This may just be my favorite time of year, that point of the season in mid-February, where teams really begin to find out if they have what it takes to make a long run this spring, a run that ends in May, at the Memorial Cup tournament in Shawinigan. The teams at the top of each conference will spend the next few weeks trying to prove to everyone else that they are the team to beat this spring, while many others are looking to solidify their own spots, hoping for the best possible first round opponent. There are also a slew of teams who have no guarantee of post-season play this season as of yet, and those teams are in the thick of some serious races in both the east and the west.
As always, we’ll go over the OHL Power Rankings for week 20, catching you up on everything happening in every OHL city. We’ll also choose this week’s three stars, no easy task in light of all the great performances in the last week. Cameron Brace of the Owen Sound Attack had one of the best individual games we’ve seen all year, and guys like Danny Vanderwiel of Plymouth and Austin Watson of London had excellent weeks all around. While we could have named ten stars for the week, we found ourselves able to crop the selections to the three best performances found anywhere in the last seven days.
ITO 3 Stars
1. Jordan Binnington (Owen Sound Attack) –For the second straight week, a goaltender takes top honors in the ITO Three Stars, though it may not be the tendy that most were expecting. While others were making headlines, nobody was better than Jordan Binnington this week, who played such a vital role in securing three victories for his club in Owen Sound. On Wednesday night, Jordan would be named first star after giving up but a single goal in a shootout victory in Erie. The next night, Binnington would earn a 2nd star selection after stopping 45 of 47 shots in a victory in Brampton. Returning home Saturday, Jordan would find himself among the stars once again, earning a third star selection after posting a shutout of Peterborough. By stopping 105 of 108 shots faced this week in earning three wins, Jordan Binnington claims the top spot in our weekly ITO Three Stars.
2. Mark Visentin (Niagara IceDogs) – This is Mark’s fourth appearance on the ITO Three Stars this season, and with the way he has been playing, it likely won’t be the last time we see his name here. Visentin has really come into his own since returning from the World Junior Championship, allowing just thirteen goals in twelve games. Mark would post his first shutout of the week on Thursday, blanking Mississauga while the IceDogs offence put on a show. On Saturday, Visentin’s second straight shutout would take Niagara to a victory in Barrie. His shutout streak would eventually be broken in the second period of action Sunday against Oshawa, after he would play 169:31 without being beaten. Despite the goal, Mark would help the IceDogs earn another win Sunday, and with a pair of shutouts and just three goals against in 68 shots, he is the ITO Second Star for week 20.
3. Michael Catenacci (Kitchener Rangers) It was a monumental week for the M-Cat, who would lead all OHL’ers in points over the past seven days. Michael would have a huge game on Tuesday night against Guelph, scoring twice as part of a five point night. On Friday night, Catenacci would add a pair of assists in a win over Brampton, and would score another goal as part of a three point game the next night in Plymouth. Michael would finish the week by adding a final assist on Sunday afternoon in London, finishing the week with three goals and eleven points in just four games. For that, Catenacci more than deserves the nod as the ITO Third Star for February 6th-12th.
ITO Power Rankings
1. London Knights – (Last Week: 1) I know some may question whether London is still the top team in the Ontario Hockey League, but as good as some other teams have been playing, it’s hard to dethrone a team that just doesn’t lose. Still atop the OHL Standings, the Knights were victorious in all three of their contests in the last week, starting Thursday night with a shutout win in Windsor. The next night, London would outlast Plymouth in a high-scoring affair back at home, before using a shootout to dispatch Kitchener on Sunday afternoon. The Knights are now off until Friday night, when they get another game against Windsor, this time at the JLC. Sunday afternoon, Kitchener returns for a rematch of their own, before London wraps up their week with a Family Day Monday game in Sarnia.
2. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 2) The Niagara IceDogs continue to nip at the heels of our leaders on the OHL Power Rankings, and were also winners in all three games played in the last week. The Dogs got things started with a bang on Thursday night, dropping the visitors from Mississauga by an 11-0 score. Niagara would earn a 2nd straight shutout on Saturday, winning in Barrie, before Visentin was finally scored upon Sunday evening in Oshawa. Regardless, the IceDogs would earn another two points over the Generals, and have overtaken Ottawa for top spot in the Eastern Conference. Niagara remains on the road this week, playing three more away from St. Catharines, beginning Wednesday night in Erie. The IceDogs then head north for a pair of games, playing in Sudbury on Friday, and in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday.
3. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 5) Kitchener is coming off of a very successful week, where they earned seven out of eight possible points, playing against some of the very best the Ontario Hockey League has to offer. The week started well for Kitchener, as they would have little trouble in defeating Guelph on Tuesday. Friday night, the Rangers would defeat Brampton at home, before heading on the road for the weekend, picking up a win in Plymouth on Saturday, and earning a point in a shootout loss in London on Sunday afternoon. Kitchener plays three more contests over the upcoming long weekend, which begins for them on Friday night at home to Barrie. On Sunday afternoon, the Rangers head back to London for a rematch with the Western leaders, before playing in Guelph on Family Day.
4. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 3) No longer atop the Eastern Conference, the Ottawa 67’s drop a single spot this week, earning three points in as many games in the past week. Thursday night, Ottawa would earn a point in an overtime loss in Peterborough, then would lose again the following night when Guelph came to visit, extending the losing streak to three games. If fans thought there were signs of trouble with the 67’s, they would dispatch those thoughts on Sunday afternoon, dismantling Belleville on home ice to stop the slide. Ottawa faces a busy week in front of them, as they will play four times, starting Wednesday in Belleville. Friday night, the 67’s host Peterborough, and Erie will visit on Sunday afternoon. Ottawa plays in Kingston on Monday afternoon as part of Family Day festivities.
5. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 4) It was a tough week for the Whalers, who are down one spot this week after losing two of three in a busy weekend of hockey. Plymouth found themselves in tough games this week, first losing in London on Friday night, before another loss the next night at home to Kitchener. The Whalers were able to salvage something from the week on Sunday, as they were able to defeat Saginaw in a shootout. Plymouth has three games in as many nights again this week, which begins with a Thursday night affair in Windsor. The Whalers then return home for games Friday against Owen Sound, and versus Guelph on Saturday.
6. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 7) With three points in three games this week, the Barrie Colts continue to remain near the top of the East, as they battle for home advantage in this year’s playoffs. The Colts could not find a way to win a shootout against Sarnia on Thursday night, settling for a single point, but would redeem themselves a night later when they won in Sudbury. Saturday night, a tired Colts squad posed little threat to Niagara, as they were shutout on home ice to end the weekend. Barrie has a contest in Kitchener to start the week ahead on Friday night, then come home to begin a home and home series with Oshawa the next night, a series that concludes in Oshawa on Monday afternoon.
7. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 6) Saginaw continues to impress critics down the stretch, as they have found a way to work their way back from near the bottom of the Western standings, and find themselves within striking distance of having home advantage in the opening round. The Spirit would earn a split from their games this week, earning three points over a three game weekend. Friday night, Saginaw was able to defeat Erie on home ice, but would lose in the same building the following night when Sault Ste. Marie came to town. The Spirit picked up an important point on Sunday, even though they were unable to win in a shootout in Plymouth. Another three game weekend lies ahead for Saginaw this week, as they head to Sault Ste. Marie for a rematch on Friday, before returning home for weekend games with Sarnia and Owen Sound.
8. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 8) While winners of two out of three in the past week, the Sudbury Wolves were unable to move up in the OHL Power Rankings, resting comfortably now at number eight. The Wolves started out with a big win on Wednesday night in Sault Ste. Marie, but couldn’t sustain the momentum, dropping a big game at home Friday night to Barrie. The next night, Sudbury would rebound, defeating Sarnia to hang on to fourth in the East. The Wolves have a full week in front of them, as they will play four games before our next Power Rankings. Wednesday night, Sudbury plays host to Sault Ste. Marie, before Niagara comes to town on Friday. Sunday afternoon, the Wolves play in Brampton, and finish the week on Family Day in Mississauga.
9. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 11) Oshawa was another of the league’s busier teams this past week, and they climb a pair of spots this week to land at number nine after earning a split from four contests. The Generals started the week with a big win in Peterborough on Tuesday night, but a loss in Mississauga on Friday would stall any momentum that had been built. Oshawa would need a shootout to defeat Kingston on home ice on Saturday, and may have played their best game of the week Sunday evening, a game they would eventually lose to Niagara. The Generals will host Belleville on Friday night, before starting a home and home series in Barrie the next night. The weekend wraps up on holiday Monday back in Oshawa, the back end of the series with Barrie.
10. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 10) The Sarnia Sting are showing signs of turning back into the team that many considered Memorial Cup contenders back in the fall, and hold steady at number ten this week after winning two of three contests in the past week. Thursday night, the Sting would use the shootout to earn the bonus point in Barrie, though Sarnia would be unsuccessful on Saturday in Sudbury. On Sunday night, the Sting would win their second shootout of the week, picking up the extra point in Sault Ste. Marie. Three games lie ahead for the Sting this week, starting on Friday, when they play in Guelph. A contest in Saginaw on Saturday will be a good primer for a big game on Family Day Monday, when the Sting host London.
11. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 12) The Owen Sound Attack have been on quite a roll as of late, and continue to pick up points in a very tough Western Conference. Last year’s OHL Champs were perfect this week, winning all three games to help them climb a spot in this week’s Power Rankings. This past week, the Attack seemed to get gradually better as the week wore on, beginning the week by winning a shootout in Erie. A night later, Owen Sound would earn a big win against a reeling club in Brampton, but it would be Saturday’s performance that put the league on notice, as the Attack would defeat Peterborough by a score of 12-0 to wrap up the week. Owen Sound faces a three game weekend on the road, which is a lot of bus time to look forward to this weekend. Friday night, the Attack play in Plymouth, before making stops in Windsor and Saginaw, respectively, over the weekend.
12. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 9) Down three spots this week, the Battalion continued to struggle without head coach Stan Butler at the helm. With just one win in six games without Butler, Brampton would drop the final two games that he would miss, losing to Owen Sound Thursday, and in Kitchener Friday. The Battalion would find their way back into the win column in Butler’s return to the bench Sunday afternoon, as they would defeat Peterborough on home ice. Brampton is off until Friday of this week, when they play in Mississauga, before hosting Sudbury on Sunday afternoon. The Battalion wrap up the week with a Family Day battle in Peterborough.
13. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 13) Windsor remains at number thirteen this week, despite dropping two of three games in the past week. After being shutout by London at home on Thursday night, the Spits would post a shutout of their own, defeating Erie on Saturday. Sunday afternoon, Windsor would fall in Mississauga in a game with potential playoff implications in both conferences. The Spitfires play three in three this week, beginning on Thursday at home to Plymouth. A night later, the Spits play in London, before finishing the weekend Saturday back at home to Owen Sound.
14. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 16) If ever a team needed a big week, it was this team, this week, as the Mississauga Majors have found their playoff hopes threatened over the past few weeks. The week began ominously enough, as the Majors fell victim to an outlandish beating, losing 11-0 in Niagara on Thursday, but Mississauga would reply well on home ice a night later, knocking off Oshawa. Sunday afternoon, the Majors made it a winning week when they defeated Windsor, remaining in a tie with Peterborough for the final playoff spots in the East. Mississauga will look to keep the momentum going with three games over the long weekend, which begins Friday night when Brampton comes to visit. The following night, the Majors will take to the ice in Belleville, before returning home for a Family Day matinee with Sudbury.
15. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 18) The Belleville Bulls are back up three spots this week, after visiting the bottom three of the OHL Power Rankings for a few weeks. While the Bulls would win two of three contests over the past week, it will be hard to erase the memory of the week’s final contest. After Belleville was successful in overtime in Kingston Friday night, the Bulls would win again Saturday, defeating Guelph. Sunday afternoon, however, was another story, as they found themselves on the wrong end of a one-sided affair in Ottawa. While the Bulls currently sit out of a playoff spot in the East, they have games in hand on the three teams just in front of them, and will need to capitalize on those extra games starting this week, when they play four times. Wednesday, Belleville gets a chance at redemption when Ottawa comes to town, before the Bulls hit the road for a Friday night game in Oshawa. Returning home, Belleville plays host to Mississauga Saturday, and gets a visit from Erie on Family Day.
16. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 15) The Guelph Storm are down a single spot this week after dropping three of four contests in a busy week of action. After a loss in Kitchener Tuesday night, the Storm would turn heads by winning in Ottawa on Friday. Any steam built from the victory would quickly evaporate over the weekend, as Guelph would lose games in Belleville Saturday, and in Kingston on Sunday. With three more games over the upcoming long weekend, the Storm will need as many points as possible to remain in control of one of the West’s final playoff positions. Friday night, Guelph plays host to Sarnia, then take to the ice in Plymouth on Saturday. Monday afternoon, the Storm host Kitchener in a holiday matinee.
17. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 14) With just two points to show from four important games this week, the Petes find the freefall continuing, as they fall three more spots to land at number seventeen. While the week would begin with a loss on home ice to Oshawa, Peterborough would answer with a statement game, defeating Ottawa in overtime on Thursday night. The Petes wouldn’t fare as well on the road over the weekend, as they would be trounced in Owen Sound on Saturday, and lose again Sunday afternoon in Brampton. The Petes will look to hang on to one of the final playoff spots with three games this week, including a home game Thursday night against Kingston. From there, Peterborough will travel to Ottawa for a Friday night game, and return home for a Monday afternoon game against Brampton.
18. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 17) Three points in as many games is enough to keep the Greyhounds alive in the Western Conference playoff picture, but it isn’t enough to keep them from falling into the top three in our OHL Power Rankings this week. After letting Sudbury leave town with two points on Wednesday, the Hounds would be better over the weekend, winning in Saginaw on Saturday, and earning a point in a shootout loss to Sarnia on Sunday. Sault Ste. Marie has three more games this week, and will need at least as many points to stay alive in the West, beginning Wednesday in Sudbury. Friday night, the Hounds receive a visit from Saginaw, and Niagara comes to town the next night.
19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 19) While it may seem as though the Fronts have been at number nineteen all season, they may be about as close to moving up the Power Rankings as they have all season long, due to some outstanding work by the youngsters left on this rebuilding club. Kingston was able to earn points in all three games this week, and have six points in their last four games overall. Friday night, the Fronts would fall in overtime at home to Belleville, and they would settle for a single point again the next night in Oshawa. Sunday afternoon, Kingston returned home to defeat Guelph, putting together one of their most impressive runs all season. The Frontenacs are off until Thursday night, when they play in Peterborough, and then host Erie the next night. On the holiday Monday, Kingston will have their hands full, as Ottawa comes to town to wrap up the week’s action.
20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) Although they would lose all three games over the last week, the Otters have been a much tougher team to play against as of late, and they would manage to earn a point to salvage something from the past seven days. On Thursday night, they would push Owen Sound to a shootout before missing out on the victory, but Erie couldn’t find a way to win on the road, losing in Saginaw on Friday, and in Windsor Saturday. The schedule gets no easier for the Otters this week, starting when Niagara comes to town on Wednesday night. Erie heads out on the road for a pair of games after that, playing in Kingston Friday night, and in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon.
The ITO Three Stars and Power Rankings can be found every Tuesday here at In The O… The Radio Show and OHLWriters.com. 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, join me on Twitter for conversation anytime, @N24Nicholson.