Monthly Archives: May 2022

Heritage Lives: The Fort Erie Race Train

By Terry Hughes

Today, we are offered a variety of games of chance, lotteries  and other forms of gambling. Back in 1947 there were only two recognized opportunities to gamble. Either you were purchasing Irish Sweepstakes tickets which were illegal or betting on the Sport of Kings which was horse racing! So with Buffalo’s Coney Island at Crystal Beach and the race track nearby, Fort Erie was the place to be.

The car is an important method of travel today but after the Second World War, not so much. Although there was a growing need to have a car back then, the roads of the day were not conducive to long distance travel. The Queen Elizabeth Way ended at Niagara Falls from Toronto and most provincial roads followed concession or county boundaries. That meant a lot of ninety degree turns. Some of our rural roads still follow that pattern.

In order to reach Fort Erie, you took the train. It was quite common for industries and companies to hire a train to carry their employees to Crystal Beach Amusement Park eg. Procter and Gamble from Hamilton and  Atlas Steels from Welland. Although regarded as a ramshackle operation before being taken over by E.P. Taylor in 1952, for two weeks in the summer Fort Erie was important, particularly with the running of the Prince of Wales Stakes. So CNR would run every day an all air conditioned train from Toronto with a parlour car for those who needed to quench their thirst on their way to the race track.  

The train would not encounter any major obstacles until it reached Merritton. Here, all traffic headed down to the south of the peninsula had to tackle the toughest grade on the entire railway, having to climb the Niagara Escarpment parallel to the flight locks on the Welland Canal at a  2.8 % grade..

 In order to get tonnage up this grade required a helper engine as an assist for extra power. In our first photo a freight train has reached the top of the escarpment and is crossing Bridge 10 over the canal. The helper engine has dropped off and made its way down the escarpment to assist the Race Train. Here we see the helper preparing to couple on to the passenger engine and slog up the hill. Having reached the top of the gradient, the helper engine returned to Merritton Station to await its next assignment while the passenger train follows the freight train across the canal at Thorold.

As the train passes through the south of Welland and its line of factories such as the Electro-Metals pictured here, the sky is nearly white from the extreme humidity and the smoke from nearby ovens rises straight into the sky. 

In our next photo, we reach Welland Junction or Dain City and swing down the Cayuga Sub to Fort Erie. As we pass through the next photo shows a T.H.& B. freight engine switching the trackage and later, moving on to Port Colborne.

Our last photo shows the lead passenger car of the train uncoupled from the engine. The road engine has moved off to the coaling station for servicing. This model of the coaling station was scratch-built like most of the structures and in real life, it serviced 800 engines every month.

The Race Train would return to Toronto after the last race at 5:30 pm.

Note: The photos for this Heritage Lives feature are of the author’s model train layout.

Next:  Heritage Lives in Pictures – a swing bridge over the old canals.      

(Terry  Hughes is a Wellander who is passionate about heritage, history and model railroading. His opinion column, Heritage Lives, appears on the blog once or twice monthly.)

Barky’s Billboard

(Please support/attend this deserving community event!)

Coming to watch and cheer athletes and crews racing at the 2022 South Niagara Invitational on Saturday May 21st? Here is a map and some parking information to help. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE take lots of pictures and tag us #rowsnrc and #SNInvite2022

(Barky’s Billboard is a recurring feature on the blog)

Here We Grow Again!

LIV Communities to develop the Northern Reach lands with residential and commercial units, enhanced access to canal trails and Merritt Island

WELLAND  – The lands known as the Northern Reach, situated to the west of the recreational canal from Woodlawn Road north to Merritt Road, will be developed by LIV Communities.

Welland City Council confirmed LIV Communities would develop the nearly 62 hectares of waterfront property in the city with between 3,800 and 4,500 residential units. The development will contain a mixed-use residential and a commercial block that features outdoor patio areas with a canal and park views.  

“This development will showcase our city’s natural beauty along the canal.,” said Steve Zorbas, CAO. “With splash pads, playgrounds, washrooms, and more in the central and neighbourhood parks, our community is afforded some wonderful amenities to enjoy and get active; we’re excited to see LIV’s vision come to life.”

LIV Communities will develop a gateway feature in the area where the proposed pedestrian-inspired Market Street connects with the designed shared street. This area will include traffic calming features and low-speed limits leading to a central park. Also included are splash pads, playgrounds, public washrooms, and more in the park areas. Dock launch stations for non-motorized watercraft will also be included.

Additionally, the developer will create road and pedestrian connections to existing city infrastructure and the Seaway Mall and improve street networks and accessibility, resulting in greater connectivity to the Canal Trail system for neighbours west of the Northern Reach. A major connection in the development includes the pedestrian bridge from Merritt Island to the Seawall Mall area.

LIV Communities will also work with the City to explore the feasibility of a potential beach area or alternate public swimming feature adjacent to the Canal Trail to further animate and complement the recreational canal.  

As a community partner, LIV Communities will contribute $50,000 per year for 10 years for the naming right to a City-owned Facility.

Zorbas

“This development will showcase our city’s natural beauty along the canal,” said Steve Zorbas, CAO.

(Attribution: City of Welland news release)

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Battles Of Florida, Alberta Share Round 2 Top Billing

By WAYNE REDSHAW

   Round one of the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs is in the books and round two begins on two fronts tonight.

   Looking back on the first round I was six-for-eight which is not bad considering my record from previous years. I had Toronto winning over Tampa Bay in seven games but it was the Lightning emerging the winners in game seven as they put on quite a defensive clinic and hung on for a narrow 2-1 victory to send the Leafs packing after another first round exit.

    The other series where I was wrong was the Minnesota Wild – St. Louis Blues series. I said they were two evenly matched teams and they were, but Blues veterans delivered and that was the difference in the end.

   Now, a look at the second round match-ups.

Lightning vs Panthers

  This is a series that could go the limit as they are two evenly matched teams. During the regular season  in four meetings, both teams won twice. Overall, the Panthers, who finished first overall, outscored the Bolts  by a 19-15 margin.

    Goaltending is superior for both teams. Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky played a key role in the opening round against Washington. At the other end, the Tampa Bay’s Andrew Vasilevskiy  appeared to yield some soft goals early in that series but Vasilevskiy delivered in overtime in game six and was superb in game seven against the Leafs. That’s the way the Russian-born performed the past two seasons in helping Tampa Bay win back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. He’ll have to come up big again if the Lightning are to advance.

   On defence, I think you have to give a slight edge to the Lightning led by Victor Hedman. He has good supporting staff with the likes of Erik Cernak, Ryan McDonagh and Michael Sergachev. The Panthers have Aaron Ekblad as their blueline leader.

   Up front, I feel the Panthers have a little more fire power with Aleksander Barkov,  Claude Giroux, Sam Bennett, Anthony Declair and Sam Reinhardt. And don’t forget Carter Verhaeghe, who played for the Bolts last year. He got the opportunity to play in South Florida and he delivered including two overtime winners against the Capitals in the last series.

    On the Lightning side, Nikita Kucherov led the way against Toronto and he will need to come up big again if the Lightning are to advance. Steven Stamkos has a booming shot and scored against Toronto. However he needs to get more of his shots on the net rather than blasting  high and wide. Corey Perry played well in the series opener as did Anthony Corelli, Andrej Platt and Ross Colton. The big question mark is Braydon Point, he is questionable tonight because of a lower body injury when he fell into the boards in game seven against the Leafs. He only scored one goal but it came in overtime in game six to prolong the series. If he is out that leaves a big hole in Tampa’s offence.

    This series could be a “homer series” so I give the edge to the Panthers.

   Prediction: Panthers in seven games.

Rangers vs Hurricanes

This could be a goaltenders series. Igor Shesterkin carried New York during the regular series and he’ll have to come up big again if they are to advance. Meanwhile, Aniti Raanta was solid for the Hurricanes against  the Boston Bruins.

    While  the Hurricanes finished ahead of the Rangers during the regular season if the Rangers can get a split in the first two games of this series that could become a big factor in the series.

    I like the Rangers forwards units better than the Canes with the likes of Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, Anthony Panarin and Ryan Strome.

  Carolina has some quality forwards led by Sebastian Aho but they are thin compared to New York. Where the Hurricanes have a slight edge is on the blueline. The Rangers have Adam Fox but I like Tony DeAngelo and Jaccob Slavin for the Canes.

   Specialty teams for both teams should also be a big part in the series. Who draws fewer penalties should be a key.

Prediction: Rangers in six games

Oilers vs Flames

    It is billed as the Battle of Alberta  and it should be just that. Look for a very physical series from start to finish.

   Calgary finished first ahead of Edmonton to get the home ice advantage. But that advantage could go out the window fast unless they can contain the Oilers’ Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. That’s going to be a big chore as McDavid with his size and ability and Draisaitl with his scoring touch literally destroyed the Los Angeles Kings.

   In my books the Oilers are far superior to the Flames. What Calgary will have to do is get more traffic in front of Oilers goalie Mike Smith and create some scoring chances. But to accomplish that first the Flames must find a way to stop McDavid and company from getting in their territory.. if they can’t then Calgary’s chances are slim.

   The bottom line –  the Flames need lots of production from the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Elias Lindholm and Matthew Tkachuk to get to the next round. And goalie Jacob Markstrom has to find a way to come really big. Calgary has the edge between the pipes as I am not sold on the Oilers’ Mike Smith.

Prediction: Oilers in six games

Blues vs Avalanche

   The Colorado Avalanche had a cake-walk in the first round against Nashville so they are well-rested. This round with the St. Louis Blues don’t look for a sweep but the Avs should prevail in the end.

    St. Louis, who finished 10 points back of  Colorado will have a battle on their hands. Up front, they are led by Ryan O’Reilly, David Perron and Vladimir Tarasenko. Jordan Bennington, who took over the goaltending chores for the Blues against Minnesota in game four and won three straight will have to remain red hot if the Blues are to advance.

    I simply like Colorado more, especially with the likes of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen up front and Cale Makar solid on defence. And with the sweep over Nashville, that enabled goalie Darcy Kuemper to recover from an eye injury. He should be good to go.

Prediction:  Avs in six games.

(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of the FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)

Mayor Campion’s Statement On The Passing Of Distinguished Wellander Douglas H. Rapelje

Doug Rapelje/Supplied photo

As mayor of the City of Welland, I, along with the community, mourn the loss of Doug Rapelje, who passed away last week (Wednesday, May 5). Doug was a highly respected member of the community and will be deeply missed.

As an advocate, Doug served as Director of the Senior Citizens Department of the Niagara Region for 44 years until his retirement in 1995. Beyond his working years, Doug continued to advocate for seniors in Niagara.

In Welland, one of the Region’s long-term care homes is named the Rapelje Lodge, a fitting recognition for a man who worked tirelessly to upgrade care for seniors through programs such as respite care, home care, and meals on wheels.

Beyond the care, Doug was instrumental in our city receiving the Ontario Age-Friendly Community Recognition Award and funding for 10 new hospice beds here in Welland.

The accolades that we could pile on Doug are as notable as they are many, and for many reasons, he will be missed in our community and beyond. As someone who cared so deeply for his community, the impact of this loss has reverberated through Niagara.
Doug’s legacy will live on, and those whose lives he touched will not forget his work.

Our condolences are with the Rapelje family during this time of loss.

In honour of Doug, flags were lowered on May 12.

Frank Campion
Mayor
City of Welland

Teaching Distillery Captures Two Golds, One Bronze At U.S. Open Whiskey And Spirits Championship

Emma Cuthbert holds a bottle of Twisted Berry Gin, which recently won a gold medal at the U.S. Open Whiskey and Spirits Championship. Last year, as an Artisan Distilling student, she and her classmates created the spirit for their capstone project./Supplied photo

They say it’s an honour just to be nominated, but Niagara College student Emma Cuthbert didn’t even know she was in the running.

So it was a pleasant surprise when Cuthbert opened her email recently to see a message from Niagara College head distiller David Dickson. He informed her that the Twisted Berry Gin that she and her Artisan Distilling program classmates created last year for their capstone project was a winner at the 2022 U.S. Open Whiskey and Spirits Championship.

“I didn’t actually know that it was entered,” Cuthbert said. “I got the email from Dave at the distillery saying that we won gold. It was just kind of a shock.”

The U.S. Open Whiskey and Spirits Championship ranks the best distilleries, whiskeys and spirits among entries it receives from across the United States and Canada. Winners were announced in mid-April.

Twisted Berry Gin earned one of two gold medals that NC’s Teaching Distillery was awarded at the championship. While Twisted Berry Gin won gold in the Gin Flavored /Infused category, NC’s Chocolate Porter Liqueur won gold in the Flavored Whiskey category.

The Teaching Distillery also took home a bronze in the Dark Rum/Gold/Barrel-aged Rum category for its Dark Rum.

Cuthbert said she and the others in her group wanted to make a gin for their capstone project so they could experiment with different applications of botanicals. One of their initial thoughts was to include berries.

“When it came to the recipe development of the gin itself, we wanted it to be good on its own, but also have characteristics that would highlight the different flavours of the berries,” said Cuthbert, who graduated from the Artisan Distilling program last year and is now finishing up NC’s Beverage Business Management program. “It was really cool to see how little tweaks in just the amount of botanicals made a difference in the final product.

“When we were deciding on what berries to use, we did a lot of extractions at home, just to kind of test out what flavours we thought we were going to like the best and [to try] different flavour combinations.”

Twisted Berry Gin is an unsweetened gin infused with raspberries, strawberries and blueberries, giving it a natural sweetness that can be used in different cocktails and paired well.

Cuthbert said the recipe was supposed to use blackberries—not blueberries—but when the group tasted the extraction, it wasn’t anything like what they were expecting. So they replaced the blackberries and found that the substitution enhanced the flavours of the other two berries.

Finding the perfect balance is what made the project the most fun.

“The creative aspect was the most enjoyable—trying to figure out how much of each of the extractions we were going to use,” Cuthbert said. “The recipe development for the gin itself…was what we thought was going to be a challenge, but it actually ended up working out very well. The berries aspect was the most challenging.”

This is the third year NC has entered at least one spirit for judging and has won at least one medal each time, Dickson said. Last year, the Teaching Distillery won a bronze for its Spirits 101 Ambrosia. In 2020, it won a bronze for its School Spirits Small Batch Rum.

Chocolate Porter Liqueur—the second of this year’s gold-winning spirits—got its inspiration from the Teaching Distillery’s Southern Hospitality bourbon-style spirit. The recipe was modified to include specialty grains, including Pale Chocolate Malt and cocoa nibs.

“Half of the chocolatey flavour comes from those grains and half comes from cocoa nibs,” Dickson said. “It’s short-aged in a barrel, and it’s probably been our most successful or our most sought-after product so far.”

The third winning entry—the Dark Rum—is a high percentage molasses-based rum that was aged for an entire year in an oak barrel. Molasses gives a different character than a more neutral sugar does, Dickson said, so it has a “bigger, bolder set of flavours.”

Judging for the competition is blind; the judges know only the categories, but they don’t know what they’re tasting. Canadian entries are judged by distillers and industry professionals in Niagara, and then shipped off to Oxford, Ohio, where they go through a second round of judging—along with the American entries.

Steve Gill, general manager of NC’s Learning Enterprise Corporation, said it’s important for the College to enter these types of world-class events because it gives students a chance to see how their skills measure up to their counterparts at distilleries elsewhere. It also provides a unique opportunity for them to apply what they’re learning and potentially be rewarded with international recognition.

“It allows the students to gauge how well they’re doing in class,” he said. “The students get to be really hands-on and they get a better understanding of the distilling process. They’re creating world-class products and we’re so very proud of them.”

Cuthbert said she’s proud of herself and her team for coming together to make something that was recognized by her peers as being exceptional, and now at an international level. The real joy, however, was working on the capstone project.

“It’s a very unique and beneficial experience to anyone that’s taking the distilling program, because it really gives you that freedom to test out a product that you think would be a good idea,” she said. “It’s a very good experience to have that under your belt, especially when you’re moving forward in this industry.”

Twisted Berry Gin and Dark Rum are small batch products that can be picked up at the College’s Wine Visitor + Education Centre Centre (135 Taylor Rd., Niagara-on-the-Lake)while supplies last. Chocolate Porter Liqueur has sold out and is no longer available. Spirits from NC’s Teaching Distillery, Teaching Brewery and Teaching Winery are also available at ncteachingwinery.ca.

Niagara College’s Teaching Distillery is a 2,500-square-foot facility equipped with six stills, four mash tuns and 10 fermenters. Home to the College’s Artisan Distilling program, students produce a variety of distilled products including vodka, gin, brandy, rum, whisky and other spirits. It opened in September 2018, completing the trifecta of beverage fermentation sciences at NC’s learning enterprises, following the footsteps of its Teaching Winery and Teaching Brewery, which were also the first of their kind in Canada.

(Attribution: Niagara College news release)

City To Host Annual Tulip Bulb Giveaway May 20

“Last year’s event ran smoothly with the setup we had in place”: Dave Steven

Captions: Left, this is one of the sites where the bulbs come from, bed at Niagara Street and Riverbank. Right, this is where the bulbs will be distributed, Quaker Road sports complex parking lot. Credits: left photo, Joe Barkovich; right, Anthony Gallaccio.

WELLANDResidents of the City of Welland can pick up their bag of free tulip bulbs on May 20 from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. on Friday, May 20, at the Quaker Road sports complex at 90 Quaker Road. The event will run rain or shine.

Continuing the successful protocols put in place during previous year’s events, parks staff will be on-site to provide vehicles with their bag of bulbs – one bag per vehicle while quantities last – in the parking lot of the sports complex. Vehicles are to enter on the east side of the parking lot and slowly proceed through the sectioned-off route. 

“We’ve been enjoying the nicer weather lately, and providing our community with a pop of colour for their gardens is fitting,” said Dave Steven, supervisor of parks and forestry. “Last year’s event ran smoothly with the setup we had in place, and we anticipate another good turnout.”

The tulip bulbs are cleared from the city’s commemorative gardens and annually distributed to the community. In the past, some 12,000 bulbs have been given away annually. However, varieties and colours cannot be guaranteed.

To help prevent the spread of COVID-19, the city respectfully asks that you do not attend the tulip bulb giveaway if you are feeling sick or experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms (including fever, cough, and shortness of breath) or if you have recently tested positive for COVID-19 or are in isolation.

For more information, visit:  https://www.welland.ca/Leisure/eventsinfo/tulipGiveaway.asp 

(Attribution: City of Welland news release)

Spotlight Shines On Feeder Canal Junction Lock

/File photo Joe Barkovich

WELLAND –  The City of Welland Heritage Advisory Committee will be holding a Designation Ceremony and plaque unveiling on Saturday May 14  at 1 p.m. for the Feeder Canal Junction Lock.  

The cut stone lock was completed in 1845 during the construction of the Second Welland Canal at “The Junction” where the Feeder Canal emptied into the Second Welland Canal and was used as part of both the Second and Third Welland canals.  Along with the Aqueduct, this is one of the oldest surviving features from canal history in Welland

The ceremony will be held at the Lock which is located adjacent to the dog park at the corner of Broadway and Highway 58, with reception to follow at the Welland Museum. 

 MP Vance Badawey, MPP Jeff Burch, Mayor Frank Campion and local canal historian Terry Hughes will be speaking.

(Attribution: news release)

Will Talented Florida Panthers Replace Lightning As Stanley Cup Winner?

By WAYNE REDSHAW

   Is it possible that the Stanley Cup could wind up in the Sunshine State for the third straight year?

   Yes that is possible but not in the trophy showcase of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning won’t be around when the curtain falls on the 2021-22 season in late June or thereabouts. The Lightning looked downright pathetic, especially on the power play in getting embarrassed 5-0 by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the series opener Monday night.

  However, while Tampa Bay will be long gone come late June there’s a good chance another Florida-based team – the Florida Panthers – could be drinking out of the Cup.

   But before we get too far ahead, let’s look at the remaining eight teams who begin their quest in the opening round of the playoffs tonight in Part 2 of my Stanley Cup Predictions.

Washington Capitals vs Florida Panthers

    The Panthers should have no problem disposing of the Washington Capitals in this series. The Panthers are simply loaded with talent both offensively and defensively.

  Florida Panthers became the first team to average more than four goals per game since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Panthers finished with 337 goals. They had four players with 30-plus goals this season. That foursome included Aleksander Barko 39, Sam Reinhardt 33, Anthony Duclair 31 and Jonathon Huberdeau 30. Huberdeau also established a new NHL record for the most assists compiled by a left winger with 85. The acquisition of Claude Giroux just before the trade deadline should also help the Panthers’ cause, especially with the experience he brings to the table

    Besides depth up front, the Panthers are solid on the blueline anchored by Aaron Ekblad, who is expected to be back in the lineup since substaining a leg injury in mid-March.

   Goaltending, which is an important element in the playoffs, should be no problem with Sergei Bobrovsky.

   As for the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin could be back in the Caps lineup for the series opener. But the Caps are going to need more than Ovechkin, who hit 50 goals, if they are going to advance. In my opinion Washington’s age is becoming a factor.

Prediction: Panthers in four games

Pittsburgh Penguins vs New York Rangers

   This could be a short series too. The Rangers were a pleasant surprise this season. They have a good mix of young players that have blended in with some veterans. Chris Kreider popped in 52 goals. But there were others who contributed to the cause like Mike Zibanejad, Richard Strome and Artemi Panarin. Then on defence, Adam Fox was their leader.

    Between the pipes the Rangers relied on Igor Shesterkin and he delivered big time.

  Looking at Penguins this marks the 16th consecutive season that they have qualified for the playoffs. But after the first round, they should be gone. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang remain the main core of Pittsburgh. They also have some young talented players who can put the puck in the net. However, as a team overall, the good old days are behind them. And their goaltending is very suspect.

Prediction: Rangers in five games.

Dallas Stars vs Calgary Flames

   The Calgary Flames are Canada’s third team in this year’s Cup hunt and I think they could go a long way. The Flames topped the Pacific division compiling a 50-21-11 record. They are a well-balanced squad with Johnny Gaudreau at the controls. He recorded career-highs 40 goals and 75 assists for 115 points. He has some excellent support from a cast starting with Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, Tyler Toffoli, Mikael Bucklund and Blake Coleman.

   Jacob Markstrom handled the bulk of the goaltending chores for the Flames and is expected to get the call for the playoffs.

   As for the Stars they will be heard from in this series with the likes of Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz,Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin in the lineup. Yet the Stars can’t match the  Flames. 

Prediction: Flames in five games,

Nashville Predators vs Colorado Avalanche

   Nashville won three of four meetings with Colorado which included the final three. However, regular season and the playoffs are a completely different seasons. I like the Avalanche to prevail.

   This series will feature two of the best defencemen  in the league in the Preds’ Roman Josi and the Avs’ Cale Maker.

   Both teams also feature some of the NHL’s top forwards with Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Nazem Kadri suiting up for the Avalanche and Matt Duchene and Filip Forsberg for the Predators to name just a few.

   I think Colorado has far more firepower up front and a stronger defence. In goal a big edge goes to the Colorado as the Preds’ No. 1 starter Jusse Saros is sidelined with an injury and will miss at least the first two games. Meanwhile, Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper is  healthy and ready to go.

Prediction: Avalanche in four straight games.

(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)

Canada, Eh? Veteran Sports Scribe Picks Leafs, Oilers To Win Respective Opening Round Series

By WAYNE REDSHAW

   The NHL’s second season – the battle for Lord Stanley’s spittoon, better known as the Stanley Cup – begins tonight on four fronts and the big question is:  who will be left standing to cart the jug off the ice when it’s all over in late June or thereabouts?

    Sixteen teams are in the hunt including three Canadian-based clubs and only eight will survive after the first round. In this first segment (PART ONE) I preview the four series that open tonight. 

Tampa Bay Lightning vs Toronto Maple Leafs

    The Lightning have carted off the Cup the past two seasons and many experts figure Tampa is primed for a three-peat. I don’t and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see the Maple Leafs prevail. Granted Toronto has gone 55 years since they last won the Cup. Furthermore, the club hasn’t won a series dating  back to 2004 and past five seasons after qualifying for the Stanley  Cup derby they have bowed out in the first round.

  This time around I think the Leafs are primed. They are coming off a record-setting regular season for wins (54) and points (115). They also had 13 players set NHL career highs in points. And Auston Matthews was the Leafs top sniper finishing with 60 goals, the most in the NHL in years.

  Another reason I’m picking the Leafs is I’m not totally impressed with Tampa. I spent four and a half months in the Tampa Bay area this winter so being a hockey buff,  I watched most of the Lightning’s games. They were spotty and inconsistent. Goaltender Andre Vasilevskiy, I thought, gave up some weak goals and defensively the team as a whole was guilty of too many give-aways. They just didn’t look like the same team that won back-to-back Cups.

 Steven Stamkos was by far Tampa’s best player game after game. Nikita Kucherov, who led the Lightning in points in last year’s playoffs, was a-passenger in a lot of games I viewed. And Brayden Point certainly didn’t have a banner year. Like most of his mates he was spotty.

  Losing the complete third line from last season through the expansion draft and free agency didn’t help matters for the Lightning. They had replacements but they weren’t enough. Now  in facing the Leafs in the first round, I can’t see Tampa Bay advancing. The Leafs have too much firepower with the likes  of Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares in the lineup. If there is a weak link in Toronto I would say it’s between the pipes. There have been times where Jack Campbell has been unbeatable and other games where he has left a lot to be desired yielding some soft goals.

  Prediction: Leafs in seven games.

Boston Bruins vs Carolina Hurricanes

    Carolina won all three meetings against the Bruins in the regular season and when the battle-smoke clears  the Hurricanes should advance.  The Hurricanes finished first in the Metropolitan Division and third overall in the League.

   Boston finished as the first wild card so not having home ice advantage could hurt. Goaltending is another question mark. Like Tampa Bay, the Bruins encountered a hot and cold season.

    The Bruins are led by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. They will need all hands on deck to get past the Hurricanes.

   The big question for Carolina is when will goaltender Freddie Andersen return to the lineup? Andersen had a stellar regular season so hopefully he’s not on the injured  shelf too long. Overall, they have a nice core on defence and have Sebastian Aho leading the way offensively.

   Prediction: The Hurricanes in six games

St, Louis Blues vs Minnesota Wild

   This series could be the most evenly matched series of the entire first round. Minnesota had more points 113 to 109. However, St. Louis had more wins 43 to 37. That means the Wild were involved in more close encounters and platoon hockey is much different than the regular season.

   St. Louis has an edge on the blue line but I like the Wild’s goaltending more and that could be a determining factor.

  Prediction. Wild in seven games.

Los Angeles Kings vs Edmonton Oilers

    I just think the Oilers have too much firepower with Connor McDavid  and Leon  Draisaitl leading the way. And their power play is potent. If the Kings visit the penalty box too often the Oilers will cash in.

   If there is a weak link with the Oilers it is between the pipes with Mike Smith. They didn’t address goaltending before the trade deadline. But if they keep the puck away from their own end, they should advance. I don’t think the the Kings have enough depth.

   They have Jonathan Quick in goal to keep them respectable. But up front other than Anze Kopitarv they lack big guns.

   Prediction: Oilers in five games.

(Wayne Redshaw has covered sports in Niagara for over 50 years, 33 and a half at the Welland Tribune. He was publisher of FORE! Golfers Only for 12 years and also wrote for many newspapers and magazines in Canada and the United States.)