No. 1 Star - Connor Gay, Regina Pats (WHL)
Friday's Regina-Swift Current contest was probably the most important played in Canada in terms of postseason implications. The Pats came into the game with a six-point lead over the Broncos with eight games to play (nine for Swift Current) for the lead in the Western Hockey League's East Division. With so many teams jamming the league's Central Division, the difference between winning the East and coming second will mean the difference between a 2-seed and a 6-seed come playoff time.
The Pats cemented control of the division with a big home win. The game featured a couple of lead changes and ended up being won by 95-born Connor Gay late in the overtime frame for his 15th goal on the season, on a pass from Dyson Stevenson, who also had a one-goal, one-assist game. Gay had also scored early in the third period to tie the contest at 2s, so both of his goals were of the timely variety. The Pats got to exit the game with a seven-point lead over Swift Current instead of a four-point lead, a near-insurmountable gap at this stage in the season.
No. 2 Star: Nikolaj Ehlers, Halifax Mooseheads (QMJHL)
Stop me if you've heard this one before: a draft-eligible player on the Halifax Mooseheads scored a natural hat-trick and recorded four points in his team's 6-0 win over Acadie-Bathurst. Sometimes les Trois Étoiles on Buzzing the Net are reserved for players that produce in key situations in close games, but there weren't an awful lot of close affairs in the Q Friday, and it's tough to discount a three-goal performance from a draft-eligible player. In Friday's case, it was the Danish Ehlers (good name for a band) recording the trick.
Ehlers' three consecutive goals came within a 7:14 span in the second period, scoring twice in the first minute and adding a shortie for his 40th of the season. Teammate Jonathan Drouin recorded a pair of assists, and defenceman Austyn Hardie had a rare three-point night, bringing his season points total to 17. He was also a +6 in the 6-0 game. To most teams that's an excellent night from a defenceman, but to the Mooseheads it's an indication that the team's powerplay needs to shape up after going 0-for-4 in Acadie-Bathurst.
No. 3 Star: Sam Bennett, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
This game also wasn't close, but the prospective No. 1 pick in the upcoming National Hockey League draft scored a hat-trick of his own in Kingston's dominant 10-2 win over Belleville. After going down 1-0 early in the first, the Fronts rallied and took a commanding 5-1 lead into the break, with Bennett factoring in on two goals. First, he drew the primary assist on Spencer Watson's 33rd of the year before scoring his own 39 seconds later, and then tacking on another in the final minute of the frame.
Bennett completed the hat-trick 5:38 into the second on a pass from Samuel Schutt, the second of Schutt's two assists on the night. Head coach Todd Gill gave started Matt Mahalak the night off, giving Lucas Peressini the pipes to stop 37-of-39 shots on goal. Draft-eligible Roland McKeown recorded an assist and was also a +4.
Honourable Mention: The Sudbury Wolves (OHL) - The Wolves strung together a comeback against one of the league's best teams Friday night. Despite being down 5-0 with a little over 7 minutes to go in the second period, Sudbury rallied in front of the home fans, getting goals from Jacob Harris and Radek Faksa before the period was out, before going into Beast Mode in the third. Trevor Carrick, Nathan Pancel and Ray Huether all scored in the final minutes of the period to tie the score (Faksa, Carrick, and Pancel's goals were all on the powerplay) before Nick Baptiste blew the roof off the Sudbury Community Arena to give the Wolves a 6-5 lead with 2:17 on the clock. The Wolves hung on for the win, and do London and Erie a huge favour in the process.
Honourable Mention: Anthony Mantha, Val-d'Or Foreurs (QMJHL) - Regardless of how Ehlers does, it's going to be impossible for anybody to catch Mantha atop the QMJHL scoring charts. Mantha has an 8-point lead over Rimouski's Marcus Power after, like Ehlers, recording a multi-point night in a blowout with two goals and adding an assist for the Foreurs in a 5-0 win over Gatineau. Antoine Bibeau recorded the 32-save shutout, and they weren't all garbage time saves: the Olympiques were actually in this one for a while, down just 2-0 after 40 before the Foreurs exploded for three in the third to turn it into a laugher.
Honourable Mention: Corbin Boes, Portland Winterhawks (WHL) - What's keeping Boes out of the three stars is his birthdate: I tend to stray from having overage players in the top three spots, but it definitely is worth noting that Boes was in net for his 12th consecutive win—and his team's 21st consecutive—with a 30-save shutout in a 2-0 win over Spokane. It's not easy to shut down Mitch Holmberg these days, but when you're a team like Portland and just as good defensively as you are offensively, well, yeah.
Honourable Mention: Jack Flinn, Owen Sound Attack (OHL) - Another goaltender given an honourable mention. Any prospective goaltenders watching Sportsnet's Friday Night Hockey was treated to a free clinic from the Attack's rookie backup goalie Flinn. The ex-Dartmouth Ice Dog stopped 53 of 56 London Knights shots, including 15 in the third period when the Attack were pummelled by the potent offence, plus five more in the OT before eventually falling in the shootout by a 4-3 final score.
Potent Notables: William Carrier, who was part of the package for Ryan Miller, was held off the scoresheet in Drummondville's 2-1 loss to Blainville-Boisbriand, with four shots on net… QMJHL second star of the week Michael Joly scored twice for Rimouski in a 3-1 win… Giovanni Fiore had a goal in regulation and in the shootout in the Shawi's win over Quebec… Rookie Bradley Kennedy scored twice for Charlottetown in a 5-4 win over Moncton… Jérémy Beaudry's second of the game was the OT winner for Cape Breton in Saint John…
In the O, Alex Nedeljkovic took Plymouth to a shootout despite the Whalers being outshot by Barrie 50-36, but Barrie prevailed thanks to Zach Hall, 2-1… Dane Fox scored twice for Erie and Connor McDavid had a two-point night in a 4-3 win in Sarnia… Michael Dal Colle was held off the scoreboard, but the Generals had four different goal scorers in a 4-1 win over Mississauga…
Finally, to the 'dub, Habs prospect Tim Bozon scored in Kootenay's 1-0 win over Saskatoon… Brady Brassart had three points in the Hitmen win over the Blazers… New Jersey prospect Damon Severson had three helpers in Kelowna's 6-0 win over Vancouver… Everett inched towards clinching a playoff spot with a 3-2 win over Tri-City.