At the midseason break, the usual suspects continue to run away with the BTN Dynamic Dozen.
It would be, for lack of a better term, nice to see a honest-to-goodness race for first overall in any of the three leagues. The London Knights' 21-game win streak moved them 11 points clear of the Ontario Hockey League pack. The Nathan MacKinnon- and Jonathan Drouin-led Halifax Mooseheads have a nine-point cushion in QMJHL with its holiday hiatus drawing near. In the WHL, the Portland Winterhawks are playing .838 hockey, more than 100 percentage points ahead of the field.
Each league has teams who can play with anybody, including the heayweights. The Kelowna Rockets out west, the Guelph Storm in central Canada. Whether that can go from potential to realization will be a topic for the second half. Here is the last ranking of 2012; it will return Jan. 7.
1. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.601 RPI, 2.1 SRS, —) — Keep winning thanks to their tight play in their own zone (six goals against in the past four games). The only tweak to make ahead of a Tuesday showdown with Spokane is fixing a power play that went 0-for-10 over their final two games last weekend without Team Canada's Ty Rattie.
2. London Knights, OHL (.591 RPI, 1.5 SRS, —) — To be fair, leading scorer Seth Griffith might not have world junior championship-worthy wheels but he is a snipeshow in league play. The Boston Bruins pick dug deep for five goals and seven points last weekend when London absolutely needed a star effort instead of a 20-man one.
3. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.583 RPI, 1.7 SRS, —) — The Herd, minus their entire first line, their puck-moving defenceman Konrad Abeltshauser and goalie Zachary Fucale, still managed an undefeated week. In other words, they are diverse up front. Halifax GM Cam Russell has the trade chips to enhance his team's offence, since one or both of those likely high import picks purloined from Shawinigan and Sherbrooke could fetch another score in the next two weeks.
4. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.571 RPI, 1.3 SRS, +1) — The Rockets' run through the Central Division, accomplished without three regular forwards, might have put them at the top of the pecking order within the WHL's B.C. Division. Ryan Huska's team has been prolific offensively with only three point-a-game scorers, defence-to-wing convert Myles Bell, undrafted 19-year-old Zach Franko and captain Colton Sissons, who has been out for three weeks with a suspected concussion. The lone down note for Kelowna beside the injuries is it wasn't operating at full strength for a loss on Sunday to Calgary, which is playing the best of any WHL Eastern Conference team.
5. Guelph Storm, OHL (.554 RPI, 0.9 SRS, +3) — No one in the Royal City will see it this way: coach Scott Walker's Storm are the only Western Conference team to play the London Knights to a 65-minute draw in the past six weeks. Guelph might be in that "so close, yet so far" flux state peculiar to a good team whose offensive nucleus is still a year away from peaking. Their top six goal scorers are all likely to play at least one more OHL season, while first-rounder Robby Fabbri almost quietly had a very good 21-point first half and could get the World Under-17 Challenge bounce in the new year.
6. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.551 RPI, 0.4 SRS, +5) — Radio and TV commentators love to talk about how Teddy Bear Toss games put pressure on the home team shooters to make a perfect play for the goal that brings a cascade of stuffed animals from the stands. It turns out the Ams' 17-year-old Eric Comrie made a game out of being the visiting goalie in just such a situation: "It's actually a lot of fun. It adds a little incentive to being in goal." Comrie came back this past week by allowing only a singleton in each of his starts, stopping 65-of-67 shots.
7. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.551 RPI, 1.1 SRS, -3) — On the whole, Spokane should be satisfied with going 6-2-0-0 across a stretch of eight games in 16 days. Their reward is Tuesday's measuring-stick matchup against the Winterhawks, who won 9-1 in the first meeting of the season. The Chiefs play Portland six more times before the end of the regular season whereas Kamloops and Kelowna, thier competition for home-ice advantage through the first two round of the playoffs, only do so twice more apiece.
8. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.548 RPI, 0.9 SRS, +2) — While goalie Jordan Binnington flew to Finland on Saturday with Team Canada, his teammates put together a signature win that moved them into second overall in the OHL at the midterm. The Attack, led at the back by the Chris Bigras-Nathan Chairlitti tandem, also finished with the Western Conference's tidiest goals-against record. Do they need to upgrade on defence? Meantime, Owen Sound will play nine of its first 13 post-Christmas games on the road as it tries to win and hope London somehow cools off.
9. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.546 RPI, 1.1 SRS, -2) — Up to five B-B players could play in the world junior. So having 5-of-6 games at home while star defenceman Xavier Ouellet is off with Team Canada is probably thin gruel for an Armada team that has been (heh) taking on water while losing five of six games since 19-year-old goalie Étienne Marcoux sustained a nasty shoulder injury. A loss to Rouyn-Noranda this weekend could be enough to push the Armada out of top spot in their division, where they have been all season.
10. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.539 RPI, 0.6 SRS, -4) — It's always sunny in the Okanagan. Unless there's a real problem within the inner sanctum, there is reason to think the Blazers (1-2-1-0 on a four-game Alberta trip last week) are in for winning times again. Coach Guy Charron's team should get some bodies back and has a favourable travel schedule after Christmas, as it will not have to cross the Rockies. With tongue half in cheek, it's all about getting Dylan Willick healthy. Kamloops is 16-2-0-2 when the right wing plays and 9-7-2-0 when he's been out of the lineup.
11. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.537 RPI, 0.1 SRS, +2) — The T-Birds have lost four in a row since winning four in a row, but this ranking shows how difficult it is to keep up in the U.S. Division. The 18-year-old quartet of Alex Delnov, Connor Honey, Roberts Lipbergs and Medicine Hat Tigers castoff Riley Sheen has been putting up numbers. Imagine all four of them with another year's maturity.
12. Barrie Colts, OHL (.535 RPI, 0.9 SRS, —) — Will GM Jason Ford use the trade deadline to effect changes to the Ontario league's third-worst penalty kill? This is a team with a potential to come out of the Eastern Conference, but it is scary to think about what the London Knights' dynamite power play would do in such a matchup. Minnesota Wild prospect Tyler Graovac, who has a special facility with the PK, is certainly going to be traded by the Ottawa 67's; it seems worth pointing that out. Meantime, Barrie finished first half well, going 4-1 in the past two weeks.
The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.534, +10); 14. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.534, +6); 15. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.532, +3); 16. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.529, -2); 17. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.529, —); 18. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.527, -9); 19. Brampton Battalion, OHL (.522, +3); 20. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.520, -4); 21. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.520, -6); 22. Saskatoon Blades, WHL (.519, +3); 23. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.516, -4); 24. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.515, +3).
Hot team — Calgary Hitmen, up 10 (23rd to 13th).
Cold team — Moncton Wildcats, down 9 (ninth to 18th).
Nowhere to go but up — Vancouver Giants (.414).
An explanation on rankings — Buzzing The Net uses Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) with a recency factor. RPI combines a team's record with the strength of its opponents to produce an overall rating. Our method also gives more weight to recently played games. Shootout wins and losses are classified as ties, for philosophical and practical reasons. Simple Ranking System (SRS), an equation which uses goal differential and strength of schedule, is used as a complement. All three CHL leagues are considered equivalent in quality.
(All rankings through play on Dec. 16.)
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.
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