Portland look poised to compete for a fourth straight Western Conference crown (CP)
In our first Dynamic Dozen rankings of the season published last week, a pair of U.S. Division teams were ranked 1-2. This week, all five of the American teams from the Western Hockey League are concentrated within our top 14. Add Kelowna into the mix, and you have the makings of a Western Conference that's going to be very difficult to win come playoff time, with as many as six high quality teams in legitimate contention.
Still (I hate to use the qualifier "it's early" so much, but...) it's early. The Winterhawks knocked off Spokane 3-1 on Saturday to cement their spot on top this week, and that's where we'll begin. An explanation for the rankings can be found below.
1. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.640 RPI, +2.4 SRS, +1) — Portland have won 11 in a row, making their record more "Portland-like" after starting just 3-3-1. Though Spokane boast the WHL's leading scorer, Portland have No. 1 and No. 2 in the league, Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand, in the "non-overage" category. Both were taken in the most recent NHL Draft in their first year of eligibility, and it's become a little ridiculous how well this team can replace elite talent when it leaves to the NHL.
Not only do the Winterhawks have a five-point cushion on every other WHL team, but they've also played the strongest schedule out of every team in the nation. They'll face unranked Tri-City, Victoria and Regina this week.
2. Guelph Storm, OHL (.597 RPI, +2.5 SRS, +1) — Not to be outdone, the Guelph Storm can win a franchise-best 11th straight game Thursday in London, which isn't as daunting of a task this year as it was in previous years (although the Knights did recently end the Erie Otters' extended win streak). Can any team actually shut down their speed? The Storm have already scored 95 goals on the season, the most in the Ontario Hockey League by 17, and coach Scott Walker seemed to indicate after Sunday's 3-1 comeback win over Sudbury that they're a group that can score at will. So far, they have, but sustainability is key.
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