CHL Notebook: Firebirds exceeding own expectations early

Terry-Wilson/OHL-Images

Anthony Popovich of the Flint Firebirds. (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

One year ago, the Flint Firebirds were still winless through 14 Ontario Hockey League games.

Heading into Halloween, the Firebirds were looking at a rash of injuries to key players, had a 0-13-1-0 record and wouldn’t win their first game of the season until Nov. 7.

What a difference the past year has made for the club.

Winners of four straight after a pair of weekend wins, the Firebirds currently sit in second in the OHL’s West Division standings with a 9-3-0-0 record and are one point behind the Saginaw Spirit and Windsor Spitfires, who share top spot.

Last year, the Firebirds didn’t win their ninth game until January.

When the regular season began, head coach Eric Wellwood said he felt fifth in the OHL’s Western Conference was an attainable goal.

Nearly six weeks later, it almost feels like the team could reconsider that goal and set their sights a little higher.

Adding veteran goaltender Anthony Popovich prior to the season has helped.

Coming off an OHL title win with Guelph last season, Popovich’s numbers this season have been relatively solid.

The team recently added another member of the defending-champs in defenceman Owen Lalonde, who adds experience to a blue line that includes highly touted import Vladislav Kolyachonok, a Florida Panthers pick.

The return of impact forward Ty Dellandrea from the NHL’s Dallas Stars has also given Flint a boost.

The former first rounder has 14 points through 10 games since rejoining the Firebirds.

Phoenix off to hot start in QMJHL

In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Sherbrooke Phoenix continue to roll out of the gate.

Winners of nine of their last 10 games, with the lone loss coming in overtime, the Phoenix sit stop the QMJHL standings with 28 points.

Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Samuel Poulin has had a major impact offensively for the Phoenix with points in all but three games this season.

In 12 games in October, Poulin had seven multi-point games, including his eight-point performance against Shawinigan on Oct. 20.

Overage forward Felix Robert, who had seven points in Sherbrooke’s win over Shawinigan, has 12 goals this season and is currently riding a five-game goal streak.

Last season’s success continuing for Oil Kings

The Western Hockey League’s Edmonton Oil Kings, who advanced three rounds in the WHL playoffs last season before losing in six games to the eventual champs from Prince Albert, are also playing well as the calendar prepares to turn to November.

With a 10-1-3-0, the Oil Kings sit atop the Central Division and have been riding solid goaltending early on. Todd Scott and rookie Sebastian Cossa have been solid in net for an Oil Kings team that has surrendered just 34 goals in 14 games.

Offensively, NHL draft eligible forward Jake Neighbours is on pace to set new career highs with 15 points through 14 games.

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