Opening as heavy underdogs heading into their Western Conference Semifinal series against the London Nationals, the LaSalle Vipers will be encouraged by the fact that they have gone through the rigours of playoff hockey.
The Vipers overcame much adversity in their first-round series win over the Chatham Maroons, coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to set up the semifinal matchup with the four-time defending Western Conference champion Nationals for the second straight year. In their first-round series, the Nationals swept the Sarnia Legionnaires but were surprisingly pushed in the first two games of the series by a physical and aggressive Sarnia team.
Last year, the Nationals bounced the Vipers in the second round in five games en route to a fourth straight conference crown, and if the regular-season is any indication, they are clear-cut favourites to do it again. The top-seeded Nationals won all six regular-season games against the Vipers, out-scoring them 29-12 in the process. The closest meeting came in a late November game in LaSalle that London took by a 5-4 score, but the other games were all lopsided in the Nationals favour.
London boasts firepower up and down their lineup, led by reigning Western Conference Player of the Year Cal Davis who was the only player in all of the GOJHL this season to hit 100 points. He is joined by fellow overage forwards Max Vinogradov (87 pts) and Michael Boushy (76 pts) who spearhead the most potent offense in the league.
On the blueline, the team got an incredible source of offense from 16-year-old defenseman Logan Mailloux who was the highest-scoring rearguard in the conference with a whopping 18 goals and 68 points in 48 games played. Familiar in Windsor-Essex hockey circles, Mailloux is a Lakeshore native who was drafted in the second-round of the 2019 OHL Priority Selection by the London Knights and surely would have played this season in the league had he been selected by most other teams. In goal, the Nationals feature former Windsor Spitfire Brock Baier whom they acquired at the trade deadline.
Losing a key piece in their lineup in Spencer Paradis in Game 7 against Chatham, the Vipers will need their young players to continue to step up and help out the likes of veteran leaders such as Jack Bowler, Evan Ferguson, Abdul Abouzeeni and Brad Vincent who were integral to the team’s first-round series win.
Game 1 in the best-of-seven series is scheduled for Wednesday night in London with a 7:00 PM start time.