Buzzing The Net - Junior Hockey

Kelowna Rockets within sniffing distance of lead pack: BTN Dynamic Dozen

No wonder the Saskatoon Blades gave the Kelowna Rockets so much room during the final night of the WHL's first half.

Coach Ryan Huska's Rockets have had some white-knuckle rides during their 13-game road win streak, but had an easy time winning 7-1 at Saskatoon earlier this week. As it turned out, part of respecting the streak meant a moratorium on laundering their team sweaters during an eight-day, six-game trip through the Prairies.

From Regan Bartel:

The Rockets wore the same home white jerseys for every game on the trip. What no one knew externally was those jerseys were never washed during the road trip. Nope, not once. Oh ya, they smelled putrid, but that’s the point. It was all about winning dirty and winning greasy. Playing minor hockey, all these players likely washed their jerseys once every two weeks tops. The last time the Rockets took a similar path is when they didn’t wash their jerseys in 2005-2006 and again ran the table with six consecutive wins on the Eastern Division road trip. (Regan's Rant)

Sweat-soaked jerseys that spent endless hours packed away in the luggage hold of the team bus? Ewww. Someone outside the Rockets' inner sanctum might have got a whiff of what was up.

On with the calendar year's last look at the top quintile of the CHL. Happy holidays.

1. London Knights, OHL (.615 RPI, +2.1 SRS, —) — So what will London do at the trade deadline in three weeks? Virtually every top-echelon 19-year-old scorer is with a contender unless the definition of such is stretched to include Owen Sound's Gemel Smith or Plymouth's Ryan Hartman, who are 25th and 71st in league scoring. (Hartman has been hampered by a wrist injury.) Finding that complementary part might be difficult.

2. Erie Otters, OHL (.598 RPI, +2.3 SRS, —)Dane Fox's goal-scoring pace works out to 79.66 over a 68-game season, but please don't presume that means the overage centre is on an 80-goal pace. There's regression, plus the fact Fox has benefited from the unbalanced schedule, with 27 goals in Erie's 19 games against Eastern Conference teams. That works out to 14 goals in 16 games vs. Western teams, which means he could still be leading the league, just not by such a wide margin over Sudbury's 32-goal man Nathan Pancel.

3. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.593 RPI, +1.8 SRS, —) — Any team would look vulnerable without five of its top six scorers. Portland had three players away at the world U20 championship last season, including Seth Jones, and it went undefeated over the stretch as part of a win streak that stretched from Dec. 8 until Jan. 17. The difference is a tougher schedule this time around, but at least the tertiary forwards such as Paul Bittner and Chase De Leo will get some extended minutes.

4. Guelph Storm, OHL (.584 RPI, +2.2 SRS, —) — So much for the Storm being better off since it has only two world junior players vis-a-vis Erie's four and London's five. Second-round NHL picks Brock McGinn (three weeks, wrist) and Tyler Bertuzzi (head/neck, no timetable) are each out until well into January. Ryan Horvat, a key depth forward, is also sitting until Jan. 5 due to a suspension for shooting a puck into the crowd. That will take the shine off of shutting out high-powered Erie last week.

5. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.582 RPI, +1.6 SRS, +1) — Kelowna's combo of living on the margins and being 28th CHL-wide in strength of schedule is why it's fifth in RPI while being first overall in the Dub by eight points. The Rockets are really, really strong, with a balanced offence complemented by overage goalie Jordon Cooke. The 13-game road streak has included some charmed moments, particularly a last-minute two-goal rally to win at Brandon last Friday and some Myles Bell overtime dramatics in Regina. The law of averages might catch up to Kelowna eventually, but until such time, marvel at a team winning 13 in a row on the road. The league mark is 20, incidentally.

6. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.568 RPI, +0.8 SRS, +1) — Seattle belongs on merit after ending the first half on a 9-1-0-0 spurt while having five forwards go down, including 16-year-old standout Mathew Barzal. Over the last week, they became the first team to beat Portland after trailing through two periods.

(It's early to say whether Barzel being banged up will prevents scouts from him and fellow No. 1 overall pick Tyler Benson on the same team at the world under-17 tournament.)

7. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.567 RPI, +1.2 SRS, -2) — Should we presume a no/non vote from B-B if the day ever comes that the league considers adding shootouts in the playoffs? The Armada lost the tiebreaker twice last weekend and went 0-for-10 against Rouyn-Noranda's Alexandre Bélanger and Acadie-Bathurst's 17-year-old Mason McDonald, who has the most Maritimes name in major junior. Those are the breaks; the Armada still ended up with a four-point week despite a bunch of injuries up front.

8. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.558 RPI, +1.0 SRS, —) — Spokane is fine so long as the Mike Aviani-Mitch Holmberg-Eric Williams overage trio keeps producing; Aviani was the last CHL player of the week of the calendar year and Williams recovered from a short lapse to post three wins last week. The other positive part of their 3-0 week was the Spokane managed to cover for the absence of the goalless wonder, captain Reid Gow, who has not played this month due to an upper-body injury.

9. Val-d'Or Foreurs, QMJHL (.552 RPI, +1.3 SRS, —) — The Foreurs got 3-of-4 points and scored 11 goals over the first two games after seeing Anthony Mantha off to Team Canada, as Louick Marcotte and Guillaume Gélinas moved into second and third in league scoring. Val-d'Or's given up 17 goals over its last four games, which isn't a great trend heading into a weekend that includes a divisional showdown vs. Gatineau.

10. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.548 RPI, +0.8 SRS, —) — The Volts might have already made their big move with the Frédérick Gaudreau trade, which has (so far) cost both first- and second-rounders over the next two drafts. Meantime, Drummondville needs a sweep of its final two games to avoid relinquishing the gain it made with a shutout on the road at Gatineau last weekend.

11. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.544 RPI, +1.3 SRS, +1) — Buoyed by Montreal Canadiens pick Jérémy Grégoire's most productive weekend since early November and a power play that converted twice in successive games, Baie-Comeau is within striking distance of first overall, three points behind B-B.

12. Victoria Royals, WHL (.540 RPI, +0.6 SRS, +11) — The Royals series' vs. Prince George on the weekend after Christmas matches up two teams who each made a double-digit climb up the RPI ladder last week, rising 11 and 13 slots respectively. Victoria made a strong statement by beating Edmonton to finish off the first half, but even more impressively, it's made a move despite various injuries and suspensions to scoring leaders Logan Nelson and Brandon Magee. Forward Jack Walker stepped in with three goals in the past four games, including a beauty in that Edmonton game.

The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Everett Silvertips, WHL (.532, +2); 14. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.531, -3); 15. Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL (.529, -2); 16. Windsor Spitfires, OHL (.528, -2); 17. Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL (.524, -1); 18. Calgary Hitmen, WHL (.523, +6); 19. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.521, -1); 20. Oshawa Generals, OHL (.521, +1); 21. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.518, +1); 22. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.517, -2); 23. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.516, -6); 24. Rimouski Océanic, QMJHL (.515, +1).

Hot team — Prince George Cougars, up 13 (42nd to 29th).

Cold team — Prince Albert Raiders, down 15 (33rd to 48th).

Nowhere to go but up — Saint John Sea Dogs (.402).

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), a ranking which combines 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. 17. The Dynamic Dozen and CHL Hot & Cold will return Jan. 6-7, following the world junior championship.)

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