January 28, 2014
The week ahead might go a long way toward decided home-ice advantage throughout the President's Cup playoffs.
Defending Memorial Cup champion Halifax came into the season as an overdog and sort of laid in the weeds amid a hectic first-half schedule that caused injuries to accumulate. Now the Mooseheads of Jonathan Drouin and Zachary Fucale are on a seven-game win streak that includes tilts at Quebec and Blainville-Boisbriand. With the Q season at the three-quarter pole, there's a cluster among the contenders.
Here is a look at who is flowing and who is ebbing as the calendar is set to turn to February.
Hot: Guelph Storm
The Storm is 10-1 since Jan. 1 with a different game-winning goal scorer in each victory. The big takeaway from last weekend is that Kerby Rychel, the Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder, is getting more at ease in the Royal City. Rychel's two-goal, one-assist effort on Sunday — the helper came on a backhand pass out of the corner to Robby Fabbri — was probably his best game since his trade from Windsor in early December.
A snow-out last weekend means the OHL-leading Storm, beginning Wednesday, has nine games in 20 days. Attrition might catch up to Guelph at some point, but it's been regularly handling the teams that pose a creditable challenge. The trap games tend to pose a different problem.
Not: Owen Sound Attack
The Attack (.511 point pct., seventh in the Western Conference) hasn't scored more than three goals in a game since the calendar turned to 2014, let alone since moving leading scorer Gemel Smith to London. A lack of continuity has been a problem since one or some of the overage troika of Kurtis Gabriel, Kyle Hope and Brayden Rose was absent for six weeks, compromising a team that relies on physical play. Owen Sound, even after its trades, is still mostly relying on 18 and 19-year-olds. Its next four games include back-to-back back-to-backs vs. Guelph and Erie, so it probably falls on Brandon Hope to steal two points. Hope has a good run as a first-time starter with a 3.07 average and .910 save percentage.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Michael McCarron, London (No. 25 by Montreal Canadiens in 2013) — London didn't exactly have top-flight competition last weekend, so it was a good time to move McCarron into centre. He responded in that game vs. Kitchener with a two-assist, plus-2 effort, along with some thumping open ice hits.
Brendan Gaunce, Erie (No. 26 by Vancouver Canucks in '12) — Gaunce had six points (1G-5A) over three games this week, as he continued to get more at ease with the Otters' talented lineup. That included a sweet redirect goal during a win over Oshawa and fellow Canucks pick Cole Cassels.
Brady Vail, Windsor (No. 94 by Montreal Canadiens in '12) — Vail's three-helper day during an 8-7 game in Sarnia last weekend gave him 11 points in his last four games, including 10 assists. It's tough to be a playmaking left wing at the next level but hey, hockey sense.
Connor Brown, Erie (No. 156 by Toronto Maple Leafs in '13) — The right wing has hit 100 points in 48 games, becoming the fastest OHLer to do so since Oshawa teammates John Tavares and Brett MacLean did so in 45 and 46 in 2007-08. Brown's exploits are noteworthy, even in a season when scoring in the OHL is up by roughly 5 per cent, give or take some integers.
Hot: Halifax Mooseheads
The Mooseheads are on a seven-game roll heading into 3-in-3 roadie bookended with top-4 matchups at Quebec and Blainville-Boisbriand. All of the main gears are firing, with Darcy Ashley (17 points), Nikolaj Ehlers (17), Drouin (16 in only six games) and overage Brent Andrews enjoying huge months. The one trouble spot is that newcomer Philippe Gadoury was injured by a check to the head last weekend, but hasn't been ruled out of playing this weekend.
Not: Rouyn-Noranda Huskies
The Huskies have dropped out of the league's 'group of nine' due to a four-game skid and 3-7 tailspin over its last 10. Now it's in the grey zone with Cape Breton and Moncton — could push for home ice in the first round, might end up with a dreadful travel itinerary. Discipline and a sputtering power play have been the main culprits; individually, deadline add Jack Nevins, the Montreal Canadiens signed prospect, has only two points through his first eight games in R-N as he adapts to a new team in a new division. Sophomore Francis Perron, the second-best known Q player from Rosemère, Que., is also goal-less in the new year. He's 17 so a slump is understandable, but it hurt when it's the club's third-leading scorer.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Émile Poirier, Gatineau (No. 22 by Calgary Flames in '13) — Poirier's linemate, Montreal Canadiens fourth-rounder Martin Reway, has been out since Jan. 18. Poirier has managed well enough, with four points in three games, including a breathtaking nearly rink-length rush to score in a big game vs. the Quebec Remparts.
Zach Fucale, Halifax (No. 36 by Montreal Canadiens in '13) — Is it kind of a cheat to highlight Fucale since his team is also red-hot? Fucale has a 1.30 average and .938 save percentage since returning from Team Canada. The 18-year-old hasn't seen more than 24 shots in any game, but goalies are supposed to thrive on a certain amount of work, so the string of one-goal games speaks to his focus. Fucale hasn't given up more than three in a game since Nov. 29, which was the weekend prior to Team Canada being named.
Hot: Edmonton Oil Kings
Playing on the international ice surface during the world junior and then re-adjusting to the CHL supposedly can affect performance — not that that's been cited with any Ontario team one can name. Oil Kings leader Curtis Lazar has 13 points in his first eight games back for his most productive month since October when he was freshly returned from the Ottawa Senators. (No NHL hangove either, eh?) Griffin Reinhart is plus-7 over the same span.
The Oil Kings caught the Calgary Hitmen with a thin bench last weekend when it swept a home-and-home (7-3 in Edmonton, 3-2 in OT in the return leg) to take top spot in the Eastern Conference. Nevertheless, the Oil Kings are high up since it has done so well at restocking on the blueline, where 17-year-olds Dysin Mayo and Aaron Irving are maturing well. Cody Corbett is having a commendable overage season, notching a point a game with only 18 PIMs.
Not: Everett Silvertips
The bad news: Everett has lost four in a row and 17-of-22 since the first week of December. The good news is that prior to this latest one-point weekend, coach Kevin Constantine's 'Tips were outshooting opponents on average and were regularly in games that were up for grabs in the third period. The results didn't come; some injuries mounted and that's how a slump happens. Everett's been without its overage defenceman, Matt Pufahl, since Jan. 4 due to a rib injury and strep throat, which has probably affected its power play.
Canadian NHL team prospects
Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert (No. 13 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Morrissey had back-to-back multi-point games for the third time all season, helping the Raiders get 3-of-4 possible points. The 18-year-old was on the ice, however, on Monday night when P.A. coughed a late lead against Prince George and was cut out of a point it vitally needed.
Mitch Moroz, Edmonton (No. 32 by Edmonton Oilers in '12) — The power winger is having his most productive month in the Dub, with 15 points in his first 11 games, including an overtime winner last Sunday. It's the residue of the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Moroz diligently improving his speed on the ice. He and fellow 19-year-old Oil King Henrik Samuelsson, who was taken five picks earlier in '12 by the Phoenix Coyotes, have both developed well.
Nic Petan, Portland (No. 43 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Petan had four points over two Winterhawks wins, giving him 79 in 41 games as he gained on Dub leader Mitch Holmberg of Spokane. Portland has a third consecutive game on Wednesday vs. reeling Everett; Petan had a two-goal night against them last weekend.
Eric Comrie, Tri-City (No. 59 by Winnipeg Jets in '13) — Winnipeg signed Comrie right in time for Christmas and then he got a mercy pull in Portland during the Americans' next game. Since that occasion: 1.39 average and .960 save percentage while facing 35.2 shots per game over his last 10 starts. The 18-year-old is building a case to be the WHL goaltender of the year.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.