WHL playoff preview: Portland Winterhawks

After a loss on the last night of the season, Portland dropped back out of 3rd place in the U.S. Division and into the 1st wild card position of the Western Conference. While that may seem like a disappointing end to the season, the Winterhawks now draw into the weaker B.C. division and won’t have to face Everett or Seattle until the 3rd round (if they get that far.

Portland went 8-2 in March to finish off their season strong heading into playoffs.

First round (Prince George Cougars)

They split the season series with 2 wins and 2 losses each. One of Portland’s losses came in  a shootout.

Players to watch:

Portland’s line of Iverson, Glass, and McKenzie – They’ve carried the scoring load for Portland this year and they’ll need to be dominant if the Winterhawks expect to make a run this postseason.

Ty Edmonds – With his junior career about to end, he just became Prince George’s winningest goalie in franchise history and finishes with over 100 wins in his WHL career. He will play to keep his career as long as he can. Expect Edmonds to take over a couple games this series.

My prediction: Portland in 7

It will be interesting to see how far this young team like Portland can go. If they win, they’ll play against either Kelowna or Kamloops in round 2 and they’re both beatable.

 

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WHL playoff preview: Regina Pats

Regina is not coming into the postseason quietly. The Pats ended the season on an eight-game winning streak. This is coming after a four-game losing streak in which they gave up 21 goals in 4 games. In those final eight games, they only gave up 14 goals.

In my blog post from earlier this year, (Are these Pats the greatest Regina has ever seen?) I talked about how goaltending could be the one thing that holds back Regina. Jordan Hollett and Tyler Brown just proved they’re ready for the post season. It will be interesting to see how they perform in the first series against Calgary.

First round (Calgary Hitmen)

Record against Calgary this year: Split the season series with 2 wins and 2 losses (one in OT)

Players to watch:

Adam Brooks – It’s Regina’s time to shine. In 25 previous playoff games, he has 11 goals and 19 assists. It’s his turn to have a long playoff run. He has a chance to dominate this series alongside Sam Steel.

Matteo Gennaro – Calgary’s leading scorer finished the season with 80 points, 23 more than anyone else on their roster. He brings little playoff experience with only 8 games played with no points.

 

While Calgary has had success this season against Regina, I predict Pats will sweep. They’ve been playing unbelievable hockey lately and will turn it on for the playoffs. Lethbridge will give them trouble later in the Eastern Conference.

Two of the Top Ten CHL teams meet twice this weekend

Two of the CHL’s Top 10 teams meet tonight in Regina and tomorrow night in Moose Jaw. The Moose Jaw Warriors, currently on a nine-game winning streak, haven’t lost since February 11th. The WHL’s top team, the Regina Pats, just broke out of their slump, winning their last two games.

While the East Division is all but finished, Regina can finally clinch the title with one victory this weekend. Their wins against Swift Current and Brandon came at the right time to provide them with momentum going into these massive games.

Since the winning streak began, Warriors captain Brett Howden has 14 points (6g,8a) in those nine games. The Warriors also made a big announcement yesterday that may help the, down the stretch..

Who do you got this weekend? Tweet at me @gusgottfred or comment below. Could this be a playoff matchup next month?

Brandon’s inconsistencies hurting them late in the season

The Brandon Wheat Kings, last year’s Ed Chynoweth Cup champion, haven’t been playing championship hockey as of late. While they have a stranglehold on a wild card playoff position, they’ve won just two games in their last 11.

Playoff matchup?

If the playoffs began today, they would be placed in the Central Division for a first round matchup against the Medicine Hat Tigers. In four games this year against the Tigers, Brandon is 1-3-0-0, being outshot heavily in each game. The Wheat Kings have only been shut out twice this year and once was against Medicine Hat.

The Wheat Kings also announced they will be playing their first round games (if they make the playoffs) at Dauphin’s Credit Union Place due to the Manitoba Royal Winter Fair.

Where are they going wrong?

Brandon has been out-shot in their last six games, giving up more than 30 shots in each game. In that six-game span, they’ve won just one of them. If you’re consistently giving up that many shots, your goalies need to play outstanding if you expect to string some wins together. While they’ve struggled of late, Logan Thompson had 36 saves Friday evening against Calgary in a 6-1 win, including this beautiful stop.

All season they’ve struggled to put wins together and even with the return of 2o17 NHL Draft top prospect Nolan Patrick, Brandon has gone 7-9-3-3. What will it take for Brandon to make a run in the playoffs?

Leave a comment or tweet me @gusgottfred. I’d love to hear your opinion.

 

 

Is Kirby Dach the boost the Saskatoon Blades needed to make the playoffs?

It’s been a long time since the Saskatoon Blades were a force in the WHL and it’s been four years since they hosted the Memorial Cup (and made the playoffs) but their play this season has them battling for the final playoff spot with the Calgary Hitmen. While Kirby Dach is 15 years old, he is proving he belongs in the Western Hockey League.

In last year’s WHL Bantam Draft, the Blades swung a deal with Vancouver to move up to the 2nd overall spot to draft forward Kirby Dach.

He played four games earlier in the season on a temporary basis but he joined the Blades full-time in early February.

WHL rules state 15-year-olds can’t join their teams until they’ve completed their own midget seasons. But the Blades received approval from Fort Saskatchewan Minor Hockey and the WHL to bring Dach to Saskatoon after injuries caused an emergency situation.

He sure made a splash in his first game as a full-time Blade scoring twice, including the game-winner, against the Moose Jaw Warriors.

While he is still finding his game right now with the Blades (5 points in 11 games), he is going to be a force for years to come in the WHL.

Currently, the Blades are tied for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot with the Calgary Hitmen at 56 points. It will be interesting to see if the Blades, and this potential phenom, can do some damage in the playoffs.

Catching up: An interview with former Saskatoon Blades Captain Nick Zajac

Nick Zajac, product of Headingley, Manitoba, had quite the Western Hockey League career. In 322 (!) games, he had 55 goals and 97 assists for 152 points. He spent his entire career with the Blades.

With 390 penalty minutes, he wasn’t afraid to drop the gloves.

So far this season in the CIS, Zajac has 15 points (7 goals, 8 assists) in 19 games for the University of Manitoba Bisons.

What are you doing now?

I’m currently going to the University of Manitoba taking business in the Asper School of Business. While attending the U of M, I’m also a member of the men’s hockey team. It is a bit of an adjustment not focusing solely on hockey but I’m finding the change nice and enjoying the school aspect of it.

How’s your hockey season been? How does the hockey relate to what you’ve been playing in the last 5 years? How is it different?

It was a bit of a learning curve moving from the WHL to the CIS. The game speed changed and the style is completely different. It took me a while to get adjusted but I’m finding some traction and beginning to contribute which is nice.

What do you think of Saskatoon’s team this year? Have you had time to pay attention or catch any games?

You bet I’m watching! I’ll be a Stoon fan for the rest of my life. I keep in contact with a lot of my ex-teammates and can’t help but notice they are doing well. I look forward to getting out there next weekend to play the University of Saskatchewan and be back in, what I like to call, my second home.

If you could tell anything to the young Blades players this year, what would you tell them?

I don’t think I would be too preachy. I think I would just tell them to have a blast. It was 5 years of my life that were very special. Not everyone gets to live with their team mates and best friends playing in city to city in front of thousands of fans. It’s cool, soak it up.

What do you see in your future?

I see myself working in business, maybe our family electrical business. Whatever I find myself getting into I know I’ll make the best of it and have a lot of fun.

What do you think of Nolan Patrick, who has the potential to be the first WHL player drafted first overall in the NHL Draft since Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, as a player?

He’s one hell of a player! He is super poised with the puck and sees the ice better than anyone in that league. If he goes first overall I think it’s well deserved.

2017 NHL Draft: WHL Prospects mid-season update

It’s the year of the WHL in this year’s draft. Nolan Patrick is expected to be the first number one overall choice from the WHL since 2011 when Red Deer Rebel Ryan Nugent-Hopkins went first to the Edmonton Oilers. In this year’s NHL Central Scouting list, there are 4 WHL players in the top 10 North American skaters. Let’s check in on WHL’s top draft prospects.

Nolan Patrick – Brandon Wheat Kings

9 GP – 6 Goals 9 Assists = 15 Points

It’s been a tough year for lottery pick Nolan Patrick. After being sidelined for three months and having to miss his opportunity to represent Team Canada at the WJC, he made his return to Brandon’s lineup last week. Since then, he’s had 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) in three games. After two wins against Kootenay, Brandon dropped a decision to the Saskatoon Blades. It will be interesting to see how he finishes the season and whether Nico Hischier pushes Patrick out of the projected number one spot.

Here’s a great play from last night showing his playmaking potential he brings to the ice every shift.

Michael Rasmussen – Tri-City Americans

47 GP – 30 Goals 22 Assists = 52 Points

Rasmussen comes in the sixth spot in the NHL’s Mid-Season Central Scouting Rankings. In October, he was consider an “A” prospect and has lived up to that bill. Standing in at 6’6, this centre brings plenty of size to your lineup. After scoring four goals in his first game of the year, Rasmussen has slowly shown his ability to score. With 1.11 points-per-game, he’s been a little inconsistent all year having 15 games without a point. Most mock drafts currently have him in the No. 4 to No. 8 range in the draft.

Cody Glass – Portland Winterhawks

44 GP – 21 Goals 38 Assists = 59 Points.

Glass is ranked 8th in the Mid-Season Central Scouting Rankings. He also has been living up to expectations as he was an “A” prospect in October as well. After his hot start with in 15 points in 8 games, his pace slowed but he’s been consistent all year. In most mock drafts, he’s ranked in the #8-#12 range. An NHL team will be very excited to get this centre from Winnipeg.

Juuso Valimaki – Tri-City Americans

39 GP – 13 Goals 27 Assists = 40 Points

The top-ranked defenceman in this year’s draft hails from the WHL. He finished with 2 goals in the WJC with the Finnish team that did so poorly. He’s fifth among defencemen in the WHL this season but he’s been slow lately. Since coming back from Montreal/Toronto, he’s had 5 points in 8 games. With the limited defensive depth in this year’s draft, he’ll surely be a top 10 pick.