Holden Looks at the Playoff Pictures

Hello again, hockey fans! Unfortunately, the Monsters are not in the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs. That will be a priority next season for all of us! As for this season, I will still be closely following the playoffs and will be writing some columns and giving you my observations throughout the entire playoff season. There is nothing like playoff hockey! Let's get started with my thoughts on the opening round and we'll start in a familiar territory, the Western Conference.

Up first, you have the Western Conference Champion Hamilton Bulldogs facing the Manitoba Moose in the one vs. four matchup in the North Division Semifinals. We saw a lot of these two teams throughout the season. Personally, I think the Monsters would have done very well against Hamilton in this series based on the way the Monsters played Hamilton on the road, winning three of four games at Copps Coliseum during the regular season.

Here's what I like about Hamilton: They have two very good goaltenders in Cedrick Desjardins and Curtis Sanford. Both guys were near the top of the AHL in goaltending all season long and, for me, the playoffs are all about getting great goaltending. That is what wins you games in crunch time.

As for Manitoba, they have some skill up front and they have three-time Stanley Cup Champion Mike Keane, who won the Stanley Cup in Montreal, Colorado and Dallas. He gives the Moose another important ingredient at playoff time, leadership. Something else the Moose have is Cory Schnieder. To me, this kid is a number one goalie at the NHL level but is stuck behind Roberto Luongo in the Canucks system. Never the less, Schnieder is an amazing talent who could win a series on his own. Now with all of that said, I still like Hamilton to win this series in six games.

In the other North Division series, it's the Rochester Americans getting home ice advantage against the Abbotsford Heat, a team that really likes to work down low and grind out games. We faced both teams eight times in the regular season and faired very well against Rochester. The Americans just received a boatload of players back from Florida so they could end up being a tough out for Abbotsford.

Abbotsford, on the other hand, seems to be able to use their strength in the corners and along the walls to earn points. The Heat have also proven they can win on the road. They went 8-1 on a nine-game road trip during February and, to me, that was what got them into the playoffs. Abbotsford also has a lot of size and skill on their blue line and I think that's going to be too much for Rochester to handle. I like Abbotsford to win this series in six games.

In the West Division you have Chicago facing Milwaukee in the one vs. four matchup. Travel in this series couldn't be better for the two teams. It's only an hour or so bus ride between the Wolves arena, which is literally right across the freeway from O'Hare Airport, and the Bradley Center in downtown Milwaukee.

These two teams know each other very well and, like Abbotsford, Milwaukee will try and win this series with their ability to play down low and along the walls. To me, however, Chicago has too much firepower and experience in these situations. Jason Krog, Darren Haydar's former Chicago teammate and college teammate at the University of New Hampshire, and Brett Sterling are absolute snipers. Krog is a great player with excellent vision and toughness and an ability to make big things happen in crunch time. I like Chicago to win this series in five games.

The other series in the West Division will feature Texas getting the home ice advantage against the Rockford IceHogs, a team that is big up front and very tough to play against. In talking with quite a few of our players, they have mentioned how tough Rockford is to play against because their forwards up front are big, thick, strong and skilled. Guys like Jack Skille, a former first round NHL draft pick, Jake Dowell, Bryan Bickell and Kyle Greentree are all players with big time goal-scoring ability. They can all play a very physical, game-changing type of hockey that is so important this time of the season.

Texas is a tough team to play against. They like to try and lock you down up the middle. They like to get a lead and try to close down in their own end with solid and smart defensive play. I must say, they are pretty good at it and they have some very good goaltending as well.

Speaking of good goaltending, how about Corey Crawford of the Rockford IceHogs? This guy is one of the best I've seen in the AHL. In my opinion, he deserves to be in the NHL. I like Rockford to win this series in seven games.

Over in the Eastern Conference, I think everyone will be going with the Hershey Bears, myself included! The Bears have a loaded roster with all the key pieces needed to make a Calder Cup run once again. We only faced Hershey and Syracuse twice in the Eastern Conference this season, so it's fair to say I have not seen much of the other teams in the East.

I will start with the Eastern Conference Champions from Hershey. They will face Bridgeport, a team that likes to mix it up and take a lot of penalties. If they do that against Hershey, the Bears will make quick work of the Tigers with their lethal power play. I like Hershey in five games in this series. They just have too much depth and skill on their roster.

From what I saw this season, the Worcester Sharks have a very good team. Alex Stalock, their rookie goaltender from Minnesota-Duluth, has been nothing short of amazing. He won close to 40 games in the regular season for the Sharks. They also have some guys that can light it up offensively. I think they will take out Lowell in a six-game series win.

Manchester and Portland should also be a really good series. I think that's going to be a long series and I will take Manchester to win in seven games.

And in the final series in the East it's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the Baby Pens, facing Albany. Like the Manchester vs. Portland series, I think this one will go long. The Baby Pens have a lot of the same players they had two years ago when they made it to the Calder Cup finals only to lose to the Wolves. I like the goaltending the Baby Pens have and as I've said before, goaltending is what wins games this time of the season.

Enjoy the games, I know I will. I’m looking forward to it and I will be giving updates, observations and thoughts throughout the Calder Cup playoffs.

Sincerely,

Ben Holden

Click Here to read Ben Holden's thoughts on the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

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