Monday, March 31, 2014

WHL Eastern Conference Semi-finals Preview

The remaining eight teams in the WHL playoffs will start play in the next round on Thursday.  There were a few surprises in the East while the West went almost according to seed.


(1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (7) Brandon Wheat Kings

The Oil Kings dispatched the Prince Albert Raiders in a sweep, which was hardly surprising, but the Raiders did play the Oil Kings closer than expected.  Curtis Lazar, Mitch Moroz, and Cody Corbett are players to watch, as they ignited the team's offense.  Tristan Jarry has proven to be the team's last line of defense, as he continued his stellar play into the series.  The Wheat Kings pulled off a mild upset (mild because the Wheat Kings were only eight points back of the Pats) of the East Division champion Regina Pats, and did so convincingly in a sweep.  Jordan Papirny has been solid in net in his rookie year, and certainly, having a strong blue line in front of him has helped.  However, it has been an offensive attack led by Jayce Hawryluk and Richard Nezejchleb that put the Wheat Kings over the Pats.  Edmonton has the decided playoff experience edge, but the Wheat Kings are playing with greater momentum at the moment.

Prediction: Oil Kings in 5

(4) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. (6) Kootenay Ice

The Tigers won a hard fought series against the Swift Current Broncos in six games.  As much credit goes to the offense, it was really the defense that stepped up their game.  Tyler Lewington, Dylan Bredo, and Tommy Vannelli are very good in their own end, and it helps that Marek Langhammer has been the goaltender the Tigers wanted.  Kootenay was the real surprise, as they dispatched heavily favorited Calgary in six games to advance.  Tim Bozon's release from the hospital the day before their series-clinching victory and his appearance in the ceremonial opening face-off make Kootenay this year's feel good story.  However, it would be a mistake to think Kootenay got here on luck alone, as Jaedon Deschenau and Sam Reinhart are tied in the playoff scoring lead.  Defense could be tightened up a little, as Mackenzie Skapski has been pulled in a couple of contests, and Wyatt Hoflin finished the series.

Prediction: Medicine Hat in 7

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Four Down, 12 to Go

In their quest to be the first team to repeat as WHL Champions since the Kamloops Blazers did it in the 1993-94 and 1994-95 seasons, the Portland Winterhawks started their title defense right.  Their opening round playoff series against the Vancouver Giants proved to be a warm-up for the next round, as the Winterhawks took the series in a sweep by scores of 6-3, 3-0, 6-3, and 6-1.  Along the way, Derrick Pouliot tied the record for most points by a Winterhawk defenseman in the playoffs, as he moves into a tie with Glen Wesley, and Brendan Leipsic getting a penalty for taking a drink from Payton Lee's water bottle.

The Winterhawks will be awaiting their next opponent in the next round, and currently, the Kelowna Rockets hold a 3-1 series lead on Tri-City, with Victoria and Seattle holding 3-0 leads in their respective series.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sorry About Your Damn Luck!

Never in my time with this blog would I ever have had a good reason to title a piece after an expression I use.  However, the Saskatoon Blades have allowed for such a phrase to be used.  While it can also be applied to the Lehtbridge Hurricanes, as they will pick second instead of first thanks to the Bantam Draft lottery, at least they will still have their pick.  The Blades, who won the lottery and thus moved up two spots to the first overall pick, will instead watch the Brandon Wheat Kings make their selection with that pick.  Why?  In May 2012, the Blades had acquired then-overager Brenden Walker for draft picks.  Somewhere along the way, the option was had by the Wheat Kings to swap first round picks in 2014, and they decided to use that.  Well, when the ping pong ball came up Blades, that meant the real winner was the Wheat Kings, who will now be building for the future while trying to win a championship in the present, as they still have those aspirations that begin with a series against the Regina Pats.  To rub salt in the wound for Saskatoon, the pick they get from Brandon has to go to the Vancouver Giants (the Nathan Burns trade from November 2012) to complete another trade.  Sorry about your damn luck, indeed.

WHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview

With the Prince Albert Raiders' 5-3 win against Red Deer in the tie-breaker game last night, the Eastern Conference is now set.


The Oil Kings were once again the best defensive team in the league, and thanks to four players that scored 30 goals or more this season, were the best offensive team in the conference.  Led by Henrik Samuelsson and Curtis Lazar, the Oil Kings claimed the Central Division crown once again, and Tristan Jarry proved that he was ready for the starting job this season after previously backing up Laurent Brossoit in the last two seasons.  The Raiders needed the tie-breaker game just to get to this point, and while they certainly haven't lived up to pre-season expectations, it is a new season.  Leon Draisaitl and Josh Morrissey lead the way for the Raiders, who were buoyed by the mid-season acquisition of Collin Valcourt.  Goaltending is still a concern, as Cole Cheveldae posted a GAA of near-4.00, and he was not in goal when the Raiders won the tie-breaker game.

Prediction: Oil Kings in 5


Don't let the seedings fool you, these teams were separated by a mere eight points, so this is a more even match-up than you think.  The Pats were led by Chandler Stephenson and Dyson Stevenson, but received significant contributions from both Morgan Klimchuk and Boston Leier.  Dmitry Sinitsyn and Kyle Burroughs provided more than capable defense from the blue line while the tandem of Daniel Wapple and Dawson MacAuley were solid in net for the Pats.  The Wheat Kings score a lot, but that is often because they gave up nearly the same number of goals as they scored.  Seven players scored at least 20 goals, with Richard Nejezchleb being the only one to score more than 30.  Jordan Papirny was a very good goaltender given how much under siege he was for the Wheat Kings.

Prediction: Wheat Kings in 7


The Hitmen are on a mission to make the finals after narrowly missing out last year.  Though Brady Brassart and Greg Chase led the team in scoring, it is Jake Virtanen that is the team's best player, as he is becoming one of the best two-way players in the WHL.  It also helps that he scored 45 goals, good for sixth in the league.  Chris Driedger was solid in goal once again, as he led the third best defensive team in the conference.  Kootenay will be motivated to win it for Tim Bozon, who is still in a Saskatoon hospital due to a severe case of meningitis.  However, the loss of Bozon takes away a scoring threat that will take the pressure off of Sam Reinhart and Jaedon Deschenau.  That duty now falls on Luke Philip.  Defensively, the Ice can match the Hitmen, as Mackenzie Skapski is no slouch in goal.

Prediction: Hitmen in 5


The Tigers were the second best defensive team in the conference, and a fair portion of their success can be attributed to Marek Langhammer stepping up his game this year.  The addition of Tommy Vannelli helped, as well as the the contributions from both Tyler Lewington (+40) and Dylan Bredo (+33).  However, their offense was as good as ever despite not having Hunter Shinkaruk for most of the season.  Curtis Valk stepped up his game once Shinkaruk went down due to injury in both his offense and in a leadership role.  The Broncos showed that they could build upon last year's playoff appearance with another solid season.  Eetu Laurikainen provided peace of mind in goal while newcomer Julius Honka provided a spark from the blue line.  Three players topped the 30 goal mark, proving that once again, the Broncos play a complete team game.

Prediction: Tigers in 6

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

WHL Western Conference Playoff Preview

The WHL begins their playoff season this weekend, and while the Portland Winterhawks are looking to defend their title, there are fifteen other teams looking to knock them off.  The Eastern Conference is still waiting for their eighth team, and that will be settled in a tie-breaker game tonight, as the Prince Albert Raiders take on the Red Deer Rebels for the right to face the Edmonton Oil Kings in the opening round.  Until then, this will be about the Western Conference.


The Rockets took home the Scotty Munro Trophy as the best team in the regular season, and feature the second best offensive attack that is well balanced.  Myles Bell leads the way with 42 goals.  Defensively, only Edmonton and Victoria were better, and much of the credit goes to goaltender Jordon Cooke, though having the likes of Damon Severson and Madison Bowey also help.  Tri-City was the third worst offensive team in the league, with Brian Williams being the only real scoring threat.  Eric Comrie was undoubtedly the team's MVP, as he kept the team in many games, and for Tri-City to pull off an upset, he will have to be the difference maker once again.

Prediction: Kelowna in 4


Surprise! The Winterhawks led the league in goals scored once again, and Nic Petan and Brendan Leipsic were two of the top three scorers on the team once again.  This time though, they were joined by Oliver Bjorkstrand, who led the team in goals with 50.  Defensively, they began to pick up steam once Matthew Dumba and Corbin Boes joined the team, and Boes joins Brendan Burke and Adin Hill as a formidable goaltending trio.  The Giants struggled early in the season, but they picked it up just enough to make the playoffs.  Carter Popoff enabled both Cain Franson and Jackson Houck to have productive years, as the latter two scored at least 30 goals each.  Defensively, they could use some work, as Payton Lee is still maturing in goal, and that was evident in the team giving up the second most goals of all the playoff teams in the West.

Prediction: Portland in 5


The Royals made a living on stopping the opposing team from scoring, and it showed, as they led the Conference in giving up the fewest goals.  Patrik Polivka and Coleman Vollrath are a solid duo in goal, but their efforts would be going to waste if not for the team's balanced scoring attack.  Brandon Magee and Austin Carroll lead the way, but the mid-season acquisition of Axel Blomqvist from Lethbridge has really helped.  To say that the Chiefs are a one man show would be a mistake.  Mitch Holmberg was the leading scorer in the league, but he had some help along the way, thanks to the likes of Mike Aviani and Reid Gow.  Beyond those three, things get a little dicey, and that lack of depth combined with an ordinary defense could spell their quick departure.

Prediction: Victoria in 6


Seattle is not nearly the offensive juggernaut that they appear to be on paper.  However, one would not be wise to discount their abilities, especially with Shea Theodore jump starting things for them.  The ex-Lethbridge trio of Russell Maxwell, Jaimen Yakubowski, and Sam McKechnie have proven to be a formidable shutdown line for the Thunderbirds, and certainly, the addition of Taran Kozun as given them peace of mind in goal.  The Silvertips are playing Kevin Constantine hockey in that their defense is carrying the day.  That's great news for Austin Lotz, who has elevated his game this season after showing glimpses in the opening round last year.  Offensively, they're balanced, but Josh Winquist is the clear leader of the group there, as he led the next best player (Ivan Nikolishin) by 34 points.

Prediction: Seattle in 7

Monday, March 17, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: Time to Defend the Crown

The Portland Winterhawks will be starting their title defense this Friday as they begin a best of seven series with the Vancouver Giants, and they are coming in hot.  Wins on Wednesday against Tri-City, Friday and Saturday against Seattle, and Sunday against Everett have given the Winterhawks seven wins in a row and 28 in their last 29.

The WHL playoffs preview will begin tomorrow, with the Eastern Conference being delayed a little while the tie-breaker game between Red Deer and Prince Albert takes place tomorrow.  Future Winterhawks Weekly for the playoff season will happen after every series for as long as the Winterhawks are still in it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mad Scramble in the WHL

As the games get underway this weekend in what is becoming the end of the 2013-14 WHL regular season, there are still some things to resolve before the playoffs begin.  The Western Conference is all set on who will be in the playoffs, but the seeding is still unsettled.  We know Kelowna will take home the Scotty Munro Trophy as best team in the regular season and will take on Tri-City as a reward while Portland will open against Vancouver in their quest for four straight finals appearances.  Victoria is the third seed, but four, five, and six are still unsettled, as Seattle, Spokane, and Everett are fighting for that coveted home ice advantage in the opening round.  Portland will help decide on some level, as they face Seattle twice and Everett once.

The Eastern Conference is even more of a mess, as Brandon, Prince Albert, and Red Deer are fighting for the last two playoff spots.  Currently, Red Deer and Brandon are sitting pretty, but Prince Albert has a home and home with Saskatoon to close out the season while Brandon has a home and home with Regina (who will look to clinch the East Division this weekend) while Red Deer has a home and home with Edmonton (who is fighting Calgary for the Central Division crown).  The only certainty here is that Medicine Hat will be the fourth seed.

And of course, there is the battle of who will finish last, as Kamloops is currently two points clear of the cellar dwelling Lethbridge Hurricanes.  Kamloops has Prince George while Lethbridge will face Medicine Hat, with both games being home and home.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Loss of Spirit

The Saginaw Spirit are supposed to be preparing for the OHL playoffs in a little more than a week.  However, they are also going to have to deal with the death of one of their own players, as 20 year old Terry Trafford's body was found a week after he went missing after a morning practice with the team March 3.  He was headed home to Toronto at the time.

Having been a member of the Spirit since 2010, Trafford was in his fourth year with the team and registered 32 points with the Spirit this season.  His loss will certainly have an effect on the Spirit players, coaches, and fans, as he was a well-liked player and was a pillar in the Saginaw community.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winterhawks Weekly: One Week to Go

The Portland Winterhawks are heading into the playoffs with some momentum, and it appears that they will hold down the second place spot, since Kelowna needs just one more point to clinch the Scotty Munro Trophy and the home ice advantage.  Wednesday, the Winterhawks became the second team in league history to notch four consecutive 100 point seasons (the Kamloops Jr. Oilers/Blazers in 1983-86 was the other team), as they handled the Tri-City Americans 5-1.  Friday, the Winterhawks exacted some revenge on Seattle for breaking their 21-game winning streak with a 7-3 win, but it did not come without a price, as Corbin Boes left the game and Adin Hill had to fill in.  Saturday, the Winterhawks made it 50 wins in a season in a 4-1 win over Vancouver in what is likely a preview of the first round match up for the Winterhawks.  Hill got the start and was impressive in his second career start.

The Winterhawks conclude the season with a home game on Tuesday against Tri-City, a home and home Friday and Saturday against Seattle, with the Winterhawks home for the Saturday game, and they will conclude the season at home against Everett.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Closing the Window of Opportunity

The long awaited news of Roberto Luongo getting traded out of Vancouver has finally happened, but not without some controversy (big surprise!).  The official word will say that Luongo and Steven Anthony will head to the Florida Panthers in exchange for Jacob Markstrom and Shawn Matthias.  However, Luongo's time appeared to be up long before today.  Dating back to the end of the 2012 playoffs, Luongo was being shopped around, and it was thought that the Canucks were going to find a trade partner at some point.  It appeared that he was staying in Vancouver after Cory Schneider was traded to New Jersey this offseason for far less than what the Canucks should have gotten for him (New Jersey's first round pick that year, which turned out to be Bo Horvat).  Rumors of Luongo asking out surfaced once again this weekend when he was switched out of the starting assignment at the last minute on the Sunday game against Ottawa in favor of Eddie Lack.

The trade effectively ends any hope of Vancouver becoming Stanley Cup contenders for a while, as the Sedins aren't getting any younger, Ryan Kesler is at the center of trade rumors, and there simply isn't any real young talent coming in through the pipeline, only Horvat has any potential at this point.  2012 first round pick Brendan Gaunce is likely a year away, as is another 2013 first round pick in Hunter Shinkaruk (who is also recovering from a season-ending injury with Medicine Hat).  2011 first round pick Nicklas Jensen has had trouble finding his game in Utica of the AHL.  Ill-advised trades in the last three years (Derek Roy from Dallas last year and Zack Kassian, acquired in a deal for Cody Hodgson the year before that, as well as Keith Ballard for Michael Grabner prior to the 2010-11 season) have also done its fair share of damage to the Canucks.  This year was going to be a transition year, as John Tortorella's system was going to need to integrate his kind of players into the existing roster, and while he has certainly livened things up behind the bench, the results on the ice haven't been anything to write home about.  As of today, the Canucks are two points out of the last playoff spot with a game tonight at Phoenix, and it would be wise for the Canucks to start thinking about the future, and that may need to begin with getting a new General Manager.  The current GM Mike Gillis has had the time to figure it out, and it hasn't worked well enough for him to be around next season.  Mishandling the Luongo situation for two years should be his final nail in the coffin, as he has gotten far less in trades and hasn't done a great job of finding and/or keeping the potential talent.

Winterhawks Weekly: Time to Start a New Streak

The Portland Winterhawks' winning streak ended at 21 on Saturday, but even with that loss, the Winterhawks still claimed the U.S. Division title by the end of the week.

Friday, the Winterhawks were in Spokane to take on the Chiefs.  Alex Schoenborn gave the Winterhawks the lead in the first period to make it 1-0 after one.  Chase De Leo would add another in the second period, and that would be all the Winterhawks needed, as Corbin Boes earned his first shutout since 2011, when he was a member of the Brandon Wheat Kings.  The Winterhawks made it 21 wins in the victory, which in the process, gave them the season sweep over the Chiefs, who they have dominated dating back to the Conference semi-finals last season.

Saturday was a different story, as the Winterhawks traveled to Kent, WA to take on a Seattle Thunderbirds team that was hanging on to faint hopes of a division title.  De Leo would open the scoring for the Winterhawks, but Shea Theodore and Alexander Delnov would put the T-Birds up 2-1 after one period.  The Winterhawks could not solve Taran Kozun for the rest of the game, as Justin Hickman and Branden Troock would add goals to make it a 4-1 loss, ending the Winterhawks' winning streak at 21 and handing them their first regulation loss since January 4.  However, the Thunderbirds' hopes for a division title ended the following evening with a loss to Everett, giving the Winterhawks their third title in four years.

The Winterhawks are likely playing for momentum heading into the playoffs, as they trail Kelowna by nine points with seven games remaining.  They conclude their road trip Wednesday with a game at Tri-City before heading home for games Friday and Saturday against Seattle and Vancouver.