In the Ontario Hockey League’s Eastern Conference, where only the Sudbury Wolves are eliminated from playoff contention, there is a dandy race going on.
Mere points are what separate the Niagara IceDogs, Belleville Bulls, Kingston Frontenacs, Mississauga Steelheads and Peterborough Petes as the five teams are in a frantic fight for the final two playoff spots in the Eastern block.
With games in hand on the others, Kingston appears to have the most-favourable schedule of the five. And the Frontenacs could greatly benefit from the return of two top forwards from the injured list.
High-end left winger Spencer Watson recently returned to the Kingston lineup after missing more than 25 games on the injured list. And the possibility remains that star centre Sam Bennett — a first-round National Hockey League draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2014 — could soon return to the Frontenacs lineup. Bennett has yet to play in 2014-2015 because of a shoulder injury.
Speaking of Kingston, while the Frontenacs are getting healthier in the veteran forward department, rookie centre Zack Dorval has been opening a few eyes with his play of late.
The feisty Dorval, who was Kingston’s second-round pick from the Soo Thunder minor midgets at the 2014 OHL draft, had a two-point game earlier this week as the Frontenacs fashioned a clutch, narrow win over Peterborough. As a fourth-liner, Dorval may not have big points to show but both Frontenacs head coach Paul McFarland and assistant coach John Goodwin have praised the youngster for his work ethic and effort and say he is making very good progress as a 16-year old just out of minor midget hockey.
At any rate, while the playoff race for the final spots in the Western Conference is not as torrid, other battles are.
Soo Greyhounds and Erie Otters are neck and neck for first place and behind those two, the London Knights, Guelph Storm and Kitchener Rangers are part of a hotly-contested chase for third.
To be sure, the Greyhounds are the team to beat in the OHL’s Western world. As long as goalie Brandon Halverson makes all the routine saves — which is always easier said than done — the Greyhounds do appear to have an overall edge on Erie in the offensive and defensive depth charts.