Welcome back to the Wild West Wednesday Weekly where we examine what's going on in the Western Conference.
1. It’s been a back-and-forth career for Jordan Binnington in the crease of the Owen Sound Attack. Throughout the OHL Championship season he played in 46 games during the regular season, but became part of a 7-13-7 split during the playoffs. Last year he still got into 39 games, but veteran Attack keeper Scott Stajcer needed his time too. This year the job is all his, along with a spot in the Subway Super Series for both games. The first was a bit of a let-down, letting in both Russian goals (including a softy to Maxim Shalunov), and then followed it up with a 5-goal-against win versus the Greyhounds on Saturday. Fortunately for Binnington, he righted the ship with an 8-save and scoreless 30:32 minute performance Monday in Sarnia, better showcasing a season that has him top-five in wins, goals-against average, and save percentage.
2. The Sarnia Sting went from powerhouse last year, to a letdown in the playoffs, to a pre-season curiosity this year. Well suddenly, through Wednesday night’s action, the Sting were leading the West Division, two points ahead of the Plymouth Whalers. The Sting have won four in a row, three of them with over-ager JP Anderson in net. Anderson hasn’t really risen above his career averages established in Mississauga, but he does become an interesting play for teams eyeing goaltending help: If the Sting find a way to keep treading water in the middle of the pack in the West or even at (or near) the top of the division, do they keep him and see what happens? Or does he change teams at the deadline again?
3. It’s always special to attend Remembrance Day/Weekend celebrations around the OHL as each and every team has a different ways of honouring our veterans. The Kitchener Rangers continued their tradition of special commemorative jerseys, this year honouring the Royal Canadian Navy and the HMCS Kitchener. The Rangers welcomed the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to the Aud on Friday night, pulling out a 3-1 victory. They donned the jerseys once again on Sunday in Oshawa, where Matt Puempel scored his 100th career goal in a 2-1 win, the latest two victories during a five-game win streak.
4. These London Knights/SSM Greyhounds matchups are fun aren’t they? Things were touching and full of feeling on Sunday until the pre-game ceremonies ended. After that there was a lot of jawing, pushing, shoving, antics behind the play and after the whistle, and when it comes to Matt Rupert’s opinion on Nick Cousins? A lot of diving. Oh, Rupert also called Cousins a loser, stemming from this little incident last Remembrance day. I don’t care if it’s 1/8, 2/7, 3/6 or 4/5…this NEEDS to be a playoff matchup.
5. All Tanner Richard has done since coming over to the Guelph Storm last year is produce. This year is no different, but if I told you he had 24 points on the season, what do you think the splits would be? 10 goals and 10 assists? 8 goals and 12 assists? How about two goals and 22 assists? The second-year forward is just behind Niagara’s Ryan Strome in the assist race, and he’s scored the fewest goals of anyone in the top-ten of the category (Matt Petgrave has four goals, Steven Beyers has three). In fact, there are only five players on his own team that have one or no goals so far, yet he’s tied for the team lead in scoring.
6. Through 20 games, a 10-7-2-1 record is not what the Plymouth Whalers had in mind as they look at the Sting two points ahead of them. The thing is, the Whalers have lost these games in seemingly uncharacteristic fashion. Four of their seven regulation losses and one of their OT losses have seen the Whalers give up five or more goals. Last year? They allowed 5+ in losses just four times in nine losses (6 regulation, 2 OT, 1 shootout) through their first 20 games, while ending up on the wrong side of 5+ just 11 times total last year.
7. While the ‘Hounds went 0-3 on their 3-in-3 road trip, the Saginaw Spirit went 2-1 on the weekend, earning five of a possible six points. Granted they beat the Ottawa 67’s (now second-last in the league), needed overtime to take down the Belleville Bulls, and dropped a shootout to Kingston, but it was enough to move them into a tie for eighth in the West with the Soo and then into seventh with Wednesday night’s win. The wins on Friday and Saturday were also the first time they had won back-to-back games this season.
8. The Windsor Spitfires have been scratching and clawing their way to the .500 mark so far this season, and the man they have to thank for that is their goalie, Jaroslav Pavelka. Pavelka faced 51 shots (stopping 46) in the team’s most-recent loss, and while it’s the first time he’s face more than 50, he’s been a member of the 40 club a lot this year. In fact, since the first four games of the season where the most he faced in a single contest was 34, Pavelka has faced 40+ shots five times (including that 51), and endured two other games where he’s faced 35. He’s currently 10th in shots-against in the league, but he’s also played at least two fewer games than the goalies ahead of him in the category. He also has all eight of his team’s wins.
9. Import selections are hard to hit on. Sometimes they don’t produce, sometimes they don’t make a smooth transition to North America, and sometimes they simply don’t fit the system. That being said, Sergey Tolchinsky and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds may be the perfect fit. Not only is he tied for 2nd in rookie scoring, but Tolchinsky plays with a little more edge than your average import, finds his way to the trouble areas, and spent the weekend buzzing around the puck (2G/1A in 3 games). He should be interesting to watch the rest of the way.
10. Congratulations to Connor Brown of the Erie Otters being named Player of the Week. He recorded two goals and five assists in just two games for the Otters, continuing a very strong campaign. Not a lot of people gave the Otters hope coming in to the season, but their offense has shown up for the most part behind leaders Brown and Connor McDavid, both of whom have 27+ points to this point. Maybe more impressive though, is the fact that Brown is a +1 so far, after finishing last year as a -72 (he was a -29 through 21 games last year).
Bryan Thiel is a contributor to ITO and files feature reports for 'Inside the O' on Rogers TV. You can follow Bryan on Twitter @BryanThiel_88 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.