Kris Knoblauch is once again the Portland Winterhawks' nemesis in a kind-of-but-not-really way.
The coach who masterminded the Kootenay Ice's five-game takedown of Portland for the 2011 Ed Chynoweth Cup is at it again, albeit only in the realm of BTN's capricious and arbitrary ranking system. The Otters' headliners such as Connor McDavid, André Burakovsky, Connor Brown and Oscar Dansk draw the spotlight, but Knoblauch evidently has turned Erie into a cohesive bunch. Their unlikely win over division rival Guelph last Saturday vaults them to the top of the Dynamic Dozen, with the Storm in fourth and the Memorial Cup-host London Knights in the 2-hole.
Speaking of which, Erie is at London on Friday. That was totally not planned.
The OHL's Midwest Division, QMJHL's Telus West Division and WHL's U.S. Division each have three representatives this week.
1. Erie Otters, OHL (.598 RPI, +2.0 SRS, +5) — The only way to Britta the Otters' bliss is to show faux concern (fauxern?) for Dansk's trials on Tuesday, when the 19-year-old Swede returned after missing 2½ weeks with a lower body injury. The Columbus Blue Jackets second-rounder struggled in a defence-optional game vs. Kitchener and got hooked with 12:34 left in a one-goal game that Erie eventually took 9-6. It probably should not be a big deal given the circumstances: struggling opponent the Otters would have been tempted to take lightly, some defensive lapses, school day game with an 11 a.m. puck drop.
Sportsnet is airing Windsor-Guelph on Friday Night Hockey rather than Erie-London, which is perfectly fine since the other matchup is promising. Focusing on hyping potential high NHL picks might be at play. The network chose to get the Kingston Frontenacs on last Friday against the Knights. The Otters are on the schedule for a Dec. 6 game at rebuilding Ottawa that matches McDavid, Dylan Strome and the 67's Travis Konecny, the league's best early bets for the 2015 NHL draft.
That must be the logic. Don't be that guy who argues after the fact that last Friday's Swift Current-Calgary tilt included two promising 17-year-olds in the Broncos' Julius Honka and Brycen Martin. Or that the game went to a shootout. Or that showing a Calgary game would have been labour-saving; the network was broadcasting from the football stadium next door on the following day for CIS' Mitchell Bowl.
2. London Knights, OHL (.595 RPI, +2.0 SRS, +3) — London's reinforced rearguard corps will be rolled out for that aforementioned affair vs. Erie. The last time the Otters went into Budweiser Gardens for a Friday game, they betrayed little trepidation while rolling 5-1. London won the Nov. 3 rematch by the same spread (6-2).
There is no understating that getting Zach Bell at the same time that Nikita Zadorov is returning from the Buffalo Sabres gives London a little more snarl on the blueline. (Yeah, snarl is a hockey noun as of the last sentence.) Bell supplanting North Bay-bound 18-year-old Miles Liberati might seem like a lateral move, but it adds experience to the unit. It is a little wild to think London has gone from having wingers moonlight on the blueline to being able to carry eight on their roster until January. How this translates into increased puck-possession time and more offensive punch remains to be seen; London's current 4.18 goals per game only falls into the realm of a reasonable goal after the hype this team received coming into the season.
Talk among yourselves to determine which 17-year-old defenceman, Santino Centorame or Aiden Jamieson, is more likely to be dangled before the trade deadline.
3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.593 RPI, +2.2 SRS, -2) — The Winterhawks dip due largely to loss at Everett last Friday which narrowed their conference lead to two points. The obvious spin to put on that result is Everett was likely motivated to make a statement after taking its share of thumpings from the Winterhawks in recent years.
Keep an eye on what pushback Portland gets on Saturday at Seattle, which it buried 10-2 last week. That is the last game before the Subway Super Series for the quartet of Nic Petan, Taylor Leier and Brendan Leipsic up front and Derrick Pouliot on D.
The Winterhawks continue have to the CHL's highest strength-of-schedule ranking.
4. Guelph Storm, OHL (.579 RPI, +2.1 SRS, -1) — Did the pressure gauge on the Storm to make a big move before January just get cranked up thanks to the goings-on in London?
The franchise arguably has its best opportunity to play in a Memorial Cup since its last league title in 2004 and its core 19-year-olds — Matt Finn on the blueline, Winnipeg Jets selection Scott Kosmachuk and Carolina Hurricanes pick Brock McGinn with his 23-game point streak — are surely pro-bound next season. This is an entertaining team that is well-supported and overdue to play till May, so GM Mike Kelly will have to work to manoeuvre to add another veteran to the nucleus.
The Storm get another stab at Erie on Nov. 28, one week from Thursday. It has already earned 5-of-8 possible points vs. London.
5. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.573 RPI, +1.9 SRS, +2) — If you want to be way out front of a story, take a boo at Kelowna's December/January schedule. The B.C. Division leaders have to play 27 games in 57 days, two-thirds of which are away from the Prospera Centre. That could presumably lead to some of the games in hand Kelowna currently enjoys being frittered away.
"It's a really a terrible schedule," Rockets coach Ryan Huska told Warren Henderson earlier this week. "I know a lot of other teams are facing similar challenges to us. Hopefully they'll revisit the way they draft up the schedule for next season."
The Rockets have won eight in a row entering a 3-in-4 stretch that begins at Seattle on Tuesday.
6. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.570 RPI, +1.6 SRS, -2) — CHL scoring leader Mitch Holmberg has factored into 55 of 88 Spokane goals, which makes the math easy. The double edge of that was pointed out during a shootout loss against Regina last weekend. The Chiefs didn't score while a man up over the final 4:43 of the second period and were at a low ebb for the third, which sowed the seeds for losing a point in the Western Conference race.
Some complementary scoring could come in handy heading into a three-game week. Holmberg has yet to have consecutive pointless games.
7. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.556 RPI, +1.2 SRS, -5) — Sparkplug forwards Philippe Sanche and Ryan Tesink have been sidelined since early in the month, sapping the depth that B-B used to wear down opponents. That partially explains the underwhelming results last week — getting waxed 6-0 at home by the Quebec Remparts and scrapping by two low-rung foes. The Armada have a three-game northern swing that they can use to get into a good head space.
8. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.546 RPI, +1.0 SRS, +1) — Two teams in lulls trade places, with the Soo hopping over slumping Drummondville. The 'Hounds head into Super Series week with a two-game losing streak and star goalie Matt Murray getting some lieu time before tending Team OHL's net on Thursday. It's a measuring stick moment, although not as much as the one that looms Dec. 4 at London. The 'Hounds are at home for five games.
9. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.546 RPI, +0.6 SRS, -1) — The Q's Telus West division accounts for three ranked teams, with the Voltigeurs staying in the Double D despite their current five-game skid. Losing defenceman Charles-David Beaudoin to a checking-to-the-head suspension during a busy portion of their schedule definitely hurt. A don't-mess-around drubbing of Shawinigan might help put the Volts on course.
10. Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (.545 RPI, +0.7 SRS, +2) — The 'Piques have written out their shopping list: a top-six scorer and seasoned defender. It is topical since coach-GM Benoît Groulx is skipping Team QMJHL this week in the Sudway Super Series, where there's a chance to build a rapport and trust with anyone who might be available in one month's time.
11. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.542 RPI, +0.6 SRS, -1) — From the Not A Coincidence files, 18-year-old Parker Bowles has had six multi-point games this month and Tri-City won all six. The 18-year-old sophomore missed the first six weeks due to a shoulder injury, but has evidently caught teams off-guard during his belated first tour around the league.
The strength-of-schedule ranking is giving Tri-City a boost at this writing.
12. Swift Current Broncos, WHL (.542 RPI, +0.6 SRS, -1) — Some completely understandable regression kicked in for Swift during two tautly played road losses at Calgary (in a shootout) and Edmonton. The Broncos' normally cracking power play went oh-fer in the Edmonton game and they had challenges getting rewarded for strong starts to periods.
Sometimes that happens. Swift Current, which has 6-foot-4 defenceman Brett Lernout holding down a second-pairing slot after a rookie season where he appeared in only 41 games, has three divisional tilts this week. Seventeen-year-old standout Julius Honka has caught a flu bug, leaving some slack to be picked up by his blueline brethren.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.537, +11); 14. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.534, +6); 15. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.534, +1); 16. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.534, -2); 17. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.533, -2); 18. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.533, +4); 19. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.529, -1); 20. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.525, +1); 21. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.524, -8); 22. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.523, -3); 23. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.519, -6); 24. Victoria Royals, WHL (.513, -1).
Hot team — Sarnia Sting, up 14 (47th to 33rd).
Nowhere to go but up — Shawinigan Cataractes (.410).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), a ranking which combines goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
(All rankings through play on Monday.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.