teams while the stars see a lot of those two.

Head to head, the teams only played each other twice, with London winning early in the season when the IceDogs were struggling and Niagara winning later in February.  The Knights and IceDogs had started their seasons going in the opposite directions, with the Knights having a strong start and the IceDogs gathering ground in the second half after a poor start.  Both have faced some adversity in the playoffs, but sport nearly identical records of 12-2 (London) and 12-3 (Niagara).  With two such similar teams in build and progress, it will be the goalies and footmen that will determine the winner.

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