Can you feel it? The OHL second season is all but upon us, with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. Every night, fans and players alike can be seen looking up at the out of town scores, hoping for some divine intervention to be the bearer of some good news. Some have gotten good news, like the eight teams who have already secured spots in the playoffs. But many find themselves looking up in anguish, as the teams needing wins to stay alive have played good hockey, making the races in both conferences quite interesting.
The Western Conference has been seen by many as the stronger of the two, and a number of races have formed leading into the final weeks of the season. London and Plymouth, the division leaders, continue to battle for the coveted top spot, with Kitchener trailing distantly behind the leaders in third. The Rangers are comfortable there, with a nine point cushion separating them from the pack below them. Owen Sound and Sarnia are currently tied for fourth and fifth in the conference at 69 points, and will likely battle down the stretch to see which team earns home ice for a first round matchup against each other. Saginaw sits in sixth, three points behind, and ready to jump into the race if given the opportunity. After that, we have three teams who are battling for the final two playoff spots, with Guelph and Windsor knotted at 60 points, while Sault Ste. Marie is two behind, holding a game in hand on Windsor.
Looking East, Niagara and Ottawa continue to fight at the top of the standings, and the ‘Dogs recent streak has given them a three point edge. Barrie and Brampton, tied at 76 points, occupy the other two home ice positions, with the Colts holding an edge with a game in hand. Sudbury has games in hand on both clubs, but sit five point back, an all but insurmountable number. Beyond the top five, who have all secured their spots in the post-season, an interesting race has developed with the remaining four teams in the race, playing hockey’s version of Russian Roulette, as one team won’t survive to see the playoffs. Oshawa currently sits sixth, one point ahead of Mississauga and Belleville, who both have an extra game remaining. Peterborough sits ninth, four points behind the final spot with five games left, and are in need of a lot of help to get back into the race.
Despite all the playoff races, there was no story bigger than the Connor Crisp story this past week. After playing 48 games and scoring five times last season, the Centre would miss all of this season, recovering from a shoulder injury. Only recently cleared to play, Crisp had yet to get into action, until Sunday afternoon, when he would see the ice in the strangest of situations. With backup goaltender Devin Williams out due to an injury sustained on Friday, starter Ramis Sadikov would be injured just two minutes into Erie’s game against Niagara. With no goalie available, the Otters were forced to look to Crisp, who admittedly only played goal in road hockey. While his numbers were anything but impressive, Connor would go out and give his team a very solid 58 minutes of goaltending against one of the top hockey teams in all of junior hockey. Peppered with 45 shots, Crisp was able to stop 32 of them, and was able to hold his head high at the end of a 13-4 loss, skating off the ice to a standing ovation from the fans and players in St. Catharines. His performance Sunday afternoon was perhaps the greatest individual performance seen all season, and will forever be remembered as the day a player went above and beyond the call to help his team.
It was an interesting week to try and choose the three stars from around the Ontario Hockey League, so I put it out to all of you to nominate players with exceptional weeks. While Connor Crisp had an amazing afternoon Sunday, there were a few other amazing performances this week as well, and we’ll go over some of the best, before our weekly look at the Power Rankings.
ITO Three Stars
1. Michael Sgarbossa (Sudbury Wolves) – There were so many outstanding performances this past week, which made it incredibly difficult to pick three stars that stood out. One player who stood out right away was Michael Sgarbossa, who was dominant in both Sudbury victories. On Friday night, Michael scored two goals as part of a big five point night against Kitchener, and followed that performance a night later by scoring a goal and two more assists in a win over Peterborough. In just a pair of games, Michael would score three times, and add five helpers, finishing the week with eight points and our ITO First Star selection.
2. Freddie Hamilton (Niagara IceDogs) – After brother Dougie was named OHL Second Star last week, Freddie Hamilton finds his way into the same position this week, as he would help the IceDogs to three more victories in the past seven days. Thursday night, Freddie would earn an assist in a win over Saginaw, but the next night, Hamilton stepped up, scoring a hat trick as part of a four point game in Belleville. Sunday afternoon, Freddie found himself as one of the beneficiaries of a strange situation against Erie, and he would score once and add five helpers in a rout of the Otters. No player would earn more points than Freddie Hamilton’s eleven over the last week, including four goals in three games, and is a deserving choice as our Second Star for Week 23.
3. Kevin Bailie (Oshawa Generals) If the Oshawa Generals are to qualify for the post-season this year, they will do so on the back of Kevin Bailie, who has been providing the team with a chance to win every night for the last two months, something the team wasn’t getting for much of the first part of the season. Friday night, Kevin would keep his club in the game for two and a half periods in London, eventually giving up six goals on 42 shots in the loss. 42 shots would be a theme for Bailie, as it would be the shots he would face in all three games this weekend. Kevin made 41 saves Saturday night, many of the highlight reel variety, and was the game’s first star in a victory in Barrie, and would do it again the next afternoon back on home ice, making 41 saves again as the Generals shocked London. For the week, Kevin Bailie would face a staggering 126 shots, and would stop 118 of them, including stopping 82 of 84 in two big wins, and is our choice as the ITO Third Star for the week of February 27th-March 4th.
OHL Power Rankings
1. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 2) After chasing down London for much of the last month, the Niagara IceDogs finally find themselves sitting alone atop the OHL Power Rankings this week, marking just the third time all season a team other than the Knights were ranked number one. The IceDogs found their toughest challenge starting the week, as they would hold on for a tight victory over Saginaw on Thursday night. Niagara would follow that performance with a pair of overly convincing victories over the weekend, winning Saturday in Belleville, and back at home to Erie on Sunday afternoon. The IceDogs face a desperate opponent Thursday night, as they get a visit from Mississauga, before Niagara heads out on the road for weekend games in Ottawa Friday night, and in Kingston on Sunday.
2. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 4) Up two spots this week, the Plymouth Whalers climb to within striking distance of the top spot after yet another impressive week, a four win week, a week that has put them back in contention for the top seed in the Western Conference. The Whalers would start the week by spoiling Saginaw’s Education Day, winning on Tuesday morning. Plymouth would then take all six points from a three game weekend, winning at home Friday against Brampton, and Saturday against Windsor. The Whalers capped off a perfect week with another win Sunday afternoon in Sarnia. Plymouth look to extend their six game winning streak beginning Wednesday night in Erie, and the road trip finishes Friday night in Kitchener. The Whalers return home to wrap up the weekend, hosting Owen Sound on Sunday afternoon.
3. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 5) The Ottawa 67’s leap back into the top three this week, climbing a pair of spots after another winning week that saw them take five out of six possible points. Friday night, the 67’s started their three game road trip with a win in Sarnia, and followed it a night later with a huge win in London. Ottawa would leave a point behind, losing in a shootout in Guelph Sunday afternoon to end the weekend on a sour note. The 67’s face one more game on their road trip, playing in Kingston on Wednesday night, before returning home for a tough weekend, hosting Niagara on Friday and Mississauga on Sunday afternoon.
4. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) Not only do the London Knights rarely fall out of the top spot in the OHL Power Rankings, this marks the first time this season that they have fallen out of the top three, sliding to number four after losing back to back games for the first time all year. London won a nationally televised affair at home to Oshawa on Friday night, but the weekend was all downhill from there, as the Knights would lose at home to Ottawa on Saturday, and lose again in Oshawa Sunday afternoon. Likely to rebound, the Knights will look to get back to their winning ways, starting Thursday night when they host Guelph. After a rematch in Guelph the next night, London finishes the week Sunday night in Kitchener.
5. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 3) The Barrie Colts slide a couple of spots this week, landing at number five, despite winning two of their three games in the last week. After winning in Owen Sound on Wednesday, the Colts returned home, and earned an impressive win Thursday over Kitchener. Saturday night, Barrie would lose to the visitors from Oshawa, spoiling what could have been a perfect week. The Colts have an identical schedule this week as last, playing games Wednesday in Owen Sound and back at home Thursday, this time against Sudbury. Belleville comes to town for a big game Saturday night.
6. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 6) With a split in their two games this past week, the Owen Sound Attack manage to hold firm at number six in this week’s OHL Power Rankings. The Attack would lose at home to Barrie on Wednesday night before answering with a win over Kingston on Saturday. After a break in the schedule last week, Owen Sound is much busier in the week ahead, playing four times to compensate, beginning Wednesday night with a rematch against Barrie. From there, the Attack head out on the road for a three game weekend, making stops in Saginaw Friday, Sarnia Saturday, and in Plymouth on Sunday.
7. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 10) While not the most impressive week in the standings, the Brampton Battalion still find a way to climb three spots this week, landing at number seven after earning three points in as many games. Thursday night, the Battalion would be defeated in Windsor, and they would lose again a night later in Plymouth, though they would pick up a point from the shootout loss. Sunday afternoon, Brampton would return to friendlier confines, defeating Mississauga on home ice. The Battalion have their three games spaced out nicely in the week ahead, which begins Tuesday night in Sudbury. Brampton travels to Peterborough for a game on Thursday, then return home to finish up the week Sunday afternoon against Oshawa.
8. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 12) The Sudbury Wolves were able to take full advantage of a light schedule this past week, having no travel to worry about, and just a pair of games. The Wolves would win both, first against Kitchener on Friday night, and again versus Peterborough a night later. Sudbury faces three pivotal games this week in the race for the third seed in the East, as they host Brampton on Tuesday night, then play in Barrie on Thursday. The Wolves finish their week back at home Friday night, playing host to Belleville.
9. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 7) Down another two spots this week, the Kitchener Rangers have hit a cliff at the worst possible time. While still comfortable as the third seed in the Western Conference, wins in just two of their last nine have seen them tumble down the ranks. The Rangers lost both games this past week, dropping decisions in Barrie on Thursday and in Sudbury Friday. After a light schedule, Kitchener gets back into the thick of things with four big games in the upcoming week, beginning Tuesday night at home to Guelph. The Rangers face a three game weekend, hosting Plymouth on Friday night, playing in Erie on Saturday, and returning home for a game against London on Sunday night.
10. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 9) The Saginaw Spirit drop a single spot this week, but managed to split a busy four game schedule. Tuesday morning, the Spirit would lose their annual Education Day battle with Plymouth, and they would lose again in Niagara on Thursday. Saginaw came back to salvage the week with a pair of victories, first hanging on to defeat Erie in a shootout on Friday, before winning a blowout in Windsor Sunday afternoon. The Spirit now have an opportunity to regroup for the final playoff push, as they play just twice in the coming week, both times on home ice. Friday night, Saginaw hosts Owen Sound, before Sault Ste. Marie visits on Saturday.
11. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 8) The Sarnia Sting found their four game point streak come to a crashing halt this week, as they would lose all three contests without earning a single point, falling three spots in the OHL Power Rankings in the process. Wednesday night, the Sting would fall in Sault Ste. Marie, before losing a pair more on home ice, first to Ottawa on Friday, then to Plymouth Sunday afternoon. Sarnia faces a three game weekend coming up, as they play host to Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night, receive a visit from Owen Sound Saturday, then travel to Windsor for a Sunday matinee.
12. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 11) The Mississauga Majors are down another spot this week, and continue to fight for their playoff lives in a tough Eastern Conference race. Mississauga would lose both of their games over the last week, first dropping an important Conference game to Belleville on Friday, before losing again in Brampton on Sunday. The Majors play all three of their upcoming games this week on the road, beginning with a tough game in Niagara on Thursday. Mississauga visits Kingston on Friday night, and finishes the week in Ottawa Sunday afternoon.
13. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 13) The Oshawa Generals continue to tread water in the OHL Power Rankings, remaining steady at number thirteen this week, despite winning two huge games over the weekend. Oshawa would lose a lopsided affair in London Friday night in front of a national audience, but regrouped to earn a big win in Barrie the next night. Returning home, the Generals would win again on Sunday afternoon, this time earning a measure of revenge on London. Oshawa’s reward for such an impressive weekend is a full week off, as they play only once in the upcoming week, Sunday afternoon in Brampton.
14. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 16) The Guelph Storm have jumped right back into the thick of the Western playoff race with strong play as of late, which continued this week when they earned five out of six possible points, climbing two more spots in the OHL Power Rankings in the process. While the week started rough for the Storm, as they lost in a shootout in Erie on Wednesday night, things went much smoother upon returning home. Guelph would defeat Kingston on Friday night, and won again Sunday afternoon, defeating Ottawa in a shootout. It’s a busy week for the Storm looking ahead, as they take to the ice four times, starting Tuesday night in Kitchener. Guelph travels to London for a contest on Thursday, then the teams return to Guelph for a rematch on Friday. The Storm finish the week Sunday afternoon, playing in Erie.
15. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 15) Wins in two out of three games this week has kept the Belleville Bulls right in the thick of the race for the final playoff spots in the East, though the gain no ground this week in the rankings. Wednesday night, the Bulls defeated the visitors from Kingston, and won a game with big playoff implications Friday night in Mississauga. The next night, Belleville would return home, but would be no match for Niagara. The Bulls could all but secure a playoff spot on Wednesday night when they host ninth place Peterborough. Belleville then heads out on a road trip, playing games in Sudbury on Friday, and in Barrie on Saturday.
16. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 19) After falling all the way to number nineteen, the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds leaped back up this week, climbing three spots after winning both of their games, and keeping their playoff hopes alive. Wins Wednesday over Sarnia and Friday over Peterborough puts the Greyhounds just two points behind eighth place Windsor, with an extra game remaining, making the upcoming week of the utmost importance. Sault Ste. Marie heads out on their final road trip of the regular season, playing a huge game in Windsor to start the week Thursday night. The Hounds travel to Sarnia for a game on Friday, then finish the weekend in Saginaw Saturday night.
17. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 14) The Windsor Spitfires are down three spots this week, but continue to cling to the final playoff spot in the West, holding a slim two point lead over Sault Ste. Marie. Windsor only won once in three tries this past week, first defeating Brampton on Thursday, but losing in Plymouth Saturday, and again Sunday, at home to Saginaw. The Spits have two big games at home this week to try and help secure a playoff spot, no game bigger than Thursday night, when they play host to Sault Ste. Marie. On Sunday afternoon, Windsor hosts Sarnia in their only other game of the week.
18. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 17) The Peterborough Petes have gone cold at the worst possible time, and have slid right out of the Eastern conference playoff picture. Two wins in their last ten have seen the Petes fall to four points behind eighth place, as losses in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday, and in Sudbury Saturday have put their backs to the wall. Peterborough plays only twice in the coming week, making every point even more important as they try to catch the pack. The Petes play an important game in Belleville on Wednesday night, then return home in time to host Brampton Thursday.
19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 18) The Kingston Frontenacs slide back to number nineteen this week, after losing all three of their games, though they were able to earn another point. On Wednesday night, the Fronts lost in Belleville, and they would lose again in Guelph on Friday. Saturday night, Kingston picked up the extra point after losing a shootout in Owen Sound. All of Kingston’s five remaining games will be played on home ice, including three this week, beginning Wednesday when they host Ottawa. Mississauga visits on Friday night, and the Fronts play against Niagara Sunday afternoon.
20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) The Erie Otters remain the Ontario Hockey League’s constant, holding firm at the bottom of the OHL Power Rankings, but have developed a never say die reputation that has provided some success to build on. The Otters were able to earn three points in as many games this week, proving capable to play a spoiler role down the stretch. Wednesday night, Erie would win a shootout over Guelph, and the Otters would climb back from a large deficit to earn a point on Saturday, eventually losing another shootout against Saginaw. Erie would be no match for Niagara on Sunday, and were called upon to play forward Connor Crisp in goal against the league’s highest scoring team. The Otters get three home games this week to look to earn a few more points, beginning Wednesday night against Plymouth. Kitchener visits on Saturday night, before Erie finishes the week against Guelph Sunday afternoon.
The ITO Three Stars and Power Rankings can be found every Tuesday here at In The O… The Radio Show and OHLWriters.com. Be sure to check back next week to see the week’s best players, and to find out where your favourite team ranks. If you can’t wait for your OHL fix, join me on Twitter for conversation anytime, @N24Nicholson.