Thursday, May 30, 2013

Coaching Carousel

There were two significant coaching moves made while I was out talking about the Memorial Cup and a team rebranding in the QMJHL.  First, let's address the picture above, where the New York Rangers are looking for a new coach after giving John Tortorella his walking papers.  In five seasons, he led the team to four playoffs appearances, with a Conference Finals appearance in 2012.  However, the team played considerably less than what they were capable of in this year's playoffs, which was exposed in a five game ouster by the Bruins.  For all of the media bytes and abrasive behavior, the on-ice product is where it all counts, and not getting the best out of the likes of Rick Nash and Brad Richards is not a recipe for success.  The Rangers' job will obviously be an attractive job, as it is in a big market and a team with high visibility in the NHL, but will also come with risks, as the media pressure will be immense.

The other coaching change officially happened on Tuesday, as the Colorado Avalanche named Patrick Roy coach.  He will also assume the role of Vice President of Hockey Operations, which may sound like a lot, but he will have a partner in Joe Sakic, who was recently promoted to Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations.  Roy had been a head coach of the Quebec Remparts since 2005, and is a co-owner of the team.  His time as coach isn't without controversy, as there had been a few incidents in which either he or his two sons, Jonathan and Frederick, found trouble with either the league or the law for on-ice transgressions.  As head coach of the Avs, Roy will provide a good fit, as the team is young and has the first overall pick in this year's draft, which is likely Seth Jones, as the blue line is the team's most glaring need.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Rocket No More

Though this falls outside of what I normally cover (WHL and Peterborough Petes hockey, currently), today is noteworthy as the team formerly known as the PEI (Prince Edward Island) Rocket got rebranded yesterday in a press conference.  From this point on, they will be known as the Charlottetown Islanders, and will be sporting the logo you see in the picture.  Originally known as the Montreal Rocket when they formed in 1999, they were named after Montreal Canadiens legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard.  In 2003, the Rocket moved to Charlottetown, PEI, where they retained the Rocket name and had this logo for the duration of the Rocket tenure:

Now, the team will go as the Charlottetown Islanders, with a color scheme similar to the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Uniform unveiling will happen at a later date.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Winterhawks Weekly: See You Next Fall!

With the Memorial Cup tournament wrapped up, the Portland Winterhawks didn't come away with the ultimate prize, but the journey in getting there is one that won't soon be forgotten.  So, what are they to do in the hope of making it back-to-back-to-back-to-back as Western Conference champions and repeat as Ed Chynoweth Trophy winners?  Let's look at the roster this year and where each is expected to be next year.


Mac Carruth-overager who will definitely start in the Chicago Blackhawks' farm system.
Brendan Burke-Eligible for the 2013 Draft, and is expected back as the starter.  Started this season slowly, but gained confidence as the season went on, which bodes well for his development.
Jarrod Schamerhorn-Did not see the ice at all, as both Carruth and Burke logged much of the ice time in goal.  Will be a backup next season.


Troy Rutkowski-overager who will start in the Ottawa Senators' farm system.
Seth Jones-Likely top three pick in this year's draft and probably played his last junior league game on Sunday.
Josh Hanson-Will return and could have a larger role next season.
Shaun MacPherson-Is likely to have a larger role next season with three of the top defensemen likely headed to the pros, played pretty well when given a chance.
Tyler Wotherspoon-Probably headed to the pros, since Calgary needs help on the blue line.  Could also end up in the minors for further seasoning.
Kiril Vorobev-Another player who could see significant ice time next season.
Layne Viveiros-Will benefit from more playing time, as the Winterhawks will need someone to step into a top-four spot.
Keoni Texeira-first round pick in last year's Bantam Draft, is expected to challenge for a spot in the top two pairings.  Reported to have a big shot from the blue line, which will be welcomed.
Derrick Pouliot-The radio personalities who cover the Winterhawks have him returning, and it makes sense on some level, since the Penguins (the team that holds his rights) have a glut of defensemen in the pipeline.  I would not be surprised if he starts the season in Wilkes-Barre (the Penguins' AHL affiliate), as the Penguins should get a look at where he is in the development.


Paul Bittner-Will return, and is likely headed to a larger role on the team.
Ty Rattie-All-time leading scorer in the playoffs for the Winterhawks is heading to the pros, with the Blues being a possible destination.
Chase De Leo-Expected to be a bigger contributor on offense next year.
Adam De Champlain-Third line duty is in his future, and will be expected to provide the grit to compliment the offensive weapons.
Presten Kopeck-Headed to a bigger role next season if his hand heals from the Edmonton series.
Keegan Iverson-Bigger role awaits him.
Joey Baker-Could be one of three overagers on the team next season.
Nic Petan-Eligible for this year's NHL Draft, and is expected to return.  Questionable if he duplicates this year's numbers.
Taylor Leier-Put up good numbers, but it's possible the Flyers could look to develop him in the team's minor league system next season.
Alex Schoenborn-Headed to a larger role after getting into limited action this year.
Dominic Turgeon-The son of Pierre will be expected to seize a larger role next year.
Joe Mahon-Expected to return and provide a physical presence for the team.
Taylor Peters-Headed to the Dallas Stars' minor league affiliate next season.
Oliver Bjorkstrand-Expected back even though he's eligible for the 2013 Draft.  Comparisons to Sven Baertschi will be tested next season, as he steps into a top line role.
Brendan Leipsic-Could return, but the Predators signed him to an entry level contract recently, so he could be headed to Milwaukee of the AHL to start.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Halifax Did It!

photo by Steve Hiscock
In the battle of the top two teams in the Canadian Hockey League, the Halifax Mooseheads got off to a hot start, going up 3-0 on the Portland Winterhawks in the first period.  The Winterhawks climbed back to a 3-2 deficit in the second period, though, setting up a good third period.  The Mooseheads got back their three goal lead, but the Winterhawks would close to within one before an empty-net goal by Halifax would seal the Memorial Cup and a 6-4 win over the Portland Winterhawks.  Nathan MacKinnon was named the MVP of the tournament, notching seven goals and 13 points in four games.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Big(ger) Awards Ceremony

photo by Steve Hiscock
The OHL, QMJHL, and WHL all handed out their respective awards earlier in the month, but with the Memorial Cup final set for tomorrow, the Canadian Hockey League, which houses all three leagues, handed out their own awards, as the winners in each league's categories were the finalist for the overall awards.  So, here are the awards, with the winners in bold.

Jack Link's Top Prospect of the Year: Darnell Nurse (Sault Ste. Marie), Seth Jones (Portland), Jonathan Drouin, (Halifax)

FRAM Sportsman of the Year: Tyler Graovac (Belleville), Dylan Wruck (Edmonton), Zach O'Brien (Acadie-Bathurst)

Chrysler Dodge Top Scorer of the Year: Vince Trocheck (Plymouth), Nic Petan (Portland) and Brendan Leipsic (Portland), Ben Duffy (PEI)

Home Hardware Humanitarian of the Year: Ben Fanelli (Kitchener), Cody Sylvester (Calgary), Konrad Abeltshauser (Halifax)

Subway Scholastic Player of the Year: Darnell Nurse (Sault Ste. Marie), Josh Morrisey (Prince Albert), Charles-David Beaudoin (Drummondville)

Old Dutch Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year: Mike Vellucci (Plymouth), Ryan McGill (Kootenay), Dominique Ducharme (Halifax)

BMO Rookie of the Year: Connor McDavid (Erie), Seth Jones (Portland), Valentin Zykov (Baie-Comeau)

Vaughn Goaltender of the Year: Jordan Binnington (Owen Sound), Patrik Bartosak (Red Deer), Etienne Marcoux (Blainville-Boisbriand)

Post Defenseman of the Year: Ryan Sproul (Sault Ste. Marie), Brenden Kichton (Spokane), Kevin Gagne (Rimouski)

CCM Player of the Year: Vince Trocheck (Plymouth), Adam Lowry (Swift Current), Jonathan Drouin (Halifax)

Memorial Cup Update: Last Call

photo by Derek Mortensen
The Memorial Cup Finals are set, and it will be the two best teams in the Canadian Hockey League going at it, as the WHL champion Portland Winterhawks get their rematch against the QMJHL champion Halifax Mooseheads.  The Winterhawks trailed 1-0 in the second period thanks to a Max Domi goal, but the London Knights wouldn't have that lead for long, as Tyler Wotherspoon tied it.  A Ty Rattie goal in the third period was the difference, as the Winterhawks held up against a furious Knights comeback in the closing seconds of the game to beat them 2-1 and set up a rematch of an earlier game in the Memorial Cup Tournament.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Offense in London

photo by Derek Elvin
For all of the troubles in goal that the London Knights had, they've never had too much of a problem with the Saskatoon Blades, and thanks to a 6-1 beating of the host team, the Knights will play tonight in the semi-final game against the Portland Winterhawks.

Seth Griffith, Bo Horvat, Ryan Rupert, Nikita Zadorov, Chris Tierney, and Kyle Platzer all scored for the Knights and Jake Patterson rebounded from a horrific effort against Halifax on Tuesday to stop the Blades on all but one shot.  The Blades didn't have that same sense of urgency that was present in the three previous games they played, and it led to Andrey Makarov's worst game this tournament, as he was pulled after the Zadorov goal made it 6-0.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Knockout Round Starts Tonight

The round robin portion of the Memorial Cup Tournament concluded with a 4-2 win by the Portland Winterhawks over the Saskatoon Blades.  The win puts the Winterhawks in the semi-finals, where they will await the winner of tonight's game between the London Knights and the Saskatoon Blades.  The Halifax Mooseheads will play again on Sunday, where they will await the winner of the Portland-London/Sasktoon game on Friday.

Derrick Pouliot opened the scoring for the Winterhawks in the second period, but Shane McColgan tied it for the Blades in the period.  The third period proved kind to the Winterhawks, as Chase De Leo, Brendan Leipsic, and Ty Rattie all scored.  The Blades made it 4-2 with a Josh Nicholls goal, but that was all they could muster.

As for tonight's game, the Blades will need to keep up the physicality, as they don't have nearly enough offense to keep up with the Knights.  Andrey Makarov played fairly well for the first two periods, but he will need to rediscover that consistency he had for the first two games if the Blades are to advance.  The Knights have all the talent, but goaltending has been an issue.  Anthony Stolarz has struggled in net, dating back to the OHL finals against Barrie, and Jake Patterson, while good in relief, was exposed in the game against Halifax.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Now Hiring: a New Coach for Vancouver

It's been wondered since the Vancouver Canucks were swept out of this year's playoffs by the San Jose Sharks, but today, it was made official, as the Canucks relieved Alain Vigneault of his coaching duties.  Also let go were assistant coaches Rick Bowness and Newell Brown.  Vigneault had been the coach of the Canucks since replacing Marc Crawford in June 2006.  A 313-170-57 record in his time as Canucks coach was highlighted by a run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2011 and the Presidents' Trophy in 2011 and 2012.  However, the Canucks looked nothing like the world-beaters of 2011 in the last two seasons, and the ever-present goalie controversy reared its ugly head, with the team unable to commit to either Cory Schneider and Roberto Luongo for various reasons.  Mike Gillis will remain as General Manager...for now, but the lack of top-end talent in the pipeline is something that will need to be fixed, as most of the players, notably both Sedins and Ryan Kesler, haven't played to the level that brought the Canucks to within a win of the Stanley Cup in 2011.

Memorial Cup Update: Knight Stomping

photo by Derek Mortensen
With every team at 1-1 to begin yesterday, every team was in a must-win mode to get that all important bye into the finals.  The Halifax Mooseheads are favored for this, thanks to a 9-2 beat down of the London Knights.  The Mooseheads stormed out to a 5-0 lead in the first period, and were up 8-2 by the second period, all but rendering that ninth goal icing on the cake.  Martin Frk, a Detroit Red Wings prospect, picked up a hat trick, Darcy Ashley added two more goals, and Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin picked up three assists each.  Seth Griffith and Ryan Rupert picked up the only London goals as goaltending once again proved to be a major problem for the Knights, as Jake Patterson was given the start, only to give way to Anthony Stolarz.  Neither fared too well against the offensive juggernaut of the Mooseheads.

Halifax will get the bye into the finals if Portland wins their game tonight against Saskatoon, but are at least guaranteed to play into Friday should Saskatoon win.  London will play tomorrow in the tie-breaker against the loser of the Saskatoon-Portland game tonight.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Anyone Can Win It

Photo by Derek Elvin
The Portland Winterhawks needed a win to keep pace with the other three teams in the Memorial Cup tournament, and were successful last night against the London Knights.  The 6-3 win means that every team has won one and lost one, which means the two losers of the next games will square off on Thursday in a tiebreaker game, with the winner of that game meeting the second place team.  The first place team won't have to play until Sunday, when the finals take place.

Taylor Leier, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Ty Rattie helped propel the Winterhawks to a 3-0 lead, but the Knights would tie it up on goals by Scott Harrington, Bo Horvat, and Alex Broadhurst.  The Winterhawks took the lead for good on goals by Derrick Pouliot and Chase De Leo.  Rattie would add an empty net goal, giving him three points for the game.

The Knights play tonight against Halifax while the Winterhawks play tomorrow against Saskatoon.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Hometown Madness

Photo courtesy of CHL/WHL/Derek Mortensen
The Saskatoon Blades accomplished something that has happened only 11 other times this season: they defeated the Halifax Mooseheads.  Behind a two goal effort from Matej Stransky and sterling goaltending from Andrey Makarov, the Blades handled the Mooseheads a 5-2 defeat, thus evening their record in round robin play of the Memorial Cup Tournament.  Stephen MacAuley and Nathan MacKinnon scored for Halifax.

The Blades don't have the offensive talent the other three teams possess, but there was a reason they had an 18-game winning streak towards the end of the regular season, and that was defense.  The Blades rely on a physical game to win their games, and playing to that strength has helped in their quest for the Memorial Cup, particularly when the Blades saw the likes of Edmonton, Swift Current, Calgary, and Red Deer (all defensively strong teams) on a regular basis.  The Mooseheads close out round robin play against London tomorrow while the Blades will take on Portland on Wednesday.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: Halifax Draws First Blood

Last night was a game worthy of Main Event status, as the two best teams with the potential top three picks in this year's Draft took place.  A lopsided second period was all it took for the Halifax Mooseheads to defeat the Portland Winterhawks 7-4.  Nathan MacKinnon certainly made his case for the top overall pick, netting a hat trick in the five-goal second period for the Mooseheads.  Jonathan Drouin and Seth Jones, the other candidates for that first overall pick, also scored a goal a piece in the game.  Halifax plays tonight against Saskatoon while Portland will look to rebound against London on Monday.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Memorial Cup Update: It Begins...

The Memorial Cup Tournament kicked off last night with the London Knights defeating the Saskatoon Blades 3-2.  The Blades opened the scoring with a Josh Nicholls goal, but the Knights responded with goals from Brett Welychka and Seth Griffith.  Nicholls added another goal to tie the game, but a third period goal from Nikita Zadorov put the Knights ahead for good.  The Blades looked good despite the near two month layoff, thanks largely to Andrey Makarov, who played far better than in the Medicine Hat series.  The Blades broke out special jerseys for this game, as you can see from the likes of Duncan Siemens and Michael Ferland.  The Blades play tomorrow against Halifax while London will play Monday against Portland.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Going Green

Today was the Prince Albert Raiders' Green Movement, which means the pirate head that was the team logo is officially out, and what you see modeled by some of the Raider players is in.  Personally, this is a step in the right direction for the Raiders, as the rebranding goes to something a little simpler in terms of the logo, yet also has a sense of cleverness, as the sword blade doubles as a part of the "A" in the "PA" of the logo.  The "Raiders" part serves as a guard of the hilt.  As for the jerseys themselves, they emphasize the green a lot more than the previous set of Raiders jerseys, particularly the (now former) home black jerseys.  The sleeves provide a dynamic that makes it unique to the Raider brand and while I'm not the biggest fan of the collar, it too, adds to the uniqueness of the Raiders.  Currently, I have not seen what the numbering or lettering will look like, but I have to imagine it will be better than the numbering and lettering of the previous set of jerseys.

Memorial Cup: The Fantastic Four

With the Memorial Cup Tournament set to kick off tomorrow, today is a preview of the tournament that has been running under its current format since 1983, when the Portland Winterhawks took home the trophy.  This year's tournament is in Saskatoon, SK, and features the Saskatoon Blades, London Knights, Halifax Mooseheads, and the Portland Winterhawks.  Now, let's look at each team, how they got here, and the why they have a chance to take home the trophy.

The Halifax Mooseheads were the most dominant team in the QMJHL and were going back and forth with the Portland Winterhawks in the CHL Power Rankings for much of the season.  Led by the dynamic duo of Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin, the Mooseheads are more than a two man team.  Detroit Red Wings prospect Martin Frk and top goaltending prospect Zachary Fucale are also important players in the Mooseheads' success.  The President Cup champions blazed through Saint John, Gatineau, Rouyn-Noranda, and Baie-Comeau, needing just 17 games to clinch their spot in the Memorial Cup Tournament, and can take home the trophy if Drouin remains the dynamic player that could make him a top three pick and MacKinnon shows the game that has him already being talked about with the likes of Sidney Crosby and Mario Lemieux.

The London Knights were the best team in the OHL in the regular season, and like every team in this year's tournament, they have their own talent.  Led by Bo Horvat and Max Domi at forward and Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington on defense, the Knights are a team to watch.  Their road to the Memorial Cup wasn't quite as easy as Halifax's, as they swept Saginaw and dispatched Kitchener and Plymouth in five games each before running into trouble with Barrie, twice blowing big leads, yet they prevailed with 0.1 seconds in regulation to win their series.  Goaltending will be the key to any success the Knights have, as they switched Anthony Stolarz with Jake Patterson midway through the Barrie series.  The Knights have enough talent in front of whoever gets the start in goal to possibly take home the Memorial Cup this year and carry momentum into next year, when they will be hosting the Memorial Cup Tournament.

The Saskatoon Blades are hosting this year's Memorial Cup Tournament, which means they automatically have their spot regardless of whether they win their league tournament or not.  That is not to say they don't have talent, as the likes of Dalton Thrower, Lukas Sutter, Matej Stransky, and Andrey Makarov are good players.  An 18-game winning streak this season propelled them to the East Division title this year, but getting swept out of the first round by Medicine Hat was not how the team wanted to get momentum going into this year's tournament.  Home ice can mean something, and the Blades are hopeful it will translate for them in the same way it did for Shawinigan last year.

The Portland Winterhawks are the WHL champions and they dominated much of the league play.  They made the Memorial Cup on their third straight try, beating Everett, Spokane, Kamloops, and Edmonton (who beat them last year to get into the Memorial Cup Tournament) to get here.  Of all the teams in the tournament, the Winterhawks have the most talent, with Brendan Leipsic, Nic Petan, and Ty Rattie being the top three scorers in the league.  Defensively, the Winterhawks are deep, with Derrick Pouliot, Troy Rutkowski, Tyler Wotherspoon, and Seth Jones comprising the top four.  Mac Carruth is the man in goal, and was a major spark in the team's fortunes when he returned to the team from Rockford of the AHL earlier in the season.  Adversity does not get this team down, as they had some sanctions handed down to them, which included coach Mike Johnston getting banished from the bench for the season.  The Winterhawks have the talent to take home the Memorial Cup, and are tested in just about every way possible this year, so nothing surprises them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Everything's Coming Up London

It's been a rather eventful last few days for the London Knights, as they clinched their spot in the Memorial Cup tournament thanks to a Bo Horvat goal with 0.1 seconds left in regulation to beat the Barrie Colts 3-2 on Monday to take the series 4-3.  Horvat took home the playoff MVP honors.  Yesterday, it was announced that the Knights would be hosting the 2014 Memorial Cup tournament, assuring them of a spot in the tournament, thus making it three years in a row that the Knights will be participating in the tournament.

The Knights begin this year's quest for the Memorial Cup on Friday against the host team Saskatoon Blades.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Putting a New Star on Top of the Tree

The Dallas Stars' makeover began with rumors of the team rebranding itself (all of which will be revealed on June 4), and continued with the hiring of Jim Nill to replace Joe Nieuwendyk as General Manager.  Today, the Stars are in the market for a new head coach, as Glen Gulutzan was let go after two seasons.  A 64-57-9 record in two seasons was pretty respectable, but no playoffs in either season spelled his doom.  Not all of it was his fault, as the Stars had little to no idea what direction they were heading in the long term, going young his first year, then going old this past season.  That is not a recipe for success, whether you're Gulutzan or a potential replacement like Dave Tippett or Alain Vigneault, if either should be allowed to walk from their current teams.  That said, the Stars would be wise to commit to one direction, be it building for the future or win now.

NHL Conference Semifinals Predictions

Last night was a great night for hockey, as Boston came back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period to take the game and the series against Toronto in overtime while the New York Rangers just dominated the Washington Capitals on their way to a date with the Bruins in the next round.  Another interesting thing about this year's playoffs is that both the two and three seeds were knocked out, already making this year's playoffs interesting.


(1) Chicago Blackhawks vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

The Blackhawks had little trouble with the Wild on their way to a rather easy five game series win while the Red Wings clawed their way to a 4-3 series win at Anaheim.  The Blackhawks remain the best team in the league, and having a confident Corey Crawford is a dangerous thing, especially with the third and fourth liners producing when the likes of Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa had not (prior to game 5).  Detroit is hot at the right time, and Jimmy Howard is on the verge of being an elite goaltender.  Offense will need to step up, as their defense still isn't with a true number one guy.

Prediction: Chicago in 5

(5) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

The Kings had a bit of a struggle getting warmed up for the playoffs against the Blues, but reeled off four straight wins en route to a 4-2 series win.  The Sharks had little trouble with the Canucks, sweeping them out of the playoffs.  The Kings will need their offense to step up, and certainly, Jeff Carter will be the one to lead the way there, as goaltender Jonathan Quick has found his game after early struggles.  The Sharks still lack the necessary offense, but Antti Niemi has played lights out, and in the process, earned his first (and well deserved) nomination for the Vezina Trophy.

Prediction: Los Angeles in 7


(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh had some issues in putting away the Islanders, needing six games and a goaltender switch to do so while Ottawa handled Montreal in five games.  Sidney Crosby is playing his best hockey yet, and if all of the offensive pieces are on, it may very well overcome a shaky goaltender situation, as Marc-Andre Fleury has not been well and has needed Tomas Vokoun to bail him out.  The Senators need offense more consistently, as they won't be able to hang a six spot on the Pens like they did the Canadiens twice.  It's unrealistic to expect Jason Spezza back this series, but if this series goes seven like I think it will, it's possible.  Craig Anderson is the team's backbone and will be needed again to keep the team in every game.

Prediction: Penguins in 7

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers

Boston was on the verge of blowing a 3-1 series lead against Toronto before a furious comeback in game 7 was capped off by a Patrice Bergeron overtime goal.  The Rangers took every game at home against the Capitals before winning on the road for the first time in the playoffs, good enough to make it to the next round.  The Bruins need to find more consistency, as they largely struggled to put away the Maple Leafs in potential elimination games, and that begins with Tuukka Rask, who almost ended up on the wrong end of a comeback again (he was the goaltender of record in that 2010 series against Philadelphia).  Offense has been an issue with the Rangers, and Rick Nash needs to find some luck.  Goaltending is no issue, as Henrik Lundqvist has been his usual sterling self, gaining yet another Vezina Trophy nomination in the process.

Prediction: Bruins in 6

Monday, May 13, 2013

Remembering the 2012-13 Oil Kings

This was supposed to be the year that the Oil Kings would repeat as Ed Chynoweth champions and make a return trip to the Memorial Cup.  After all, they dominated the Eastern Conference again on their way to the top seed, and cut through Kootenay and Medicine Hat before winning a hard-fought series against hated rival Calgary.  Alas, it was not meant to be, as they ran into a Portland team that not only took home the Scotty Munro Trophy (a trophy the Oil Kings won the year before), but also a Portland team that was seeking to take home the Ed Chynoweth for the first time in three tries and in the process, avenge last year's defeat at the hands of the very same Oil Kings.

Yes, the Oil Kings had the suffocating defense, thanks to the goaltending of Laurent Brossoit and the blue line that featured the likes of Griffin Reinhart and Keegan Lowe, but they also had some offense, thanks to players such as Michael St. Croix, Travis Ewanyk, and Trevor Cheek.  A mid-season trade for David Musil bolstered an already potent defense in their hopes for a repeat.  Along the way however, the Oil Kings lost Cheek and Reinhart to injury, and with a Winterhawks team that remained largely healthy (they lost Preston Kopeck in game 4 of the Oil Kings' series), the Oil Kings just didn't have enough to overcome the waves of talent the Winterhawks had.

As for who the Oil Kings will be able to count on for next season, Tristan Jarry will be the goaltender, and in limited action, he played very well.  Curtis Lazar is eligible for the NHL Draft this year, and barring an NHL team's desperation, is almost certain to return.  Odds are also in favor of Mitchell Moroz, Dysin Mayo, Ashton Sautner, and Stephane Legault returning.  No word on who the overagers will be next season, but they will have fairly big skates to fill, as Cheek, TJ Foster, and Dylan Wruck were pretty good players as the oldest players on the squad.

As the Oil Kings' season came to an end last night, one has to be reminded just how well the Oil Kings have done in recent seasons, both on and off the ice.  It wasn't long ago that the Oil Kings were an expansion franchise, but thanks to the play of the likes of Lazar, Henrik Samuelsson, Reinhart, Brossoit, and Mark Pysyk, the Oil Kings have not only turned into a team to watch in the Central Division, but they also started a new chapter with a rivalry against the Calgary Hitmen and have also done quite well in the NHL Draft, with Pysyk, Samuelsson, and Reinhart all being first round picks, and there's a possibility that Lazar could join them this year.

Winterhawks Weekly: Saskatoon or Bust

Sunday, the Portland Winterhawks proved that the third time was the charm as they closed out the series against the Edmonton Oil Kings in convincing fashion with a 5-1 win to win the Ed Chynoweth Trophy and secure their ticket to Saskatoon for the Memorial Cup tournament that begins on Friday.  An early goal by Travis Ewanyk put the Oil Kings up 1-0, but it was all Winterhawks from there, as Ty Rattie reached 50 goals for his WHL playoff career with a hat trick and was named the playoff MVP.  Oliver Bjorkstrand and Taylor Leier added a goal a piece, as the Winterhawks will next play on Saturday against Halifax in their first game of the round-robin tournament.

The Memorial Cup will also see Saskatoon (the host team) and the winner of tonight's Barrie-London matchup, as that series is going a full seven games.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

First Ticket Punched

The Memorial Cup picture looks one team clearer after last night, as the Halifax Mooseheads routed the Baie-Comeau Drakkar 5-1 to take the series and the President Cup 4-1.  Jonathan Drouin took home the playoff MVP (Guy LaFleur Trophy) honors, scoring 35 points in the 17 games.  The win caps off a rather impressive playoffs for the Mooseheads, as their only loss was game three against the Drakkar.  The Mooseheads will play their first game of the Memorial Cup tournament next Saturday against the WHL champion.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Raider Rebranding

The Prince Albert Raiders are a team in transition.  They began the season well, but sputtered in the second half, which ended with a sweep at the hands of the Red Deer Rebels in the first round of the playoffs.  On April 30, the team announced that Steve Young (not the quarterback) would not be returning to the team as head coach, effectively meaning that the team was in search of a head coach and in all likelihood, will be looking for new personnel in the front office.  A week from today, the Raiders will be announcing something called the Green Movement, which means the Raiders will be looking different on the ice next season.  Logic says that with a name like the Green Movement, that change could mean the Raiders will be going with a green jersey in some capacity starting next season.  In case you're wondering what the Raiders have worn for the past few seasons, here it is:

As far as the Raiders going green, it was an original jersey color prior to the team's shift to black and the current logo.  An older look, as sported by Mike Modano:

Monday, May 6, 2013

Playoffs Update: All the Junior Leagues

I thought about doing a Winterhawks Weekly in this space today, but since the championships are closer to being determined, today will be about the updates for all the junior league championships going on this week.  First, the USHL, where the Dubuque Fighting Saints beat the Youngstown Phantoms in the Eastern Conference Final to advance to the Clark Cup Final.  They await the winner of the Sioux Falls Stampede/Fargo Force matchup, as that series is going to be decided next game.  The QMJHL sees the Halifax Mooseheads still without a loss in the playoff season, as they are currently up 2-0 over the Baie-Comeau Drakkar while the OHL finals has the Barrie Colts and London Knights tied 1-1, with game three tonight in Barrie.  The WHL finals sees the Portland Winterhawks tied with the Edmonton Oil Kings 1-1 as the series shifts to Edmonton for game three tomorrow.

Friday, May 3, 2013

WHL Finals Predictions

(1) Portland Winterhawks vs. (1) Edmonton Oil Kings

A rematch of last year's Ed Chynoweth Trophy Finals, this final features the two best teams in the league.  The Winterhawks have considerably more talent than last year's team that took Edmonton to seven games, and there is talent up and down both squads.  The highest scoring offense in the league, the Winterhawks are led by Brendan Leipsic, Nic Petan, and Ty Rattie, who were also the three leading scorers in the league.  Seth Jones has been everything as advertised, and he has help in Troy Rutkowski and Derrick Pouliot, while Mac Carruth has solidified things in net.

The Oil Kings return much of last year's championship team and are led by Michael St. Croix.  The top ranked defense features Griffin Reinhart, Keegan Lowe, and mid-season acquisition David Musil, and don't forget about Laurent Brossoit in goal.

The key to victory will depend on how fast Edmonton can get out of the gate after a grueling seven game series against Calgary in the Conference finals and whether or not Portland will be rusty after a week off.

Prediction: Winterhawks in 7

Thursday, May 2, 2013

WHL Award Winners

Yesterday was the day the award winners in the WHL were announced.

Four Broncos Memorial Trophy (Player of the Year): Adam Lowry, Swift Current
Jim Piggott Memorial Trophy (Rookie of the Year): Seth Jones, Portland
Del Wilson Trophy (Goaltender of the Year): Patrik Bartosak, Red Deer
Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy (Defenseman of the Year): Brenden Kichton, Spokane
Brad Hornung Trophy (Sportsmanlike Player of the Year): Dylan Wruck, Edmonton
Daryl K. (Doc) Seaman Memorial Trophy (Scholastic Player of the Year): Josh Morrissey, Prince Albert
Doug Wickenheiser Memorial Trophy (Humanitarian of the Year): Cody Sylvester, Calgary
Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy (Coach of the Year): Ryan McGill, Kootenay
Lloyd Saunders Memorial Trophy (Executive of the Year): Bob Green, Emdonton
WHL Marketing/Business Award: Kamloops Blazers
WHL Scholastic Team of the Year: Portland Winterhawks
Allen Paradice Memorial Trophy (Top Official): Nathan Wieler
Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy (Regular Season Champions): Portland Winterhawks
Bob Clarke Trophy (Leading Scorer): Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan, Portland

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Memorial Cup Spots on the Line

I will get to the Portland-Edmonton series on Friday, when I make my predictions.  However, there are two other spots on the line for the Memorial Cup tournament, and those will be taken by the champions in the OHL and the QMJHL.

OHL Championship (J. Ross Robertson Trophy)

(1) London Knights vs. (2) Barrie Colts

The Knights had little trouble getting to this point, sweeping Saginaw in the opening round, disposing of Kitchener in the following round, and beating Plymouth on the way to defending their championship.  The best team on offense and the third-ranked team on defense (only Owen Sound and Belleville posted better numbers), the Knights have some players, as Max Domi, Seth Griffin, and Chris Tierney lead the way up front while Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington lead a stout blue line.  Anthony Stolarz has shined in his first season with the Knights.  The Knights are coached by Dale Hunter, who briefly led the Washington Capitals to a playoff berth last year.

The Colts led the Eastern Conference in goals scored while being tied for fourth in the league in goals against.  Sweeps against Kingston and Oshawa were followed by a hard fought seven game series win against Belleville, and the Colts are lead by Mark Schiefele, Zach Hall,  and Mathias Niederberger.  Dale Hawerchuk is the head coach of the Colts.

QMJHL Championship (President Cup)

(1) Halifax Mooseheads vs. (2) Baie-Comeau Drakkar

The Mooseheads are the only team in all three leagues to not have lost a playoff game so far.  Sweeps against Saint John, Gatineau, and Rouyn-Noranda have led the Mooseheads to an almost certain spot in the Memorial Cup.  It's no secret that the Mooseheads are led by potential first overall picks in Jonathan Drouin and Nathan MacKinnon, as a whopping 347 goals in the regular season (13 more than the Winterhawks) will attest.  But don't sleep on the defense, as they led the league in that category, too, and Zachary Fucale, another 2013 NHL Draft prospect, is a major reason for that.  Dominique Ducharme is the head coach of the Mooseheads.

The Drakkar were tied for second in offense and were second in defense, and had a slightly harder time getting to this point.  Sherbrooke and Victoriaville were victims of sweeps before the Drakkar were taken to six games by Blainville-Boisbriand in the semifinals.  Zach O'Brien led the team in points while Philipe Cadorette helped backstop the team to victory.  Eric Veilleux is the head coach.


With the Edmonton Oil Kings finally putting away the Calgary Hitmen last night, that sets up a rematch of last year's WHL finals...only this time, the Winterhawks have home ice advantage.  The Oil Kings won that match-up 4-3 and represented the WHL in the Memorial Cup.  This year, the Winterhawks hope to change that, and with a high-scoring offense, this is the best of the three finals happening that will determine Memorial Cup spots.  The other match-ups are the London Knights vs. Barrie Colts in the OHL, and the Halifax Mooseheads vs. Baie-Comeau Drakkar in the QMJHL, and Halifax is the only team to not have a loss in this year's playoffs.  Predictions will come Friday, as tomorrow will be a recap of the WHL awards that will be handed out tonight.