If last week’s play is any indication, John Tavares and Chet Pickard are ready for the challenge of competing for spots on the Canadian world junior team. Meanwhile, pivotal match-ups between powerhouse teams throughout each league headline the week ahead.
Ontario Hockey League
Hot team: Saginaw Spirit
Among the Western Conference’s top teams is one that has quietly gone below the radar this season. The Spirit have put together an impressive season to date, currently riding a four-game winning streak. Saginaw won two big road games in Brampton and Kitchener earlier in the week before dismantling the Soo Greyhounds at home on Sunday. Saginaw is third in the conference with 39 points in 28 games.
Hot player: John Tavares, Oshawa Generals
The fourth-year forward certainly picked the right time to get a hot hand. Tavares, who will be attending the Canadian world junior selection camp this week, picked up the scoring pace last week. In three games, Tavares scored four goals and five assists for nine points and a plus-2 rating. Tavares now trails Windsor’s Taylor Hall by two points for the league’s scoring race.
Cold team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One of the top teams in the league last season has struggled to find similar success this season. As is the case in junior hockey, the Greyhounds have lost several key components from last season, including head coach Craig Hartsburg. The Soo has lost their last four games and are winless in their last five. The team has allowed the most goals in the Western Conference to date and they might be looking to trade overage forward Matt Caria before the trade deadline.
Cold player: Patrick Killeen, Brampton Battalion
The Brampton goaltender had a tough week as the Battalion has lost back-to-back games for the first time since the second week of October. In two starts, Killeen allowed seven goals on 48 shots for a 0.854 save percentage. Brampton then gave the third start of the week to backup Brandon Foote who helped lead the team to the first win of the week, a 5-4 overtime win over Mississauga.
This week’s key match-up: Belleville Bulls vs. Windsor Spitfires, Thursday
The top two teams in the league will meet for the final time this season as Windsor took the first game, 1-0 on Oct. 18. The Bulls are back in contention this season after coming within a game of winning the league title last season. Belleville has been able to ride the steady and reliable goaltending of Mike Murphy, who has been very hot of late. Meanwhile, the Spitfires will open the doors to their new rink, the Windsor Family Credit Union Centre, but will be missing a few stars. Hall and Ryan Ellis will be away attending the Canadian world junior selection camp in Ottawa, Ont. Bulls defenceman P.K. Subban will also be unavailable at the same camp.
Western Hockey League
Hot team: Tri-City Americans
After starting the season slow, the Tri-City Americans are beginning to show the potential of a champion this season, winning their last eight games. The Americans won all three games last week as their goaltender, Chet Pickard, put up a performance worthy of consideration for the ADT CHL Goaltender of the Week. Tri-City is beginning to pull away from Spokane for the U.S. Division and now trail Vancouver by five points for top spot in the Western Conference.
Hot player: Chet Pickard, Tri-City Americans
Perhaps buoyed by being named to Hockey Canada’s selection camp, Pickard was nearly unbeatable last week. He recorded a 26 save shutout on Wednesday, the day he was named to the camp, while only allowing two goals in three games on the week. He posted a sparkling 0.976 save percentage on the week as he puts his best foot forward in pursuit of a spot on the national junior team.
Cold team: Chilliwack Bruins
The young Bruins have had difficulty learning how to win as a team this season but there’s no doubt their future is bright with players like Ryan Howse and Kevin Sundher. Chilliwack has lost its last eight games and is quickly falling out of the playoff picture in the Western Conference standings. The Bruins’ last win came on Nov. 18 in a 2-0 win over Portland.
Cold player: Dustin Sylvester, Kootenay Ice
The Ice’s leading scorer was shutout last week, failing to record a point in three games to go with a minus-3 rating. Sylvester is tied for 19th in league scoring with 35 points so far and was held off the score sheet in back-to-back games for only the second time this season. It was the first time he had gone three games without a point this season.
This week’s key match-up: Vancouver Giants vs. Tri-City Americans, Friday
The top two teams in the Western Conference will meet for the third of four games this season. So far, the home team has won each game in the season series as the two teams split the first two games. Both teams will rely on their backup goaltender as Pickard and Vancouver’s Tyson Sexsmith will be battling for a job on the national junior team. The Giants will look to remain ahead of the Americans in the race for the Western crown after finishing just two points behind the Americans in the conference and league standings last season.
Québec Major Junior Hockey League
Hot team: Drummondville Voltigeurs
A stretch of four games in five nights did little to slow the hottest team in the league last week. The Voltigeurs won all four games on their road trip through the Maritimes with games against Acadie-Bathurst, Saint John, Halifax and P.E.I. Drummondville set a franchise record with their winning streak, now at 13 games. By contrast, they won just one more than their current winning streak all of last season.
Hot player: Dany Massé, Drummondville Voltigeurs
Massé got the week started off on the right foot, registering four points in the first of four road games in five nights. The overage forward scored four goals and five assists for nine points in four games with a plus-4 rating. He scored the first goal of the game and assisted on the winner in the first game, an 8-2 win over Acadie-Bathurst, on Wednesday.
Cold team: P.E.I. Rocket
Things have gone from bad to worse for the Rocket this season, going winless in their last six games. P.E.I. lost in overtime to the Victoriaville Tigres on Friday before being pummeled by Drummondville 8-3 on Sunday. The Rocket has not won since a shootout win over Val-d’Or on Nov. 21. They’re six points up on last-place Halifax in the Atlantic Division.
Cold player: Marco Cousineau, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
The third round pick of the Anaheim Ducks has struggled at times this season and had another rough week in goal. In two losses, both against league powerhouse Shawinigan, Cousineau allowed 11 goals on 68 shots for a 0.838 save percentage. He looked better in his second start but still allowed four goals in the loss.
This week’s key match-up: Shawinigan Cataractes vs. Drummondville Voltigeurs, Friday
It won’t get any bigger than this. The top two teams in the Telus Central Division standings, and top two in the league, will face off for the fourth of eight meetings this season. The Cataractes hold the edge in the season-series, having won all three games by a combined score of 18-5. Just two points separate these two teams as Shawinigan is tops in the league with 54 points in 32 games. The Voltigeurs will have the benefit of rest as they don’t play until this game Friday whereas Shawinigan plays in Montreal on Wednesday. However, this will be the first game the Voltigeurs play without head coach Guy Boucher who will be in Ottawa, Ont. preparing for Hockey Canada’s selection camp as an assistant coach on the world junior team. A win for Shawinigan would all but ensure them the season-series.