Mitch Marner hopes to celebrate his birthday in style.
The Knights star and co-captain turns 19 Thursday and would like nothing better than to beat the Niagara Ice Dogs in the first game of the OHL Championship Series.
Marner leads all playoff scorers with 37 points in 14 games. London’s top line of Marner, Matthew Tkachuk and Christian Dvorak has been the best in the league in the playoffs. Marner, Tkachuk and Dvorak are 1-2-3 in playoff scoring.
Marner said he enjoys playing with Tkachuk.
“A lot of players hate him around the league and he’s the kind of guy you wish you had on your team, luckily enough me and Christian are the ones that have him on our line, he’s been better since the first day and he keeps getting better.”
On Tuesday, Marner won the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding player. Marner finished third in league scoring with 39 goals and 77 assists in 57 games.
The London Knights enter the series as the heavy favourites, and on paper it looks like it could be another sweep. London finished the regular season with 28 more points than Niagara, won 16 more games, scored 106 more goals and allowed 16 fewer goals.
However, Knights coach Dale Hunter said he’s not taking anything for granted.
“They’ve got a good team, just like us, good goaltending and solid D and good scoring so it should be a real interesting series.”
This series will feature the top two goaltenders in the playoffs.
Tyler Parsons leads all playoff goalies with a 2.27 goals against average and a .924 save percentage. He was named the CHL’s goaltender of the week after he went 2-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .964 save percentage in the final two games against Erie.
Niagara’s Alex Nedeljkovic ranks second behind Parsons in the playoffs with a 2.33 goals against average and a .918 save percentage.
Hunter said Niagara is playing well.
“You see video, you see how Niagara is playing, they’re playing well, they’ve won eight straight. We know how good Kingston and Barrie is, we played them during the year and they’re solid clubs. To beat them four straight, Niagara is hitting on all cylinders right now.”
Neither team has lost a game since the first round of the playoffs. Niagara’s win streak actually stands at ten games, while London has won nine in a row.
London and Niagara split the two games they played in the regular season, each team won at home.
Marner said they can’t take the Ice Dogs lightly.
“We’ve just got to be ready to come play every night. They’ve had the series we’ve had, they’ve been playing real hot recently. We’ve just got to be ready for them to come out and play hard against us.”
The Knights will be chasing their fourth OHL title. The last time they won the league title, in 2013, was the last time they made the OHL final. The Knights previously won the league championship in 2005 and 2012.
Game one of the series will be Thursday night at 7 p.m., game two will be Saturday night in London.
Game 1, Thurs., May 5 Niagara at London, 7:00
Game 2, Sat., May 7 Niagara at London, 7:00
Game 3, Mon., May 9 London at Niagara, 7:00
Game 4, Wed., May 11 London at Niagara, 7:00
Game 5, Fri., May 13 Niagara at London, 7:30*
Game 6, Sun., May 15 London at Niagara, 2:00*
Game 7, Mon., May 16 Niagara at London, 7:00*