October 31, 2011
Halloween is always rich for parody, but this past week was good for parity. The highest-ranking team to not have a loss in its past three games is the Kamloops Blazers, who climbed to eighth.
1. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.600 RPI, —) — They are No. 1 with a big but. All eight of coach Don Nachbaur's team's wins have been at home, while they have only a shootout loss to show for their road docket. Spokane will not even play another game north of the 49th parallel until Nov. 29, four weeks away, and it's fair to say you don't get the measure of a team until it's had lengthy road jaunt.
Spokane is getting very good contributions from its overages, Ottawa Senators-drafted captain Darren Kramer, centre Steven Kuhn and defenceman Corbin Baldwin, the rare Winnipegger in the U.S. Division who doesn't actually play for Tri-City. Good special teams (second on the penalty kill, sixth-ranked power play) have also kept Spokane in good stead. They lost at Tri-City last Saturday, but have all week to rest and rev up for a weekend rematch at home.
2. Quebec Remparts, QMJHL (.592, +6) — Patrick Roy has had a busy week. The coach, GM and part-owner upset the delicate sensitivities of the franchise hosting the MasterCard Memorial Cup and got his righteous indignation on after rookie right wing Nick Sorensen was lost for the season. Amid all that, the Remparts blanked Baie-Comeau and scored a shootout win over Shawinigan.
Mikhail Grigorenko is one point behind Halifax star Nathan MacKinnon (27-26) in the Q's rookie scoring race. Here's a little of Grigo's guile from this past weekend.
3. Victoriaville Tigres, QMJHL (.584, -1) — Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Phillip Danault, who had been slumping, picked up the pace with six points, all assists, in three games. That is a boon to a Victoriaville team which has been relying on older forwards such as Yannick Dubé, Philippe Halley and league scoring leader Yanni Gourde for the bulk of their scoring. (It is good to see Halley, 19, did not miss a game after taking a headshot 10 days ago from Shawinigan's Vincent Arseneau, who got an eight-game suspension.)
Seventeen-year-old Tigres goalie Brandon Whitney, with an 8-0-0-0 record, 2.46 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, has better numbers than the older David Honzik. Whitney is 6-foot-5, so yeah, he is going to have some scouts watching him.
4. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.578, +1) — The Ams and Spokane seem closely matched that some small mistake like a delay-of-game penalty can make the difference. Their 3-1 win over the Chiefs last Saturday had the air of a playoff contest. Tri-City, which had the rare-for-junior-hockey-these-days treat of having four of their top five scorers return, seems pretty well-put together. Eighteen-year-old defenceman Mitch Topping, undrafted in June after playing for the late Chilliwack Bruins, is plus-12 after 16 games, tied for tops among the team's rearguards. Nice find there.
5. London Knights, OHL (.577, -1) — The Knights slip down a notch since they had a loss to the team which lost to the league's last-place team. There s a lot to like about a team which has been this good with only eight players in their age-19 or overage seasons, although that includest NHL first-rounders Vladislav Namestnikov and Jarred Tinordi and a high second-rounder, Boston Bruins prospect Jared Knight.
Knights goalie Michael Houser has started 16 of 17 games. With only one overage, do the Knights make a move for an older goalie just so they can keep Houser fresh for the post-season? It's hard to remember a championship team whose goalie played 60-plus games.
6. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.573) — It figures the Knights (13-2-0-1) and Sting (11-2-0-3) would go back-to-back. They've split a one-goal game and a shootout decision in their first two meetings, both of which were on Knights' home ice. Sarnia has reason to move onward and upward despite losing the extra point in the standings to the Knights on Sunday despite having a territorial edge for long stretches of the game. They are getting some secondary scoring from the likes of overage centre Taylor Carnevale (12 points in 10 games). Dallas Stars second-rounder Brett Ritchie is off to a slow start, though, with only seven points.
Nail Yakupov will have plenty of time to prepare for his next encounter with his shadow, the Knights' Tyler Ferry. Should he make Team Russia for the world junior, he won't face London again until Feb. 20.
7. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.570, -4) — The Drakkar get the ultimate litmus test this week with a two-game home series vs. the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs. Baie-Comeau cooled off with losses to Shawinigan and Quebec last week and have lost overage Jonathan Lessard to a pending suspension for that knee-on-knee hit that took out Quebec's Nick Sorensen. By this time next week, we'll know a little more about whether the Drakkar are a contender or pretender. On the road, they've been the latter.
8. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.570, +3) — It is probably too early to wonder if the Blazers are Owen Sound West, the team which seemingly came from nowhere. Kamloops, whose .786 point percentage tops the WHL, seems deep and balanced. How balanced? The Blazers' top scorer, Colin Smith, is 18th in the league, but seven players have at least 11 points in 14 games. Defenceman Tyler Hansen, who was bypassed in the NHL entry draft, is a league-best plus-16.
9. Kootenay Ice, WHL (.565, +6) — Buffalo Sabres-drafted goalie Nathan Lieuwen, last season's Western league playoff MVP, has a microscopic 1.45 goals-against average. The Ice, even after losing their No. 1 centre and defenceman, Cody Eakin and Brayden McNabb respectively, to the pros, have hardly skipped a bit. That stinginess might be tough to sustain in the long run, but it is impressive.
Meantime, Calgary Flames prospect Max Reinhart is among a select few appearing in both WHL games of the Subway Super Series. Make of that what you will.
10. Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL (.561, -1) — No doubt Moncton Wildcats coach Danny Flynn had the Sea Dogs and their slow start in mind when he said the Q should push back the start of the regular season. The Dogs should be much higher, given that their past five results have resembled high school junior varsity football scores — 5-0, 10-3, 6-0, 6-3, 6-0. Star left wing Jonathan Huberdeau has four goals and 13 points in the past four games.
Oh, and the Duke of Dekes and Dangles, Tomas Jurco, put up his dukes last Friday. That will teach people who trifle with Huberdeau.
11. Medicine Hat Tigers, WHL (.558, -1) — Anaheim Ducks first-round pick Emerson Etem has a CHL-best 21 goals for the Tigers. He has only been shut out once and he had four assists in that game. The 19-year-old speedster and 17-year-old left wing Hunter Shinkaruk have scored more than half of the Tigers' goals. Recently acquired overage forward Kellan Tochkin has started the season with a 10-game goalless drought, so getting him untracked is likely important.
12. Red Deer Rebels, WHL (.555, -5) The Rebels begin a six-game road stretch Saturday which should test the mettle of a team which officially learned Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is staying with the Edmonton Oilers. Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak (1.81 goals-against average, league-leading .941 save percentage) collected his first shutout last weekend by blanking the Lethbridge Hurricanes on the night after the Oilers announced RNH was staying.
The WHL's Eastern Conference has three teams in this week's Dynamic Dozen. That is no surprise, considering its competitiveness at the top end and in the middle. The Edmonton Oil Kings are off to a fine start, playing .625 hockey through 16 games. That's good for eighth place.
The next half-dozen — 13. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.545, +3); 14. Vancouver Giants, WHL (.543, -1); 15. Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL (.538, +16); 16. Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL (.538, +2); 17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.535, -5); 18. Victoria Royals (.530, +8).
Hot team— Moose Jaw Warriors, WHL, up 16 spots (from 31st to 15th). The Shawinigan Cataractes also jumped 13 spots (35th to 22nd).
Cold team— Windsor Spitfires, OHL, down 17 spots (from 17th to 34th).
You're not in the bottom quintile, you are the bottom — Kingston Frontenacs, OHL (.361).
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. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports . Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet (photo: The Canadian Press).