With just one week to go before the end of the Ontario Hockey League regular season, we will take a look at some of the potential playoff matchups, and how things could wind up playing out over the next seven days. After that, we’ll get into our top performers this week, along with another look at our OHL Power Rankings, which includes a brand new number one.
Starting in the Western Conference, one playoff matchup has already been set, as the top seeded London Knights will battle with the Saginaw Spirit in the opening round. Beyond that, however, every other matchup is still up in the air. The Plymouth Whalers have secured the West Division crown, entitled them to the second seed in the playoffs for round one, and, barring a monumental collapse, the Owen Sound Attack should be able to secure the third seed. This leaves a pair of interesting battles for position, as the Attack and Whalers await the outcome of the race for sixth. The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds sit two points ahead of the Sarnia Sting for sixth, and each team plays three games in the coming week. Whoever finishes higher will face Owen Sound, while the other must deal with Plymouth in round one. The race for fourth is also intriguing as the season wears down, as two rivals, the Kitchener Rangers and Guelph Storm, battle for home-ice advantage ahead of a first round meeting. Kitchener comes into the week with a two-point lead, but Wednesday’s head-to-head matchup in Guelph could likely decide who gets the extra home game.
Switching gears to look at the Eastern Conference, the Barrie Colts have secured one of the top two seeds after easily winning the Central Division, while Belleville appears certain to win the East Division. The teams, however, enter the final week of the season tied at 88 points, and will fight among themselves to see who finishes first, and who must settle for second. At the other end of the spectrum, we have three teams fighting for the final two playoff spots, as the Kingston Frontenacs, Mississauga Steelheads, and Peterborough Petes fight to the bitter end. Kingston and Mississauga currently have 57 points, while Peterborough chases them with 55 points. What’s interesting here is that Peterborough plays games against both Kingston and Mississauga this week, perhaps giving them the ability to control their own fate by winning out the season.
Elsewhere in the East, while the Oshawa Generals still have eyes for the East Division title, it appears all but impossible for that to happen, as they look to sit comfortably into the third seed in the conference. The Brampton Battalion and Sudbury Wolves are entrenched in a battle to determine who gets fourth place, as Brampton enters the week with a two-point lead as well as a game in hand on Sudbury. If the Wolves are not to catch Brampton ahead of them, they want to keep their eye on what is happening behind them as well, as the Niagara Icedogs, currently sitting sixth, sit just three points behind Sudbury for fifth place. Both Niagara and Sudbury would like to avoid a first-round matchup against the Oshawa Generals, so that race could become interesting by the time this weekend rolls around as well.
Players Of The Week
Mark Scheifele (Barrie Colts) – The Barrie Colts continue to be thankful for the return of Mark Scheifele from the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL, as his return has coincided with the return of the Barrie Colts club that dominated the East over the first half of the OHL season. Mark would be instrumental in three victories for Barrie this past week, beginning with a two-goal, three-point performance against Sudbury on Thursday night. On Saturday, Scheifele scored a short-handed goal, helping his team reach overtime against Belleville, where the Colts would win again. Sunday afternoon, Mark scored three more goals, including the game-winner, and added a pair of assists as Barrie won in Niagara. During his three games, Scheifele registered six goals and nine points, good enough to earn our nod as the league’s Top Forward this week.
Nelson Armstrong (Peterborough Petes) – In limited action so far this season, rookie defender Nelson Armstrong has begun to turn some heads around the league, and his performance in a pair of games this past week could very well have been his coming out party, as the entire league is on notice now. Nelson made an impact in both of his team’s games this week, as Peterborough continues to push for one of the remaining playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Armstrong scored a big goal on Thursday night, turning momentum in a game that would be big for his team, as the Petes defeated Kingston, and Sunday afternoon, Nelson had a hand in four Peterborough goals, all assists, as the Petes knocked off Ottawa. His five points in two games ranked among the defensive leaders this past week, and earns his first selection as our Top Defenseman.
Daniel Altshuller (Oshawa Generals) – The Oshawa Generals continue to tear up the Eastern Conference, and you can see the confidence growing in their second-year goaltender with every passing game. While he only played twice this week, Daniel came up big in both contests, as his team keeps faith that they can overtake Belleville for the top spot in the East Division. Friday night, Altshuller turned aside 31 shots in Kingston, many of them difficult saves, as the Gens won 5-2, and his incredible play continued in Brampton on Sunday afternoon, as he stopped 37 of 38 Battalion shots to earn another big victory. With a save percentage of .958, and after giving up just three goals against two opponents hungry for points, Altshuller is chosen as our Top Goaltender for a second time this season.
OHL Power Rankings
1. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 2) We have a new leader at the top of the OHL Power Rankings this week, as the Plymouth Whalers continue to impress down the final stretch of the 2012-13 season. While it may not have been the busiest week for the Whalers, they certainly made the most of their games, winning a pair of games against Saginaw to extend a winning streak to five games. After winning on the road on Tuesday morning, Plymouth returned home to win again on Sunday afternoon, taking both ends of their home-and-home series. Winners of 13 of their last 14, the Whalers will look to finish strong in the final week of the season, which begins in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday night. Plymouth wraps up their home schedule on Saturday night, against Windsor, then finishes the season the following afternoon in Windsor.
2. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 3) As hot as the Plymouth Whalers have been in the Western Conference, the Oshawa Generals have been equally so over in the OHL East, where they used a pair of road victories this week to extend their own winning streak to seven in a row, and eleven of their last thirteen games. Oshawa earned their wins this week Friday night in Kingston, and Sunday afternoon in Brampton, and look to end the season strong, looking comfortably secure as the conference’s third seed. On Wednesday night, the Generals travel to Belleville for a big contest with the division leaders, before moving on for another game Friday night in Ottawa. Oshawa ends the season back on home ice on Sunday evening, when they host Sudbury.
3. London Knights – (Last Week: 4) Finishing the season on a six-game road trip can’t be the easy, so the London Knights could be excused for their minor hiccup over the past seven days, as they still managed to earn three points from three games away from home. With the Western Conference top seed long locked up, the Knights are more concerned with finishing the season healthy, as they prepare for a long playoff push, that will hopefully culminate in a second-straight Memorial Cup appearance. London’s first two games of the week would be decided in a shootout, as they came out on top Wednesday night in Owen Sound, but found themselves on the other end of the result Friday night in Sarnia. Sunday afternoon, the Knights laid an egg in Windsor, losing big to a team out of the playoff race. London faces three more road games before returning home to start the post-season, beginning with a game in Erie on Wednesday night. Over the weekend, the Knights play games Saturday, in Saginaw, and Sunday, in Sault Ste. Marie. Saturday’s contest with the Spirit will also be a preview of their opening round opponents.
4. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 1) A tough fall for the former leaders of the OHL Power Rankings, who drop out of the top three this week, as they continue to struggle to lock up the East Division crown, along with potentially the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Wednesday night, the Bulls dropped a game on home ice to the worst team in the OHL, Ottawa, but rebounded with a big win in Sudbury on Friday night. Belleville ended the week in Barrie, where they left a point behind, losing in overtime. With just one win in their last five, the Bulls will look to figure out their problems over the final week of the season, where they get four games to work with. Monday night, they play in Kingston, a game rescheduled due to last month’s snowstorm, then return home to deal with Oshawa on Wednesday. Over the weekend, Belleville plays Friday night in Mississauga before ending the season at home to Sudbury on Saturday night.
5. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 6) The Owen Sound Attack appear destined to finish the season strong, as they hope for their own success in the post-season this year. The Attack had the benefit of three home games over the last week, and they made the most of them, taking five of six possible points. After losing a tough shootout game against London on Wednesday night, Owen Sound remained strong over the weekend, defeating Erie twice. With just one loss in regulation in their last eleven games, the Attack finish the regular season with three more games, two on the road, beginning in Windsor on Thursday night. Friday night, Owen Sound plays in Sarnia, and Saturday, both teams return to Owen Sound for a rematch, ending the season for the Attack.
6. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 8) After recovering from some late-season struggles, the Barrie Colts have their regular lineup back together once again, and are firing on all cylinders entering the final week of the season. Thursday night, the Colts won at home to Sudbury, and won again Saturday night, this time in overtime, on home ice against Belleville. While tired, Barrie played a solid game Sunday afternoon in Niagara, and would come out on top of a high-scoring affair. With three games left to play this week, the Colts look to clinch top spot in the Eastern Conference, beginning when they host Kingston on Thursday. A night later, Barrie plays in Brampton, before returning home to end the season Saturday night versus Niagara.
7. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 5) Coming off of a busy four-game week, the Guelph Storm find themselves down two spots this week on the OHL Power Rankings after earning a split in those games. After a loss in Kitchener on Tuesday night, the Storm rebounded back at home Friday night, defeating Sault Ste. Marie. On Saturday, Guelph lost at home to Saginaw, but finished the week on a high note, winning in Sarnia on Sunday afternoon. With three games remaining, the Storm can still earn home advantage in the playoffs, trailing Kitchener by two points. Guelph plays host to Kitchener on Wednesday night in a huge battle, before ending the season with a home-and-home series against Erie, playing at home on Friday, and on the road Saturday night.
8. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 7) Entering the final week of the season, the Kitchener Rangers control their own destiny, as they hope to clinch home-ice advantage for the opening round of the playoffs. The Rangers started the week on Tuesday night, winning a big game at home to Guelph, but couldn’t maintain momentum, losing in a shootout to Saginaw on Friday, and losing again to Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday, both at home. Kitchener finishes the season playing on the road this week, and can put four points between themselves and fifth place with two games remaining if they can win in Guelph on Wednesday night. Friday night, the Rangers travel to Saginaw before ending the season in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday.
9. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 9) No change in the OHL Power Rankings for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, as they hold firm at number nine this week, despite dropping two of three on the road last week. After losses Thursday, in Windsor, and Friday, in Guelph, the Hounds ended the week with a big victory in Kitchener on Sunday afternoon. After finishing their road schedule last week, the Greyhounds play three home games to close out the season, beginning Wednesday, when Plymouth comes to town in a potential first-round preview. Saturday night, Sault Ste. Marie hosts Kitchener, then wraps up the season with a contest against London on Sunday night.
10. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 11) Up one spot this week, the Brampton Battalion continue to fight to try and earn home-ice in the opening round of the playoffs. The troops split a pair of games this past week, winning a shootout Friday night at home to Mississauga, but losing at home to Oshawa Sunday afternoon. Brampton has a two-point lead on fifth-place Sudbury, and play four games over the final week of the season, beginning in Ottawa on Tuesday. Thursday night, the Battalion play in Niagara, before returning home for a pair of weekend games, hosting Barrie on Friday, and Peterborough on Sunday.
11. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 12) With a split in their two games this past week, the Sarnia Sting find themselves able to climb a single spot on the OHL Power Rankings, landing at number eleven. Friday night, the Sting pulled off an impressive shootout victory over the visitors from London in front of a national audience, but lost Sunday afternoon when Guelph came to town. Sarnia plays three games in three days this week to wrap up their regular season, which starts on Thursday when they host Saginaw. A night later, the Sting play host to Owen Sound, before traveling to Owen Sound to end the season on Saturday night.
12. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 10) The Saginaw Spirit find themselves down two spots this week on the OHL Power Rankings, but that will be the least of their concerns, as they were able to win two of their four games to punch their ticket into the Western Conference playoffs. After losing a Tuesday morning game at home to Plymouth, the Spirit rebounded with a pair of wins, winning a shootout in Kitchener, then winning again in Guelph the next night. Sunday afternoon, Saginaw lost to Plymouth again, this time on the road. The Spirit play three games in as many nights this week, beginning with a contest in Sarnia on Thursday. On Friday, Saginaw hosts Kitchener, before ending the season Saturday night at home to London, who they will also face in the opening round of the playoffs.
13. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 14) The Peterborough Petes absolutely refuse to fade away quietly in the Eastern Conference playoff race, and have made things uncomfortable for Kingston and Mississauga, who both sit just two points ahead entering the final week. The Petes won a big contest Thursday night, winning at home to Kingston, and won again when Ottawa visited on Sunday afternoon. Peterborough could very well control their own fate over the final seven days of the schedule, as they play games against both of the teams they are trying to overtake. On Tuesday, the Petes host Mississauga in a game that could decide the fate of one of the two teams, before Peterborough plays in Kingston on Friday night. The Petes then end the season on Sunday afternoon, when they play in Brampton.
14. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 17) With the pressure of trying to remain in the playoff picture behind them, the Windsor Spitfires have been impressive since being eliminated, winning a pair of games over quality opposition. The Spits took full advantage of home-ice last week, scoring seven in a win over Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday, and scoring eight in a big victory over London on Sunday afternoon. Before looking ahead to next year, Windsor finishes the 2012-13 season with three games in four days over the upcoming weekend, as they host Owen Sound on Thursday, play in Plymouth on Saturday, and play Plymouth again, this time at home, on Sunday afternoon.
15. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 13) Entering the final week of the season, the Sudbury Wolves are struggling with consistency, as they battle for home-ice in the league’s Eastern Conference. A pair of losses this week extended their losing streak to three in a row, as they dropped games Thursday, in Barrie, and Friday, back at home against Belleville. The Wolves could finish as high as fourth or as low as sixth in the East, depending on how they finish this week, and the schedule won’t be an easy one. On Friday night, Sudbury hosts Niagara, before heading out for road games Saturday, in Belleville, and Sunday, in Oshawa.
16. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 16) The Niagara Icedogs got through a quiet week on the schedule by splitting a pair of games, and remain firm at number sixteen on this week’s OHL Power Rankings in the process. On Thursday, the ‘Dogs downed Mississauga in a shootout on home-ice, but failed to outlast Barrie on Sunday afternoon. If Niagara is to avoid a third straight playoff meeting with Oshawa, they will need to find a way to overtake Sudbury, who they trail by three points, and have three games in as many days to do so. Thursday, the Icedogs host Brampton, before playing a big game in Sudbury on Friday night. Niagara ends the season Saturday night in Barrie.
17. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 15) The Kingston Frontenacs slip two spots this week in the OHL Power Rankings, and continue to fight with Mississauga and Peterborough for the two remaining playoff positions in the Eastern Conference. After losses Thursday, in Peterborough, and Friday, at home to Oshawa, the Fronts won a big contest Sunday afternoon at home to Mississauga, giving them a two-point lead on the Petes in ninth place, with a game in hand. Kingston gets to play that extra game this week, as they play four times, beginning with a visit from Belleville on Monday night. Thursday, the Frontenacs play in Barrie, then return home for a big game against Peterborough on Friday night. Kingston wraps up the regular season Sunday afternoon, when they host Ottawa.
18. Mississauga Steelheads – (Last Week: 18) While mired near the bottom of the OHL Power Rankings, there is still hope for the Mississauga Steelheads, as they cling to the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, and cling to a slim two-point edge. Three more losses this week extended their streak to eight in a row without a win, and another winless week could very well play Mississauga out of the playoff race. The Steelheads earned two huge points this past week by losing in shootouts Thursday, in Niagara, and Friday, in Brampton, but they lost without earning even a point Sunday afternoon in Kingston, as the slide continues. Mississauga gets three more tries to clinch a post-season berth, beginning with a huge game in Peterborough on Tuesday night. On Friday, the Steelheads host Belleville, before playing what they hope won’t be their final game this year Saturday afternoon in Ottawa.
19. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 19) Playing out the schedule, the Erie Otters seem secure in the nineteen slot on the OHL Power Rankings, and a pair of losses in Owen Sound this past week galvanized that position. The Otters play three games this week to finish off their schedule, and before they can look ahead to next year, as they host London on Wednesday night before playing a home-and-home series with Guelph. Erie plays on the road Friday night, and ends the season Saturday, back on home-ice.
20. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 20) The Ottawa 67s have locked the first overall selection in the OHL draft to be held later this spring, and they don’t have much to look forward to between now and then, save for a few more games on the schedule. Despite that, Ottawa has continued to play good hockey, as a young squad appears to be learning lessons now that they can apply moving forward. Proof of that was seen Wednesday night, when they went into Belleville and came away with an impressive victory. On Sunday, the 67s were dropped in Peterborough, but have four games remaining to play for pride. On Tuesday, Ottawa hosts Brampton, beginning a three-game home-stand that includes visits from Oshawa, on Friday, and Mississauga, on Saturday afternoon. The 67s end their 2013 season in Kingston on Sunday afternoon.
Next week’s ITO Players of the Week and OHL Power Rankings will be the final edition for the season, and will come with a playoff preview of all eight first-round matchups. Find it next Tuesday, March 19th, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Mark Scheifele of the Barrie Colts is the week’s OHL Top Forward, after posting six goals and nine points in just three games. (Photo Courtesy: Terry Wilson/OHLImages)