Technically the most buzzed-about teams right now are forming in preparation for the World Junior Championship in Ufa, Russia. But since none of those squads have played a game yet, let’s shine the spotlight on some other real heavy outfits making noise in the hockey world.
London Knights (OHL)
The Knights have won 18 straight, including a heart-stopping 19-round shootout win versus Mississauga. Overall, the Green and Gold are 26-5-2, which is incredible since they play in the most deadly division in the CHL. The world juniors will pluck away defenders Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington and Nikita Zadorov, so the fun will likely come to a halt for a couple weeks, but you can still watch ultra-skilled 2013 prospect Max Domi.
University of Minnesota Golden Gophers Women (WCHA)
Led by Amanda Kessel’s insane 54 points in 19 games, the Gophers are a perfect 20-0 so far and absolutely destroying teams. Minnesota has outscored its opponents 114-12, which is like a basketball game where people would accuse the winners of poor sportsmanship. As detailed by Michael Traikos, Phil’s little sister is on pace to break the NCAA record for points in a season.
Syracuse Crunch (AHL)
If you go to a Crunch game, you know something’s going to happen and the scoresheet will be filled. Not only can Syracuse score and win, but the top team in the Eastern Conference can also chuck the mitts with the best of them, racking up 597 PIM through 24 games, third in the league. So for every goal by Tyler Johnson, Cory Conacher or Brett Connolly, you can also stand up and cheer the fists of Jared Nightingale, J-P Cote or Pierre-Cedric Labrie.
Dubuque Fighting Saints (USHL)
Though the Saints don’t boast a lot of big names (2013 draft prospect Michael Downing being the most notable), all they do is win – and that is the name of the game. Dubuque now sits at 19-3-1, drastically ahead of the rest of the United States League. They have yet to lose at home and goalie Arthur Brey rocks a 1.60 goals-against average.
Leksand Stars (Swe.)
After just missing out on promotion to the Elite League last year, the Stars are back on a tear, leading Sweden’s second-best circuit, the Allsvenskan, with a 17-7-5 record. Leksand also boasts two of the most exciting prospects in the country in Washington Capitals first-rounder Filip Forsberg and draft eligible Jacob De La Rose. Look for both at the world juniors.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish (CCHA)
Everyone’s smiling in South Bend as the Irish have jumped out to a commanding 9-1-0 record in the conference and 13-4-0 overall. Led by a couple New York Islanders picks – Anders Lee up front and Robbie Russo on the blueline, Notre Dame is outscoring opponents by nearly a 2-to-1 margin in its final year before heading over to the Hockey East conference.
Boston College Eagles (Hockey East)
Waiting for Notre Dame in Hockey East is traditional football rival Boston College and the Eagles won’t lie out a welcome mat. Led by super sophomore John Gaudreau, Boston College is perched atop a very tough conference with an 11-2-1 record and 50-32 goal differential. A pre-New Year’s showdown with Minnesota will be fun to watch.
Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (QMJHL)
At this point, everyone is second to the Halifax Mooseheads, but the Armada are a close second. The BBs have piled on 143 goals versus just 81 surrendered and have managed to maintain their lofty stance even without starting goalie Etienne Marcoux, who was felled by injury in late November. New Jersey Devils first-rounder Stefan Matteau has fared well in his rookie season.
The Jokers are first in Finland’s top league, the SM-Liiga, but the future looks even brighter. The team is loaded with NHL prospects, from Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo to Dallas defenseman Esa Lindell. Up front, there’s Detroit winger Teemu Pulkkinen, Chicago first-rounder Teuvo Teravainen and gritty Phoenix pick Alexander Ruuttu. This year’s draft eligible class includes forwards Aleksi Mustanen and Saku Salminen. As for star power now, Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson has been on the scene.
Avangard Omsk (KHL)
Sergei Kostitsyn has been lightning for the squad and earned himself a starting spot at the KHL All-Star Game for his troubles. Though Omsk doesn’t have the same star power as other teams, the team is fun to watch, outscoring opponents 103-83 and winning eight games in either overtime or the shootout. Avangard is tied for first in the Eastern Conference.