Several marquee players took the spotlight in the final week of the regular season in the Canadian Hockey League, including Moncton goaltender Nicola Riopel who set a league record. Meanwhile, the Prince Albert Raiders will host the Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday in a tiebreaker to determine the final playoff team in the WHL’s Eastern Conference.
Québec Major Junior Hockey League
Hot team: Drummondville Voltigeurs
Drummondville clinched the regular-season title last week as the team ran the table in the final three weeks of the season, going into the playoffs on a seven-game winning-streak. Drummondville’s 112 points this season was a 79-point improvement (a league record) over last season when the Voltigeurs finished with the league’s worst record. Drummondville will now meet the Lewiston MAINEiacs in the first round of the playoffs.
Hot player: Nicola Riopel, Moncton Wildcats
With the Atlantic Division title and a few records at stake, Riopel started all three of the Wildcats’ final games this week. The Wildcats won the division crown while Riopel set the record for the best goals-against average in a season at 2.03. His team also set the mark for fewest goals allowed in a season at 149. Riopel posted a .943 save percentage on the week after being beat just four times on 70 shots.
Cold team: Acadie-Bathurst Titan
The team failed to pick up a win for their new owners after it was announced the team would not be relocating next season, as had been rumoured. Acadie-Bathurst is limping into the playoffs, having lost their last 13 consecutive games. The Titan’s 6-3 loss to the league-worst Halifax Mooseheads Sunday is a bad sign for the team set to face the defending league champion Gatineau Olympiques in the opening round of the playoffs.
Cold player: Maxime Gratchev, Lewiston MAINEiacs
The overage Russian forward failed to record a point and was a minus-4 in his team’s biggest two games of the season. Lewiston lost both games as one of their go-to scorers went cold. In spite of Gratchev’s performance, the MAINEiacs backed into the playoffs by virtue of the point gathered in their shootout loss to Chicoutimi on Sunday.
Ontario Hockey League
Hot team: London Knights
The London Knights picked the right time for a hot streak, winning their final nine games of the regular season. London hasn’t lost since a 6-3 decision to the Windsor Spitfires on home ice on Feb. 20. John Tavares failed to record a point, playing only in Friday’s 3-0 win over Saginaw. His career goal total sits at 215, which the league ruled as being the career record in spite of recent controversy about Peter Lee’s prior record total of 213. The Knights will meet the Erie Otters in the opening round of the playoffs.
Hot player: Logan Couture, Ottawa 67′s
The 67′s sharpshooter finished the season red-hot, scoring five goals and three assists for eight points and a plus-7 in his last three games. Couture, whose junior career is over after the playoffs, had 10 goals in March, including three in the last game against Kingston on Sunday. With this being head coach Brian Kilrea’s last season, Ottawa could be a dangerous team when the playoffs begin against Niagara on Friday.
Cold team: Niagara IceDogs
Niagara will open the playoffs on the wrong foot, having lost their last five-regular season games. The IceDogs’ main deficiency down the stretch has been goal scoring, where the team was shut out twice and averaged just one goal per game. Goaltender Jeremy Smith, however, has been rock-solid of late, adapting to his new team quite well after struggling earlier this season in Plymouth.
Cold player: Michael Zador, Oshawa Generals
Acquired as part of the Tavares trade in January, the Generals gave Zador the ball to run with in the final week with a playoff berth on the line and Zador faltered. He allowed 10 goals on 51 shots through two starts for a .804 save percentage, losing both games. Oshawa turned to overager Neil Conway in their last game Sunday but missed the post-season by a single point.
Western Hockey League
Hot team: Kelowna Rockets
One of the hottest teams in the second half of the season, the Rockets are truly taking flight in preparation for the playoffs. Kelowna has won their last seven consecutive games, with their final game of the season in Spokane on Monday. The Rockets could finish as high as third in the Western Conference with a win over the Chiefs. One thing is certain: no one will be taking Kelowna lightly when the playoffs kick off this week.
Hot player: Drayson Bowman, Spokane Chiefs
His team played in just two games while two other contests were re-scheduled due to several members of his team being diagnosed with food poisoning. Bowman made his two games count, however, scoring three goals and five assists with a plus-3 rating. Spokane will host Kelowna on Monday before heading to Tri-City on Tuesday to close out their season.
Cold team: Prince George Cougars
Although they had already wrapped up a playoff spot, the Cougars will be licking their wounds as they begin the playoffs this week. Prince George concluded the season on a long road trip with stops in Seattle, Chilliwack, Vancouver and Tri-City. The Cougars lost all four games, including their previous game to Spokane, going winless in their last five outings. Prince George opens the playoffs against the Vancouver Giants on Friday.
Cold player: Tyson Sexsmith, Vancouver Giants
The all-time WHL shutout king had his worst week of the season right before the playoffs. In two starts, Sexsmith was beat eight times on 32 shots for a .750 save percentage. While his poor play in the final week of the season isn’t going to be a confidence-builder, Sexsmith has proven to be clutch in the past, particularly during his team’s Memorial Cup championship two seasons ago.
Game of the week: Edmonton Oil Kings vs. Prince Albert Raiders, Tuesday
Failing to seize their opportunities to clinch the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Oil Kings and Raiders will get one final chance to play playoff hockey in the league’s first tiebreaker since 1990. The Raiders will host the Oil Kings as, under the WHL’s policy, the team with more wins hosts the tiebreaker game. The game will be played under the same rules as the playoffs, with a 20-minute sudden-death overtime period taking place should extra time be required. The winner heads to Calgary Thursday to face the regular-season champion Hitmen.