Paul Byron helped resurrect the defending QMJHL champions from the dead with a performance that served notice his team could be a contender come playoff time. Meanwhile, Evander Kane has seemingly shaken off the rust from a week that saw him go pointless in back-to-back games for the first time all season.
Ontario Hockey League
Hot team: Windsor Spitfires
Chalk up another three consecutive wins for the hottest team in Canada as the Windsor Spitfires’ winning streak now reached 13 games. Getting contributions from each line, the Spitfires continue to display the moxie that has made them the odds-on favourite to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup in Rimouski. Their season winning percentage is a sparkling 0.885 as they became the first team to clinch a playoff spot in the OHL.
Hot player: Thomas McCollum, Brampton Battalion
Any other year and the trade that sent McCollum to Brampton would have been considered the biggest deadline deal. The lack of attention might do just fine for the veteran goaltender and first round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. McCollum won all three games last week, two of which were shutouts. He allowed just three goals on 83 shots, good for a sparkling 0.964 save percentage.
Cold team: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
One season removed from going to the Western Conference finals, the Soo Greyhounds’ rebuilding season continued getting worse. The Greyhounds dropped both contest last week, both on home ice, while extending their losing streak to five games. Sault Ste. Marie has won just once in their last 10 outings as they are quickly falling out of contention for a playoff spot.
Cold player: Brett Parnham, Oshawa Generals
The hot player last week, Parnham fell off course in three contests this week. The 19-year-old was held pointless and was a ghastly minus-6 through those contests as his Generals failed to pick up a point in any of the three games. With John Tavares gone, Parnham will be responsible to shoulder the majority of the scoring load down the stretch, something he showed glimpses of until last week.
Game of the week: London Knights vs. Belleville Bulls, Saturday
Fans in Belleville are very familiar with No. 61 of the Knights as Tavares leads his new team to their only game in Belleville. London won the only other contest between these two teams on Dec. 12, taking the game 5-2. The Bulls are hearing footsteps atop the Eastern Conference from the Brampton Battalion, whose seven-game winning-streak is one more than that of the Bulls’. The Knights, on the other hand, are now 13 points back of the first-place Windsor Spitfires in the West, making this game important for each team. While this is the last regular season game between the two, the two contenders could very well meet again in the league final.
Western Hockey League
Hot team: Saskatoon Blades
All the frustrating seasons in Saskatoon appear to be coming to an end as the Blades are proving they’re for real. Saskatoon is riding a nine-game winning-streak and is unbeaten in regulation in their last 13 games, a span that has gone back to 2008. The Blades are beginning to make ground on the Eastern Conference-leading Calgary Hitmen, now 11 points back with a game in hand.
Hot player: Evander Kane, Vancouver Giants
If Evander Kane was showing signs of fatigue after the Top Prospects Game, they were short-lived. In four games last week, Kane was red hot scoring four times and adding six assists for 10 points with a plus-5. Making matters more impressive is Kane’s penchant for scoring big goals as he scored game winners over Kelowna and Kamloops while also adding an insurance goal in the same win over the Rockets.
Cold team: Moose Jaw Warriors
After losing a boatload of veterans last season, rebuilding was a foregone conclusion for the Warriors this season. While the team has shown promise offensively, the defensive aspect of the game has hurt the team as they lead the league in goals allowed at 234 through 49 games. Moose Jaw has lost eight in a row and should contend with Portland for the first overall pick.
Cold player: Juha Metsola, Lethbridge Hurricanes
Consistency is often the biggest hurdle to overcome for some major junior players and Metsola certainly has had his bouts with it this season. The Finnish goaltender was the toast of the playoffs last season while providing mixed results this season. In two games last week, Metsola allowed a combined nine goals on 43 shots for a 0.791 save percentage. In spite of his shaky goaltending, his team won one and lost the other.
Game of the week: Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Calgary Hitmen, Saturday
Two of the league’s hottest teams will face in the tail end of a very busy schedule for the Wheat Kings. Brandon will be playing their 10th game in 16 days and fourth in five nights when they visit the Eastern Conference-leading Hitmen. Calgary will have the benefit of rest but will also be playing back-to-back as they head to Lethbridge for a date against their Central Division rivals on Friday. If the Wheat Kings can walk out of Calgary with a win, it will go a long way in building the confidence for a young team on the verge of becoming a dangerous contender.
Québec Major Junior Hockey League
Hot team: Gatineau Olympiques
Once a question mark just to reach the playoffs, the Gatineau Olympiques are now on top in the Telus Western Division standings after beating Rouyn-Noranda twice last week. The Olympiques are riding a six-game winning-streak after winning all four games last week and have won eight of their last 10 games. Their late ascension could make things interesting down the stretch run.
Hot player: Paul Byron, Gatineau Olympiques
Byron has been instrumental in helping steer the defending league champions back into contention after a bad start. In four games, Byron scored five goals and five assists for 10 points with a plus-7 rating. He scored the shootout winner in the first game over Rouyn-Noranda before tallying two more game-winners against Val-d’Or and again versus the Huskies.
Cold team: Chicoutimi Saguenéens
Last week’s cold team failed to break out of their funk with just a single game on their schedule. In their only game against league powerhouse Drummondville, the Sags lost in overtime, securing a point in their fourth consecutive loss and fourth in last five games. Chicoutimi has won just once in their last 10 and is winless now in their last eight games.
Cold player: Nathan Dunnett, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Baie-Comeau’s new starting goalie was rocked in a tough road stretch which saw the team play four games in five nights. Dunnett played in each of those games, recording a win in the first before losing two more. He allowed 18 goals on 117 shots through those games for a 0.846 save percentage. He should get plenty of time to grow as the Drakkar are rebuilding after a strong season a year ago.
Game of the week: Moncton Wildcats vs. Gatineau Olympiques, Wednesday
One month ago and this match-up wouldn’t have registered on the radar. However, thanks to the Olympiques’ surge as the hottest team in the league, the Wildcats will be playing a team full of confidence. Gatineau fared very well over divisional rivals last week but will have a true test against the Wildcats, whom they already beat on Jan. 9. Moncton continues to grip a narrow, three-point lead on Cape Breton for first in the Atlantic Division standings. Another win against an elite team could only help prove the Olympiques are for real as the playoffs steadily approach.