The Canadian Hockey League's much-awaited Dynamic Dozen returns after taking a week off. The theme so far in 2014 is the dogfight at the top of the rankings between Kelowna, Guelph and Portland, but two of those teams pulled a little further ahead over the two-week period.
You'll note how Guelph and Portland are separated by just a single point of RPI. They are, objectively, as close as close can be at this point although both teams face tough tasks in their own conference before we can pencil them in to face off on the final Sunday of the Memorial Cup tournament in London.
1. Guelph Storm, OHL (.586 RPI, +2.3 SRS, +1) — The Storm have won six consecutive games, enough to push them back up to first place. Only the Kitchener Rangers, a distant 41st in RPI rankings, have a more difficult strength of schedule among OHL teams, and it's still incredible that they haven't already created a giant gap in the standings between themselves and rivals Erie and London.
New challenge, could the Storm score more goals against the Norwegian, Austrian, Finnish and Latvian national teams than a team of Canadian NHL all-stars?* The Storm are most recently coming off a game they scored nine against Plymouth, during which Nick Ebert became the third Storm defenceman to hit the 40-point mark. A fourth, Steve Trojanovic, is at 37, and the rest of the league combined have just eight. With 280 goals, the Storm are in a class of their own on offence, and it doesn't end there: goaltender Justin Nichols is second in the league in save percentage.
* - not a serious question
2. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.585 RPI, +2.0 SRS, -1) — It's not uncommon for major junior teams to enjoy long winning streaks, which is why it's a bit of a shock that Portland's current 17-game win streak is a franchise best. You might think that at some point, they'd have reached that during their four seasons of laying waste to the WHL's Western Conference.
After a four-game-in-six-days road trip in which he scored ten points, Taylor Leier was named the CHL's Player of the Week, and he's shown during the streak how he can be leaned on offensively by a good hockey team. Mat Dumba is also fitting in to his new team, with 12 points and a +19 rating through 15 games. Dumba added the punch on D the Winterhawks needed, but rookie Garrett Haar has also stepped up with 13 points in his 17 games since 2013 began.
3. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.581 RPI, +1.8 SRS, —) — Despite the Winterhawks' run, Kelowna enjoy a five-point lead over the Winterhawks with two games in hand, having lost just eight times in regulation all season (Kelowna had their own extended streak earlier in the season, capped at 16).
It's going to be tough for the Rockets to stay atop the league standings if the Winterhawks do what Kelowna coach Ryan Huska predicts. "They probably won't lose another game," he said, while suggesting that the Rockets have been doing things better lately, as if they've had any problems all year. The one worry the Rockets ought to have is staying healthy for the playoffs. Tyson Baillie is out for the dreaded three-to-six weeks and he's the second-highest scoring forward on the team, so they'll need to find his production elsewhere.
4. London Knights, OHL (.574 RPI, +1.7 SRS, +1) — London move up a spot by virtue of being on a five-game win streak, including an 11-0 laugher against Sarnia where they had ten players score at least one goal. Here's a real question though: why are the Knights letting Bo Horvat play through some pain? Clichés about "just want to win games" aside, the Knights have more to lose than to gain, already knowing they'll be playing in the MasterCard Memorial Cup in May. Sure, there's the stigma of not wanting to be a backdoor entrant to the tournament, but the Knights have won two straight J. Ross Robertson Cups and since getting Nikita Zadorov back into the lineup, have appeared closer to pace to win a third.
Meanwhile, ever look at a boxscore and think something seems wrong? While the OHL's website would eventually correct the error, for a while I was giving the Knights credit for winning a game despite not having their goaltender in net for a full period of play.
5. Erie Otters, OHL (.569 RPI, +2.1 SRS, -1) — The Otters have slipped to fifth in the Dynamic Dozen, probably because they haven't been able to score as much as usual. Fun fact: the Otters have 20 goals in the last six games, they lowest of any six-game stretch this season not counting the games post-Christmas break when Connor McDavid, Andre Burakovsky, and Adam Pelech were out representing their teams in the World junior championship.
Still, the team thrives on D, not offence, so when that quiets, followers of the Otters will note they seem to be "grinding out" a lot more wins than previously, by closer scorelines.
6. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.558 RPI, +0.4 SRS, —) — Goaltender Taran Kozun has gone 11-2 with the Thunderbirds since being acquired and has a .944 save percentage, proving once again that old maxim that you can take the goaltender out of Kamloops and you can also take Kamloops out of the goaltender.
7. Victoria Royals, WHL (.553 RPI, +1.0 SRS, +1) — Defenceman Joe Hicketts has 12 points in 10 games since returning from injury, a big upgrade to the blueline along with deadline acquisition Travis Brown. Victoria has been slowly climbing up the RPI standings and sit comfortably in third with a looming playoff battle with either Everett or rival Vancouver. They have the second-longest unbeaten streak in the WHL.
8. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.551 RPI, +1.1 SRS, +1) — The Quebec Remparts ended a modest nine-game win streak from the leaders of the Quebec lead, both in standings and in RPI. Christopher Clapperton scored four points in the loss, however, giving him nine points in five games following his five-game pointless drought.
9. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.548 RPI, +1.2 SRS, -2) — It speaks to how well all the top teams in the CHL are playing when Baie-Comeau can go 3-2 over a two-week period and fall two spots in the rankings. Lots is being made of the Drakkar comeback win over the Remparts on the weekend, not at all being because the team's two key players are arguably Montreal prospects Jeremy Gregoire and Charles Hudon. Since the trade from Chicoutimi, Hudon has an incredible 24 points in 13 games, but more impressively has nearly five shots a game in a Drakkar uniform. Down by one with no games in hand to the Armada, it's basically a dead-heat with 11 games left in the season for the Q's regular season title.
10. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.547 RPI, +1.2 SRS, +2) — It may be odd to see the Foreurs in this spot rather than Halifax, Quebec or Rimouski, who all have more points than Val-d'Or, but the Foreurs have a tougher strength of schedule than those teams and also have just two "loser points" so far on the season and are third place in the Q in wins, which RPI values more highly than points.
Anthony Mantha scored his 100th point Saturday night in Shawinigan, and the team is 8-2 in the last ten games. Things are going so well in Val-d'Or that even Mario Durocher hasn't found anything to complain about recently, commending his team for their grinding victory over Drummondville, telling reporters it's good preparation for the playoffs.
11. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.544 RPI, +0.8 SRS, -1) — After a 4-4-1 stretch where they played nine games in nine different cities (well, they did stop in Everett twice, but for non-consecutive games) the Chiefs are 2-1 in the first half of a lengthy home stretch that includes 8 games out of 9 in Spokane. They've scored 12 goals in their most recent two games, earning overage Mitch Holmberg goal No. 50 and point No. 100.
12. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.541 RPI, +0.9 SRS, +1) — Olivier Archembault had eight points in three games and a legitimate CHL player of the week candidacy. The Remparts are 10-4-1 since getting Mikhail Grigorenko back in the lineup, and he's scored 21 points so far despite only having played 13 of those contests.
Also, do the Remparts have the template for defeating the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada? Their 7-5 win Tuesday night was a game deemed not for goalies, nor for coaches.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.536, -2); 14. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.534, +3); 15. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.534, -1); 16. Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (.534, —); 17. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.533, -2); 18. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.526, +2); 19. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.526, +2); 20. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.521, -1); 21. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.515, +9); 22. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.515, +1); 23. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.514, -5); 24. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.512, -2).
Hot team — Medicine Hat Tigers, up 9 (30th to 21st).
Cold team — Vancouver Giants, down 6 (26th to 32nd).
Nowhere to go but up — Acadie-Bathurst Titan (.425).
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 Feb. 19.)