This is but a snapshot. For this week at least, the relatively unheralded Kelowna Rockets have pushed more star-studded teams out of the centre of the group photo.
While the London Knights and Portland Winterhawks have each hit a rough patch and spun out into three-game losing streaks, the Rockets' run of 22 wins in 25 games since Grey Cup weekend has merited top spot in this week's Buzzing The Net Dynamic Dozen.
Kelowna might not stand out as having the best of anything, but it seems to be pretty good at everything. They boast a deep defence and four players among the Western Hockey League's top-40 point-earners, even though it was only this week that undrafted 19-year-old Zach Franko joined Myles Bell in the Dub's top 20. Kelowna captain Colton Sissons would be the fifth if not for some injuries.
It's valid that a franchise should probably not host two Memorial Cups within a decade. It's still hard to resist pointing out the new top team did bid to host this season's MasterCard Memorial Cup that was awarded to the scuffling Saskatoon Blades. Please excuse the revisionist history; hey, Red Deer seemed like a good pick for 2013 Cup host, too.
1. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.581 RPI, 1.6 SRS, +2) — How long do the Okanagan's favoured sons stay in the top spot? The Rockets have displaced Portland thanks to their 11-0-1-0 start to the second half, where they have maintained their remarkable balance. Zach Franko, Dylen McKinlay and Myles Bell have been the only Rockets who have averaged a point per game since Christmas. But they are embarking on a stretch that includes 11 games in 18 days beginning Thursday — "a lot of travel and a lot hockey to play in a short time," as coach Ryan Huska describes it.
Meantime, does 19-year-old goalie Jordon Cooke's month-to-month consistency say more for him or for the constancy of the group in front of him? Incidentally, not to get to far ahead... but the Portland Winterhawks are in line to be the last team in the way of the Rockets tying a 20-year-old franchise record for consecutive home wins.
2. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.577 RPI, 1.7 SRS, +2) — Halifax could take a run at the league's single-season victory record of 58 that Saint John tied in 2011, but obviously that's not the big prize. Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, et al., have that Feb. 1 top-of-the-table tilt in Baie-Comeau looming as a big game, along with a visit from the league's third-best team, the Rimouski Océanic, five days later. There is also the not-small matter of three remaining tilts with the tough Moncton Wildcats.
As a postscript, what were the odds backup Chris Clarke would get a shutout before workhorse starter Zachary Fucale?
3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.576 RPI, 1.7 SRS, -2) — The 'Hawks go back into the bearpit with two road games at Spokane, which is a better chance for a restorative victory than a gimme game. They are fighting through some fatigue, though, which explains the recent blip/dip.
Portland's lost weekend started with easing off the throttle in a shootout loss to Lethbridge where they still had nearly 60 shots. It was bound to happen sooner or later with a top team; they get grandiose and overlook the sacrifices needed to win. Or they just bored winning. Ty Rattie has kept scoring during the slump, with 13 points in seven games since the world junior championship.
4. London Knights, OHL (.571 RPI, 1.2 SRS, -2) — So is London in a lather over the Knights' current three-game skid or is it just better to portray it that way? It is way too soon to make any firm conclusions over whether the Anthony Stolarz/Jake Patterson tandem of 18-year-old goalies will go wrong, but someone could stand to establish himself as the go-to goalie.
The OHL's other representatives in the Dynamic Dozen, Guelph and Owen Sound, both picked up six points in the standings during their eastern swings last week. London, even without suspended centre Ryan Rupert, will have to get by Malcolm Subban and Belleville on Saturday to make that happen.
5. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.557 RPI, 0.6 SRS, —) — The Americans probably are not going to continue scoring on 17 per cent of their shots, which they have done across the seven games since star goalie Eric Comrie (hip surgery) made what turned out to be his last appearance of the season. Captain Justin Feser (19 points this month) has led the offensive charge which is keeping the Americans in fighting trim, but scoring 33 goals on 194 shots is tough to maintain. Above all, though, Tri-City was already a good story for remaining competitive this season with a relatively young lineup which counts on offence by committee through the likes of the 18-year-olds Connor Rankin, Malte Stromwall and Brian Williams. New starting goalie Luke Lee-Knight also had a statement win over his old Spokane team last weekend.
6. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.551 RPI, 1.0 SRS, —) — Coach Éric Veilleux evidently has his charges so focused on the end result that they're not even aware they tied a club record for longest point streak earlier this season, going 15 games without losing in 60. The Drakkar got an immediate return from overage Petr Straka last week and have an excellent chance to go the entire month of January without a regulation loss, although they begin February with a momentous matchup vs. the Mooseheads.
7. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.546 RPI, 1.2 SRS, —) — Apologies to Oil Kings overage Trevor Cheek for not running a 3 Stars feature on Tuesday — someone had to get to bed before 1 a.m. some time don't you know. Cheek only had a hat trick plus two apples in a win over Moose Jaw.
Centre Curtis Lazar is on a good little scoring spurt, with six goals in seven games as his draft year progresses, while No. 1 pivot Michael St. Croix also got off the schneid with a goal on Tuesday.
8. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.542 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +2) — The Attack go head-to-head with their league's best frequently across their next 14 games as they take aim on London's shrinking 11-point lead. Even without Artur Gavrus for part of last week, they looked like a legitimate three scoring lines team. Adding Daniel Milne and having draft-year forward Zach Nastasiuk continue to emerge goes a long way to being able to have the three best attackers, Cameron Brace, Daniel Catenacci and Gemel Smith, spread out over the first three lines. That said, catching London might require Owen Sound to win something like 19 of its remaining 23 games. It's a tall order.
9. Guelph Storm, OHL (.542 RPI, 0.5 SRS, +2) — This weekend's home-and-home with the aforementioned Attack should be a good gauge of whether Guelph will run with the big dogs. The Storm's current five-game win streak includes four victories over struggling Eastern Conference teams. To their credit, though, they were quick to put a crooked number on the scoreboard in all three games, plus their eastern swing seemed to have sparked Winnipeg Jets pick Scott Kosmachuk, who has seven points in the last five games. Goalie Garret Sparks has not faced more than 27 shots in any game since returning from Team USA. That trend likely won't continue through the Attack-Storm series.
10. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.534 RPI, 0.7 SRS, -1) — A truer test of how overage Alexandre Lavoie is adapting to his new settings will probably come during this week's 3-in-4 road stretch through Victoriaville, Gatineau and Drummondville. Lavoie has 14 points in his first four games in Rimouski's double blue since being moved by lowly Cape Breton. The Océanic, meantime, deserve credit for coping very well during all-around 19-year-old forward Scott Oke's four-week absence from the lineup. Oke got back in four points in his first two games after his return.
11. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.534 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +4) — The best use of this space this week is for a passionate plea for the New York Islanders to get offensive defenceman Brenden Kichton under contract as soon as logistically possible. It couldn't happen in the fall due to the lockout and there might not be a window until after the season. But Kichton is only well on his way to averaging better than a point per game from the blueline for the third season in a row. Wonder how many defenceman achieve that feat.
12. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.532 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +1) — Coach Mike Williamson's crew has a good body of work on the whole, even though that 6-2-0-0 January record is deceptive. All six wins this month have been over teams outside the Dub's playoff picture, while the Hitmen have lost to lurking playoff spoilers such as Swift Current and Medicine Hat. There is a lot to like, though, particularly how overages Brook Macek, Cody Sylvester (who deserves some cheers for his community work) and Spencer Humphries, a defenceman, have combined for 130 points. Please point that out in case anyone suggests Calgary should have kept Alex Gogolev, the Victoria Royals overage who is the reigning WHL player of the week.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.531, +1); 14. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.530, -2); 15. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.525, +8); 16. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.524, -8); 17. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.524, +4); 18. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.522, —); 19. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.520, +14); 20. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.519, -1); 21. Barrie Colts, OHL (.516, -4); 22. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.515, +25); 23. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.515, +3); 24. P.E.I. Rocket, QMJHL (.514, -8).
Hot team — Windsor Spitfires, up 25 (47th to 22nd).
Cold team — Seattle Thunderbirds, down 19 (20th to 39th).
Nowhere to go but up — Ottawa 67's (.424).
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), an equation which uses 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 Jan. 21.)
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.