This week, before we take a look at our weekly top performers and OHL Power Rankings, let’s take a moment to look at some of the front-runners for the Goaltender of the Year in the OHL. This is a race that is sure to generate some debate, as there doesn’t seem to be one clear leader who is running away with it this season.

Malcolm Subban of the Belleville Bulls will get consideration, and has the numbers to back it up, as his 2.18 GAA is the best in the Ontario Hockey League, while his .931 save percentage sits a close second to Barrie’s Mathias Niederberger, who should also gain much consideration when it comes time to choose. Subban and Niederberger have posted incredibly similar seasons for their respective clubs, and they find themselves leading the top two teams in the Eastern Conference.

Out west, a name to consider is Owen Sound’s Jordan Binnington, who sits second in league GAA average to Subban, and third in save percentage behind the aforementioned netminders. Guelph’s Garret Sparks leads all goaltenders in shutouts this season, with seven, and his performance has helped keep the Storm running with the leaders in the West all season long.

When it comes down to it this season, my gut tells me that this award will come to the East this season, after being won by Michael Houser of the London Knights a year ago. Subban and Niederberger will garner a lot of attention, as will Sudbury’s Franky Palazzese, who’s numbers have been nothing short of spectacular since joining the Wolves from Kitchener in January. Nobody has played more in goal than Oshawa’s Daniel Altshuller, who has played in 55 of his teams 62 games this season, and leads all OHL goalies in wins, with 34.

With a couple of weeks still left in the Ontario Hockey League season, this could very well be an award that is still up for grabs. While the names mentioned above would seem to be the front-runners, who is to say if someone else may have a say in things before all is said and done.

 

Players Of The Week

Top Forward

Brett Ritchie (Niagara Icedogs) – Brett Ritchie of the Niagara Icedogs has clearly stepped up his game, with his team struggling as of late, and his impressive play this week would help stabilize the Icedogs from falling any further in the Eastern Conference standings. Brett played a factor in all three of Niagara’s games this past week, starting when he scored his team’s only goal Thursday night, in a loss to Plymouth. On Saturday, Ritchie scored twice and added an assist, helping his ‘Dogs shock Belleville in overtime. Brett’s great week was capped on Sunday afternoon, when he scored two more goals as part of a four point game against Windsor. In his three games this week, Ritchie scored five goals and added three assists, his five goals and eight points led all Ontario Hockey League players this week. As such, for the second time this season, Brett Ritchie earns the nod as the Top Forward this week.

Top Defenseman

Cody Ceci (Owen Sound Attack) – There’s not a lot that needs to be said of how superb Cody Ceci of the Owen Sound Attack is, and he’s quickly become the anchor that runs the Owen Sound offense from the back end. Cody was the top scoring defender in the Ontario Hockey League this week, even after he was kept off of the scoresheet in his team’s first game, a loss Thursday night in Barrie. Ceci would get better in every game this week, and on Friday, he set up the tying goal in the third period, helping his team secure a point in a shootout loss in Kitchener. Playing their third game in as many nights Saturday, Cody really stepped up, scoring twice, and adding a pair of helpers, as Owen Sound cruised past Mississauga. When all was said and done, Ceci’s two goals and five points, along with a +2 rating, snared this week’s selection as the league’s Top Defenseman.

Alex Nedeljkovic (Plymouth Whalers) – For a second straight week, the league’s Top Goatender is none other than Alex Nedeljkovic of the Plymouth Whalers, who has completely taken over the starter’s job for the Whalers heading into the playoffs. Thursday night in Niagara, Alex turned aside 25 of 26 shots, and the offense provided more than enough to earn the victory, and he made 17 saves a night later in Erie in earning another win. Nedeljkovic picked up his first selection as the league’s top goalie last week after posting his first career shutout, and he wouldn’t have to wait long for his second, earning that on Sunday afternoon in Mississauga. In his three victories this week, Alex gave up just three goals, turning aside 66 of the 69 shots he faced, and becomes a rare repeat choice as the league’s Top Goaltender.

 

OHL Power Rankings

1. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 1) While the Belleville Bulls may not be coming off of their best week of the season, they remain atop the OHL Power Rankings for a fourth straight week, after earning three points from as many games. On Wednesday night, the week’s action began as good as the Bulls could have hoped, as they shut out Brampton at home. The week would quickly go sour for Belleville, as they lost in Kingston on Friday night, then lost again Saturday, this time on home ice, dropping an overtime decision to Niagara. The Bulls hope to reset this week, as they play three more games, which begins with a Wednesday night home game against Ottawa. Belleville then heads out for weekend games, playing in Sudbury, on Friday, and in Barrie, on Saturday.

2. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 2) Another excellent week for the Plymouth Whalers has certainly closed the gap between themselves and the leaders on the OHL Power Rankings, though they remain at number two for another week. The Whalers were nothing short of absolutely dominant in their three games this week, winning all three, in regulation time, by a combined score of 19-3. What’s more impressive, is that they did so away from home, posting wins Thursday, in Niagara, Friday, in Erie, and Sunday afternoon, in Mississauga. 11-1 in their last 12 games, Plymouth looks to overtake the top spot this week with two more games, beginning with a rare Tuesday morning affair in Saginaw. The two teams play again five days later, as the Whalers play host to Saginaw on Sunday afternoon.

3. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 6) While the division lead may seem out of reach, the Oshawa Generals are comfortably sitting in the third seed in the Eastern Conference, and still have eyes for the division crown, however unlikely that may be. The Gens rattled off three more wins this week, extending the current streak to five wins in a row, with victories Wednesday, in Kingston, Friday, back at home versus Brampton, and again one home ice Sunday, defeating Kingston again. Winners of nine of their last eleven, Oshawa looks to keep the momentum through a pair of road games this weekend, as they play in Kingston Friday night, the third meeting in ten days between those two clubs, before traveling to Brampton for a Sunday afternoon game.

4. London Knights – (Last Week: 4) The London Knights remain comfortable at number four this week, and extended their winning streak to seven games with three more wins this week. Thursday, the Knights won in Windsor, and the next night, won again, this time by way of a shootout over Sarnia. Sunday afternoon, London completed another perfect week with a big win at home over Kitchener. Sunday’s game was the last home game for the Knights this season, who now finish with a six-game road trip. Having already locked up first place in the Western Conference, London plays three times this week, Wednesday, in Owen Sound, Friday, in Sarnia, and Sunday, in Windsor.

5. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 8) It may not have been the busiest week for the Guelph Storm, but they took full advantage of the two games they played, winning both to climb three spots on this week’s OHL Power Rankings. A win in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night would be followed by another in Sudbury on Sunday afternoon, as the Storm won their third straight. Guelph looks to keep the streak alive with three more games this week, including a Tuesday night contest in Kitchener. The Storm return to home ice over the weekend, playing host to Sault Ste. Marie on Friday, and Saginaw on Saturday.

6. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 3) The Owen Sound Attack slide three spots this week, and find themselves at number six on the OHL Power Rankings, as three points in as many games wasn’t enough to keep pace in the top five. Thursday night, the Attack were stymied in Barrie, and lost a shootout the following night, at home to Kitchener. Owen Sound took that important point and built off of it, winning Saturday over the visitors from Mississauga. The Attack start the week ahead with a big contest, as they host London on Wednesday night, before Erie visits for a pair of weekend games, the teams meeting in Owen Sound on Friday and Saturday nights.

7. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 5) With a split in their two games this past week, the Kitchener Rangers drop to number seven on this week’s Power Rankings, but remain in the thick of a playoff race in the Western Conference, as they battle for home advantage. Friday night, the Rangers won a big shootout in Owen Sound, but failed to capitalize in their next contest, losing in London on Sunday afternoon. Kitchener remains home to play their final three home games in the week ahead, beginning with another big game, as Guelph visits on Tuesday. On Friday night, Saginaw visits, before the Rangers wrap up their home schedule Sunday afternoon versus Sault Ste. Marie.

8. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 9) The Barrie Colts appear well on their way to a Central Division crown this season, though the team has struggled with adversity in recent weeks. With much of the roster now re-united, Barrie is playing very well down the stretch, as they battle for the Eastern Conference top seed. Thursday, the Colts won at home to Owen Sound, and won again Friday, a shootout victory in Mississauga. Barrie, winners of three in a row now, will look to build on that with three games in four days this weekend. On Thursday, the Colts host Sudbury, before an important battle at home to Belleville on Saturday. Barrie wraps up the weekend on the road, playing Sunday afternoon in Niagara.

9. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 7) The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds fall two spots on this week’s OHL Power Rankings, but maintained position in the Western Conference with three points in as many games. The Hounds lost a shootout decision at home to Sudbury on Wednesday night, and lost again, without earning a point, Friday night versus Guelph. The Soo rebounded to salvage an even week on Sunday, posting a shutout over Peterborough. The Greyhounds head out for their final three road games over the next week, as they play in Windsor, Thursday, Guelph on Friday, and in Kitchener on Sunday afternoon.

10. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 10) With only one game this week, the Saginaw Spirit didn’t show us anything to result in a change of position on this week’s OHL Power Rankings, as they lost a wildly high-scoring affair against Sarnia on Saturday night. The action certainly picks up this week for the Spirit, as they play four games in six days, including a three-game weekend. Tuesday morning, Saginaw will be up bright and early to tangle with Plymouth, then bus-life takes over, as the Spirit play in Kitchener on Friday night, in Guelph on Saturday, and in Plymouth on Sunday afternoon.

11. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 11) The Brampton Battalion hold firm at number eleven this week, as the middle of the OHL Power Rankings remain virtually unchanged. Brampton struggled through a difficult portion of the schedule in this past week, as they lost games Wednesday in Belleville, and Friday in Oshawa, before recovering back at home Sunday afternoon versus Ottawa. The Battalion remain at home for both of their games in the coming week, but both will be important, as they host Mississauga on Friday, and Oshawa on Sunday.

12. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 12) The Sarnia Sting have to feel this past week was a success, after earning three of four possible points on the road against quality competition. Friday night, the Sting held in tough playing in London, eventually losing in a shootout, before moving on to Saginaw, where they outlasted their hosts in an 8-7 game. Sarnia returns home, looking to build on recent success with a pair of games, as they host London on Friday night, and Guelph on Sunday afternoon.

13. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 14)  The Sudbury Wolves continue to fight for home advantage in the Eastern Conference, and won two of three games this past week to climb to number thirteen on the OHL Power Rankings. Wednesday night, the Wolves won a shootout in Sault Ste. Marie, which they followed by winning again Friday, at home to Peterborough. Sunday afternoon, however, the result would play out differently, as Sudbury lost at home to Guelph. Looking ahead, the Wolves play just twice this week, as they play in Barrie on Thursday night before returning home to battle Belleville on Friday.

14. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 13) While the Peterborough Petes continue to push for one of the final playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, this past week won’t help, as they won just once in three tries, that win coming in a shootout at home to Ottawa on Thursday night. A northern road trip wouldn’t go so well for Peterborough, as they lost in Sudbury on Friday night, and lost again in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday. The Petes will look to make the most of their two games this week, none bigger than a home date against Kingston on Thursday night. Sunday afternoon, Peterborough receives another visit from Ottawa that they will look to capitalize on.

15. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 17) The Kingston Frontenacs continue to fight, as they find themselves on thin ice, fighting with Mississauga and Peterborough for the final two playoff spots in the East. The schedule did the Fronts no favours, as they found themselves facing three tough games over the past week. Wednesday night, Kingston lost at home to Oshawa, but managed an upset victory over the visitors from Belleville on Friday. Sunday afternoon, the Frontenacs would lose in Oshawa, and the schedule gets no easier in the week ahead. Thursday night, Kingston faces a huge game in Peterborough, before returning home for yet another contest with Oshawa. On Sunday afternoon, Mississauga comes to town, another game with huge playoff implications.

16. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 16) It was a better week for the Niagara Icedogs, who had slipped dangerously close to the teams below them in the standings, but wins in two of three games this week gives them some much needed breathing space. Thursday night, Niagara was crushed on home ice by Plymouth, but retaliated with two solid performances, winning a shootout in Belleville on Saturday, and running up the score in a big win over Windsor on Sunday afternoon. The Icedogs remain in Niagara for their two games this week, as they play host to Mississauga on Thursday night, and Barrie on Sunday afternoon.

17. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 15) The Windsor Spitfires continue to sit on the outside looking in at the playoff race in the Western Conference, and this week may have been the week that ultimately dooms them this season. Three straight losses stalled any momentum Windsor had coming into the week, though they did earn a single point on the three-game slide. Thursday, the Spits lost at home to London, and grabbed their point by losing in overtime in Erie on Saturday. On Sunday, Windsor lost again in Niagara, and with two wins in their last eleven, show no signs of challenging this season. Windsor can’t afford to leave any points on the table in their two games this week, no easy task, as they host Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday night, and London on Sunday afternoon.

18. Mississauga Steelheads – (Last Week: 18) The Mississauga Steelheads season has really flat-lined over the last few weeks, and they seem to be far more a team playing out the stretch, as opposed to a seventh seed gearing up for a big playoff run. Losses in all three of their games this week extended the Steelheads losing streak to five, as they were shutout at home by Barrie on Friday night, and lost in Owen Sound on Saturday. Sunday afternoon, they found themselves shutout at home for a second straight time, losing to Plymouth. With only three wins and seven points in their last fifteen games, Mississauga finds their playoff spot in serious jeopardy, as they play five of their last six games away from home, including all three in the week ahead. The Steelheads open the week Thursday night in Niagara, before making stops in Brampton on Friday, and a big contest in Kingston ends the week Sunday afternoon.

19. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 19) Long out of the race, the Erie Otters will be playing out the stretch over the final two weeks of the season, but they haven’t lost their compete, proven by a split in their two games this past week. After losing at home to Plymouth on Friday night, the Otters rebounded by defeating Windsor in overtime a night later. Erie faces a simple trip away from home this week, as they travel to Owen Sound, where they will play on Friday, and again Saturday.

20. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 20) The Ottawa 67’s have all but sewn up the first overall pick in this spring’s OHL Priority Selection Draft, sitting well behind the other nineteen teams, but can see the light at the end of the tunnel that is the end of the season. Two more losses this week extended their losing streak to nine games, as they haven’t won since February 9th against Windsor. The 67’s did pick up a point Thursday night in Peterborough, as they lost in a shootout, but followed that performance with another loss, Sunday afternoon in Brampton. Ottawa plays twice this week, both away from home, as they play in Belleville on Wednesday night, and in Peterborough 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 anicholson@n24.ca.

Photo: Cody Ceci of the Owen Sound Attack picked up this week’s honours as the Ontario Hockey League’s Top Defenseman as chosen by us, after scoring two goals and three assists in three games. (Photo Courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHLImages)