TORONTO - From the outside, Mark Scheifele's emotional ride, starting first with the Winnipeg Jets before detouring to Alberta for the world junior tourney, would appear to have caught up with him.
But neither Scheifele nor his coach with the Barrie Colts, Dale Hawerchuk, would agree with that assessment even though his point total has slowed to a trickle over the last seven weeks. In 16 games since Jan. 12, the Jets' first-rounder has just three goals and six assists, although he has recorded a point in each of the Colts' last three games.
"I think he went through a little funk after the world juniors," Hawerchuk said. "He's had a lot of hockey over the course of the year. But he's been playing well (lately), a complete game."
The lack of production by Scheifele hasn't hurt the Colts during that stretch. They've won 10 of the last 16 and are riding a three-game winning streak after putting up a trio of W's over the weekend, including a sweep of an important home-and-home set with their Eastern Conference rivals, the Oshawa Generals, that solidified their hold on a playoff berth.
And the dry spell certainly hasn't had a negative affect on Scheifele's confidence, even though he's noticed opponents are paying closer attention to him now than ever before.
"Right now I'm just not getting the bounces," he said. "I could have four or five points every night. I'm getting the chances so I'm not too worried about it. (Tight checking) is something you have to try to overcome. You have to be able to take those challenges and roll with it. I've taken it pretty good.
"You have to take the team perspective and do anything it takes to win."
Still, you have to wonder if the wave of emotions is finally catching up to the 18-year-old from Kitchener, Ont.
Scheifele started the season on a high with the Jets, playing seven games and scoring his first NHL goal, before being returned to the Colts, a demotion that can briefly suck the life out of any player. Then, after making the Canadian junior team, another significant high, he experienced the crushing disappointment of missing out on a gold medal at the world juniors.
Combined, that's an awfully heavy emotional burden for anyone, especially a teenager who hasn't even finished his second season of junior.
"Both those experiences were really good," he said, dismissing any notion that it's wearing on him. "I think it's something you have to deal with if you want to become a pro."
So don't expect Scheifele to book a couple sessions with Dr. Phil any time soon. It's not necessary, Hawerchuk said.
"Mark is so enthusiastic about playing the game," he said. "It's obviously served him well up to now and going into the future. When you start playing the game every day, you'd better love it."
NIAGARA'S MR. CLEAN
If strong goaltending is indeed needed to win in the playoffs, watch out for the Niagara IceDogs.
'Cuz there's none hotter than IceDogs stopper Mark Visentin.
Visentin recorded his OHL-record 10th shutout of the season Saturday in Sault Ste. Marie. That's 10 shutouts in 36 starts, which translates to one ever 3.6 games.
The record Visentin eclipsed stood for more than 60 years. The previous league high of nine was set by Don Lockhart of the Toronto Marlboros during the 1949-50 season.
But it gets even better.
Six of Visentin's blankings have come in his last 10 starts. All told, he's allowed just nine goals over that span. Both of those are incredible numbers in any league.
With 12 games left in the regular season, it's not inconceivable that Visentin could finish with 13 or 14 shutouts if the IceDogs keep backup goalie Chris Festarini on the bench.
AROUND THE O
Wonder if there's some hand-wringing going on around the Plymouth Whalers camp. The West Division leaders lost to rebuilding teams in back-to-back games by a combined score of 14-2 over the weekend. Windsor beat the Whalers 5-1 then Guelph, the ninth-place team in the Western Conference, hung a 9-1 loss on them the next night. Talk about ugly ... According to a report in the Erie Times-News, the Otters have approached the Erie County Convention Center Authority about extending their lease at the Tullio Arena for another year. The team's lease expires at the end of the season and despite the report, which led some to believe a deal was done, whispers continue that the franchise will be heading out of Erie before the 2012-13 season. Hamilton is the rumoured destination for the Sherry Bassin-run team ... How tight is the Eastern Conference playoff race? The St. Mike's Majors went from ninth to sixth in the course of one day Monday. They beat Sudbury 3-1 while Oshawa, Peterborough and Belleville all lost. The Bulls are now the odd-team out ... Ottawa 67's forward Shane Prince has a league-best 18-game point streak going. He's racked up 18 goals and 35 points during that stretch. Prince, Saginaw's Brandon Saad (15 games), Sudbury's Michael Sgarbossa (14), Owen Sound's Mike Halmo (12) and Niagara's Ryan Strome (12) all have double-digit point streaks going.