Portland, Halifax, London hold ground in BTN Dynamic Dozen

The much-debated practice of granting a division winner home-ice advantage for at least two rounds of playoffs might come under scrutiny in the OHL. Or at least it ought to, as reflected in the past two Dynamic Dozen rankings.

The OHL's Midwest, for the second week in row, has four teams among our top 12. The ranking tends to create clusters of division rivals, but it matches what is unfolding on each side of the Ontario league. London, Owen Sound, Kitchener and Guelph own the four best records in the Western Conference. Similarly, Central Division peers Barrie, Mississauga and Niagara are the top three in the Eastern.

A while back, the WHL decided to re-seed for the second round of the playoffs according to point totals. It is not new to have one division's second-best team boast a stronger record than the winner of the conference's other division, but the lopsidedness this season is rather obvious. On with the rankings!

1. Portland Winterhawks, WHL (.599 RPI, 2.3 SRS, —)Playing angry in the wake of BenefitGate sustained them through the first week without coach-GM-cause célèbre Mike Johnston. The question now is how long they can sustain that edge through the last eight games before the break, especially once Team Canada aspirants Derrick Pouliot, Ty Rattie and Tyler Wotherspoon jet for Calgary at the end of this week.

Incidentally, you know the recruiting expression that a player picks a coach as much as a team? As Seth Jones tells it, that was exactly why he went to Portland after Everett, which took him in the bantam draft, had coaching and general-manager changes.

2. Halifax Mooseheads, QMJHL (.580 RPI, 1.8 SRS, —) — The main Moose point is to watch how goalie Zachary Fucale produces after being left out of Team Canada's selection camp. Remember Nathan MacKinnon going off for a five-goal night right after last year's camp roster was announced?

Both the past and next couple weeks should stress-test Halifax's depth, since its entire first line could be away with Martin Frk set to play again for the Czech Republic in the IIHF World U20 Championship. To its credit, Halifax has covered well for No. 1 defenceman Konrad Abeltshauser's absense.

3. London Knights, OHL (.580 RPI, 1.5 SRS, —) — They might never lose again! Feel free to start an office pool asking people to pick when the Knights could be defeated.

The big takeaway from the end of London's week might have been the rejuvenation of the Ruperts, right wing Matt Rupert and Toronto Maple Leafs-drafted centre Ryan Rupert. Both have been injured this season, but they seemed to double-shift in the third period of that epic shootout game in Mississauga when the Knights were playing their third game in 2½ days. Meantime, thanks to Hockey Canada, the Knights will keep the Alex Broadhurst-Seth Griffith-Max Domi line together for a couple weeks yet.

4. Spokane Chiefs, WHL (.570 RPI, 1.2 SRS, +1) — Tuesday's so-called 'reunion game' in Prince Albert features the toughest opponent Spokane has left on their six-game Prairie odyssey. How well the Chiefs handle the attrition across a four-games-in-five-nights stretch remains to be seen, of course. Three of the four WHL teams ranked this week have a long roadie before the holiday break; the only one who doesn't is the team everyone hates. By the way, 17-year-old defenceman Tyler King was not one of the 25 WHL skaters in NHL Central Scouting's preliminary ranking, but his 13 points and plus-14 as Brendan Kichton's D partner bear noting.

5. Blainville-Boisbriand Armada, QMJHL (.568 RPI, 1.4 SRS, +1) — Can 17-year-old goalie Storm Phaneuf tide them over until for a month without having Team Canada-bound Xavier Ouellet as a security blanket? It is high-handed to take one game as an omen, but Phaneuf and B-B suffered a 7-6 shootout loss to Drummondville after starting 'tender Étienne Marcoux went down with a shoulder injury. The Armada have a tough homestand ahead that includes the surging tide known as the Rimouski Océanic and high-scoring Val-d'Or.

6. Kelowna Rockets, WHL (.565 RPI, 1.3 SRS, -2) — This is a calm before the storm week for coach Ryan Huska's troops, with two likely winnable home games vs. Swift Current and Prince George ahead of a five-game road stretch against Eastern Conference opponents. That could put a dent in the Rockets' record since five road games in six days is a lot to ask. A couple losses should not diminish that this is a decent team whose defence corps (Damon Severson, Madison Bowey, Cole Martin, Mitch Wheaton, MacKenzie Johnston, et al.) may not be getting enough credit.

7. Owen Sound Attack, OHL (.561 RPI, 1.1 SRS, +1) — Having star centre Daniel Catenacci go away to try out for Team Canada next week could be a blessing, since it might allow GM Dale DeGray to appraise his trade-deadline needs. The Attack could use another scorer, since there is no guarantee of Catenacci, Cameron Brace and Gemel Smith (currently on a seven-game drought) all staying slump-free.

8. Kitchener Rangers, OHL (.555 RPI, 0.7 SRS, +2) — The Blueshirts are depleted, with reports indicating that two of their world junior-bound standouts, goalie John Gibson and wing Tobias Rieder, could be shut down until they join teams USA and Germany, respectively. Kitchener has managed to keep its head above water thanks in large part to Franky Palazzese, the best starting goalie in the OHL who is not a starter.

Tuesday is the Rangers' Teddy Bear Toss game and leading goal scorer Matt Puempel is scratched. Here is hoping the fans don't have to hold on to the stuffed animals for too long. Maybe they can throw them during the Timbits game.

9. Tri-City Americans, WHL (.553 RPI, 0.5 SRS, +2) — Six of the Ams' last seven games have been one-goal contests. They traded last-minute game-winners; Kamloops' Chase Souto beat them with 38 seconds left one night; but rookie Beau McCue scored short-handed with six seconds left to beat Vancouver the next night. That staved off a winless week for Tri-City, which has back-to-back divisional games vs. Seattle and Portland this week. At this point, it's fair to ask whether the high-ranked U.S. Division teams are all that good or get pulled up by how frequently they face the Winterhawks.

10. Kamloops Blazers, WHL (.552 RPI, 0.8 SRS, -1) — They sure have come back to earth, with just five wins in 14 games since the 14-game win streak. Did that run inculcate a false sense of security, because that can sure be read into coach Guy Charron's summation in the hometown broadsheet: "We just aren't getting sustained effort ... You can't ask any more from Smitty [centre Colin Smith]. But there are others ... consequently we have to shorten the bench. We have some guys who haven't scored in some time. They have to go the net and create things."

The Blazers have a light week before JC Lipon leaves for Team Canada's selection camp. Next week could be rough — a 4-in-5 gauntlet through Alberta without a big part of their top line.

11. Baie-Comeau Drakkar, QMJHL (.543 RPI, 0.9 SRS, -4) — A season has a flow and the Drakkar felt buoyed by having an 18-shot third period last Sunday against Quebec during their fourth consecutive loss. They could beat the Remparts' François Brassard, but it is a sign they are working through the frustration. A week that includes dates with lowly Gatineau and Cape Breton should be good for what ails the Drakkar.

12. Guelph Storm, OHL (.542 RPI, 0.7 SRS, —) — Embarking on a big week with tilts against the aforementioned Rangers and Attack. It is a high-rent neighbourhood for a team such as the Storm which can run hot and cold, but they are starting to stabilize, thanks in large part to contributors such as 18-year-old defenceman Zac Leslie.

The not as dynamic but still very distinguished dozen — 13. Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL (.541 RPI, +1); 14. Prince Albert Raiders, WHL (.537 RPI, +1); 15. Seattle Thunderbirds, WHL (.536 RPI, +7); 16. Barrie Colts, OHL (.536 RPI, —); 17. Edmonton Oil Kings, WHL (.531 RPI, -4); 18. Brampton Battalion, OHL (.526 RPI, +5); 19. Sarnia Sting, OHL (.524 RPI, +6); 20. Drummondville Voltigeurs, QMJHL (.524 RPI, +1); 21. Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, QMJHL (.523 RPI, -1); 22. Plymouth Whalers, OHL (.520 RPI, +2); 23. Québec Remparts, QMJHL (.518 RPI, -6); 24. Red Deer Rebels, WHL (.518 RPI, +2).

Hot team — Moose Jaw Warriors, up 9 (47th to 38th).

Cold team — Mississauga Steelheads, down 8 (18th to 26th).

Nowhere to go but up — Peterborough Petes (.408).

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.

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