Down the stretch in the CHL, there are a few new interesting stories and a few that have grown over the course of the season. With a month-and-a-half left, here are a few things worth keeping an eye on down the stretch.
10. Attack with Youth
The Owen Sound Attack has long been a contender in the difficult Midwest Division of the OHL, especially under the guidance of GM and ex-NHLer Dale DeGray. A shrewd deal maker with a great eye for talent, DeGray made his first in-season coaching change of his 12-year tenure when he fired Todd Gill earlier this week.
DeGray has had a keen eye for coaches as well unearthing the unexpected, from the late Mark Reeds to Ryan McGill. Todd Gill came from AHL Stockton two years ago. With Gill’s assistant, Al Letang, in place as the interim head coach, you can bet DeGray will be closely monitoring his team’s progress from now through the post-season. Letang may wind up as his best choice for a permanent solution as the Attack is expected to return as many as 18 players next season.
Another coaching change that has taken place is John Torchetti taking over from Darren Rumble in Moncton. Through Torchetti’s first five games as head coach and director of hockey operations, the Cats are 1-3-0-1. While Moncton is all but assured a playoff spot, the match-up would not be desirable if the playoffs started today (see No. 6 below).
Torchetti is no stranger to the high expectations placed on the club by owner Robert Irving as Torchetti previously worked for Irving in the 2006-07 season. The high standards Irving demands are not just in place for this season, but well beyond, especially when the Memorial Cup comes back to the QMJHL in 2022. I suspect Moncton will be in the running to host with the added feature of being able to showcase the new Avenir Centre.
8. New Lease on Life
Brett Leason’s rise to prominence and his projection as a first-round pick are legendary. The Prince Albert right winger has come from nowhere to capture the imagination of late-bloomers everywhere. A 30-game point streak ended one game before he left for the world juniors.
Like the rest of his team, Leason has a target on his back as opponents take pride in shutting down the league’s most dangerous offensive player. In 10 games since returning from the WJC, Leason has been held pointless in four of them. The attention he’s drawing will only intensify as the regular season draws to a close and rise to another level in the playoffs. Leason’s response to this will go a long way in dictating exactly where he goes in the June draft.
7. QMJHL Playoff Format
In an attempt to cut travel costs, the QMJHL has abandoned the 1 vs. 16 format that rewarded the best regular season team with the most desired road in the playoffs. The league’s adoption of the four division, two conference format would look like this if the playoffs started today:
1. Baie-Comeau vs. 8. Quebec
2. Halifax vs. 7. Moncton
3. Rimouski vs. 6. Chicoutimi
4. Cape Breton vs. 5. Charlottetown
1. Rouyn-Noranda vs. 8. Shawinigan
2. Drummondville vs. 7. Val d’Or
3. Sherbrooke vs. 6. Blainville-Boisbriand
4. Victoriaville vs. 5. Gatineau
6. Playoff Raiders
The undisputed No. 1 team in the CHL for almost all of the season now has expectations to play late into the spring. The Raiders lost just four games in the 2018 portion of their schedule, but have lost four times in 12 games since. Each and every night, they’re getting the opposition’s best effort as teams try and show their mettle against the best in the CHL.
There are no deficiencies with this team, and a seven-game first-round series against Moose Jaw last year should serve as both a blessing and a curse as the Raiders look to capture the Scotty Munro Trophy as the league’s regular season champ.
5. Felly Celly
Ottawa’s Tye Felhaber is doing things not seen in the OHL since the days of John Tavares. Tavares’ 72 goals in 63 games in the 2006-07 season is a modern-day league record. Since 2000, only seven players have equalled or bettered a goal per game pace.
Felhaber scored number 50 on the CHL Saturday showcase and added 51 a day later in Ottawa’s win over Saginaw. Felhaber is currently on pace to match Tavares’ 72 goals. Here’s his remaining opponents and goals scored against that opponent this season.
|OPPONENT||# OF GAMES AHEAD||GOALS VS|
4. Sleeping Giants
Vancouver’s 3-1 win over Prince Albert Jan. 24 on the CHL on Sportsnet served notice to the rest of the country that the Giants are a legit contender. Vancouver is currently enjoying a 10-game point streak and are within striking distance of the Western Conference lead, just five points behind Everett with two games at hand.
The Giants have a difficult schedule with 13 of their remaining 21 games on the road so GM Barclay Parneta, head coach Mike Dyck and associate coach Jamie Heward have worked to create a team-first atmosphere with great chemistry. The goaltending duo of David Tendeck and Trent Miner may be the best in the CHL. Bowen Byram will be a top 10 pick in June, and Milos Roman is doing his best impersonation of Anze Kopitar. The Giants will be fun to watch down the stretch and into the playoffs.
3. Nation’s Capital
Two weeks ago, the Ottawa 67’s took a western swing in which they defeated Sarnia 10-2, lost at London 5-3 and at Guelph 8-4. The 67’s were using the weekend as a measuring stick and didn’t quite measure-up. In speaking with the coaching staff, they had two key players (Kyle Maksimovich and Lucas Chiodo) who had only ever known their original teams. They hadn’t had time to learn systems or to get acquainted with their new billets.
Aside from that, Sasha Chmelevski missed time at the world juniors, Marco Rossi and Graeme Clarke were returning from injuries, and Michael DiPietro was getting back from the world juniors. Fully integrated, and healthy, the 67’s struck back with home-and-home wins against Oshawa and a statement making 5-3 win over Saginaw. Two more upcoming games against Guelph and Niagara will be more telling of where the 67’s are.
2. Kings of the Q
The 1999-2000 Rimouski Oceanic has been named the top team in the 50 years of the QMJHL. The Nics finished with a 48-18-2-4 record as the only ‘Q’ team with more than 100 points. They went 12-2 in the playoffs before going 4-0 to win the 2000 Memorial Cup in Halifax.
Rimouski scored a whopping 370 goals that season (5.13 goals/game). Four players amassed more than 100 points, led by Brad Richards who had 71 goals and 186 points in 63 games. Five players (Richards, Aaron Johnson, Sebastian Caron Juraj Kolnik, and Michel Ouellet) all played in the NHL. The gregarious Doris Labonte was the head coach, who later coached Sidney Crosby.
1. Winnipeg Ice
A once-successful franchise that appeared in two Memorial Cups and won one in 2002 is no longer. The Kootenay Ice will re-locate to Winnipeg for the 2019-20 season. A relationship between ownership and fans that has deteriorated over the past decade ultimately signalled the end for Cranbrook. The franchise had been under review since 2011.
When Winnipeg-based owners Greg Fettes and Matt Cockell purchased the team before the start of the 2017-18 season, it was widely speculated a move to Winnipeg was imminent. Winnipeg represents the last big-market in western Canada that was without a junior team.
Plans are to integrate with the Rink Academy (partially owned by Fettes) on a project that will eventually see a brand new 4,500-seat arena constructed as part of a bigger project, all privately funded. In the interim, ownership will inject $400,000 into Wayne Fleming Arena and play at the home of the University of Manitoba until they can get into their new digs.