With the calendar approaching 2019, a look back at the first half of the Canadian Hockey League season brings with it some surprises and great stories.
The play of the Western Hockey League’s Prince Albert Raiders can be looked at as a surprise, if only because of just how good the team has been.
Expected to be in a good position this season, the Raiders have been nearly unbeatable.
With just two regulation-time losses, the Raiders have been the top team in the country for much of the season.
With 165 goals for, the Raiders have a comfortable lead over the Portland Winterhawks, who sit second with 138. And the Raiders haven’t just been dangerous offensively, as the team has surrendered just 70 goals through 34 games.
Brett Leason, who suited up in his first pre-tournament game for Team Canada at the World Juniors on Sunday night against Finland, has been a pleasant surprise for the Raiders.
With 28 goals and 64 points in 31 games, Leason has eclipsed his career numbers with half of the regular season still remaining.
Undrafted, Leason has drawn plenty of attention from NHL scouts thanks to his torrid start.
In Ontario, the Ottawa 67’s sit atop the standings and stand to get better once goaltender Michael DiPietro returns from the World Juniors.
Following his acquisition from the Windsor Spitfires, DiPietro made one start for Ottawa, a 24-save win over the QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques on Dec. 8.
The 67’s have given up 98 goals this season, fourth in the OHL, and that stands to get better with DiPietro, who has a Memorial Cup title under his belt with the Spitfires in 2016.
While the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies have set the pace atop the QMJHL standings with a 28-6-0-1 record, good for 57 points and a six-point lead atop the league standings, things are bunched up after that with four teams separated by just three points.
That group includes the Drummondville Voltigeurs, who look poised to load up to take a run at a league title and join the Halifax Mooseheads in representing the league at the Memorial Cup in the spring.
Much like their WHL counterparts in Prince Albert, the Voltigeurs are the top scoring team in Quebec with 169 goals in 33 games.
With a group of high-end NHL picks that includes forwards Max Comtois (Anaheim), Joe Veleno (Detroit), defenceman Nicolas Beaudin (Chicago), and goaltender Olivier Rodrigue (Edmonton), the Voltigeurs will be a tough test in a seven-game playoff series in the spring.
TRADE OVERTURNED, SORT OF
Something that’s not seen very often took place in the QMJHL last week.
The commissioner’s office announced changes of a trade completed in late-September involving the Halifax Mooseheads and Saint John Sea Dogs.
The two clubs announced a deal on Sept. 24 that saw the Mooseheads acquire Ostap Safin and a fourth-round draft pick in 2021 in exchange for a first-round pick in 2020.
The Mooseheads requested a review of the deal and the compensation has changed.
The league announced on the weekend that the first-round pick Halifax initially dealt to Saint John has been returned and the team will now send a 2021 first-round pick to the Sea Dogs. The-fourth round pick Halifax acquired in the deal will now be in 2020 instead of 2021.
The league cited five reasons for the decision.
In a release, the league said the factors included:
1. The physical condition of the player at the time of the trade;
2. The discussions which were held between the parties about the health status of the player before the trade;
3. The number of games missed by the player to date;
4. The current physical condition of the player;
5. The uncertainty surrounding the possibility that the player might play, or not, for Halifax for a part or the rest of this season.
An Edmonton Oilers prospect, Safin has played in just 10 games this season with the Mooseheads.
After playing in a pair of games in September, Safin missed all of October before returning to the Mooseheads lineup on Nov. 3.
Safin has two goals and nine points this season after posting 26 goals and 58 points in 61 games last year with the Sea Dogs.