We have finally made it to the holiday break, which actually isn’t much of a break for many teams. 10 of the 12 Alliance squads will be participating in the Toronto Marlboros Holiday Classic, with just the Chatham-Kent Cyclones and the Lambton Jr. Sting skipping out on the tournament.
The new year will bring plenty of battles and lots of exciting play in the Alliance loop. While the eight teams that will be advancing to the playdowns seems to get clearer and clearer every day, it is the battle for positioning that should take us down to the wire. Add in the new postseasons twist of the “consolation” playoff winner having a shot at an OHL Cup Wildcard spot and there is lots of meaningful hockey ahead.
With only a month left to play, here is what I think the opening round of the playdowns will look like.
Brantford vs Huron-Perth
London vs Chatham-Kent
Windsor vs Cambridge
Kitchener vs Waterloo
Now here is the final team rankings for the year of 2018.
1 – Kitchener Jr. Rangers (4)
Kitchener has finally found the stride they have been looking for all season as the team has put together quite the run. Kitchener has not lost in league play since a loss to London over a month ago. Add in their run to the finals of the Gold Puck tournament and there is lots to like about this team heading into the final weeks of the year. The biggest improvement looks to be on defense as Luc Brzustowski has emerged as a key piece and has started climbing the ranks among defense in the loop. Kitchener will have the benefit of home ice in four of their final six games to end the year as they try to gain home ice in the postseason.
2 – Brantford 99ers (3)
The 99ers jump up to the 2nd spot as they continue to put up wins and increase their lead atop the standings. Brantford went 4-1 over the past couple of weeks which included a big home ice win over Windsor, redemption for their Showcase loss earlier in the month. It’s interesting to note that in their last couple of games I’ve seen, the coaching staff has put Maddox Callens, Landon McCallum and Steven Laforme all on separate lines as they try to run three lines with scoring threats. Brantford should be a legitimate contender to move out of round robin play at the Marlies tournament.
3 – Windsor Jr. Spitfires (2)
Windsor drops down a single spot as their schedule becomes very crowded once the calendar turns to 2019. Windsor has 9 games left in their Alliance season schedule in the final 23 days of the season. Six of those eight games are against teams on the outside of the playdown picture, giving Windsor a good chance at soaring up the standings. The play of Ray Hamlin has certainly taken off over the past couple of weeks while Nicholas Beneteau could be an X factor for Windsor heading into January.
4 – Waterloo Wolves (1)
Waterloo drops out of the top spot after an up and down past couple of weeks. The Gold Puck tournament was a disappointment as teams always want to perform well at their hosted tournaments. Meanwhile in league play, the Wolves took down Brantford on home ice, only to drop a road tilt to Elgin the following night. A split with Sun County and the Wolves will try to regroup in the new year. The Wolves also have plenty of home ice in January with five of their final eight games taking place at RIM Park.
5 – London Jr. Knights (5)
London remains in the fifth spot although they have started to show signs of breaking out. As Brett Harrison continues to put up points at a pace not seen since a Jr. Knight by the name of Nick Suzuki, the Jr. Knights have been helped out by their depth players as both Jordan D’Intino and Kieran Black, key pieces at bantam last season, have missed large chunks of the season. Cole Watson has stepped up and is now in double digits in goals while 04 born Bryce McConnell-Barker and Dylan Roobroeck have shown well in their limited action. Having played a season high 29 games already this season, where London ends up in the standings could be completely out of their hands.
6 – Chatham-Kent Cyclones (7)
If your pick for hottest team in the Alliance isn’t Kitchener, it most certainly would be Chatham. Following a horrific start to the season, the Cyclones have battled back and are not only in the playdown picture, but securing their spot win after win. The next goal for Chatham is to chase down Cambridge in the standings as the Hawks sit four points ahead. Ethan Labbe has played very well over the past couple months and has established himself as the key starter in net. Deni Goure is the go to option, but Nicholas Mazza and Daniel Fraleigh have been key contributors during this stretch.
7 – Cambridge Hawks (6)
The Hawks are in an interesting spot as they are just five points ahead of Huron-Perth for the 8th spot in the Alliance, they are also seven points out of first so the final month will be key. Strong play from the Hawks could result in a run that sees home ice in the opening round. Poor play and the Hawks could have a tough test come the beginning of February. A consistent lineup has been difficult for the Hawks as key players like Mateo Amaral and Matthew Dimaline have each missed chunks of games. The goaltending duo of Ben Bates and Max Tremblay has been a 50/50 split thus far, but look for Bates and his stellar play to begin to make it more of a 60/40 split down the stretch.
8 – Huron-Perth Lakers (8)
The Lakers continued to struggle as their schedule slowly gets back to a normal pace. Their home game against Windsor on December 23rd was their first game on home ice since October 27th. The Lakers have lost three in a row and seven of their last ten. The Lakers have scored just 22 goals in that ten game stretch (which includes a six goal output in one game) so the offense continues to be where the area of opportunity is. Camden Daigle and Cole Medlady will be relied upon heavily for future Lakers success.
9 – Elgin Middlesex Chiefs (9)
The Chiefs may be starting to come to life, but the question is whether it’s too little too late. Elgin has had a couple of great performances in the last couple weeks in a win over Waterloo and a thrashing of HPL. Ryan Burke continues to put up numbers that put him in the conversation for the top tier of skaters in the association. Elgin is a prime candidate for a run through the playoff round of the Alliance postseason and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them near the end, fighting for an OHL Cup wildcard berth.
10 – Sun County Panthers (12)
It is these bottom three spots that seem to flip flop every rankings I put out. The Panthers jump from the basement to 10th off a 3-2 run over the past couple weeks that included wins over Waterloo, Elgin and Waterloo. The Panthers success is based on the performance of a key group of individuals. The likes of Blake Boudreau, Patrick McManus, Trevor Larue and Josh Cyrenne keep the engine going. With only four games remaining, it appears that SCP has locked themselves into 10th place for the rest of the season.
11 – Lambton Jr. Sting (10)
Tough go lately for Lambton with a winless 0-4 run since December 5th. The Jr. Sting have won only twice since the Kitchener Showcase back in September. While Lambton doesn’t have a premier scorer on their roster, they have shown that when they do score goals, it is spread out amongst their forwards with six skaters accounting for 83% of the Lambton offense. While a spoiler role may not be what Lambton is made for down the stretch, some tweaks can be made to make at least a 2nd round run in the Alliance playoffs.
12 – Hamilton Huskies (11)
After a week away from the bottom, Hamilton has returned to 12th in these rankings. The Huskies went 0-4 over the past couple weeks, although it should be noted that their four games came against arguably the four best teams in the Alliance. It has been a tough last couple of years for the Huskies, but relief could be on the horizon and we have been getting a sneak peak this season. 2004 born Justin Dezoete has come up and looked great, putting up three goals and five points in six games while Tyson Wassink has also appeared in a couple of games. If the Huskies can keep the group together (with the open Hamilton borders and all), then I expect much better days ahead in 2019/20.