Once again, it's just a one percentage point gap between Guelph and Kelowna, only reversed from last week.
The Storm had a 2-0 week, while the Western League-leading Rockets had one minor hiccup with a loss to a strong Seattle team. That adds a little more intrigue to this mythical mathematically derived horse race between franchises that priced out of hosting the Memorial Cup, to say nothing of the four U.S.-based teams who likely cannot do so due to geography. That's the political rant for the week; on to the DynDoz.
1. Guelph Storm, OHL (.587 RPI, +2.1 SRS, +1) — Guelph made a trade-off at the deadline, giving up scoring punch (Hunter Garlent) for intangibles (Stephen Pierog) and a fistful of second-round selections. One early consequence is that the Storm have been a trifle top-heavy offensively. Overage Ryan Horvat and Swiss rookie Pius Suter are the only non-Top 6 forwards who have tallied during the streak. That could be an effect of Tyler Bertuzzi's extended absence due to a head/neck injury.
The upshot is Guelph's defence and goaltending has been redoubtable and the Robby Fabbri-Kerby Rychel-Zack Mitchell line is becoming ever more potent, with Rychel working the walls to set up his linemates almost at will.
2. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.586 RPI, +1.8 SRS, -1) — The Rockets had a rude awakening with a Sunday loss at Seattle (assistant coach Dan Lambert: "We have had a lot of success and I think all of a sudden we think we are invincible and that’s not the case"), but the good news is its next seven games are all in the Okanagan. The only one away from home is at going-from-bad-to-worse Kamloops.
Shameless plug time: BTN's Kelly Friesen will have a feature on Rockets 16-year-old rookie Nick Merkley later in the week.
3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.579 RPI, +1.6 SRS, —) — The mark of a good shift disturber, as we have long known, is being likened to a notorious 20th-century dictator by fans of a rival team who might not even be overstating for ironic comic effect. Winterhawks standout Brendan Leipsic was recognized by Everett Silvertips beat writer Nick Patterson following a game last weekend, leading to this bit of grudging admiration.
Portland has outscored foes 29-7 over Mathew Dumba's first five games in the Rose City. The Minnesota Wild prospect is already plus-10.
4. Erie Otters, OHL (.569 RPI, +2.1 SRS, —) — Huzzah for former overages who persevere! Otters alumnus Phil Varone, who had a 33-goal, 82-point campaign as a 20-year-old in Erie in '10-11, scored his first NHL goal on Tuesday for the Buffalo Sabres. Varone was ready to join the Canadian university power UNB Varsity Reds in '11 prior to being convinced to sign on with the Sabres organization. After three seasons in Rochester, it's paid off.
Three current Otters, 52-goal scorer Dane Fox and defencemen Troy Donnay and Adam Pelech, played at least one game with Varone in his OA year. Cynics might remark that Connor McDavid might be Varone's teammate in Buffalo after the 2015 draft.
5. London Knights, OHL (.563 RPI, +1.5 SRS, —) — True story: defenceman Zach Bell, as you know, landed in London after asking the North Bay Battalion to trade him. Bell's five-game ban for seeking retribution on Eric Locke after the Saginaw centre's skate accidentally cut goalie Anthony Stolarz's leg on Jan. 17 covers London's roadie on Thursday at North Bay, so he won't even have to play at Memorial Garden as a visitor. You cannot make that up.
The Knights are somewhat back to their old selves, with a Feb. 8 game at Erie being the next measuring-stick matchup on the calendar. Deadline addition Gemel Smith is on his first point streak as a Londoner, with five over the past three games.
6. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.551 RPI, +1.2 SRS, +2) — Has any team ever allowed fewer goals at even strength than it has in special teams situations? You could look it. Baie-Comeau has allowed only 60 even-strength goals across its 49 games, with the other 57 coming on penalty kills and during power plays. The Drakkar are the most penalized team in the Q, but wow regardless. Baie-Comeau's starting to resemble a 2014 'other solitude' version of the 2011 Mississauga Majors, since 10 players could finish with at least 15 goals but it's possible no one will reach the 30 milestone.
7. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.549 RPI, +0.3 SRS, -1) — Former University of North Dakota recruit Ryan Gropp is figuring out this major junior game. The left wing who is one day too young for this summer's draft has been a point-a-game player during the T-Birds' time of need while several regulars have been infirm.
Seattle's slate includes a Saturday game at Portland, which means Shea Theodore vs. Derrick Pouliot in a matchup of two premium offensive defencemen. Neither should be cautioned to play it safe, since that is boring.
8. Victoria Royals, WHL (.549 RPI, +0.9 SRS, +2) — It's not often the Royals play one of their two-game home series vs. Eastern Conference teams, let alone one with as many overtones as the Calgary Hitmen's Feb. 4-5 visit. Royals coach Dave Lowry guided Calgary to the Dub final in 2009 before leaving for a pro job. Hulking Royals defenceman Keegan Kanzig is also facing the Hitmen for the first time since their corporate brethren, the Calgary Flames, drafted him in June. Throw in a few other ornery types such as Hitmen sophomore Jake Virtanen and it could get really hairy by the second game, hopefully in a good, non-skulduggery way.
9. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.543 RPI, +0.8 SRS, —) — How long can Spokane eke by on putting two pucks a night behind the the opposing goalie? The streak is at seven games, but the Chiefs have gone 3-3-1-0 primarily by virtue of some impeccable goaltending from Eric Williams. Spokane should be cut some slack over the paucity of scoring since it faced Tri-City and Eric Comrie twice in that stretch. Something might give though since it faces two higher-ranked teams, Kelowna and Portland, this week.
10. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.543 RPI, +0.9 SRS, -3) — There is a lot to like about the fact the Q discloses individual player shot totals. A quick peruse suggests B-B's leading scorer Danick Martel, who has been blanked in seven of the last eight games, has a team-high 39 shots this month. That would suggest Martel's luck is due to even out eventually. The Armada is not getting much regard from Q observers lately as it's gone 4-4-0-2 over its last 10 games. The overall body of work is strong; a nice streak would preempt arguing that B-B peaked early.
11. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.541 RPI, +1.0 SRS, —) — Reading between the lines, it sounds like some second-guessing of Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted goalie Antoine Bibeau needs to be nipped in the bud. Bibeau has run hot and cold since his trade from Charlottetown and his statline has plumped out to a 3.91 average and .876 save percentage. Of course, a lot of that comes back to the work of the 18 skaters in front of him. That group hasn't included 6-foot-5, 220-pound overage centre Samuel Henley, who's been injured since late December and has no timeline for a return.
12. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.539 RPI, +0.7 SRS, +4) — The Remparts' RPI needed time to catch up with the punch they gained once it was official Mikhail Grigorenko was returning to la vieille capitale. Quebec is on a 9-1-0-0 run ahead of the five-game homestand that begins with Top-4 tilts vs. Halifax and the Armada.
The matchup with the Mooseheads evokes memories of that Game 7 in 2012 when Jonathan Drouin scored in OT to complete the comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. Quebec's scoring ace, Anthony Duclair, tallied earlier in that game, and of course is making eyes bug out with his pace this season, 42 in 47 games. The New York Rangers pick, refreshingly, is pointing out hat he gets a boost from often be matched against opponents' second D pairing.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.536, -1); 14. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.535, +4); 15. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.533, -2); 16. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.531, -2); 17. Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (.529, -2); 18. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.526, +1); 19. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.522, -2); 20. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.516, +2); 21. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.514, —); 22. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.512, -2); 23. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.510, +2); 24. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.508, +3).
Hot team — Québec Remparts, up 4 (16th to 12th).
Cold team — Vancouver Giants, down 6 (23rd to 29th).
Nowhere to go but up — Lethbridge Hurricanes (.429).
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.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.