The similarities between the London Nationals and the Waterloo Siskins are uncanny.
The closely matched GOJHL conference champions open their Sutherland Cup final series Thursday night at Western Fair Sports Centre and it promises to be a tight and entertaining series.
“To me, it’s like looking in the mirror,” Nationals head coach and general manager Pat Powers said. “They’re a veteran team, they like to play offence, they push the pace of the game and they are a good, physical, big, big team. I think they are very similar to what we are and it will definitely be a tough challenge for us.”
Waterloo coach Todd Hoffman expects a similar series to the Siskins’ Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League semifinal where his team defeated the Golden Horseshoe champion Niagara Fall Canucks in six games.
“(The Nationals) have a mature hockey club, just like ours,” Hoffman said. “They are a team that wants to dictate the pace. . . . We just have to make sure we make the necessary adjustments . . . against them.”
Hoffman, in his fourth season with the Siskins, said that, like the Nationals, his team’s greatest strengths are its speed, size and depth.
“I’m a coach that runs four lines and I expect my four lines to compete, and I also believe that London is a team that’s going to run four lines so it will be a really competitive series,” said the father of Florida Panthers right-winger Mike Hoffman.
The two fast and physical junior B teams also play on Olympic-size ice surfaces at their home rinks — Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex and Western Fair Sports Centre in London.
“Both teams are going to be familiar with the ice, which, again, will make it a very exciting series with a lot of speed,” Hoffman said.
The Nationals have won four straight Western Conference championships and this is their third trip to the Sutherland Cup final in four seasons.
The Nats won their only Cup in 2013 under coach Kelly Thomson, who died Sunday at 34.
The last two Sutherland Cup champions have come out of the Midwestern Conference — the Listowel Cyclones won in 2018 and the Elmira Sugar Kings beat the Nationals for the 2017 title. London lost to the Caledonia Corvairs in 2016.
The Nationals beat the Cyclones in six games to advance to the league championship series, but struggled to score against the rebuilding semifinal wild-card entry.
Powers said he expects more consistent offence from players like captain Kyle Dawson, Josh Castle, Cohen Kiteley, Wes Dobbin and Adam Keyes against Waterloo.
“Our top guys have got be our top guys,” Powers said. “Those guys I think played a really good series against Listowel, as all of our forwards did, but I don’t think our scoring was where it should have been.
“Any success we had against Listowel was because we were able to get inside in those dangerous scoring areas and produce. If we don’t play true playoff hockey and battle to get to those dirty, greasy goal-scoring areas, it’s hard to generate goals.”
Siskins starting goaltender Matt Onuska could make scoring even more difficult for the Nats. The six-foot-three 17-year-old Waterloo native is 16-3 so far in the playoff with a .918 save percentage.
Former National and London Junior Knight Alex Cimino is the Siskins captain and anchors their blue-line.
Powers said the Nats will also have to keep Sam Cherry, Alex Lycett and former Corvair Owen Lane in check. Cherry leads the Siskins with 11 goals and 22 assists in 23 playoff games.
SUTHERLAND CUP FINAL
Waterloo Siskins vs. London Nationals
Game 1:Thursday at Western Fair Sports Centre in London, 7 p.m.
Game 2:Sunday at Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3:Wednesday, May 1, at Western Fair Sports Centre in London, 7 p.m.
Game 4:Thursday, May 2, at Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, 7:30 p.m.
Game 5:Saturday, May 4, at Western Fair Sports Centre in London, 7 p.m., if necessary
Game 6:Sunday May 5, at Waterloo Memorial Recreation Complex, 1:30 p.m., if necessary
Game 7:Wednesday, May 8, at Western Fair Sports Centre in London, 7 p.m., if necessary