WHL Playoffs: Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals Preview

The Finals are here…

Two teams who have battled to this point are four wins away from the Memorial Cup. One team has had a relatively easy ride to this point, while the other was expected to coast through the playoffs, but have had some bumps in the road along the way. Let’s analyze these two clubs and how they will matchup up.

Prince Albert Raiders

The Raiders, at one point, were on pace to produce the greatest season in CHL history. However, they slipped up down the stretch, but still finished with the best record in the WHL. After an easy series against Moose Jaw in round one, Prince Albert met a tough Saskatoon team in round two. Despite losing back-to-back games to the Blades, the Raiders were able to settle down and win the final two to meet with a rested Edmonton team in the Eastern Conference Finals. After Dylan Myskiw and Ian Scott went save for save in game one, the Raiders squeaked out with a 1-0 victory. In game two, the Oil Kings stunned the Raiders with an OT win, then won game three, and Prince Albert faced adversity for the first time this postseason. Yet, the talented Raider lineup was able to outlast the Central Division champs, and won three straight to win the series in six to make it to their second ever Finals, and first since they won the WHL Championship and Memorial Cup in 1985.

Depth scoring was important in the latter half of the series for the Raiders. With Noah Gregor and Brett Leason only scoring four points each in the series, others in the lineup needed to step up. A big piece to the wins in games five and six was rookie Aliaksei Protas. The Belorussian centre only had eight points coming in the series, and was held off the score-sheet for the first four games of the series. However, in the final two games of the series, Protas scored a hat trick in both games. Not too shabby for a player who only scored 11 goals during the regular season. Ian Scott’s play in this series cannot be overstated. The Raiders were outshot in four of the six games of the series, with Scott only giving up seven goals, including shutouts in game one and game five.

Vancouver Giants

The best team in the Western Conference during the regular season are the best team coming out of the West in the playoffs. After having issues getting passed Seattle in round one, the Giants made quick work of Victoria in round two before meeting with a hot Spokane Chiefs team in the conference finals. After winning the first two games at the Langley Events Centre, the two teams traded overtime wins in Spokane, before the Giants finished off the Chiefs at home in game five. This will mark the third appearance to the Finals in franchise history, and first since 2007. 

Bowen Byram was at it again for the Giants. One of the top prospects at this summer’s draft scored three goals and two assists in the series against Spokane, and now leads in playoff scoring with 18 points. Dawson Holt stepped up in the conference finals. After only scoring 19 points in the regular season, and seven in the first two rounds, the Saskatoon native scored five points against the Chiefs. This includes Holt scoring a goal and an assist in both game one and game two.

Finally, the Giants went with one goalie in this series. After Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in the first two rounds, Tendeck was given the number one tag against Spokane, and did not disappoint. The Arizona prospect allowed no more than three goals in any of the five games, and made at least 24 saves in four of the five games in the series, including a 35 save performance in the game three overtime loss, finishing the series with a .935 SV%. 

Preview

Not to sound cliché, but this where we truly see who is the best in the WHL. Both teams have earned their right to be here, and both have experienced some struggles in their postseason, the Raiders arguably more than the Giants. Looking at the goaltending, while Tendeck is the clear no. 1 for Vancouver, it is hard to compare him to Scott, as the Prince Albert netminder was the difference maker for the Raiders against the Oil Kings. You can argue Tendeck was exceptional in net,  but the team in front of him looked far more superior than the Raiders looked in front of Scott. With that said, the Raiders top guns are going to have to step up. Leason and Gregor are going to play big minutes, while players such as Dante Hannoun and Sean Montgomery are going to have find the success they had in the first two rounds. The lone meeting in the regular season saw the Giants win at home over the Raiders, but that was back on January 24th. 

My Pick

This may be the tightest series of all the playoffs. However, Scott is on a roll, and that will halt Vancouver’s offencive onslaught, Raiders in seven.

All statistics and records are from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Conference Finals Preview

It certainly was an interesting second round of the WHL Playoffs. While most of the favourites saw their way into the semifinals, there was one series shocked many, including folks from both fan-bases. Four teams remain, all of which are playing at the top of their game. It is now time to see who can continue their postseason run, and make it to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals.

Eastern Conference

(E1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (C1) Edmonton Oil Kings

After defeating provincial-rival Calgary in four games, the Oil Kings arrive to their first conference final since the team’s incredible 2014 season where they won their first Memorial Cup since the original incarnation of the Oil Kings in 1966. With the exception of game four against Calgary, Edmonton had to earn the first three wins of the series, including overtime wins in games one and three. Jake Neighbours scored the game winner in game one, which was the second goal of the game for the Airdrie, Alberta native. He added another goal and two assists in the other three games, leading the Oil Kings in the second round with five points. Dylan Myskiw had a bounce back series in net, only giving up four goals in the first three games of the series, before picking up a shootout in the game four clinching victory.

The Raiders had a little more work to do in round two compared to their first round series against Red Deer. With Kirby Dach leading the way, Saskatoon exposed some weaknesses in Prince Albert that had been rarely seen this year. After the Raiders won games one and two, the Blades turned around and won both games at home. Prince Albert was able to stop Saskatoon’s momentum with two dominating wins to end the series in six. Dante Hannoun had an incredible series for the Raiders. He scored 10 points in the series, including a hat trick in game six, and is now tied with Vancouver’s Davis Koch for the lead in playoff scoring. Brett Leason seemed to have returned to the form that was seen early in the regular season, with nine points in the series, eight of which being assists.

If the Oil Kings want to make it to the finals, Trey Fix-Wolansky is going to have step up, especially since he only mustered up a single assist against the Hitmen. It will be extremely tough going up against a defence in Prince Albert that only allowed 13 goals in the six games, with the help of WHL Goaltender of the Year Ian Scott. Edmonton’s Wyatt McLeod, Conner McDonald and co. need to be on top of their game to slow down a Raider offence that came alive in the beginning and end of their second round series. Prince Albert handled Edmonton during the regular season, winning three of the four meetings. 

My Pick

The Oil Kings have not been tested by a team like Prince Albert yet in these playoffs, and while the Raiders showed they are mortal against Saskatoon, Edmonton does not have the firepower to keep up with the best team in the regular season. Raiders in five.

Western Conference

(BC1) Vancouver Giants vs. (US2) Spokane Chiefs

The Chiefs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in these playoffs. Despite finishing 12 points behind the division-leading Everett Silvertips in the regular season, Spokane took care of the ‘Tips in five games in very convincing fashion. Only one of the Chiefs’ wins in the series was a one-goal game. This is the first time Spokane has made it to the conference finals since 2011, and are looking for their first trip to the finals since 2008, the year the Chiefs won the Chynoweth Cup and the franchise’s second Memorial Cup. Ty Smith had a much more offencive second round. After only three points against Portland in round one, the New Jersey draft pick picked up five assists against Everett, including a pair in game five. Going up against Dustin Wolf, Bailey Brkin was the lesser of the two, on paper. However, the Sherwood Park, Alberta outplayed Wolf in the series, stopping 135 of 144 shots in the series, with a 1.81 GAA in the series.

The Giants come in to their first conference final since 2010 after waltzing passed Victoria in a four-game sweep. After Trent Miner stepped up with a shutout in game one, the Giants pulled off back-to-back overtime wins, before finishing the job in game five with a 6-1 victory. Miner and David Tendeck split the series once again. Miner’s shutout was overshadowed by a rough game four where he allowed four goals on 20 shots. Tendeck only allowed two goals on 28 shots in his two wins. Jared Dmytriw stepped up for the Giants’ offence in round two, with a team-leading six points in the series, including a goal and two assists in game four. 

This series is going to come down to the goaltenders. If Brkin can play like he did against Everett, that will take a load off of the Chiefs’ offence, which was fairly spread out in the series. There is no reason Michael Dyck should fray away from splitting Tendeck and Miner in this series, as both looked good in net in an albeit short sample size against Victoria. The Giants won both games in Vancouver during the regular season, while the teams split the two meetings at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena. Offencively, the Giants have the advantage coming into the series, meaning the Chiefs’ Riley Woods and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are going to have to up their game from round two if Spokane wants to hold their own against the Giants.

My Pick

The Chiefs are hot, and with both teams rested, it will be a long series. That said, Vancouver in seven.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Western Conference First Round Preview

After 68 games, it is time to begin the best part of the season, the postseason. In the West, it was the US Division that saw a lot of success, as teams from the States took five out of the eight playoff spots. The divisional matchups will make for some great action, while the lone inter-divisional matchup should be intriguing to fans on both sides.

B.C. Division

(1) Vancouver Giants vs. (WC2) Seattle Thunderbirds

Vancouver has had one of the best seasons the franchise has had in recent memory. Just a few years removed from three-straight last place finishes, the Giants finished the regular season atop the Western Conference standings. Thanks in large part to a very solid defence core and incredible goaltending. Bowen Byram has been solid on the blueline for Vancouver. While his +33 plus-minus is best on the team, his 71 points is second in team scoring behind Davis Koch, and third in WHL defencemen scoring. David Tendeck and Trent Miner have been the best goaltending tandem in the league. They are third and fourth in goals-against-average with Miner’s 1.98 GAA and Tendeck’s 2.48 GAA.

The Thunderbirds come into the playoffs on quite a roll, winning eight of their final 11 games, including a big win over Victoria, and a sweep over Portland in the final weekend of the regular season. Matthew Wedman has been a bruiser for Seattle, while leading the team points with 77, he also led the team in penalty minutes with 110. Noah Philip has been an incredible playmaker for the Thunderbirds, leading the team with 49 helpers. Off his 75 points he scored this season, 33 of them came on the power play. 

Between these two teams, yes the mismatches are eminent. However, the teams are fairly matched on the offencive side of the puck, as the Giants, in total, scored 228 goals, while Seattle potted 231. Home ice has not been a factor in any of the four games between these two, as the road club won all four matchups.

My Pick

This will be a battle between the pipes, as good as rookie Ross Roddy has been lately for Seattle, he does not measure up to the level that Miner and Tendeck are at. Seattle will give everything they have, but the Giants will find a way to take the series in seven.

(2) Victoria Royals vs. (3) Kamloops Blazers

Talk about “blazing” your way into a playoff spot, Kamloops won five of their last six games to catch Kelowna on the final day of the regular season to force a tiebreaker matchup, which the Blazers won on Tuesday night. It was quite a run for a team that does not have a whole lot of offence in their arsenal, as they have scored the fewest goals among any team in the WHL playoffs. That means it will be up to rookie Dylan Garand to step up for the Blazers in this series. After Dylan Ferguson fell into a slump in the second half of the season, Garand took the reigns and was phenomenal, as he only gave up more than two goals once in his final six starts. 

While the Blazers have the least amount of goals scored, the Royals have the second-least amount of goals scored with 199 goals this season. Where they differ from their counterparts is how they ended the regular season. Victoria lost five of their last six games heading into the playoffs, including an 8-0 thumping at the hands of Kamloops. No Royal has more than 50 points this season, but five players have more than 40, including defenceman Scott Walford, who finished second on the team with 47 points.

Don’t expect a lot of high flying offence in this series, as neither team has any game-changing talent up front. It’s going to be a battle of defencive systems between Blazers Head Coach Serge Lajoie and Victoria’s Dan Price. Each game in this series may come out as a one-goal game, making each contest exciting until the final buzzer. Despite the last meeting of the regular season, the Royals have handled themselves well against the Blazers, winning all four games on home ice.

My Pick

If it comes down to the netminders, you have to give Kamloops the advantage with Garand in net, especially the way he’s been playing, Blazers in six.

U.S. Division

(1) Everett Silvertips vs. (WC1) Tri-City Americans

The ‘Tips Finished third in the WHL behind Vancouver and Prince Albert with 99 points this season. In a season where the team was expected to take a dip following the graduation of, now-Philadelphia goaltender Carter Hart, Everett has flourished. Connor Dewar and Bryce Kindopp have been outstanding on the top line, and the addition of Zack Andrusiak from Seattle has added a huge offencive boost. However, it has been the goaltender who has once again garnered the spotlight, as Dustin Wolf has made his case for the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy for WHL Goaltender of the Year. Wolf finished first in the league in wins (41), goals-against-average (1.69), and save-percentage (.936).

Tri-City is not looking in the best of shape heading into this first round. Along with losing their final five games of the regular season, the Americans also lost 10 out of their last 11. It will be huge for Tri-City’s leading scorer, Parker AuCoin, to step up if they want any chance in this series. The Americans possess one of the best youngsters in the WHL, as Krystof Hrabik finished third in rookie scoring with 51 points. Defenceman Aaron Hyman has helped the offencive effort as well, as his 50 points his tied for 10th in blueline scoring.

Given that Everett has been so consistent this season, it will be difficult for the struggling Americans to trip them up in this series. With the tight-knit defence from the Silvertips, along with the timely scoring from their top-two lines, expect Tri-City to have their handsful on both ends of the rink. Even when Tri-Cityis able to break through for a scoring chance, they run into Dustin Wolf.

My Pick

A defencive juggernaut against a team that has struggled at times to find goals, ‘Tips in four.

(2) Spokane Chiefs vs. (3) Portland Winterhawks

Portland sure has had a very interesting season. The team started out looking to contend for a division title, and continued to impress well past the Holiday Break. Then, on February 23rd, Cody Glass suffered a gruesome-looking knee injury that ended his season. The Winterhawks have not been the same in his absence. Joachim Blichfeld continued to produce in his absence, and ended up leading the WHL in points with 114, and tied for the most goals with 53. Players such as Jake Gricius and Reece Newkirk have had to pick up the slack, but have only done so mildly with Gricius posting 61 points, while Newkirk amassed 59 points.

The Chiefs on the other hand, were able to make a late run in the final month of the season to snag home-ice advantage right from underneath the Winterhawks. Spokane went 7-2 in the month of March, and riding high heading into the playoffs. Riley Woods had a solid end to his season, as the Chiefs’ leading-scorer registered 10 points in the month of March. Ty Smith was a big player at both ends of the rink for Spokane this year, including putting up 69 points, good for fourth among WHL defencemen in scoring.

Two teams heading different directions heading into this series, the Winterhawks need to find some form of consistency if they want to knock off the Chiefs. While Blichfeld has been good, Portland will need more from their second and third line to step up. Each team took three of the six games during the regular season. However since Glass’ injury, the Chiefs have taken the last two meetings, both in Portland.

My Pick

Without the x-factor that Glass is, Blichfeld cannot carry the team himself against a hot Chiefs club. The ‘Hawks keep it close, but the Chiefs pull it out in six.

All stats and records found from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Report: Vancouver Giants and Saskatoon Blades Sprint to Playoff Spots

The regular season is beginning to wind down in the Western Hockey League. With only three weeks left in the regular season, the playoff picture is beginning to take shape.

While not all 16 seeds have been set, five clubs have already printed their tickets for the postseason. At the moment, the Everett Silvertips and Portland Winterhawks have clinched playoff births in the U.S. Division, and, to no ones surprise, the Prince Albert Raiders have clinched the East Division. The Raiders will most likely be awarded the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy for being regular season champs.

The other two teams that are guaranteed to be playing into the spring are the Vancouver Giants and the Saskatoon Blades.

Saskatoon Finally Comes Back to the Dance

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The Blades, despite the talent of top prospect Kirby Dach, were battling for second in the East Division with the Moose Jaw Warriors early on in the season. With neither team anywhere near Prince Albert, both teams were well aware that there was only going to be one more spot with home-ice advantage available. The Blades, though, have really taken charge in the last couple of months. Through the first two-and-a-half months of the season, the Blades were only 16-9-3. Since December 1, they have been on an incredible run of 22-5-5, and have been 9-1-2 in the month of February.  After a shootout win over the Kootenay ICE on Saturday, Saskatoon clinched their first playoff spot since 2013. Had it not been for the Rebels, the Blades could have been in the running for a division crown.

The Best Offence is a Good Defence…That Can Create Offence

The Blades have one of the deepest lineups in terms of overall production. Saskatoon has five players with 50+ points. Only Moose Jaw and Prince Albert have the same amount of depth scoring.

Speaking of Dach, the predicted first-round pick in this year’s NHL Draft is not even the top-scorer in Saskatoon, and that is a good thing. Dach certainly started the season hot, as he was a top-five scorer for the first few months of this season. However, after a seven-game pointless drought in December (10 of 11 games without a point in that stretch), Dach has taking a back seat to some of his teammates. He is still third on the team in points, with 22 goals and 39 assists, his 61 points is far better than his total from a year ago.

The two players who have really picked up the offencive slack have actually been defencemen. Dawson Davidson and Nolan Kneen have been big weapons on the back-end in the offencive zone. Kneen came over in a trade from Kamloops back in late November, and the former 3rd overall pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft has really settled in as a veteran playmaker. Well known for his toughness in his time with Kamloops, Kneen has become a one of the quarterbacks of the Blades’ power play. With 36 assists, the undrafted defenceman is 10th among WHL defencemen in helpers.

Another player that has seemingly been in charge of creating any Saskatoon scoring chance, Davidson has been huge for the Blades this season. Also a defenceman that went undrafted, Davidson came over to the club from Regina last season. A big piece of Saskatoon’s top power play unit, Davidson leads Saskatoon with 68 points this season, which is best among all WHL d-men. His 58 assists is tied for third in the ENTIRE league. With the impact of offencive defencemen, and finishers up front such as Max Gerlach, Gary Haden, and Ryan Hughes, the offence is going to be key for Saskatoon heading into the playoffs.

Vancouver Giants Win First Division Crown Since 2010

It has been quite the season for the Giants. This is a club that has missed the playoffs three out of the past five years, and have not won a playoff series since Vancouver made it to the Western Final in 2010. However, the Giants have flipped their fortunes, as they have a record of 41-14-4, and sit 20 points clear of the second-place Victoria Royals. With their shootout loss over the Royals this past Saturday, the Giants clinched the British Columbia Division title for the first time in almost a decade. Despite the loss, the Giants are another hot team in the WHL, as they are 10-1-1 in February.

Koch(ed) and Loaded

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The Giants have not had an overload of scoring up front, but with their defence being one of the best in the league, they have not needed to rely on scoring as some other teams do. However, they do have quite the offencive weapon in Davis Koch. The White Rock, BC native was traded to Vancouver from Edmonton last season. After taking a backseat to Ty Ronning last year, Koch has become the go-to guy for the Giants this season. The Vancouver leading-scorer took a dip with 58 points last season, but has turned his game around and put up 64 points in 59 games thus far, and could be able to beat his career best of 70 points that he set with the Oil Kings during the 2016-2017 season.

Splitting the Net

Most teams that use two goaltenders are usually struggling to find success in the CHL. Yet, the Giants have thrived this year with their use of Trent Miner and David Tendeck. The veteran Tendeck has taken the majority of the games this season. He is 20-10-2 this year, with a 2.41 GAA and .911 SV%. Certainly not mind-blowing numbers, but his consistent improvement over his three seasons with the club has earned him the trust of Head Coach Michael Dyck. Tendeck has had four separate three-game win streaks this season, with four shutouts added onto, what is shaping up to be, his best season of his career.

Miner has blossomed in his first full season in the WHL. The draft-eligible goaltender is 21-4-2 this season, and has only lost one start in regulation since January 2nd. This included a six-game win streak through the month of January. His 1.94 GAA is third-best in the league behind Dustin Wolf and Ian Scott, along with a .927 SV% that is fifth in the league. Miner has certainly shown why Vancouver selected him in the first round of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. It will be a tough call for who Coach Dyck picks for the postseason, but no matter who he goes with, he will have the confidence in whoever steps in between the pipes.

All statistics and records found on WHL.ca