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ITO Three Stars and OHL Power Rankings: Week 18

As we reach the end of January, we find many teams going through the various rigours of an Ontario Hockey League season, some pushing to be considered amongst the league’s elite, while others are beginning to fade, unable to sustain first half momentum. With just seven weeks remaining on the OHL schedule, no team has secured a playoff spot as of yet, and a number of excellent races are shaping up in each conference.
ITO 3 Stars
1. Tobias Rieder (Kitchener Rangers) –Three multiple point games for the German National earns Tobias this week’s ITO First Star. Rieder has been on quite a tear since returning from his homeland over the holidays, and opened the week on Wednesday, scoring twice and adding a helper in a big victory in London. Two nights later, Tobias would score the game winning goal with less than 30 seconds left against Owen Sound, adding to an earlier assist in the game. With another goal and three points Sunday afternoon against Guelph, Tobias would finish the week with four goals and eight points in just three games, and would be our choice as ITO First Star for week 18.
2. Mark Visentin (Niagara IceDogs) – Mark Visentin was about as perfect as a goaltender can be this past week, stopping every shot he would face over a pair of games, and helping to lead the IceDogs to the top of the Central Division. Thursday night, Mark would stop all 26 shots, as his club would blank Belleville to start the week. After being given the night off on Friday, Visentin would be back between the pipes for a big contest in Brampton, where he would turn aside all 15 shots to shutout their division rivals. With no goals against in two appearances this week, the IceDogs netminder was a clear choice as the ITO Second Star for the week.
3. Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers) – Ryan Murphy makes his second straight appearance on the ITO Three Stars, following up on last week’s First Star selection with another great week in week 18. The Kitchener rearguard would score a goal as part of a three point night in London on Wednesday night, and followed that up with another assist Friday, a win over Owen Sound. Sunday afternoon, Murphy would be huge again for the Rangers, scoring again as part of his second three point game of the week. With two goals and seven points in Kitchener’s three games this week, Ryan earns our choice as Third Star for week 18.
ITO Power Rankings
1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) The Knights continue to roll, as the league’s top team keeps finding ways to win. This past week would start rough for London, who were blasted on home ice by Kitchener on Wednesday night. The Knights would bounce right back from the tough defeat, winning Friday night at home to Windsor, then earning another two points in Saginaw on Saturday. Just two games lay ahead for London this week, as they play games on Friday and Saturday night at the JLC. A visit from Niagara begins the weekend Friday, and the Knights host Mississauga the next night.
2. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 5) With three more wins this week, the Kitchener Rangers vault themselves up into the coveted number two spot in this week’s OHL Power Rankings. Winners of six of their last seven, the Rangers would earn a huge Wednesday night victory in London, and use that momentum to post two more wins, Friday night over Owen Sound, and Sunday afternoon in Guelph. Kitchener plays twice in the coming week, hosting Belleville on Friday night, before Saginaw visits on Sunday afternoon.
3. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 4) The Plymouth Whalers climb back into the top three in the OHL Power Rankings after winning all three of their contests over the last week, extending a winning streak to four in the process. Thursday night, the Whalers would open the week with an impressive win in Barrie, followed by an overtime win in Sudbury a night later. Sunday evening, Plymouth would win again, this time via the shootout, taking two points away from Sault Ste. Marie. The Whalers are another team playing just twice this week, as they face one more contest on their road trip Friday night in Sarnia. The next night, Plymouth returns home to host Windsor, wrapping up the weekend.
4. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 2) Last week’s 2nd ranked team, the 67’s slide a couple of spots this week, despite winning two of three in a three game weekend. Friday night, Ottawa started things off with a bang, repelling a visit from Sarnia, but would drop a tough game in Barrie Saturday night, causing the slide. Even a win in Owen Sound Sunday afternoon wouldn’t be enough to avoid the drop, though the 67’s continue to remain firm in top spot in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa plays just twice in the next week, beginning on Friday when they play host to Oshawa. A night later, a visit from Kingston wraps up the 67’s weekend.
5. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 3) Much like Ottawa ahead of them, the IceDogs slide a couple of spots this week, as one tough loss would override a pair of big victories. Things would start well for Niagara, as they would win convincingly over Belleville on Thursday night, but a night later, the IceDogs would find themselves shutout in Guelph. Niagara replied well Sunday, earning a shutout of their own in Brampton. There are two games ahead for the IceDogs in the coming week, beginning with a big matchup in London on Friday night. On Saturday, Niagara returns home to host Brampton in a rematch for the lead atop the Central Division.
6. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 6) It was a tough week for the Brampton Battalion, who manage to hold their spot at number six this week, despite dropping two of three over the weekend. Friday night, the Troops would be unable to pull out a victory on home ice, losing to Barrie, but Brampton would answer with a win the next night in Oshawa. On Sunday afternoon, the Battalion would be dropped by their rivals from Niagara, losing their grip on top spot in the division in the process. Brampton faces another three game weekend ahead of them, beginning Friday night in Erie. From there, the Battalion play Saturday in Niagara, before returning home to host Sudbury on Sunday afternoon.
7. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 7) Sudbury continues to hold steady at number seven, as they try to put some distance between themselves and the bottom half of the Eastern Conference. The Wolves only managed three points in as many games over the last week, beginning with an overtime loss Friday night against Plymouth. Sudbury would lose at home to last place Erie, before bouncing back nicely to end the weekend, defeating Mississauga. The Wolves face another three game weekend coming up, which begins Friday night when they host Sault Ste. Marie. From there, Sudbury takes their act on the road, with contests Saturday in Peterborough, and in Brampton on Sunday afternoon.
8. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 8) No change at number eight this week, as the Barrie Colts would post a pair of impressive victories in the last week. The week didn’t start out great for the Colts, who would be beaten by Plymouth on home ice Thursday night. Barrie would answer with wins Friday in Brampton, and Saturday against Ottawa. If the Colts are to build on the momentum from these two huge wins, it all starts on Friday, when they play in Mississauga. After that, Barrie only has one other game in the next week, playing a night later at home to Sault Ste. Marie.
9. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 10) Saginaw would split a pair of games in a relatively quiet week past, but the split would be enough to see the Spirit climb one spot to number nine in the OHL Power Rankings. On Thursday night, the Spirit would find a way to win in Windsor, but, upon returning home, Saginaw would be defeated by London Saturday night. The Spirit head back out on the road this weekend, playing three times in as many days, in as many visiting cities. On Friday night, the Spirit play in Guelph, before travelling all the way to Erie for a contest the next night. Sunday afternoon, Saginaw is back in Ontario, playing in Kitchener to finish the weekend.
10. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 9) The Generals slide one spot this week, but remain in the top ten of the OHL Power Rankings after earning three points in as many games this past weekend. Friday night in Kingston, Oshawa would drop a disappointing decision in overtime, and the next night, the Gens would be dropped again, this time on home ice against Brampton. The Generals would salvage a .500 weekend Sunday evening, when they would knock off their rivals from Peterborough. Looking ahead, Oshawa faces a pair of big games this week, beginning on Friday night, when they play in Ottawa. The Generals will wrap the weekend up on home ice Sunday evening, playing host to Guelph.
11. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 14) Two wins in a three game weekend help propel the Storm up three spots in this week’s Power Rankings, as Guelph lands at number eleven this week. After starting the weekend by shutting out Niagara on Friday night, the Storm would win again a night later in Owen Sound. On Sunday, however, Guelph would lose a tough game on home ice to Kitchener, spoiling an otherwise perfect week. Just a pair of games for Guelph coming up, as the Storm host Saginaw on Friday night, before hitting the road to play in Oshawa on Sunday afternoon.
12. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 12) A split in a pair of games over the last week is enough for Mississauga to retain number twelve in this week’s Power Rankings. The Majors would win a huge Eastern Conference battle against Peterborough on Friday night, but were unable to capitalize two days later, losing to Sudbury. Mississauga is another team with a three game weekend ahead of them, which begins Friday night when the Majors host Barrie. Road games in London on Saturday, and in Windsor Sunday afternoon complete the Majors weekend schedule.
13. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 11) It was a tough week for the league’s defending Champions, as the Attack would lose all three contests, extending their losing streak to five overall. Owen Sound would only be outscored by four goals in their three losses, beginning Friday night when the Attack lost in Kitchener. Losses at home to Guelph on Saturday, and to Ottawa Sunday would add to the misery in Owen Sound, who look to fix things with a pair of games coming up. On Friday night, the Attack play host to Windsor, and, a night later, Belleville comes to town for a Saturday night contest.
14. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 15) Three points in as many games on an eastern road trip is enough to help stop Sarnia’s freefall down the OHL Power Rankings, as they climb back up a spot to land at number fourteen this week. After losing Friday night in Ottawa, the Sting were much better over the rest of the weekend, earning a point for a shootout loss the next night in Belleville, then ending the week with a big win in Kingston. Sarnia has but a single game this week to try and build on their new found momentum, and a Friday night visit from a tough team from Plymouth won’t be easy.
15. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 13) The Petes continue their slide down the OHL Power Rankings, and fall two more spots this week to land at number fifteen. After opening the week with a win on home ice over Kingston, Peterborough would be unable to find any success over the weekend, losing Friday night in Mississauga, and Sunday evening in Oshawa. The Petes get another crack at Kingston when they travel down the highway for a contest on Friday night, before returning home to play against Sudbury in their second of two games this week.
16. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 16) The Windsor Spitfires hold firm at number sixteen this week, after earning just a single point from a pair of games over the last week. On Thursday night, the Spits would taste defeat on home ice, losing in the shootout to Saginaw, and would lose in regulation the next night in London. Windsor is another team with a three game weekend in front of them, which begins Friday night in Owen Sound. After playing in Plymouth on Saturday, the Spitfires return home to finish the weekend with a Sunday afternoon bout against Mississauga.
17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 18) It was a pretty good week for the Greyhounds, who earned three out of four possible points this week, allowing them to climb up one spot in the OHL Power Rankings. Sault Ste. Marie would earn a victory when Erie came to town on Friday night, and the Hounds would earn another point in a shootout loss against Plymouth on Sunday night. The Soo only play twice again this week, and need points in both to get back into the Western Conference playoff picture. Friday night, the Greyhounds play in Sudbury, before traveling to Barrie for a Saturday night contest.
18. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 17) Even putting a stop to a six game losing streak wouldn’t be enough to stop the Bulls from sliding yet further down the OHL Power Rankings, as the slide all the way into the bottom three this week. On Thursday night, Belleville was unable to muster any offence, being dismantled in Niagara, before rebounding to defeat Sarnia on home ice on Saturday night. A pair of tough road games lies ahead of the Bulls this week, who will try to get back into the top eight in the East with games Friday night in Kitchener, and in Owen Sound on Saturday.
19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 19) While it seems as though the bottom two teams may never change, Kingston has been playing much better hockey over the past month, and are being rewarded with some victories for their hard work. The week would start out with a loss in Peterborough on Thursday night, but the Fronts would get a big win the next night, defeating Oshawa in overtime, avenging a lopsided loss from the week before. Sunday afternoon, Kingston would lose a tough battle with the visitors from Sarnia, halting any thoughts of a rise in this week’s Power Rankings. Only two games in from of the Frontenacs this week, beginning with a rematch at home to Peterborough on Friday night. Saturday afternoon, Kingston plays in Ottawa to finish the week’s schedule.
20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) While still comfortable at the bottom of the OHL Power Rankings, the Otters did pick up their sixth victory of the season this weekend. After losing in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday night, Erie would win in Sudbury the next night, knocking off a tough Eastern team in the process. The Otters only play twice this week, but get the benefit of both being on home ice, beginning Friday night when Brampton comes to town. On Saturday, Erie plays host to Saginaw, another team desperate for as many points as possible.
The ITO Three Stars and Power Rankings can be found every Tuesday here at In The O… The Radio Show. Be sure to check back next week to see the week’s best players, and to find out where your favourite team ranks. If you can’t wait for your OHL fix, find me on Twitter anytime, @N24Nicholson.

Battalion wrap up

It was a tough weekend to be a Battalion fan, or player for that matter. After a trying 2-1 victory marred by officiating controversy on January 22nd, Battalion coach Stan Butler received an eight game suspension for an altercation with referee Mike Marley on the ice and again in the Powerade Centre corridor.

The Troops were looking forward to getting back at it with division rival Barrie on Friday night. A quick 2-0 lead put Brampton in an early hole that they never could climb out of. The Colts pressed hard physically all game taking the body to the Battalion at every possible opportunity. While Ian Watters and Jamie Lewis would score for the Battalion, it would make little difference. The Colts would put up six goals on an otherwise stingy Brampton defense, two of which by Tanner Pearson to give him 30 on the season.

“We had a good first period and we just kept it going” said Barrie Captain Colin Behenna who scored the second goal of the game short-handed. “We battled hard, blocked shots and stuck to our game plan.”

Brampton wouldn’t have to wait long for a chance to get back on track as they headed to Oshawa for a Saturday night contest. After being down 2-1 through 20-minutes, the Troops rallied scoring two in the second and holding on for a 3-2 victory over the Generals. Captain Sam Carrick recorded his 25th goal of the season on the game-winning goal.

The Battalion then came home to face the visiting Niagara Ice Dogs on Sunday. Brett Ritchie put the Dogs up by one midway through the first and Brampton would never recover only managing 15 shots on Mark Visentin. Andrew Agozzino would score his 30th of the season in a first period scramble in front of goalie Matej Machovsky. The goal was Agozzino’s 149th as a member of the Ice Dogs, good for top spot in franchise history. Steven Shipley would add an early goal in the third and Visentin would close the door on Brampton for a 3-0 victory. The win was Visentin’s 7th of the month and his third straight shut-out.

“I thought we played really great” said Ice Dogs forward Ryan Strome. A sucker punch from Sudbury Wolves forward Brody Silk left Strome with a broken nose as well as other facial fractures and forced the talented forward to the sidelines. “We wanted to bounce back from a tough game and I think we did a good job.”

Ottawa 67's 2-Game Road Trip vs. BAR/OS

by Alex Quevillon
Shane Prince has surely made his point. He called out Hockey USA, he’s shown them up, and now he’s flat out making it difficult for me and all 67’s writers to write anything original about him. He had a big goal on Friday, the only goal on Saturday and the game-winner on Sunday. Prince’s hot streak puts him fifth in the OHL in scoring with 63 points, one ahead of teammate Sean Monahan. Tyler Toffoli rounds out Ottawa’s big three in scoring with a league-leading 76 points.

Saturday, January 28th @Barrie

The Barrie Colts may be trailing the top three teams in the OHL Eastern Conference by a fair marigin, but this weekend proved that they are for real. Playing three divisional rivals in three days, they finished off their 2-and-1 weekend with a 2-1 win over the 67's on Saturday night.

Through the first two periods, the game lacked any sort of up-tempo pace. Sean Callaghan, standing up for fellow rookie defenceman Mike Vlajkov after he received a hit from behind, pounded Barrie's Norm Ezekiel. Taylor Fielding and Anthony Camara dropped the gloves but the rest of the period was rather uneventful with both goaltenders making 10 saves a piece. Ottawa outshot Barrie 8-6 in the second period, but the game still remained scoreless.

Shane Prince opened the scoring less than two minutes into the second period, taking a breakaway pass from Michael Cajkovsky and deking out Barrie's rookie netminder Mathias Neiderberger. Neiderberger would stand tall the rest of the night, though, finishing with 30 saves and giving his team a chance to come back.

Barrie Captain Colin Behenna made no mistake on a breakaway of his own, a shorthanded marker just after the six-minute mark to even the game up. Alex Lepowski added another goal, on a strange bounce that beat Michael Nishi, who made 24 stops in the losing effort.

The Colts (26-19-2-1) helped Ottawa out the night before, defeating the second-place Brampton Battalion, allowing Ottawa to increase their lead atop the Eastern Conference.

Sunday, January 29th @Owen Sound

Ottawa looked to take advantage of an already shorthanded Attack squad who were without Daniel Catenacci and Kyle Hope who were suspended earlier in the weekend. The Attack also lost Jay Gilbert after colliding awkwardly with Cody Ceci. Ottawa wasn't immune to the injury bug either, Ceci left during the second period with an undisclosed injury. The injuries were too much for the Attack to handle, and the 67's handed Owen Sound a 3-1 loss, their fifth in a row (three of them were by one goal).

Tyler Toffoli found himself playing the point on the powerplay for Ottawa today, and added to his league lead in points by finishing off a 4-on-1 rush with Brendan Childerley and Mike Halmo in the box for Owen Sound. Halmo, eighth in the OHL in scoring, made up for being in the box for a goal against, scoring his 31st of the year (assisted by Childerley) to tie the game at 1.

Petr Mrazek, back in goal after having Saturday off, took over the game in the second period, making 26 saves over the first fourty minutes and keeping the game tied while his team was being heavily outshot by the home side.

Prince, once again, took over the game. Taking a pass from Mike Cazzola, Prince found himself on another breakaway, once again burying it with five and a half minutes to go. Michael Cajkovsky added an empty netter, ensuring that Owen Sound would not come back (or lose by one goal for the fourth straight game).

Mrazek stood tall, stopping 38 pucks and helping Ottawa kill off all six Owen Sound powerplays, while his counterpart, Jordan Binnington, had made 31 saves for the Attack who fall to 22-21-2-4.

Standings Watch

Despite having their six-game win streak snapped by the Colts, Ottawa (31-12-4-1) still lead their division and conference. The Niagara Ice Dogs seem to be the biggest threat in the conference, sitting four points behind the 67's. Brampton is also four points behind, but Ottawa holds a game in hand on them.

Barrie sits in fourth place, but being 12 points back of first, don't look like too much of a threat to the 67's. Peterborough, second in Ottawa's division, is 17 back. This should surely strike up the discussion about which divisions and conferences are more difficult, not in in the Barberpoles' favour.

With exactly 20 games left, Ottawa has exactly 20 points on the 9th place Oshawa Generals. That close to clinching a playoff spot. The 67's now head home to Ottawa where they will face the Generals and Kingston Frontenacs on Friday and Saturday.

Max Iafrate - January 27th Prospect Report

by Brandon Sudeyko

Thayne Hallyburton is the main prospects guy for ITO and by no means am I looking to outshine him. It is that time of the year where the draft prospects are watched a little closely and Friday night I was able to watch Kitchener Rangers defenceman Max Iafrate.

The Kitchener Rangers traded for Max before the puck dropped on the season, paying a price for the big offensive defenceman. Kitchener and Plymouth swapped 1st round import selections in ’12 and ’13 while the Rangers GM Steve Spott also gave up a pair of 3rd round draft picks in 2015 and 2016. The price was large but the payoff could be huge.
Max started the season off slow and some injuries have halted his progress this season but as of Friday January 27th, Max Iafrate looked like a complete player.  Even though Max was a -3 on the night, stats do not tell the whole story. Entering the season Iafrate was an offensive defenceman. He was known for his offensive prowess, his big booming shot and his knack for getting shots on net to generate big rebounds. Entering the season the Kitchener Rangers wanted to change that and make him a possible first round selection, much like Spott did with Carolina Hurricanes prospect Ryan Murphy.
Max has had a string of games where he has looked like he deserves to be ranked higher than 78th amongst NA skaters (NHL CS) and definitely a more complete player. Max has learned to use his size (6’2” 220lbs) to gain positioning on the opposition who are standing in front of the net. If he is unable to move them from the net, he does a great job at tying up the players stick and gives the goaltender a chance to come up with the save.
Even though Max and the Rangers are focusing on the defensive side of the game, Iafrate still has his offensive flare as he demonstrated with a few rushes, one leading to a Michael Catenacci goal. Iafrate shows poise with the puck, looking for a way to get the puck from the point to the net, a skill his father was very good at.
The most impressive part of Iafrate’s game on Friday night had to be his shot blocking and decision making. Max has no fear, whether it is standing up straight, or laying down to block shots, he will do what he has to do help out his goaltender and team when it comes to protecting the lead, or just stopping scoring opportunities. Iafrate’s deicision making ability was evident as many a time an offensive defenceman would have jumped for that loose puck and have a 50/50 chance at allowing the opposition to have a breakaway in his attempt to pinch. In 4 scenarios where he could have won the foot race, Iafrate analyzed the situation quickly and decided that his best decision was to play defense first. Max credits Steve Spott and the system for improving his decision making abilities.
It isn’t all positives for Max as he does need to work on his skating ability. He is quick for a bigger man but does not currently have NHL caliber skating , but that is the easiest of all skills to teach and improve on. Max will need to get a bit more physical in front of the net as there were some opportunities where shots got through and could not push the player around resulting in scoring chances off rebounds.
No one is going to question the skill that Max possesses, but it is scary to watch him grow and improve this season. Currently rated 78th by NHL CS, look for him to be a late 2nd round pick in this years NHL draft.
Have a listen to the post game interview I had with Max after his game Friday night.

Prospect Files: Matt Finn

This draft class is so deep on the blue line that it might seem like all I do is talk about defensemen. Not true, check back in the blog and you will see Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk….and a bunch of other defenseman. Okay, I admit it…I have written about a lot of defenders, but few have as much upside as this kid. The Guelph Storm fans know him, some OHL fans know him and soon, everyone is going to know him. Let’s take a look at Matt Finn.

The Line:

Height: 6’0”
Weight: 197 lbs
Shoots: Left
Position: Defense
Draft Eligible: 2012

After being taken 12th overall in the 2010 OHL priority selection by the Guelph Storm, the former Toronto Marlboro minor midget talent was looked upon to contribute right away on a club that was starved for talent on the blue line. Matt Finn is making the Guelph Storm fans think that these kids grow on trees, first Ryan Parent then Drew Doubty and now, Matt Finn, other teams in the O would kill for that.  

In 2010/2011 Matt had 21 points in 60 games; very respectable for a rookie 16 year-old defenseman in the tough Ontario Hockey League. This year, through 39 games, he has 30 points and is logging 22+ minutes a night against the other team’s top lines.

Now you are probably thinking, “all of this is great but why is he a top pick?” and it really is simple when you watch him play. He plays as mistake-free of a game as I have ever seen in a 17 year-old. He has a very high panic-tolerance and it allows him to stay calm and make the right play when he is being pressured. The game is slow for him. He sees the ice very well and has an extremely high hockey IQ. He will jump into plays and has some finish , as his 6 goals will show, but he also rarely gets caught on a bad pinch or with a bad pass up the middle.

Last season he seemed to struggle with the pace of the game at times, many suggesting he wasn’t in good enough shape to play big minutes at this level. There are certainly no issues with that this year. His shot is average and needs some working on but is good for this level. His skating is phenomenal, and when he cranks it up circling back into his own zone, he seems to gain the opposing blue line with ease.

This largest transformation in his game from last season to this season is easily his defensive zone coverage. He has figured out some of the tricks of the trade, in how he can control guys without taking a penalty and fast routes to cut players off, but he really seems to have a knack for keeping guys to the outside and this is a skill set that transfers over easily as he moves up the ranks and into the pro game. He can also play the physical game if he has to, and let’s face it, you have to every night in the Western Conference of the OHL, but that does not define him. You will see what I mean in the player comparison below.

I think Matt Finn is still being underrated by scouts to this day. There is a lot of talk about the big 5 in the Western Hockey League and guys like Slater Koekkoek and Olli Maata in the O, but I think Matt can be a better pro than almost all of them. In my opinion, he should be in the same discussion as Matt Dumba, Jacob Trouba and Ryan Murray. Not saying he is better, but I think he could be in that discussion and I think he may jump in there as the season progresses. Look for Matt to not be sitting in his seat long, at the consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh come June.

NHL Player Comparison:  Nik Lidstrom (This is a comparison of playing style. Not saying Matt Finn will be a hall of famer)

Where do the Rangers Fit?

Where do the Kitchener Rangers fit in the OHL dynamic? After their dominating victories over Kingston and Belleville last weekend, then a humbling 4-3 loss to Ottawa on Sunday, the Rangers obliterated the London Knights by a score of 8-3 on Wednesday night. Last night they defeated the Owen Sound Attack in a hard fought game, winning 5-4.

So Kitchener runs with the big teams no problem. The little teams give them a bit more of a headache. Someone on twitter suggested the Rangers ask all opposing teams to wear green for the rest of the season. They are now 3-0 against the Knights this year, and 3-0 against John Gibson (as Brandon puts it, he's the Knights kryptonite).

So is it just that, or is it the way Kitchener prepares for games? After going up 2-1 at the end of the second, they were unable to outshoot the Attack in the final 2 periods. Final shots were 44-32 for Owen Sound. In a game against an opponent who sits 13 points below the Rangers, you would expect a more dominating performance, especially after coming off an 8-3 win. The officiating wasn't helping Kitchener at all last night, but regardless the Rangers only seemed to show up when they had to. They seemed quite content with being tied with the Attack until the final minute or 2 of the third. Once again great goaltending and strong defense backed the Rangers to this win. John Gibson was absolutely spectacular between the pipes.

This team needs to focus on being better in the offensive zone and capitalizing on opportunities. They need to play better at shutting down opponents after they get the lead, and they need to remain focused for 60 minutes. This has been a problem for the past couple years in Kitchener. The difference this year is they have strong goaltending to bail them out when this happens.

Moving forward, I think a playoff series between these two teams would be incredibly entertaining and a hard fought battle for the Rangers. And it's a possible first round matchup, assuming Saginaw stops winning games. Tonight was definitely something to build on for Kitchener. Here's hoping they can keep on winning.

SAR-OTT Game Review 01/27/2012, 5-2 Ottawa

by Alex Quevillon
It's impossible to ignore the hype in this city for the upcoming NHL All-Star game. But while the All-Star festivities were on break Friday night, the 67's took center stage in a nationally televised matchup with the Sarnia Sting.

On a night where 2012 NHL All-Stars and 67's Alumni Logan Couture and Brian Campbell dropped the ceremonial pre-game puck, it's very possible that a future All-Star may have been playing in the game.

Sarnia's Nail Yakupov, sidelined with a knee injury sustained in the extra frame of Russia's 1-0 overtime loss to Sweden at the Junior Gold Medal game, made his long awaited return to the Sting lineup, scoring a goal and getting under the skin of the 67's all night.

Also making a return was former Sting defenceman Daniel Broussard. Acquired at the beginning of the year, Broussard was suspended eight games on January 6th for use of methylhexaneamine. He was a +2 in his return.

After a chippy, scoreless first period, Ottawa opened the scoring on a pair of early second-period goals. Taylor Fielding (3) and Tyler Toffoli (37) both put fluttering wrist shots into the back of the net, both of which J.P. Anderson would no doubt like to have back. Anderson finished the night with 34 stops. Ryan Spooner, playing his first game as a member of the Sting in his hometown, cut the lead in half in the final minutes of the period.

In the third, the two teams traded goals. Cody Ceci scored his 11th of the year with a blast from the point, but a couple of minutes later turned the puck over to Yakupov who walked in and snapped it home. Shane Prince (26) picked the corner on Anderson with just under six minutes to go, restoring the two-goal lead, and Ottawa never looked back.

Petr Mrazek made 40 saves for the win and as he had tried at the afformentioned World Juniors against the United States and last season against the Owen Sound Attack, attempted to hit the empty Sarnia net in the final minute. The puck rolled off of his stick a little, going far wide for icing. Mike Cazzola (7) hit the empty net shortly thereafter, a play which left Yakupov on the ice for several seconds.

No word yet if Yakupov was hurt on the play, as he had recently left his feet to charge at Marc-Anthony Zanetti, but he didn't play another shift after staying down and refused to come out for the three-star selection (Mrazek and Ceci were the other two stars).

Although there were a lot of scrums in the game (most of which started by Yakupov), only one scrap came out of the chippy affair. Ryan Van Stralen took on Justice Dundas, while Jake Cardwell was attempting to goad former 67's teammate Julian Luciani into a fight.

Now, Ottawa heads on the road to face the Barrie Colts and Owen Sound attack on Saturday and Sunday, while the NHL's All-Star Skills Competition and Game take place. With the Ice Dogs losing to Guelph and Battallion losing to Barrie, Ottawa has a four-point lead atop the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on each of the two trailing teams. Sarnia remains fourth in the West, as they head to Belleville and Kingston to finsih their three-in-three.

Prepare For Takeoff – Spitfires Weekend Preview

Thursday, January 26 – vs Saginaw Spirit
Points are always important, but when you have the chance to separate yourself from a team nipping at your heels, they are more precious than gold.
That’s the situation the Windsor Spitfires find themselves in tonight when they welcome the Saginaw Spirit to the WFCU Centre.
Windsor (21-22-3-1 – 46 pts) has only a one point advantage over Saginaw (20-21-0-5 – 45 pts) for 6th place in the OHL’s Western Conference Final, with around 20 games to go in the regular season.
Saginaw is 2-1 against the Spitfires this season, but will be bringing a very different team to town, after making 3 different trades at the Deadline on January 10th.
Former Spitfires Eric Locke and Grant Webermin will be back in town, wearing Spirit jerseys. Locke has 10 points (4-6) in his 9 games with Saginaw, while Webermin is a +1 in 3 games.
WINDSOR: Kerby Rychel leads the team with 26 goals and has 3 against the Spirit in 3 games this season, along with two assists. Alexander Khokhlachev has 4 assists. Chris Marchese has two goals in two games against Saginaw as a member of the Spitfires.
SAGINAW: Josh Shalla has two goals against the Spitfires this season, while Michael Fine has registered 4 assists. Goaltender, Jake Paterson is 1-1 facing Windsor, with a 0.939 save percentage.


Friday, January 27 - @ London Knights
One of the more stories rivalries in the Western Conference gets sparked up again at the John Labatt Centre, as the Spitfires travel to face the best team in the OHL and the top ranked team in the CHL – the London Knights (35-10-0-1 – 71 pts).
This is just the 3rd meeting between these two clubs, with three others scheduled before the end of the year.
The season series has been split 1-1 so far, with both road teams winning – Windsor 5-2 on October 7th and London 6-3 on October 23rd.
WINDSOR: Michael Clarke has his coming out party on October 7th, when he potted his first OHL hat-trick and added an assist. Nick Czinder, Zack McQueen and Kerby Rychel are the only other current Spitfires to score in this two game season series. Former goaltender, Jack Campbell started both previous games.
LONDON: In their 6-3 win on October 23rd, Vladislav Namestnikov had a two goal/one assist performance, while Jake Fox kicked in a goal and an assist. Goaltender, Michael Houser is 1-1 against Windsor this season, with a 0.896 save percentage.

ITO Hot-Stove: who will represent the East and West in the OHL finals?

Before we begin here, I'd like to thank Brandon Sudeyko and company for filling in for me for last week's ITO hot-stove and doing a great job. As you can tell, I'm back on the saddle here and ready to roll. Joining me today in this week's hot-stove is Matt Leacy, Brandon Sudeyko, Susan Tromanhauser and Trevor Miller.

Without further ado I'd like to introduce you all to this week's debate question: who will represent the East and West in the OHL finals and why?

Todd Cordell

In the East, I'm going to go out on a limb and go with the Barrie Colts. They have one of the most explosive forward groups in the Ontario Hockey League led by Mark Scheifele, Tanner Pearson and company. At the deadline the Colts added some grit up front with Anthony Camara, and upgraded their defense corps as well by bringing in Ryan O'Connor. 17 year old goaltender Alex Fotinos has been brought up to the big club due to the Clint Windsor trade and he's been playing some fantastic hockey. He's currently side-lined with concussion like symptoms, but he should be back relatively soon. In my opinion if the Colts can stay healthy and get solid goaltending from Mathias Niederberger and Alex Fotinos, they can compete with anyone in the East.

Now out west I'm going to go with the Sarnia Sting. I know they're struggling a little bit right now but I believe if and when they get healthy they can make a serious run at it. I love what they did at the deadline in bringing in Adrian Robertson, Ryan Spooner, JP Anderson and company and in my opinion each and every one of those acquisitions will payoff come playoff time. When Nail Yakupov, and possibly Alex Galchenyuk return, the Sting will be a force to be reckoned with. I think they'll show why in the post-season.

Matt Leacy

Talk about a hard question to answer. A lot of teams with great depth and skill in the league this year. There really is no clear cut favorite. That being said, I believe Niagara will win the East, and Plymouth will win the West.

Plymouth has tremendous skill, starting in net with Scott Wedgewood, and lots of players who can score including Richard Rakell and Stefan Noeson. Of course, London, Kitchener and Sarnia will give them a good run for their money, but my money's on the Whalers to take it this year.

Niagara again has strong goaltending from Mark Visinten, and guys like Ryan Strome plus the Hamilton brothers really make them a strong team and a force in the Eastern Conference. Just like in the west, there are very good teams such as Ottawa and Oshawa, but I don't think anyone has the same type of depth as the Ice Dogs.

Brandon Sudeyko

Pick the OHL Finals... but those are about 20 games away and several rounds. But the Trade deadline has passed and I would have to go into the archives to see if my personal pics have changed. They clearly have. When all is said and done, the Western Conference will go through Plymouth and Sarnia. I don’t know why I still give Sarnia credit, especially when they are looking like the same fire wagon team from last season... just more offensive power than the previous incarnation. But there is something about Sarnia. I will call it the mystique factor as I don’t think anyone has seen what this team is capable of. Brett Thompson is your veteran scorer. Sarault is a beast this year. Captain Charlitti is having an outstanding year on the back end. And the team will go deep enough to get both Gally and Yaki back. There is also a guy by the name of Spooner on that team too. There set back is JP Anderson but all you have to do is outscore your opponent by 1. But back to Plymouth, who has been the most complete team in the OHL all season. There is strength on the team, as exhibited by Tom Wilson and Jamie Devane. Skill with J.T. Miller, Stefan Noesen and Rickard Rakell. Their D is probably the 2nd best 6 pack in the league, and their goaltenders... well you know that story.

The East is probably filled with Niagara and Ottawa, but I have a feeling that Goaltending will hurt Niagara, while Ottawa will get stymied again by a hot goaltender and their shooters will hit nothing but iron. Call me Crazy but I am going to call Brampton in the OHL Finals... Their D can lock down the best shooters. Their forwards can play great defensive hockey and by all accounts... every team hates to play against them. ‘They just sit back and wait, I f*!#ing hate playing them. I’m glad it is over,’ said one eastern conference player after a game. The system acts to their strength, they have no problem with patience and contrary to belief... they can score too. OHL Finals... Brampton / Sarnia...

Susan Tromanhauser

I posed this question to the media room in St. Catharines. All were in agreement Niagara should be there representing the East. The key word is should. Niagara has by far the strongest team on paper but paper doesn't win championships.

The West was more difficult to decide. The media types could not agree between London and Plymouth. What they did agree upon was they hoped it was Plymouth as the Wedgewood versus Visentin goaltender dual will make a great story.
Trevor Miller

My pick to come out of the East is Ottawa. I picked them as my favourite early on in the year and I’m sticking with it. Their offense is spread nicely over the roster. Tyler Toffoli is having another banner year taking over the league lead in scoring recently. With Sean Monahan riding shotgun, the pair remind me a little of the Brampton days with Cody Hodgson and Matt Duchene. Add in Shane Prince and newly acquired John McFarland and it’s clear that this team should have no trouble scoring. The likes of Cody Ceci and Marc Zanetti will help the 67’s keep the puck out of their own net, as will the presence of Petr Mrazek in goal.

The easy thing to do for the Western Conference is to pick the London Knights, and it makes sense to do so. Since Dale Hunter moved on to coach the Washington Capitals, the Knights haven’t missed a beat, pacing the west with a league best 71 points.  Greg McKegg and Austin Watson have been huge additions to a London team that was already chock-full of talent. Max Domi has had a rough month of January, recording only two assists thus far, but will most definitely bounce back as the playoff picture becomes clearer. Michael Houser has also been a huge factor in goal for the Knights winning 33 of his 42 starts, five of which are shut-outs.

Wednesday January 25th - Game Preview

Kitchener @ London
This is should be a great game between two historical powerhouses.  Both teams have shown their skill throughout the season and both come into the game with strong records – London 35-9-0-1 71 points and Kitchener 30-13-1-0 61 points.  London is ranked second in the CHL and Kitchener is ranked 10th.

 London has won their last 5 games – three of them by one goal. They have also won 9 of their last 10 games. On Sunday they registered a surprising 3-2 overtime win vs. the improving last place Erie Otters. On Friday the 13th they defeated the visiting Owen Sound Attack on Sportsnet’s game of the week 3-0 and then won at Owen Sound 6-5.  In the Owen Sound games the powerplay was 0 for 10 and then 2 for 5.  McKegg continues his strong play with 8 games played for the Knights.  He has tallied 10 goals and 5 assists to go with his + 8 rating.  He is on a 5 game scoring streak (11 pts).Seth Griffin continues his solid playmaking skills. He has scored more this season (63 points in 45 games) than he did all of last season (62 points in 68 games). Defenceman Tinordi has also become more noticeable (if that’s possible) adding 3 points in the last 3 games.

Kitchener has won 3 of their last 4 games.  Their Eastern road trip last weekend started Friday night with a bang in Kingston where the visitors blasted away and won 9-1 (every player scored at least one point). Saturday they allowed 3 third period goals to the Bulls, but still managed to hold onto a 5-4 win. Ryan Murphy with 1 goal and 3 assists – Zach Lorentz with 2 goals (and his 8 points in the month almost surpass his 9 point total for all of last year).  On Sunday they went up against the #1 Eastern team the Ottawa 67’s.  Kitchener led the game early on 1-0 before Ottawa scored 3 straight times.  Kitchener answered back with 2 poweplay goals in the second and third period. Ottawa then scores with 4 minutes to go for the win. 
My prediction (besides loads of penalties)  Kitchener 2 London 4

Belleville Bulls Weekend Review, Jan 21-22, 2012

by Phil Phillips

What can I say about The Belleville Bulls this past weekend. I don't know ? Its all been said.
So I turned to song, for the answer. The Bulls have had a history with certain songs, every one remembers the 80's & 90's when after every home game they played "Wasn't that a Party" by the Irish Rovers, You can't come to a Bulls game without hearing John Denver's"Thank God I'm a Country Boy", or what about the Belleville Bulls theme song, you know how it goes "Lets Get Wild for the Belleville Bulls, Come On." and anything with "MORE COWBELL" but mostly I picked a Bulls set list, because some guy on American Idol has a great name and helped me trend world wide. This is my play list for the Bulls this weekend at home on Saturday Vs The Kitchener Rangers and on the road on Sunday Vs The Kingston Frontenacs
The play list

1- Lost Together by Blue Rodeo.
Where have the Mighty Bulls of late 2011 gone ? 0-6 at home home in 2012, after losing their best game of the new year on Home ice to the Rangers 5-4. Then they suffered their 5th straight lose to Kingston 3-2, and to end the weekend in 9th place and out off the playoff picture ,when Oshawa defeated Barrie 3-0.

2- New Orleans is Sinking by the Tragically Hip
The Bulls playoff hopes in January are New Orleans and January can't come to an end soon enough for the Bulls. 0-6 at home, 1-9 overall, they lost John Chartrand after losing Macolm Subban in late December, and watched the playoffs slip away now sitting in 9th. with a .500 record of 22-22-1.

3- The Race is On - by George Jones
The Race is on for playoff spots in the East. Yes I know there are 23 games left, but the Eastern Conference is tight, with only 5 points separating 4th - from 9th. Home Ice is still do a"Bull" for any of the four teams that make it, but there are 5 teams and right now the Bulls are on the outside looking in.

4-Dazed and Confused- by Led Zeppelin
I would think everyone is , Coaches, players, opposition . media , and fans,

5- Where have all the Cowboys Gone - Paula Cole.
We don't have to name names, we all know the boys are struggling , some more then others, guys aren't scoring anymore, the fore check is gone , the drive to the net ?? This weekend when they did go to the net , they scored. The Defence has been soft at times, always backing up, giving teams to much space, even the always stingy PK has dropped a bit.

6- Mama Said Knock You Out by LL Cool J
When the Chips are down sometimes , you just want to get a spark, someone to step up and Saturday night , 3 Bulls Adam Payrel, Joesph Cramarossa and Jason Shaw dusted it up with members of the Rangers , hoping it would spark the club and the building, it worked , it just wasn't enough. On Sunday Mike Curtis stepped up for the team,

7- Love Potion No. 9 by The Clovers
Is there a secret formula to turning things around ?
No, the boys from Belleville just need to step back , take a breath. Remember the things that made them one of the hottest teams in the OHL. A solid PK, a good fore check and back check, discipline and good goal tending, Coach Burnett has a good system that works and has been successful, you just have to play it.

8-Hero by Mariah Carey
Just a thought, but is Macolm Subban to the Belleville Bulls what Peyton Manning is to the Indy Colts, both their teams play better when they play. Macolm is by far the Bulls MVP. They need him, the kids play better when he is in the cage. No offense to John Chartrand or Charlie Graham, both are quality tenders, but this year belongs to Subban, He is ranked #1 in North America for a reason.

9-Walking on Sunshine by the Waves
This past weekend wasn't all bad, Garrett Hooey played great as did Jordan Subban. Saturday night against the Rangers was a game Belleville deserved to win, after being down 4-1 and to come back and tie it 4-4, only to lose on a late PP goal by OHL player of the week and maybe the best defense men in the OHL Ryan Murphy. Games where you do lots of things right and still lose are the toughest to recover from, hence the effort Vs Kingston.

10-Que Sera, Sera (Whatever Will Be, Will Be)-Doris Day
Your Bulls are a better team then they have been showing, Come out to the games, these kids need your support. It says here not only do they make the playoffs, but when they do they make some noise. You might even hear a cowbell or two.

ITO Three Stars and OHL Power Rankings: Week 17

The Ontario Hockey League is entering the most crucial time of year, that being the final eight weeks leading up to the end of the season. Certain teams are beginning to stand out and are putting distance between themselves and the rest of the league, while other teams continue to fight week in and week out, either to secure a playoff berth, or even to improve their seeding. With all the roster transactions behind us, the next few weeks will determine who we look to as favourites to represent Ontario this Spring at the Memorial Cup, being held this year in Shawinigan, Quebec.

ITO 3 Stars

1. Ryan Murphy (Kitchener Rangers) –No one player would stand out more for his club this week than rearguard Ryan Murphy of the Kitchener Rangers, who has been playing much better hockey since returning from injury last month. This week, the Carolina Hurricanes 1st round pick would ignite his squad from the backend, notching a pair of goals and seven points on a three game Eastern road swing. Friday night, Ryan would earn an assist in the Rangers 9-1 beating of Kingston, but it would be his play in a pair of weekend tilts that set him ahead of the pack. In Belleville on Saturday night, Murphy would score a goal as part of a four point game, leading his Rangers to a hardfought 5-4 win. The following afternoon in Ottawa, Ryan would register another multi-point game, scoring once and adding an assist, despite the Rangers loss. Ryan’s production from the blueline would be too much to ignore, and is a clear choice as ITO’s First Star for week 17.

2. Shane Prince (Ottawa 67’s) –This marks the second straight appearance for Shane Prince in the ITO Three Stars, and his fourth selection overall this season. In a season where so much was expected from the 67’s and its high flying offence, it has been Prince who has lifted the team up on his back on many nights, this past week being no exception. Shane’s six point outburst, including a pair of goals, on Thursday night in Peterborough would help lead the 67’s to an impressive 9-4 victory, and move himself ever closer to the top of the OHL’s scoring leaders. Prince would wrap up the weekend with points in each of his team’s two other contests, picking up an assist on Friday night against Oshawa, and a goal on Sunday afternoon versus Kitchener, both Ottawa 67’s victories. With three goals and eight points in three games this past week, Shane Prince earns yet another ITO 2nd Star selection.

3. Greg McKegg (London Knights) – (3-5-2-7-4)Nobody in the Ontario Hockey League would score more goals over the last week than London Knights forward Greg McKegg, who struck twine on five different occasions over three games this week. The Toronto Maple Leafs’ pick was essential in a 3-0 win over Owen Sound Friday night, scoring twice, and would score another, to go along with an assist, in the rematch the next night. Sunday afternoon would mark McKegg’s third straight multi-point game, as he would score a pair of goals in a three point game, including notching the overtime winner against his former club from Erie. The five goals and seven points Greg would register this week would be more than enough to earn this week’s nod as the ITO Third Star.

ITO Power Rankings

1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) The London Knights continue to show themselves to be the class of the Ontario Hockey League, and have been ranked number one on the OHL Power Rankings for fifteen of the season’s seventeen weeks to date. Another three win week would stretch their winning streak to five in a row, and ten of their last eleven overall, as they continue to make it tough for teams in the West to keep up. The Knights would take both ends of a home and home series with Owen Sound to start the week, posting a shutout at home on Friday night, but requiring a shootout to earn the win the following night. Sunday afternoon, London would require extra time again, defeating Erie in overtime. The Knights will play three games in four nights over the upcoming week, which begins for them on Wednesday night, as they play host to Kitchener. Two nights later, London will get a visit from Windsor, before finishing the week in Saginaw on Saturday night.

2. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 4) Three more victories this week for the Ottawa 67’s would extend their winning streak to four, as they continue to lead all teams in the Eastern Conference, and move up two spots this week in the OHL Power Rankings. The 67’s would outscore their opponents this past week by a combined score of 21-10, starting Thursday night with a lopsided win in Peterborough. A night later, the scoring would continue in bunches, as they would run up the score at home to Oshawa. The 67’s wrapped up a perfect week on Sunday afternoon, turning aside a stiff challenge from Kitchener. Ottawa faces a three game weekend ahead of them, however, beginning Friday night when they play host to Sarnia. After the game, the 67’s take to the road for a pair of weekend contests, playing first in Barrie on Saturday evening, before ending the weekend in Owen Sound.

3. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 3) With wins in two out of three contests this past weekend, the IceDogs continue to remain in contention for the Eastern Conference top spot, and are quickly chasing down the Brampton Battalion for the division lead. On Friday night, Niagara started the weekend with a victory in Erie, before returning home to face Sudbury the next night, a game they would lose by a goal. On Sunday afternoon, the IceDogs would answer with a much better performance, shutting out the visitors from Peterborough by a 9-0 score. Niagara remains at home to start the week ahead, hosting Belleville on Thursday night, before hitting the road for games Friday in Guelph, and a big contest in Brampton Sunday afternoon.

4. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 2) Following a bit of a rough week, the Plymouth Whalers find themselves falling two more spots this week, landing at number four in the OHL Power Rankings. The top team just two weeks ago have been unable to maintain the frantic pace with which they played much of December, and would lose games this week in Owen Sound Wednesday and in Brampton Thursday. The Whalers would salvage something from the week, returning home to lay a beating on Sault Ste. Marie Saturday night. If Plymouth is to right the ship this week, they will do so on the road, as they play three games this week away from the confines of home. The Whalers play in Barrie on Thursday night, and move on to Sudbury a night later. Plymouth finishes the week in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday night.

5. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 5) The Rangers hold firm at number five this week, after a road trip that would take the team through the province’s Eastern-most cities over the past weekend. Starting Friday night in Kingston, the Rangers would find an offensive outburst, handling the Frontenacs easily. The following night, Kitchener would play in Belleville, and manage to win another, this time a much tighter affair. A Sunday afternoon loss in Ottawa would spoil the Rangers thoughts of a perfect weekend, coming up just short in a one goal loss. Kitchener faces three more tough games in the week ahead, none more so than a big Western Conference battle in London on Wednesday evening. From there, the Rangers return home to play host to Owen Sound on Friday night, then head back out on the road for a Sunday afternoon matinee in Guelph to wrap up the week.

6. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 6) The Battalion continue to be one of the hottest teams in the Ontario Hockey League, and this past week would be no exception, as they would earn five out of a possible six points. Brampton has now earned at least a point in sixteen of their last seventeen matchups, going 11-1-2-3 in the process. The Battalion began their week with a huge victory on home ice against Plymouth on Thursday night, but would drop a shootout decision in Mississauga on Saturday. Sunday afternoon, Brampton continued to roll at home, defeating Sudbury. The Battalion are now off until Friday night, when they begin a three game weekend by hosting Barrie. The next night, they play in Oshawa before returning home to face Niagara to end the week.

7. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 7) The Wolves manage to retain the seventh spot this week, despite losing two of their three games over the weekend. Friday night, Sudbury and Saginaw would combine for 17 goals, an eventual 9-8 win for the Spirit. The following night, the Wolves would pull out a tough victory in Niagara, but a loss on Sunday in Brampton would restrain Sudbury from climbing further up in the Eastern Conference. Sudbury faces another three game weekend ahead of them, beginning Friday night at home to Plymouth. A night later, the Wolves host Erie, before heading out on the road to end the week in Mississauga Sunday afternoon.

8. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 9) The Barrie Colts have been steadily climbing the rankings over the last few weeks, and, with wins in two out of three contests this past week, they continue to chase the leaders in the Eastern Conference. Thursday night, the Colts would win on home ice over Saginaw, and would turn that momentum into another home win against Guelph Saturday night. Barrie would wrap up the weekend on the road in Oshawa Sunday evening, a shutout loss that would spoil a perfect week. The Colts have three games in as many nights this week, starting Thursday night when they host Plymouth. The next night, Barrie travels down the road to Brampton for a night game, before coming back home to face Ottawa Saturday night.

9. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 11) The Oshawa Generals climb into the top ten in the OHL Power Rankings, as they continue to push to get back into the Eastern Conference picture, and wins in two out of three games over the weekend would see the Generals climb into the final playoff spot in the East. Oshawa started the week roughly, losing big in Ottawa on Friday night, but would return home to blowout Kingston on Saturday. In the final game of the weekend, the Generals would post a shutout over the visitors from Barrie. Oshawa faces another three game weekend coming up, starting with a rematch in Kingston on Friday night. The Generals then return home for a pair of weekend contests, first playing Brampton on Saturday night, and then hosting Peterborough Sunday.

10. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 12) The Spirit find themselves up two spots this week, climbing to number ten after earning five points from three games in the last week, and the team has earned points in seven of their last eight contests to climb back into a playoff position in the West. After a tough loss in the shootout on Thursday night in Barrie, the Spirit would win a different kind of shootout the following night in Sudbury, winning 9-8. Saginaw won again on Sunday afternoon, earning points in Mississauga. Saginaw will enjoy a bit of a break this week, playing just twice, beginning Thursday in Windsor. Saturday night, the Spirit return home to host London.

11. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 8) The Attack fall three spots after winning only once in three tries over the last week. Owen Sound would start the week strong on Wednesday night, winning at home over Plymouth, but would earn just a single point from a home and home series with London, losing on Saturday in the shootout. The Attack are another team facing a three game weekend, playing in Kitchener on Friday, then coming home to face Guelph on Saturday and Ottawa on Sunday.

12. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 13) The Majors have managed to keep themselves in the Eastern playoff picture, and winning two of three games this past week certainly helped their cause. After winning in Belleville on Wednesday night, the boys came home to Mississauga, where they would defeat Brampton in a shootout on Friday. The Majors would lose once this week as well, dropping a game on home ice to Saginaw on Sunday. Mississauga plays twice in the week ahead, hosting Peterborough on Friday night, before Sudbury visits on Sunday afternoon.

13. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 10) It was a tough week for Peterborough, who fall three spots this week after losing two out of three games. On Thursday night, the Petes would lose on home ice to Ottawa, then went out on the road, using overtime to win in Erie on Saturday, but losing big in Niagara Sunday. Peterborough plays three more times this week, starting on Thursday, when they host Kingston. From there, the Petes leave town for a pair of games, playing Friday in Mississauga, and Sunday in Oshawa.

14. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 16) The Guelph Storm are up two spots after winning twice in three tries this past week. On Thursday night, the Storm would win convincingly in Windsor, but would lose a tight contest in Barrie Saturday night. Guelph returned home to host Sarnia on Sunday afternoon, a game they would win to stay in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Storm face a three game weekend coming up, beginning Friday night, when they host Niagara. On Saturday, Guelph plays in Owen Sound, then returns home to play against Kitchener on Sunday afternoon.

15. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 15) Despite losing two out of three games this week, the Sarnia Sting retain number fifteen in the OHL Power Rankings. The week started well for the Sting, with a win at home to Sault Ste. Marie on Thursday, but would quickly turn sour, as losses to Windsor Friday, and in Guelph Sunday would drop Sarnia further behind the Western Conference leaders. The Sting face a three game road trip through eastern Ontario this weekend, beginning on Friday night, when they play in Ottawa. One night later, Sarnia will play in Belleville, and on Sunday afternoon, the Sting do battle in Kingston.

16. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 17) By winning two of three games, the Spitfires climb up one spot in this week’s Power Rankings, and continue to hang around in a tough Western Conference. After being bounced on home ice by Guelph Thursday night, Windsor would respond well, winning in Sarnia a night later. On Sunday, the Spits would win again, this time at home to Sault Ste. Marie. Windsor only plays twice in the next week, both weeknights battles against stiff competition. On Thursday, Saginaw comes to town for a big game, before the Spitfires play in London Friday night.

17. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 14) With losses in all three games this past week, the Bulls have now dropped five straight, and ten of their last eleven overall, causing them to fall out of the Eastern Conference top eight. Belleville would lose a game on home ice Wednesday night, defeated by Mississauga, and would lose again Saturday when Kitchener came to town. The Bulls would end the weekend in Kingston, a tough game lost to the last place team in the conference. Belleville has but two games this week to try and get back on track, but they won’t be easy, as the Bulls play in Niagara on Thursday, then come back home to host Sarnia Saturday night.

18. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 18) Three more losses this week did nothing to help the Greyhounds playoff chances, as they have slipped to ninth in the West, and are losing ground on the pack. The Soo would lose all three contests on the road this past week, beginning Thursday night in Sarnia. On Saturday, the ‘Hounds would lose again, this time in Plymouth, followed by another loss the next afternoon in Windsor. Sault Ste. Marie returns home for a pair of games over the next week, starting Friday when Erie comes to town. On Sunday, the Hounds host Plymouth to end the week.

19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 19) It seemed as though teams could score at will against the Frontenacs this past week, but the team showed a lot of heart in battling to win one of three games over the weekend. After being blasted 9-1 at home to Kitchener on Friday, the Fronts hit the road, losing again on Saturday in Oshawa by a score of 11-3. After two lopsided losses, Kingston would return home to face Belleville on Sunday afternoon, and would earn a hard-fought two points. The Frontenacs begin the upcoming week with a road game in Peterborough on Thursday, then return home for a rematch with Oshawa on Friday. Sunday afternoon, Kingston plays host to Sarnia, as former Front Cory Spooner returns to his old stomping grounds.

20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) The lowly Otters would lose all three games this past week, driving their losing streak up to eleven, though they would earn a pair of points in the last seven days. Friday night, Erie would lose at home to Niagara, but would earn a point the next night when Peterborough came to visit, as the Otters would lose in overtime. On Sunday afternoon, Erie would lose another overtime contest, this time in London. The Otters play a pair of road games in Northern Ontario this week, playing in Sault Ste. Marie on Friday, and in Sudbury Sunday.

The ITO Three Stars and Power Rankings can be found every Tuesday here at In The O… The Radio Show. Be sure to check back next week to see where your favourite team ranks, but if you can’t wait for your OHL fix, find me on Twitter, @N24Nicholson.

Sparks Fly In Guelph- Sting vs Storm January 22, 2012

The Sarnia Sting made the trip to the Sleeman Centre on Sunday in hopes of getting back in the win column after losing 3-2 to the Spitfires Friday night. The Storm themselves were coming off a loss of their own as they fell in Barrie the night before.

The Storm faithful turned out in full force for the afternoon game and did not have to wait long before the opening goal. Hunter Garlent put the Storm up twenty-three seconds in, not the start Sarnia was hoping for. The remainder of the period seen Andrey Pedan throw a big hit that he was called for a head check, I didn't see any contact with the head from where I was sitting. Once play stopped Sting Defence men Adrian Robertson challenged Pedan and the spirited bought ended in a draw, but more importantly a Sting power play. Guelph would go on to kill the penalty. With just under eight minutes later Guelph would add to their lead after some magnificent passing that started in their own end when Dickenson sent a bank pass off the side boards right on to the tape of Francis Menard sending him on a two on one with Zack Mitchell. Once the Sarnia defence men went down to take the pass away Menard sent a beautiful saucer pass over the defender right to Mitchell who made no mistake and beat J.P. Anderson, putting the Storm up 2-0. Later in the period the Sting went back on the power play and with twelve seconds to go in the first, Sarnia defence men Connor Murphy sent the puck past Garret Sparks to cut the lead to 2-1. As the first came to end the game would see its second fight of the period, this time between Sarnia's Tyler Brown and a much younger Tyler Bertuzzi. Bertuzzi not only held his own but landed some serious bombs and took all the momentum back.

The second period would start with a bang too. At the 2:29 mark of the period the game would see its third fight, this time between Guelph's Spencer Turcotte and Sting forward Justice Dundas. This one was only some jostling before Turcotte got the take down. At the halfway point of the frame Guelph would get a five on three, but couldn't capitalize as Matt Finn would get a double minor just thirty seconds into their two man advantage. Finn was intially called for holding but received an extra two for unsportsmanlike conduct for voicing his opinion on the holding call. Guelph goalie Garret Sparks had been solid all game long and that wouldn't change as he continued to stimmie the Sting, as they killed off yet another of Sarnia's power plays. After two periods the Storm still lead 2-1 and Sparks had turned a side twenty-seven of the twenty-eight Sarnia shots he faced.

The third period Guelph showed they can hang with the big boys as they held Sarnia to only eight shots in the period and Sparks made multiple big saves throughout the game when his team was leading by a goal. Sparks was rewarded by his teammates when they were on a two man advantage late in the period. Francis Menard put the game away when he scored to extend the lead to 3-1 with 2:42 to go. Guelph would finish the game by killing off a late penalty.

Guelph won the game 3-1 in front of a home crowd of 4,033 fans. Sparks finished the afternoon with thirty-five saves and a first star nomination that was much deserved. Francis Menard chipped in with a goal and an assist, while Jason Dickinson had two assists.

With the win the Storm once again hold the last playoff spot in the west one point ahead of the Sault Grey Hounds. Guelph however has four games in hand on the Grey Hounds. Meanwhile the Sting still remain in fourth spot in the west and miss an opportunity to put some ground between them and fifth place Owen Sound. Yakipov remained out with a knee injury.

The Storm's penalty killers played a great game too as they killed off six of the seven power plays that were awarded to the Sting.

Garret Sparks played his best game of the season that I have personally seen him play. His positioning was good and he never panicked when the puck was loose around the net. Sparks's made it look easy as he turned away shot after shot. Look for my post game interview with Sparks on the website.

Next up for the Storm are the Niagara Ice Dogs on Friday the 27th at 7:30PM in Guelph.

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