The Ontario Hockey League regular season is quickly winding down, so as we enter the final three weeks of the season, it’s time to take a look at some of the top positional players who will challenge for the league hardware at the annual awards ceremony. We’ve already taken a brief look into the race for the league’s top rookie and top coach, so we’ll now turn our attention to the defense, and who may be gaining consideration around the league for the defenseman of the year.
Without a doubt, the odds-on favourite to win the defenseman of the year award has to be Ryan Sproul of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Sproul is in command in nearly every offensive category among all defenders. His 19 goals and 61 points are miles ahead of any other league defenseman, a feat made even more impressive by the fact that Sproul missed nearly twenty games, having played in 42 games, while some have played as many as 60.
Cody Ceci is a name that some will throw into the mix, as Ceci has been impressive this season, both with Ottawa, and, more recently, with the Owen Sound Attack. Interesting enough, Ceci may not be the only Attack rearguard whose name gets thrown into the mix, as teammate Nathan Chiarlitti has quietly been putting together a very good campaign. The overage defender may have only one goal so far this season, to go along with 21 assists, but it’s his play away from the puck that makes Chiarlitti so good. His +37 rating is the best among all league defensemen, and tied for third overall in the Ontario Hockey League.
While I fully expect Sproul to take the prize this season, if I could pick just one dark-horse who deserves recognition, it would be Dalton Young of the Saginaw Spirit. The Spirit have been fighting to remain in the Western Conference playoff race all season long, and many times have relied on Dalton to be the force that pushed them through. His four goals and 41 points, while impressive, don’t necessarily jump out, but combined with an equally impressive +29 rating in 60 games, while playing for a team that has gone through its share of problems this season makes him someone worth noting, even if he doesn’t win any league hardware this season.
Players Of The Week
Reid Boucher (Sarnia Sting) – This is not a recording, though Reid Boucher has been on the short-list for the league’s Top Forward just about every week this season. All this guy does is score, no matter who is on his line, and he is quickly approaching the Sting franchise-record for goals in a season, sitting one behind Steven Stamkos’ mark of a few seasons ago. Thursday night, Boucher scored two of Sarnia’s three goals, his 52nd and 53rd of the season, in the Sting’s loss against Sault Ste. Marie, a performance which he followed a night later with a four-goal, six-point night in a blowout victory over Erie, giving him 57 goals on the season. While Reid was kept off of the scoresheet, like all of his Sting teammates, in a shootout loss in Plymouth on Saturday, his six goals and eight points this week would still lead all Ontario Hockey League players, making him our choice as the league’s Top Forward this week.
Jordan Subban (Belleville Bulls) – Draft-eligible Jordan Subban continues to turn heads on the blue line in Belleville, and goes through extended periods where it seems the entire team’s high-powered offense works through Subban as their quarterback. Jordan would register points in all three of the Bulls contests this past week, including Wednesday night, when his three assists powered Belleville to a home-ice victory over Ottawa. When Peterborough came to town on Saturday night, Subban would set up the insurance goal midway through the third, ensuring another Bulls victory, and Sunday in Ottawa, Jordan scored once and helped out on another, as Belleville defeated the 67s again. In three games, Subban’s six points, five of them assists, lead all league defencemen, and came as part of three big wins for his club. For that reason, Jordan Subban is our choice as the OHL’s Top Defenceman of the Week.
Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) – The consistently superb play of Alex Nedeljkovic this season has allowed him to take the starting job away from Whalers veteran goalkeeper Matt Mahalak, and he was excellent when called upon over a three-game weekend, to help keep Plymouth sitting on top of the OHL’s West Division. On Friday night, while the Spitfires gave him plenty of offense to work with, Alex wouldn’t need it, as he turned aside 27 of 28 shots sent his way by Windsor in a 9-1 victory. A night later, Nedeljkovic was even better, stopping all 20 shots for his first Ontario Hockey League shutout, as the Whalers defeated Sarnia 4-0. And while he was rewarded for his efforts with a game off on Sunday, he would be called into action in relief of Mahalak, taking over with the Whalers trailing 4-2 midway through the 2nd. Alex would be good long enough to allow Plymouth to fight back and take the lead, but a scrappy Spitfires bunch would strike for two goals in the final ten minutes to hang a tough loss on Nedljkovic and the Whalers. Even with the disappointment of that loss, Alex’s numbers would be among the very best in the league over the last seven days, as he posted a goals against average of just 1.23 and a save percentage of .948 to go along with a memorable first shutout. For that, Alex Nedeljkovic is the league’s Top Goaltender this week.
OHL Power Rankings
1. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 1) Now in their third straight week as the leaders on the OHL Power Rankings, the Belleville Bulls continued their amazing run down the final stretch of the season, all but sealing the East Division crown in the process. With three more victories this week, the Bulls extended their winning streak to nine games, posting wins over Ottawa and Peterborough, at home, before winning again Sunday afternoon in Ottawa. Belleville plays two of their three games on home ice in the coming week, beginning Wednesday night, when they host Brampton. Friday night, the Bulls travel down the road to play in Kingston, then return home to face Niagara on Saturday.
2. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 2) The Plymouth Whalers continue to assert their claim as the top team in the OHL’s West Division, and were tracking down the leaders of the Power Rankings before a slip-up at the end of the week. The Whalers posted a pair of wins on home ice, defeating Windsor handily on Friday night, and beating Sarnia a night later. Sunday afternoon, Plymouth couldn’t find the same success in Windsor, losing a high-scoring affair. The Whalers continue a long road trip with games in three cities this week, beginning Thursday night in Niagara. A night later, Plymouth crosses the border to play in Erie, before crossing back to Canada for a Sunday afternoon matchup in Mississauga.
3. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 7) A big leap sees the Owen Sound Attack re-enter the top three in this week’s OHL Power Rankings, as a pair of wins allows them to keep pace with the leaders in the Western Conference. In Barrie on Thursday night, the Attack were impressive, earning the two points with an overtime victory, and were equally impressive at home on Saturday, getting the win over Saginaw. With a win streak now at five games, Owen Sound looks to keep the momentum heading towards the playoffs with three games in as many nights this week. On Thursday, the Attack return to Barrie, then return home for a pair of contests, hosting Kitchener on Friday, and Mississauga on Saturday.
4. London Knights – (Last Week: 4) While the London Knights seem to have found the answer to what was plaguing them a few weeks back, they have yet to recover in the OHL Power Rankings, where they remain at number four this week. Friday night’s overtime win against Sault Ste. Marie, coupled with another victory Sunday versus Saginaw sees the Knights now winners of four in a row, and London plays three games this week against teams needing points in the worst way. Thursday, the Knights play in Windsor before returning to the JLC for a pair of weekend contests, hosting Sarnia on Friday, and Kitchener on Sunday afternoon.
5. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 3) Tough to see the Kitchener Rangers fall two spots this week in the Power Rankings, as they have been playing real good hockey as of late. This past week saw them shake off a Friday night loss at home to Saginaw by posting wins Saturday, against Sudbury, and Sunday, in Brampton. The Rangers have a quiet week with just two games, as they play Friday night in Owen Sound, and Sunday afternoon in London.
6. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 5) The Oshawa Generals are struggling to keep pace with the leaders in the OHL Power Rankings, and have seen their hopes at a division title slip away. A loss on Thursday night in Peterborough proved costly, though the Generals rebounded with wins on home ice, defeating Ottawa on Friday, and Peterborough on Sunday. Oshawa has a number of key conference battles coming up, including three this week, which begins in Kingston on Wednesday night. Two nights later, the Generals are back on home ice, taking on Brampton, before Kingston visits on Sunday evening.
7. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 6) Even earning five out of six possible points on a tough three-game road trip wouldn’t be enough to keep the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds from slipping one spot this week in the Power Rankings, landing at number seven. The Hounds started the trip impressively, winning in Sarnia on Thursday night, but dropped a tough overtime decision in London a night later. Sault Ste. Marie rebounded with a win in Mississauga on Sunday afternoon, extending their point-streak to five games, which they’ll look to improve on in the week ahead. The Greyhounds are back on home ice, playing three times, beginning Wednesday against Sudbury. Friday night, the Hounds host Guelph, and Peterborough comes to town Sunday evening.
8. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 10) The Guelph Storm continue to climb back up the Power Rankings, winning two of three games this week to jump two spots. On Friday night, the Storm defeated the visitors from Niagara, but followed that up with a loss in Barrie the next night. Wrapping up a three-game weekend, Guelph won big back at home, defeating Sudbury on Sunday afternoon. It will be a relatively quiet week for the Storm, as they play only twice, Friday night, in Sault Ste. Marie, and Sunday afternoon, in Sudbury.
9. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 9) Once the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, a slow slide has seen the Barrie Colts surpassed for the conference lead, though they remain comfortably in control of the Central Division. The Colts picked up three points from as many games this week, which began Thursday night, when they lost in overtime to the visitors from Owen Sound. Friday night, Barrie lost again, this time in Sudbury, but ended their week on a high note Saturday night, posting a home ice shutout over Guelph. The Colts are in action twice this week, playing host to Owen Sound on Thursday, then traveling to Mississauga for a Friday night tilt.
10. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 8) The Saginaw Spirit have been on a solid run as of late, making it tough for any team to catch them for the final playoff spot in the West. Losses in two of three games this week, however, may have opened the door ever so slightly. After impressing in a Friday night win in Kitchener, the Spirit couldn’t use that momentum to earn further points, losing Saturday, in Owen Sound, and Sunday, in London. With that tough part of the schedule behind them, Saginaw can now turn their attention to their only game in the coming week, as they host Sarnia on Saturday night.
11. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 11) With a split in a pair of games this week, the Brampton Battalion hold firm in the middle of the Power Rankings, staying at number eleven. On Friday night, the Battalion won down the road in Mississauga, but lost back at home on Sunday afternoon, dropping a tough decision against Kitchener. The schedule picks up for Brampton, who play three times this week, beginning on Wednesday night in Belleville. Friday, the Battalion take their act to Oshawa, before returning home to wrap up the weekend Sunday afternoon against Ottawa.
12. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 13) The Sarnia Sting find themselves up one spot this week on the OHL Power Rankings, though they may feel disappointed after winning just one of their three games over the last week. Thursday night, the Sting started on the wrong foot, losing at home to Sault Ste. Marie, but erupted a night later, scoring thirteen goals in a romp over the visitors from Erie. Sarnia should have saved some of those goals for the following night, as they found themselves shutout in Plymouth. The Sting face a pair of road games over the weekend ahead, as they play in London on Friday, and Saginaw on Saturday.
13. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 14) The Peterborough Petes refuse to go away quietly in the playoff race in the East, and are trying to make things difficult on Kingston and Mississauga ahead of them in the standings. While Peterborough started this past week off with a solid win at home to Oshawa on Thursday, they failed to capitalize and lost both weekend games, Saturday, in Belleville, and Sunday, in Oshawa. With points at a premium, the Petes play three important games this week, beginning at home Thursday night when they take on Ottawa. Peterborough then heads out on a northern road trip, playing in Sudbury on Saturday, and in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday night.
14. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 12) A tough weekend for the Sudbury Wolves sees them fall two spots on the OHL Power Rankings this week, making their battle for home advantage all the more difficult heading into the final three weeks. After starting the week with a big win at home to Barrie on Friday night, the Wolves dropped back-to-back games, losing Saturday, in Kitchener, and Sunday, in Guelph. Sudbury remains on the road to start the week ahead, playing in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday night, before returning home for games over the weekend. Friday night, the Wolves host Peterborough, and Sunday afternoon, Guelph comes to town.
15. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 18) It was a much better week for the Windsor Spitfires, who put an end to a five-game losing streak that put them up against the ropes in their quest for a Western Conference playoff spot. Thursday night, the Spits won at home against Erie, but lost big a night later, in Plymouth. In a rematch with Plymouth on Sunday afternoon, Windsor showed better resolve, outlasting the West Division leaders for a big two points. Another tough test awaits the Spitfires this week, as they open the week with a visit from London on Thursday night. Saturday, Windsor heads out to play in Erie, before finishing the week in Niagara on Sunday afternoon
16. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 15) The Niagara Icedogs continue to struggle over the second half of the season, and their fall down the OHL Power Rankings continues yet again this week. In a game with huge playoff implications on Thursday night, the Icedogs laid an egg on home ice, as they were trounced by Mississauga. Niagara’s woes continued a night later, when they lost in Guelph, but the Icedogs finished the week on a high-note, defeating Kingston back on home ice on Saturday night. Niagara will look to build some positive momentum off of that win this week, as they play three times, beginning at home on Thursday night against Plymouth. Saturday night, the Icedogs take their act to Belleville, before returning home for a tough test against Windsor on Sunday afternoon.
17. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 16) While the coaching staff of the Kingston Frontenacs should be commended for keeping this young club in the race for as long as they did, the team has simply hit a wall over the past few weeks, falling from grace in the Eastern Conference to the point where their playoff fate is now in jeopardy. Kingston did pick up two big points by splitting their two games over the past weekend, as they answered a loss in Niagara on Saturday with an important victory in Erie the following day. The Fronts will need to be tough over the final few weeks of the season, beginning with three important divisional matchups in the coming week. Wednesday night, Kingston plays host to Oshawa, before receiving a visit from the division leaders from Belleville on Friday night. The Frontenacs finish the weekend Sunday evening, when they play in Oshawa.
18. Mississauga Steelheads – (Last Week: 17) Another Eastern team struggling down the stretch is the Mississauga Steelheads, who have been unable to put serious distance between themselves and the eighth and ninth place teams in the conference. While the Steelheads started the week with an incredible performance in Niagara on Thursday night, they were unable to bring that magic home with them for a pair of weekend games, losing to Brampton, on Friday, and Sault Ste. Marie, Sunday afternoon. Mississauga doesn’t play before beginning a three-game weekend against Barrie on Friday night, but will travel to Owen Sound for a Saturday night contest before returning home to challenge Plymouth on Sunday afternoon.
19. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 19) The only team officially eliminated in the West so far, the Erie Otters are still playing for pride, and, while the results haven’t always come, opponents still rave about the Erie’s compete level. Three more losses extended the Otters losing streak to five games, as they dropped decisions this week in Windsor on Thursday, in Sarnia on Friday, and back at home versus Kingston on Sunday afternoon. Erie remains in their friendly confines for both games in the coming week, as the Otters host Plymouth on Friday, and Windsor on Saturday.
20. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 20) Erie’s Eastern counterpart in team’s already officially eliminated, the Ottawa 67s are looking ahead to next season, where they will likely be a much improved club. Losses in Belleville on Wednesday, in Oshawa on Friday, and back at home versus Belleville on Sunday extended Ottawa’s losing streak to seven in a row, which the 67s will try to shake this week with a pair of games. Thursday night, Ottawa plays in Peterborough before continuing on to play in Brampton on Sunday afternoon.
The ITO Players of the Week and OHL Power Rankings can be found every week for the rest of the season, right here at OHLWriters.com. Until then, you can regularly find my ramblings about the Ontario Hockey League, as well as the Toronto Maple Leafs, @N24Nicholson.
Anthony Nicholson is the Sports Editor for Toronto News 24 covering the Toronto Maple Leafs and regular contributor to OHLWriters.com. Contact Anthony anytime for a conversation by joining him on Twitter, or send mail to email@example.com.
Photo: Reid Boucher of the Sarnia Sting is on the verge of history, sitting one goal away from tying the franchise record for goals in a season, set by Steven Stamkos. (Photo Courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHLImages)