As we enter the final week of the Ontario Hockey League regular season, we start to see the writing on the wall for a number of teams, as the playoff picture in each conference becomes clearer with each passing day. 13 of the 16 postseason spots are now accounted for, but with just two teams officially eliminated, we still have races to talk about in both the East and West.
Starting in the Eastern Conference, what once looked like an exciting four team race for the final three spots has all but worked itself out, as the recent slide by the Peterborough Petes has all but taken away their playoff chances. Both Mississauga and Oshawa have already locked their entry into the postseason, and the Petes hopes hang on a perfect finish this week, paired with three regulation losses by Belleville. Even then, Peterborough would only be able to force a one game playoff with Belleville. The Bulls should have no problem securing a playoff spot, meaning the interesting races in the East are all about division.
It appears as though the Niagara IceDogs will be the top seed in the East, with Ottawa firmly entrenched in the number two seed. Barrie needs a point this week to secure the third seed, while Sudbury will attempt to challenge Brampton for home ice, currently three points behind, but with two big games in hand. Mississauga holds the sixth spot as of today, and will have to hold off charges from Oshawa and Belleville, in seventh and eighth respectively, as both teams look to climb up and avoid a first round matchup with the IceDogs or 67’s.
Moving over to the West, the two divisional leaders, London and Plymouth, have engaged in quite a battle for the top seed in the Conference, as a recent slide by the Knights, coupled with a nine game winning streak by the Whalers has drawn the teams even. London has three games remaining, while Plymouth only plays twice more, the extra game looming large for the Knights. Kitchener will be the third seed this season, in no race over the final week, while Owen Sound hopes to challenge Sarnia for home ice in a looming first round matchup between the two teams. The Sting are currently two points ahead, and hold an extra game remaining this week. Saginaw, sitting in sixth, three points behind Owen Sound, also hope to play a factor in the race, and avoid a first round draw against Kitchener.
The playoff race in the West could be the most interesting race over the final seven days, with Windsor, Guelph, and Sault Ste. Marie continuing to vie for the last two playoff berths. All three teams play three games this week, the Spits sit in seventh with 63 points, with Guelph just a point behind, and the Greyhounds only two points behind the Storm.
Before we get to our weekly OHL Power Rankings, we’ll go over who we chose as this week’s top performers in this week’s ITO Three Stars. The recent trend of a goaltender taking top honors continues this week, while all three selections are no strangers to our weekly readers.
ITO Three Stars
1. Brandon Maxwell (Mississauga Majors) – The Mississauga Majors clinched their place in the post-season this past week, thanks in large part to their netminder, Brandon Maxwell, who was nothing short of brilliant under pressure in three tough road games. Thursday night, Brandon would stop all 43 shots, posting a shutout over the Conference leading Niagara IceDogs. Two nights later, Maxwell would post his second straight shutout, stopping 28 shots as Mississauga won big in Kingston. Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa 67’s would find a way to score 3 times, but Brandon would still make 35 saves, as the Majors won their third straight. With a 3-0-0-0 record including two shutouts, and by stopping 106 of 109 shots along the way for a .972 save percentage, Brandon Maxwell was a clear choice as the ITO First Star for the week.
2. Ivan Telegin (Barrie Colts) – The Barrie Colts made great strides towards solidifying the third seed in the Eastern Conference over the last week, and much of their recent success can be attributed to the excellent play of Ivan Telegin. Wednesday night, Ivan was especially dominant, as he would strike for four goals as part of a five point game, a victory in Owen Sound. Telegin got an assist the next night in another win over Sudbury, and registered another goal and an assist in another win over Belleville. In just three games, Ivan Telegin would hit the scoresheet eight times, five of them goals, and is the ITO Second Star for Week 24.
3. Tobias Rieder (Kitchener Rangers) Tobias finds his way back into the ITO Three Stars this week, as the German import continues to impress everyone who sees him play. Tuesday night, Rieder would score two and help out on two more in a big performance against Guelph, and would add another assist Friday night against Plymouth. Tobias would post his second two goal, four point game of the week on Saturday in Erie, all but securing his spot among the ITO Three Stars. With four goals and nine points in four games, Tobias Rieder is the ITO Third Star for the week of March 5th-11th.
OHL Power Rankings
1. Plymouth Whalers – (Last Week: 2) Things are really heating up at the top of the OHL Power Rankings, as we see our third different number one in as many weeks, with the Plymouth Whalers taking honors this week. It’s hard to argue with any team that wins nine in a row, especially when they sit tied for the league lead in points. The Whalers won three times this past week, starting Wednesday in Erie. Plymouth followed with a win in Kitchener Friday, before returning home to beat Owen Sound on Sunday. The Whalers only have two games remaining on the schedule, playing a weekday battle in Sault Ste. Marie Wednesday, then finishing the season at home Saturday against Sarnia.
2. Niagara IceDogs – (Last Week: 1) Last week’s leaders are down one spot this week, but remain nipping at the heels of the Whalers at the top of the Power Rankings. Niagara has been pegged by many as the team to beat in the East this season, and appear comfortable atop the Eastern standings with three games remaining. The IceDogs won two out of three games over the last week, rebounding from a shutout loss to Mississauga on Thursday by winning in Ottawa a night later, and again in Kingston Sunday afternoon. Niagara comes home for games against Peterborough on Thursday and Ottawa Saturday, then plays in Mississauga to end the season Sunday.
3. Barrie Colts – (Last Week: 5) After a brief slide away from the number three spot, the Barrie Colts are right back to where they have been comfortably sitting for much of the second half of the season, among the top three in the OHL Power Rankings. A perfect three game weekend helped the Colts back up into the top three, winning in Owen Sound on Wednesday, then returning home to beat Sudbury on Thursday and Belleville on Saturday. Barrie plays three more times before the end of the season, beginning in Sudbury Tuesday night. The Colts play in Mississauga on Friday before returning home to host Brampton Saturday.
4. London Knights – (Last Week: 4) After spending much of the season entrenched in the top position on the OHL Power Rankings, the London Knights are no strangers to seeing their position hold, and they remain at number four again this week after winning two out of three games. The Knights would win both ends of a home and home series with Guelph on Thursday and Friday nights, but were unable to sustain the momentum, dropping a tough decision in Kitchener on Sunday night. London plays three games in as many nights coming up, finishing the regular season with games in Windsor on Thursday, back at home to Sarnia on Friday, and wrapping up in Erie Saturday night.
5. Ottawa 67’s – (Last Week: 3) With no real race within their division, the Ottawa 67’s may have become guilty of letting their foot of the gas over the last week, losing two out of three games to fall out of the top three. Ottawa would win in Kingston on Wednesday, but were defeated on home ice by both Niagara and Mississauga, on Friday and Sunday respectively. The 67’s play a three game weekend coming up which will finish the season, beginning Friday night against Sudbury. From there, Ottawa hits the road for their final games, playing in Niagara on Saturday, and in Brampton on Sunday.
6. Kitchener Rangers – (Last Week: 9) After a bit of a freefall down the OHL Power Rankings, the Kitchener Rangers have been building momentum once again, and climb three spots to land at number six this week. The Rangers were able to take full advantage of a bus schedule over the last seven days, winning three out of four games to solidify the third seed in the West. After winning at home to Guelph on Tuesday night, Kitchener began a three game weekend with a loss to the visitors from Plymouth Friday night. The Rangers would rebound with a win in Erie on Saturday, then won again Sunday, back at home against London. Kitchener faces yet another three game weekend ahead, their final three games of the season, beginning with a visit from Erie on Friday night. The Rangers end the season on the road, playing in Saginaw on Saturday, and in Sault Ste. Marie on Sunday.
7. Sudbury Wolves – (Last Week: 8) The Sudbury Wolves find themselves in an interesting battle for home ice in the playoffs, as they attempt to keep pace with Brampton, their likely first round opponent. The Wolves climb one spot this week to land at number seven after winning two out of three games, beginning with a big win at home to Brampton on Tuesday night. Sudbury would be humbled in Barrie on Thursday night, but replied well back on home ice, defeating Belleville on Friday. The Wolves play four games this week, giving themselves a shot in the race for home ice, beginning on Tuesday night when they host Barrie. Sudbury then heads out for a three game road trip to end the regular season, playing Friday night in Ottawa, in Belleville on Saturday, and finishing in Kingston on Sunday afternoon.
8. Mississauga St. Michaels Majors – (Last Week: 12) Up four spots this week, the Mississauga Majors have caught fire at just the right time, recovering from a slide that nearly took them out of playoff contention. The Majors won all three games on a tough road trip over the last week, all in impressive fashion, beginning with a shutout win in Niagara on Thursday night. A night later, Mississauga would ride another shutout to victory, though the scoring would also show up in a nine goal victory in Kingston. Sunday afternoon, the Majors completed a perfect week by winning in Ottawa. Mississauga faces one more three game weekend ahead before putting the regular season behind them, which they get started on home ice Friday night against Barrie. After a visit to Oshawa Saturday, the Majors return home to end the season Sunday against Niagara.
9. Sarnia Sting – (Last Week: 11) The Sarnia Sting climb back up two spots, re-entering the top ten after winning two out of three games over a busy weekend. Friday night, the Sting were able to hold off a stiff challenge from a Sault Ste. Marie club desperate for points, and earned a shutout win over Owen Sound the next night. Sunday afternoon, Sarnia’s bid for a perfect weekend would be spoiled, as they came up on the wrong end of high scoring affair in Windsor. Sarnia plays three games in the upcoming week, beginning Wednesday night when they host Saginaw. The Sting finish up the regular season on the road, playing in London on Friday night, and in Plymouth on Saturday.
10. Brampton Battalion – (Last Week: 7) The Brampton Battalion fall three spots this week, unable to build on their good play as of late in the last week. The Battalion would drop two out of three contests in the past week, taking themselves out of the race for third in the Conference. On Tuesday, Brampton lost a tough game in Sudbury, but came back to win in Peterborough on Thursday night. The Battalion ended the week Sunday afternoon at home, losing to Oshawa, and only have a pair of games this week to finish the regular season. Brampton plays in Barrie on Saturday night, before returning home to host Ottawa on Sunday afternoon.
11. Saginaw Spirit – (Last Week: 10) The Saginaw Spirit would split a pair of games in a quiet week, and slide one spot on the OHL Power Rankings as a result. Friday night, the Spirit would lose to the visitors from Owen Sound, but they would answer with a positive result the next night, defeating Sault Ste. Marie. The final week of the season for Saginaw begins on Wednesday night in Sarnia, before the Spirit finish the schedule with a pair of games back at home, first Windsor on Friday, then against Kitchener on Saturday.
12. Oshawa Generals – (Last Week: 13) While the Oshawa Generals would clinch a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference this week, they did so by maximizing on their opportunities, as they would win the only game they played in the last seven days. Sunday afternoon, the Generals would punch their ticket to the postseason with a victory in Brampton, and face four games in the coming week to make up for their recent light schedule. Tuesday night, Oshawa plays in Peterborough, then travels to Belleville a night later for their final road game. Returning home, the Generals play host to Mississauga on Saturday night, then finishes the season Sunday evening against Peterborough.
13. Owen Sound Attack – (Last Week: 6) The last seven days really goes to show just how quickly you can slide down the OHL Power Rankings, as the Owen Sound Attack freefall seven spots to land at number thirteen after losing three times in a busy four game week. Wednesday night, the Attack started the week with a loss at home to Barrie, but they would answer by winning in Saginaw on Friday. Losses Saturday in Sarnia and Sunday in Plymouth would put the Attack into a precarious position heading into the final week of the season, facing the possibility of starting the playoffs on the road. Owen Sound only plays two more games this season, a home and home series that starts in Guelph on Friday night, and finishes back at home a night later.
14. Belleville Bulls – (Last Week: 15) The Belleville Bulls are still fighting in the Eastern Conference, sitting on the edge of clinching the final playoff spot, yet sixth place is not out of reach, and the Bulls climb one spot this week in the Power Rankings despite losing two out of three contests. Wednesday night, Belleville was successful in defeating the visitors from Peterborough, but the week would quickly turn sour, as the Bulls lost in Sudbury on Friday, and in Barrie on Saturday. With three games remaining, Belleville starts the week with a visit from Oshawa Wednesday night, before playing in Kingston on Friday. The Bulls finish the regular season back at home on Saturday, hosting Sudbury.
15. Windsor Spitfires – (Last Week: 17) By earning three out of four possible points in two games this week, the Windsor Spitfires not only remain in the race for the final playoff spots in the West, but also climb two spots to number fifteen this week. On Thursday night, the Spits would leave a point on the table, dropping an overtime game at home to Sault Ste. Marie, but Windsor would have an offensive explosion, defeating Sarnia on Sunday afternoon. The Spitfires have three games in as many days to end the regular season, beginning on Thursday when they host London. Windsor finishes the season away from home, playing games in Saginaw on Friday, and in Sault Ste. Marie on Saturday.
16. Guelph Storm – (Last Week: 14) Still clinging to one of the final playoff spots in the Western Conference, the Guelph Storm are down two spots this week, after losing three out of four games in a hectic week. Losses in Kitchener on Tuesday and in London on Thursday would put pressure on the Storm, and another loss to London back at home Friday night added even more pressure. Guelph would earn a big two points in Erie on Sunday afternoon, and a few points this week will be enough to send the Storm to the postseason. Guelph plays host to Erie on Wednesday night before beginning a home and home series with Owen Sound Friday night at home. The series, and the season for the Storm, wraps up a night later in Owen Sound.
17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds – (Last Week: 16) The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds are down one spot this week, dropping two out of three games at a time when every point is of the utmost importance. The Hounds currently sit two points behind Guelph for the final playoff spot in the West, but are still in the race, making the final week very interesting. Thursday night, Sault Ste. Marie would win in Windsor, but losses in Sarnia on Friday and in Saginaw on Saturday would put the Hounds behind the pack. All three of the Hounds remaining games are on home ice, beginning on Wednesday night, when Plymouth comes to town. Visits from Windsor on Saturday and Kitchener on Sunday wrap up the regular season for the Greyhounds.
18. Peterborough Petes – (Last Week: 18) No change for the Peterborough Petes this week, as they remain at number eighteen on the OHL Power Rankings. Of far more importance to the Petes is their slim playoff chances, as any combination of a single point lost by Peterborough or earned by Belleville will be enough to end the Petes season, which would be their second straight season missing the playoffs. Two more losses this week extended the Petes losing streak to four games at the worst possible time for a slump, as they would lose in Belleville on Wednesday night, and again a night later at home to Brampton. Peterborough has three games remaining in the season, the first of which comes Tuesday night, when Oshawa visits. The Petes then head out on the road for the final two games, playing in Niagara on Thursday, and in Oshawa on Sunday.
19. Kingston Frontenacs – (Last Week: 19) While playing for next year, the Kingston Frontenacs remain a constant threat to play spoiler any time they take to the ice, despite a current seven game losing streak. The Fronts would drop three games on home ice this week, losing to Ottawa on Wednesday, Mississauga on Friday, and to Niagara on Sunday. Kingston has two more games left before they can look ahead to next season, both of them on home ice, starting Friday night against Belleville. Sunday afternoon, the Frontenacs wrap up the season against Sudbury.
20. Erie Otters – (Last Week: 20) The Erie Otters have now lost five straight, and will be able to put an end to the season after three more games. The Otters lost three games this week, all at home, beginning on Wednesday against Plymouth. Losses to Kitchener on Saturday and Guelph on Sunday extended the streak for Erie, who will look to win a game or two this week to end the season on a positive note. Wednesday night, the Otters play in Guelph, then travel to Kitchener for a Friday night contest. Erie wraps up the season back on home, hosting London on Saturday night.
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.