Today's top ten looks at ten games which you should be watching this season. If you notice, there are no games in September and no games in December. This is intentional. I'm not saying you shouldn't be watching OHL hockey in those two months, but that if I had to watch only 10 games this year, they wouldn't fall in September and December. September serves as the opening few weeks of the season as teams are still scrambling to see which players will be returning from NHL camps. A lot of key players are missing and there isn't a ton of team chemistry yet. While December serves as the disappearing act for many of the league's top players. Those invited to World Junior camps will take off for an extended absence (some longer than others), while the best rookies will leave for the Under 17 World Hockey Challenge.
That leaves us with games in October, November, January, February, and March that you should be watching!
Saturday, October 16 - Oshawa Generals @ Niagara IceDogs
There are a few reasons to watch this game. One, both of these teams should be much improved this season and will push for home ice advantage in the playoffs. There will be a lot of offensive firepower profiled in the game too. Secondly, I'm incredibly curious as to the reception that Lucas Lessio gets in Niagara. If you recall, Lessio was a Dogs first rounder who failed to report and was subsequently traded to Oshawa (for a king's ransom). He'll be a great player in this league and I think it'll be interesting to see if he hears the boos.
Thursday, November 4 - Kitchener Rangers @ London Knights
The Rangers return to the John Labatt Centre, the scene of last year's ugly Game 7 during the Western Conference Semi-finals. Kitchener smoked the Knights at home by a score of 8-3 and moved on to the Western Conf. final. This season, these two teams should battle for the Midwest division yet again, and this early season tilt should have a lot of energy and passion. You know the Knights are going to be looking for revenge. Also interesting to note, that by this time the Carolina Hurricanes would have played 12 games. It's likely by this time that the Rangers will either have Jeff Skinner back or learn that he'll be sticking in Carolina all season.
Saturday, November 13 - Sarnia Sting @ Belleville Bulls
On paper this might seem like an odd pick for a game of the year, but let me explain. Firstly, you're looking at two of the most exciting young teams in the league doing battle for only one of two times on the year. This game will feature a LOT of talent available for the 2011 NHL Entry Draft (Ritchie, Francisco, Brasserd, Curtis, Teichmann, etc) and you know NHL scouts have this one circled on their schedule. Secondly, I can't wait to see how Nail Yakupov and Alex Galchenyuk look on the big ice in Belleville. These are two of the fastest skaters in the league and they'll have a lot of room to move around. Could mean for some exciting things.
Sunday, January 16 - Ottawa 67's @ Mississauga St. Michael's Majors
While it's early to make predictions (we do it anyway), you have to think that these two teams will be up near the thick of things in the Eastern Conference. It's even likely that on January 16, this battle could be played between the two Division leaders in the East. The 67's should come out hard as they look to try and prove that they're right up there with the Memorial Cup hosts. Also interesting to see will be how the Majors look after the OHL trade deadline, which will fall sometime in the week of this game.
Friday, January 28 - Windsor Spitfires @ Kitchener Rangers
Who knows what the Spitfires will look like at the end of January or whether they're even in serious contention for their division. But I'm excited to see this one because the Rangers will be out looking for revenge on last year's collapse in the Western Conference final when Kitchener had Windsor at 3 games to 0 and the Spits won four straight to take the series and eventually the Memorial Cup. If the Rangers truly are the better team this year, they're going to look to hammer home the point by lambasting the Spits into the ground.
Thursday, February 10 - Guelph Storm @ Peterborough Petes
Probably another odd selection on paper. So let me explain. I see this match up focusing on what is likely to be the two most dangerous first lines in the OHL. Holland, Latta and Beck versus Watson, Puempel and Spooner. That's a damn exciting match up and it'll be great to see those two lines go head to head. Hopefully Peterborough figures out their goaltending situation by then!
Friday, February 18 - Mississauga Majors @ Kitchener Rangers
Preview of the OHL final? Preview of the Memorial Cup final? Who really knows, but pretty much every preseason prognostication by any prognosticator worth listening to had these two teams fighting it out for the OHL title. February 18 is about a month after the OHL trade deadline, so it also means that these two juggernauts will be icing the teams they'll be taking into battle for the playoffs.
Wednesday, March 9 - Ottawa 67's @ Kingston Frontenacs
Could this game decide the East division? There's a distinct possibility. Things are going to be very tight in the East Division this year with all five teams having a chance at taking it. But many believe these two to be the cream of the crop and the two teams ultimately having the best chance. March 9 will be the last time these two teams play each other and even if they don't end up being the top two teams in the division, this match up could still have severe playoff seeding implications.
Wednesday, March 16 - Kitchener Rangers @ Guelph Storm
Let the battle for Highway 7 continue! Seriously though, as much as these two teams hate each other, this match up could ultimately be huge for playoff seeding. The Rangers and Storm (along with London) are probably the top competitors for the Midwest Division and this end of the year game could possibly even have divisional implications.
Thursday, March 17 - Saginaw Spirit @ Windsor Spitfires
Not only could this late season match up have serious divisional implications, but it also pits former Team USA members Brandon Saad and Jack Campbell against each other. Along with Kenny Ryan, Vincent Trocheck and Nick Ebert, this game will also feature a ton of American talent (some of the best in the OHL).
So are you marking down these dates in your calendar yet?