With Groundhog’s Day behind us, a look at the calendar tells us that there are only six weeks left in the Ontario Hockey League season. Very little has been decided as of yet, meaning the next month and a half looks to be very interesting. No team looks completely secure in a Conference or Division lead, and, with the exceptions of Erie and Kingston in the West and East respectively, every team still has a chance at post-season play into April. Most teams found themselves hitting the 50 game mark of the season over the last seven days, and as always, we’ll take a look at our weekly OHL Power Rankings, right after we take a look at the ITO Three Stars for week 19. This week, I deferred selection of our weekly stars of the league to our fearless leader, Brandon Sudeyko.
ITO 3 Stars
1. Mathias Niederberger (Barrie Colts) –It would be hard to be any more perfect than this week’s First Star, Mathias Niederberger, who would be unbeatable in the last seven days, stopping every shot he faced in back to back shutout performances. Mathias is the second straight German Import to take the ITO First Star selection, following up on Tobi Rieder’s performance last week for Kitchener. Niederberger would make 23 saves on Friday night, and each one was important, as Barrie won 1-0 in Mississauga. The next night, Mathias was even better, stopping 29 shots in a 5-0 blanking of Sault Ste. Marie. With no goals against over 52 shots, Mathias Niederberger earns the ITO First Star of the week.
2. Brandon Saad (Saginaw Spirit) – Brandon makes his second appearance in the ITO Three Stars this season, picking up a First Star selection in the season’s first half, and has been instrumental to the recent success of the Spirit. Brandon would earn points in all three contests for Saginaw this week, including a pair of multi-point games over the weekend. Friday night, Saad would earn an assist in a win in Guelph, and would score two goals as part of a three point night Saturday in Erie. Brandon would finish the week strong with another three point game Sunday in Kitchener, scoring another. With three goals and seven points in his three game weekend, Brandon Saad earns our Second Star selection for week 19.
3. Kerby Rychel (Windsor Spitfires) – Kerby Rychel may be one of the league’s most underrated players, so it’s only right that Kerby earns our Third Star selection for week 19, getting some credit for quietly putting together a good season in Windsor. Rychel would help his club earn a pair of victories this weekend, scoring goals in all three of the Spitfires games. Kerby would score the tying goal and assist on the overtime winner on Friday night in Owen Sound, and had Windsor’s only goal the next night, a 5-1 loss in Plymouth. Rychel would finish the week with a huge game, scoring twice and adding a helper in a victory Sunday afternoon at home to Mississauga. With four goals and six points in three games, Kerby Rychel in the ITO Third Star this week.
ITO Power Rankings
1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) The London Knights continue to be the league’s best team, and, in my opinion, are clearly the team to beat in the Ontario Hockey League this season. This Knights have led the OHL Power Rankings now for 17 of 19 weeks to date in the 2011-12 season, and they have led the OHL standings for most of the season. London split their two weekend games this past week, losing a tough game at home to Niagara on Friday night, but rebounding well to defeat Mississauga at home a night later. The Knights play three more games in the coming week, beginning on Thursday night in Windsor. The team returns home to London on Friday, hosting Plymouth, and remaining home for a Sunday matinee with Kitchener.
2. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 5) Don’t look now, but the Niagara IceDogs, one of last year’s top teams, are right back in the thick of things, climbing up three spots to number two after a pair of huge wins last week. Niagara would win an important game in London on Friday night, before returning home to knock off Brampton the next night. The IceDogs face three more important games in the upcoming week, starting Thursday when Mississauga comes to town. From there, the ‘Dogs head out on the road, playing in Barrie on Saturday, and in Oshawa Sunday.
3. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 4) The Eastern Conference’s top team, the Ottawa 67’s, climb into the top three in the OHL Power Rankings, despite earning just a split in a pair of games over the last week. Ottawa found themselves in tough at home on Friday night, but would earn a hard-fought two points, but would lose a night later at home to Kingston. The 67’s are another team with three games this week, beginning Thursday night in Peterborough. Ottawa returns home for a contest the next night with Guelph, and wrap up the weekend with a Sunday afternoon game at home to Belleville.
4. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 3) The Plymouth Whalers trade places with Ottawa this week, despite posting identical records over the last seven days, in one of those strange statistical occurrences. Still amongst the league’s top teams, the Whalers split a pair of games last week, and have won five of their last six games. After a tough loss in Sarnia on Friday night, Plymouth returned home to defeat Windsor, finishing the week even. The Whalers face a three game weekend, playing in London on Friday, then coming home for games with Kitchener and Saginaw respectively.
5. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 2) The Rangers are down three spots this week, landing at number five after a pair of home ice losses to teams fighting for a playoff spot. Defeated by Belleville on Friday night, Kitchener would lose again Sunday afternoon when Saginaw visited town. The Rangers have ample opportunity to right things this week, playing four times in the next seven days, beginning when they host Guelph Tuesday night. Kitchener then faces a three game weekend, hosting Brampton on Friday, then playing on the road in Plymouth Saturday night, and in London Sunday afternoon.
6. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 9) Perhaps no team has been as hot as of late as the Saginaw Spirit, a team with points in nine of their last ten games. The Spirit climb up three spots this week in the OHL Power Rankings, winning all three games in a weekend road trip that began in Guelph Friday night. Saginaw would also earn victories in Erie on Saturday, and in Kitchener on Sunday, keeping their recent hot streak going. The Spirit face another three game weekend ahead, hosting Erie on Friday night, before Sault Ste. Marie visits on Saturday. Saginaw finishes the weekend Sunday afternoon, playing in Plymouth.
7. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 8) The Barrie Colts climb a spot this week, landing at number seven after a pair of impressive shutout victories extends their winning streak to four games. The Colts were fantastic in all three zones this past week, earning a big shutout win in Mississauga Friday night, and following that performance with an even better one the next night, white-washing Sault Ste. Marie. With momentum on their side, Barrie plays three times in the coming week, beginning with a visit from Sarnia on Thursday evening. The next night, the Colts find themselves in Sudbury, before returning home to play host to Niagara Saturday night.
8. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 7) The Sudbury Wolves fall a single spot this week to land at number eight, but remain on quite a roll themselves, winning two out of three games over the past seven days. The week didn’t start out well for the Wolves, who were bounced off of home ice by Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night, but the team responded well over the weekend, earning wins in Peterborough on Saturday, and in Brampton on Sunday. Looking ahead, Sudbury gets a quick chance at redemption when they play in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday night, before coming home to play host to Barrie Friday night. The Wolves wrap up the week on Saturday night when Sarnia visits.
9. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 6) The Brampton Battalion continue to suffer without Stan Butler at the helm, and they fall three spots this week to land at number nine after losing six of their past eight contests. Brampton would fail to earn a single point this week, losing three games over the weekend, including Friday night, when they were shocked in Erie. From there, the weekend went downhill quickly, as the Battalion would drop decisions in Niagara on Saturday, and back at home to Sudbury on Sunday. The schedule gets no easier in the week ahead, as Brampton begins the week on Thursday, hosting Owen Sound. A night later, the Battalion are in action in Kitchener, before returning home for a Sunday afternoon tilt with Peterborough.
10. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 14) The Sarnia Sting wind up climbing four spots to land at number ten this week, even though they played just one time in the last seven days. The play of the teams they passed have much to do with the sudden spike for the Sting, which is to take nothing away from a team that has been playing good hockey as of late. Sarnia seems to have recovered after sputtering through much of January, and won in their only contest this week, winning on home ice against Plymouth. The Sting will be busier this week, heading out on the road to start a five game road trip with three games this week. Thursday night, Sarnia plays in Barrie, before heading north to play in Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday and Sunday, in that order.
11. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 10) The Oshawa Generals have climbed back into a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and are currently lurking as a team no Eastern Contender would want to draw in the opening round. Oshawa falls one spot this week after splitting a pair of games of the weekend, beginning Friday, when they would fight hard but fall in Ottawa. The Generals would bounce back Sunday afternoon, defeating Guelph on home ice to wrap up the week. Oshawa will be extremely busy this week, playing four times in the next seven days, including a three-game weekend. On Tuesday night, the Generals play in Peterborough, before making a trip to Mississauga Friday night. Oshawa returns home for a pair of weekend tilts, hosting Kingston on Saturday night, before Niagara visits on Sunday evening.
12. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 13) After a rough week last week, the Owen Sound Attack are back up one spot this week in the OHL Power Rankings, earning three out of four possible points in a pair of games. The single point was earned on Friday night, when the Attack were defeated in overtime by the visitors from Windsor, but Owen Sound rebounded the next night, defeating Belleville. The Attack have three games this week, starting on Wednesday when they head to Pennsylvania to play Erie, before returning to Ontario to play in Brampton the next night. Owen Sound ends the week back at home on Saturday night, hosting Peterborough.
13. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 16) One of the week’s bigger climbs, the Windsor Spitfires are up three spots this week, climbing to number thirteen with wins in two out of three games in the past seven days. The Spits would earn the extra point in overtime Friday night, winning in Owen Sound to start the weekend off on the right foot, but Windsor would lose a night later when they played host to Plymouth. The Spitfires finished the week the way it started on Sunday afternoon, with a win, this time at home to Mississauga. Another three games lie ahead for the Spits, who are in action Thursday night, when they host London. On Saturday, Erie visits, before Windsor ends the week Sunday afternoon in Mississauga.
14. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 15) The Peterborough Petes managed to stop the slide over the last week, and climb back up one spot this week to land at fourteen. With a split in their two contests, the Petes remain in control of one of the eight valued playoff positions so far, but if their recent slide continues, Peterborough could find themselves on the outside looking in. After earning a win Friday night in Kingston, the Petes would be blown out on home ice a night later by the visitors from Sudbury. Peterborough is another team with a busy week ahead, playing four times, including a big contest Tuesday night, at home to Oshawa. Thursday, the Petes play host to Ottawa, before hitting the road for games in Owen Sound on Saturday, and in Brampton Sunday afternoon.
15. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 11) For every step forward, there seems to be the inevitable step backwards for the Guelph Storm this season, as they slide four spots this week after losing both contests over the weekend. Friday night, the Storm were outmatched by Saginaw on home ice, and Guelph would lose again Sunday afternoon in Oshawa. Guelph has four chances to get things going, all on the road, beginning Tuesday night when they play in Kitchener. Friday night, the Storm travel to Ottawa, before making stops in Belleville Saturday, and Kingston Sunday.
16. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 12) The Mississauga Majors are now looking in their rear-view mirror, as they find themselves quickly sliding out of contention in the Eastern Conference playoff race. While still in eighth, Mississauga has not played well as of late, and slide four spots in this week’s OHL Power Rankings after losing all three games in a three game weekend. Friday night, the Majors were shutout on home ice by Barrie, and Mississauga would follow that game with losses in London on Saturday and in Windsor on Sunday. The Majors have three games this week to try and stop the slide, playing in Niagara on Thursday, before coming home to face Oshawa on Friday, and Windsor Sunday afternoon.
17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 17) It was a week of the best and worst of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, who earned a split in a pair of games that couldn’t have been more polarizing. Friday night, the Hounds looked unstoppable, scoring almost at will in a big win in Sudbury, yet, a night later, the Soo couldn’t find a goal, getting blanked in Barrie. If the Greeyhounds are to get back into the playoff picture in the Western Conference, they will need to get it started this week, when they play three times, beginning Wednesday at home to Sudbury. Saturday night, the Hounds travel to Saginaw, then return home to face Sarnia Sunday night.
18. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 18) If the Belleville Bulls are to be excluded from post-season play this year, it won’t be without a fight, as they continue to pick up points to keep pace with the final spots in the East. Belleville picked up a pair of points in as many games over the weekend, winning a big contest in Kitchener on Friday night, but losing a tough contest the following night in Owen Sound. The Bulls are one of many teams with a three game weekend in front of them, which begins Friday night, when they play in Kingston. On Saturday, the Bulls host Guelph, then travel to Ottawa to finish the weekend Sunday afternoon.
19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 19) Long out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Fronts are now playing for pride, but have been doing an excellent job of picking up points down the stretch. Kingston split a pair of games again this week, dropping a close game at home to Peterborough on Friday night, but heading down the highway to defeat the division leaders in Ottawa a night later. The Frontenacs have a three game weekend to deal with, which starts Friday night at home to Belleville. Kingston will play in Oshawa on Saturday night, before coming home to finish the weekend Sunday afternoon against Guelph.
20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) Long ago planning for next season, the Erie Otters have been playing good hockey as of late as well, proving that there are no more easy games in the Ontario Hockey League. The Otters would split their games over the weekend, and have earned six points in their last six games, despite being 29 points out of the final playoff spot with 19 games left. Friday night, the goal scoring showed for Erie, as they would pot seven en route to a home ice win over Brampton, but the next night, the Otters were unable to score at all, getting shutout at the hands of Saginaw. Erie plays three games this week, playing host to Owen Sound on Wednesday, before hitting the road for a pair of games. Friday night, the Otters play in Saginaw, and the next night, Erie travels to Windsor to end the week.
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.