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Four weeks to play, four races to watch

 

The 2018-19 Ontario Hockey League season wraps up on Sunday March 17 which means there are only four weekends of action remaining before playoffs.

Here’s a quick look at four different races to watch down the stretch.

Division Crowns:

It won’t be long before you’ll see a ‘y’ next to the ‘x’ attributed to the playoff positions for the Ottawa 67’s and London Knights in the Eastern and Western Conference standings.  The 67’s hold a 16 point lead on the Oshawa Generals for the East Division crown with 10 games to play, while the Knights lead the Guelph Storm in the Midwest by 15 points with 12 games remaining.

The same certainty cannot be said for the Central and West Divisions.

The Niagara IceDogs currently occupy top spot in the Central with 75 points through 56 games and lead the Sudbury Wolves by just one point despite a pair of recent losses to the pack.  They’ll meet one more time on March 8 in St. Catharines.

In the West, the defending division champion Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds have 81 points with a four point edge on the Saginaw Spirit who both have 12 games yet to play.  A quarter of those games are head-to-head including February 27 up north, March 14 in Michigan, and one more in the Soo to end the season on March 17.

Ottawa won three straight East crowns from 2010-2012, with the Knights last claiming the Midwest in back-to-back years 2012-13.  The Greyhounds are chasing their third straight West title and fifth in six years, while it would be Saginaw’s second and first since 2011.  Niagara captured their lone Central Division banner back in 2012, with the Wolves last celebrating in 2001.

Scoring Champion:

Heading into the season’s home stretch the race to determine the league’s scoring champion is still very much an open field that features six players within eight points of each other for first.

Ottawa’s Tye Felhaber (98) has led the way for most of the season and was the league’s first to score 50 goals.  He’s currently two points shy of 100 and three points ahead of Greyhound Morgan Frost (95) who is hot on his heels playing to a league-best 1.94 points-per-game average.  IceDog Jason Robertson (92) just secured his third straight 40-goal campaign, and Hamilton Bulldog Arthur Kaliyev (91) has proven he’s one of the top offensive players in the 2019 NHL Draft class.  Overagers Kevin Hancock (91), with 10 multi-point games since joining the Knights in January, and North Bay Battalion captain Justin Brazeau (90), who has a seven-point game to his credit, are both very much in the mix with their game-breaking potential.

Although less likely to reign supreme, four other players are still very much on the radar to reach 100 points should they maintain their current point-per-game rates.  Oshawa’s Brandon Saigeon (85), Niagara’s Ben Jones (83) and Akil Thomas (81), and Guelph’s Nate Schnarr (81) could score triple digits with the right bounces.

The last time the league saw 10 join the century club in one season was back in 1994-95.  Of the teams with players in the hunt, Ottawa was the last to have an Eddie Powers Memorial Trophy winner when Tyler Toffoli produced 108 back in 2010-11.

Top Rookie:

The last five players to win the Emms Family Award were also the league’s top scoring rookie which makes the final few games intriguing for a handful of players.

Austrian Marco Rossi of the 67’s is a late 2001-born player who has torched the league for 25 goals and 57 points in just 43 games.  Fifth overall pick Cole Perfetti (56) is just one point behind and has the lit the lamp more than any 16-year-old rookie in Spirit history with 25 goals to date.  First overall pick Quinton Byfield (51) has lived up to the hype in Sudbury, while Jacob Perreault (49) of the Sarnia Sting has surprised with 27 goals to lead the class.  Jean-Luc Foudy (42) of the Windsor Spitfires has also impressed with his playmaking ability including a rookie best 36 assists.

Jamie Drysdale (31) just recently set an Erie Otters rookie record for points by a defenceman and leads all first year players at his position.  The last player to win the award and not lead his class in scoring was fellow Otter Connor McDavid in 2013.

Milestones:

While the league has already recognized several players for reaching some prestigious pinnacles this season, the race is on for the list to lengthen when it comes to career points, games, and wins.

Frost (296) and Robertson (292) will almost assuredly join the 300 club for career points recorded brilliantly in just four seasons of play.  Nick Suzuki hit the mark on Monday, while overager Kyle Maksimovich became the first to do so this season with a dramatic hat-trick to seal the deal.

Maksimovich is also one of four players so far this season to join the 300 games played club with a group that includes fellow 67 Felhaber, Matt Hotchkiss of the Kingston Frontenacs, and Oshawa’s Anthony Salinitri.  Saigeon (294) is closing in on the mark for the Generals, as are Chris Paquette (294) of the Peterborough Petes, and Zach Poirier (289) of the Owen Sound Attack.

In goal, Joseph Raaymakers of the London Knights celebrated 100 career wins earlier this season but could soon have company.  While he was just the sixth netminder to achieve century status, Michael DiPietro (95) can certainly get there with the 67’s, as can Matthew Villalta (92) for the Greyhounds.

As far as teams are concerned, 50 wins and 100 points are the crowning achievements.  In Ottawa’s 10 remaining games they need six wins and seven points to meet their marks.  Historically they’ve hit 50 just once back in 1983-84 and 100 points on just three occasions with 104 representing their highest.  The Knights have won 50 games five different times and would have to win 11 of their last 12 to make it six.  They’re 15 points shy of their tenth 100-point campaign since 2003-04.

The 2019 OHL Playoffs open the week of March 18.

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