By PATRICK KING
Three undefeated teams top the list of hot teams this week, including the previously rebuilding Moncton Wildcats. Meanwhile, as many discovered, the drop down to junior from National Hockey League camps doesn’t ensure success upon their return to the Canadian Hockey League.
Western Hockey League
Hot Team: Swift Current Broncos
The Swift Current Broncos are enjoying the early home-and-home format of their schedule, rattling off four consecutive wins to open the season. The Broncos posted back-to-back wins over the Saskatoon Blades on the weekend after doing the same to the Moose Jaw Warriors the week before. Forward Keegan Dansereau has been the main ingredient to their success, recording seven points through the first four games.
Hot Player: Daniel Bartek, Everett Silvertips
The over-age forward from the Czech Republic could be on the verge of a breakout season if last week is any indication. Bartek, who was acquired from the Brandon Wheat Kings before the season, scored once and had four assists in two games with a plus-4 rating. The young Silvertips will need much of the same from Bartek if they’re going to compete in the tough Western Conference this season.
Cold Team: Seattle Thunderbirds
The Thunderbirds have had difficulty carrying over their impressive finish from last season to this one. Seattle won 23 of its final 30 games before bowing out to the Tri-City Americans in the second round of the playoffs. The T-Birds are 0-4 to start the season after another two losses to Tri-City and Everett on the weekend.
Cold Player: Jacob DeSerres, Seattle Thunderbirds
The third-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers had a rough return to junior after being sent back from Flyers camp. DeSerres allowed nine goals on 50 shots in two starts, posting a 6.19 goals against average and 0.820 save percentage. With Riku Helenius moving to professional hockey, the T-Birds will need DeSerres to get his game level he displayed in 34 games last season.
This week’s key match-up: Kelowna Rockets vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes, Saturday
Saturday’s game between the Rockets and Hurricanes could be a league final preview. The Rockets appear to be loading up with the acquisition of goaltender Kris Lazaruk from the Kootenay Ice last week. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes returned the core of last season’s Eastern Conference championship-winning team. The Rockets saw the return of their dynamic offensive duo of Colin Long and Jamie Benn last week, but are still without defensive stalwarts Luke Schenn and Tyler Myers. This game will provide both teams with a good measuring stick as to how they stack up against another elite team.
Québec Major Junior Hockey League
Hot Team: Moncton Wildcats
The Wildcats are beginning to look less like underdogs and more like contenders with each passing game. Named sportsnet.ca’s dark-horse team prior to the season, the Wildcats remain the league’s only unbeaten team through six games. Goaltender Nicola Riopel, our hot player of the week, has been lights out to start the season as the Wildcats boast the league’s best record.
Hot Player: Nicola Riopel, Moncton Wildcats
The Wildcats’ starter is putting his bid in for goaltender of the year early this season. Riopel stopped 42 of 44 shots in two road victories last week against the Lewiston MAINEiacs and Halifax Mooseheads. Riopel has allowed just nine goals in six games this season, helping lead his team to a 6-0 start.
Cold Team: Val-d’Or Foreurs
It has been a trying start to the season for the rebuilding Foreurs, who appeared in the league final just two seasons ago. Val-d’Or played just one game last week, a 5-2 loss to rival Rouyn-Noranda, and its record now stands at 0-6. One can’t help but wonder how much longer the team will hold onto some of its star players such as goaltender Raffaele D’Orso if the losses continue.
Cold Player: Nicolas Deschamps, Chicoutimi Saguenéens
The Saguenéens are hoping their slumbering sniper will awake soon. Deschamps has yet to score a goal in four games since returning from the Anaheim Ducks’ camp and was held off the scoresheet altogether in two games last week. With Chicoutimi playing in the strongest division, it will be hoping he regains his touch sooner than later.
This week’s key match-up: Shawinigan Cataractes vs. Moncton Wildcats, Friday
The early season tests continue for the revamped and reloaded Shawinigan Cataractes. As one of the teams expected to contend for the championship this season, the Cataractes have not disappointed in the early going. Shawinigan opened the season with a 5-2 record after beating a tough Saint John Sea Dogs squad on Sunday. The red-hot Wildcats will face their toughest challenge of the young season against the Cataractes but will have the benefit of home ice in this contest. A Moncton win could be a huge confidence boost for the rising Wildcats.
Ontario Hockey League
Hot Team: Guelph StormThe Storm’s goaltender, Thomas McCollum, returned from his NHL camp to help lead them to a 3-0 record on the week. McCollum posted a 0.942 save percentage in those games to boost his team to a 4-0 start.
Hot Player: Andrew Engelage, Windsor Spitfires
The over-age goaltender hit the floor running after being tabbed to lead the Spitfires in goal this season. Although the team in front of him is strong, Engelage has been giving Windsor the dependable goaltending needed in a championship-calibre season. Engelage allowed two goals on 53 shots for a 0.962 save percentage in two wins and has now allowed just seven goals on the season.
Cold Team: Peterborough Petes
The Petes have yet to win since the season opener against the Kingston Frontenacs. Peterborough dropped all three games last week, two of which came on the road. Goaltender Trevor Cann played well in his second start of the week against Barrie, stopping 36 of 37 shots, but it wasn’t enough as the hard-luck Petes failed to give him any support.
Cold Player: Josh Unice, Kitchener Rangers
It was a tough return to junior for the Kitchener Rangers’ starting goaltender. Unice allowed eight goals on 55 shots through two losses, resulting in him being pulled in favour of Parker Van Buskirk in the second game. With a relatively young team in front of him, Unice will need to step up his play this season if the Rangers are going to be successful.
This week’s key match-up: Windsor Spitfires vs. Oshawa Generals, Friday
One of the league’s top goaltenders will face the league’s top scorer as Engelage will try to slow down the red-hot John Tavares. Through four games, Tavares has 10 points and sits atop the league’s scoring race. Meanwhile, the talented Spitfires will look to keep the foot on the gas pedal as they began the season with a perfect 4-0 record. Although the Spitfires have a more talented team on paper, they will be playing the second game in as many nights while the Generals should be well rested. This game will mark the return of forward Dale Mitchell, who was dealt to Windsor as part of compensation for last year’s blockbuster trade involving goaltender Michal Neuvirth.