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: Second Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

While there were not any upsets worth mentioning coming out of the first round of the WHL playoffs, that does not mean there was not any action in the eight series. This can only mean the second round will be even tighter and more exciting to watch. With most of the upper seeds advancing to the next round, only the best of the best is left to see who makes it to the conference finals.

Eastern Conference

East Division Final: (1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (2) Saskatoon Blades

The Raiders continue their incredible season into the second round after an easy sweep of the Red Deer Rebels. The most interesting part of the series victory was the wide-spread, and depth scoring the Raiders possessed. While leading-scorer Noah Gregor had five points, rookies Aliaksei Protas and Ozzy Wiesblatt were exceptional as well. Protas put up two goals and two assists in the first two games of the series, and Wiesblatt, who only scored 15 goals in the regular season, scored three times against Red Deer.

While Saskatoon was able to slide passed Moose Jaw in four games, it certainly felt like more. Three of the four games were decided by one goal, with two of the them being decided in overtime. Max Gerlach and Kirby Dach led the Blades with five points in the series, with each scoring in the clinching win in game four. Nolan Maier was superb in net, only allowing eight goals against in the entire series.

These two teams are the only ones who made it out of the first round in the minimum number of games. Just goes to show how dominant they were compared to their opponents. Prince Albert handled the Blades during the regular season, winning six of the eight meetings. However, Saskatoon is hot, winning eight of their last night games dating back to the regular season. Their lone defeat was at the hands of the Raiders…the night after the Blades had defeated the them in Saskatoon.

My Pick

This series will be determined by the goaltenders, and Ian Scott is playing extremely well, Raiders in six.

Central Division Final: (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Oil Kings had their hands full against Mads Sogaard and the Medicine Hat Tigers, but Edmonton was able to clinch after a come-from-behind overtime win in game six. Trey Fix-Wolansky was his usual self, tied for the team lead in points with seven. He was tied with Vince Loshciavo, who finished second on the team with 62 points during the regular season. Loschciavo scored four goals during the series, including the game-winner in game six to help the Oil Kings advance.

Calgary was not expected to slow down the talented offence that Lethbridge possessed, but with the offencive outbursts from the Hitmen’s own lineup, the Hurricanes were taken down by Calgary in a classic seven game series. Calgary managed to score five or more goals four times in the first round, much thanks to depth scoring, as nine Hitmen had five or more points. Carson Focht, Mark Kastelic, and Dakota Krebs all led the team with seven points in the series. Kastelic scored five goals, despite missing games three and four with a concussion. Focht was the first star in game seven, with two goals, including the game-winner.

It’s the Battle of Alberta in the playoffs, what more could you ask for? The Hitmen know they have it in tough, as they won only one of the eight meetings against their provincial rivals, with the Oil Kings outscoring Calgary by a 19 goal margin. The Hitmen are certainly riding high coming off an upset win, so it will be interesting to see how long they ride the wave of momentum into this series.

My Pick

Despite showing some weakness in round one, the Oil Kings’ confidence is as high as it has been this season, but the Hitmen will keep it close. Edmonton wins in seven.

Western Conference

B.C. Division Final: (1) Vancouver Giants vs. (2) Victoria Royals

Victoria did not have the easiest series against Kamloops in round one. However, despite the Blazers picking up a win on the road and at home, the Royals were able to bunker down and take games five and six convincingly to move on. Rookie Phillip Schultz really stepped up in the series, scoring nine points in the six game series, which was tied for second among playoff scorers. 

Vancouver did not have an easy time either against Seattle in the first round. However, the Giants were able to squeak passed the upstart Thunderbirds in six. Davis Koch led all players with 10 points in the six games, nine of which being assists. Bowen Byram continues to increase his draft stock, with three goals and five assists in the series, including a three-point performance in game three. Jadon Joseph piled on the goals for Vancouver, with six goals in the series, tied for the most among goal scorers. Trent Miner and David Tendeck split time in net during the first round, with Miner playing better than his teammate. Expect Head Coach Michael Dyck to go with Miner for the rest of the Giants’ run.

This series could be quite close, despite the two teams finishing so far apart in the regular season. Vancouver won four of the five meetings at the Langley Events Centre, while Victoria managed three wins on their home ice. With that, home ice advantage favours the Giants. Goaltending will be important, as always, and Miner and Griffen Outhouse are two very equal netminders. Vancouver is looking to avenge the game seven loss at the hands of the Royals in the first round of the playoffs last year.

My Pick

Victoria will give a spirited effort, but Vancouver’s offence will bury the Royals. Giants in six.

U.S. Division Final: (1) Everett Silvertips vs. (2) Spokane Chiefs

Spokane walked over a decimated and depleted Portland lineup. Despite a couple close overtime wins, the Chiefs eliminated the Winterhawks in five games. Riley Woods, who led the Chiefs in scoring during the regular season, led the team in the first round with eight points. Adam Beckman and Jack Finley were solid in their first playoff experiences in the WHL. Beckman scored three goals with a pair of assists, while Finley helped set up the offence with four assists.

Everett had a fairly easy first round against Tri-City, beating the Americans in a five game series. Bryce Kindopp was excellent with five goals and four assists in the series, including a hat trick in game five. Martin Fasko-Rudas only put up 31 points during the regular season, but caught fire in round one, scoring eight points in the five games. Dustin Wolf was consistent in net as he was all season, and was the best goaltender in the first round, with a 1.60 GAA and .937 SV% in the series.

The Chiefs did not have the best luck against the ‘Tips this season, as Everett won six of the eight games, including winning two in Spokane. With how good Wolf has been for the Silvertips this season, Spokane’s Bailey Brkin will have to be outstanding, but it is hard to measure him up against one of the best goaltenders in the CHL. 

My Pick

Persistent offencive pressure and Wolf in net is going to be too much for Spokane, ‘Tips in five.

All statistics and records from the WHL and Elite Prospects.

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

WHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round Preview

It’s that time again! Everything that happened in the regular season is now in the past, and teams in the WHL’s Eastern Conference can turn the page to  to a new chapter. While some teams may look like they are severely outmatched, there could be some teams that will catch some of the league’s best off guard in the first round.

East Division

(1) Prince Albert Raiders vs. (WC2) Red Deer Rebels

What started out as one what looked like one of the greatest seasons in CHL history, the Raiders sure took a dip in the second half following the New Year. This can be accredited to Team Canada’s Ian Scott and Brett Leason coming back from a World Junior hangover. While Leason still led the team in points with 89, he only scored 25 points in his last 24 games, a far cry from his two-point per game pace he started the first half of the season with. Noah Gregor was able to help pick up the slack offencively while Leason was wearing the Maple Leaf, and finished right behind Leason with 88 points, good for ninth in league scoring. Scott has still been one of the top netminders this season, as he finished second in the league in wins (38), goals-against average (1.83), and save-percentage (.932).

The Rebels really survived the late stages of the regular season to squeak into the final playoff spot in the East. The Rebels enter the postseason on a four-game losing streak, and only won two of their final eight games. The offence lives and dies with Brandon Hagel. The Chicago prospect finished fourth in league scoring with 102 points. The next leading scorer is Cameron Hausinger, who only put up 54 points this season.

The Raiders finished the season winners in five of their final seven games. They will use this series to refocus and retool for a deep run into the postseason. The Raiders just have more scoring throughout the lineup than the Rebels, and Red Deer just does not have the same depth as Prince Albert.

My Pick

While Prince Albert may not be at their peak like they were earlier this season, they are still having better fortunes than the Rebels, Raiders in five.

(2) Saskatoon Blades vs. (3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Moose Jaw, regardless of their record, have loads of scoring on both ends of the rink. Justin Almeida has been incredible down the middle, with his 111 points third in the WHL in scoring. Tristin Langan has become one of the better two-way forwards in the league. While his 113 points is second in the league, Langan is also sixth in plus/minus with a +43. Rookie Brayden Tracey has been pretty good to say the least, with his 81 points leading all freshman. Jett Woo and Josh Brook have been solid on the back end for the Warriors, both responsible in their own end and exceptional in the offencive zone. Brook’s 75 points was tied for the most among all d-men, while Woo’s 66 points is fifth.

The Blades ended the season on an excellent run. Since February 1st, Saskatoon went 16-2-1, including a nine-game winning streak from February 1st to 16th. Much in large part to their big three. Top prospect Kirby Dach was exceptional in his second season in the league, with 73 points in 62 games. He will have to step up in this series if he wants to increase his draft stock. Max Gerlach was impressive, scoring 42 goals and 32 assists, and ending his season on a five-game point streak. Over-ager Dawson Davidson was one of the best blueliners in the WHL this season, and one of the most offencive as well. Davidson scored 75 points, which was tied with the Warrior’s Brook for the most among defencemen.

Saskatoon was one the hottest team’s in the league, while the Warriors were on cruise control, opening the door for the Blades to snatch second place in the East Division. While statistically Moose Jaw may have the better goaltender in Adam Evanoff, the Blades’ Nolan Maier has been consistent throughout the season, winning 36 games, third most in the league. Home ice may not favour the Warriors in this series, as the Blades won all three games at the Mosaic Place.

My Pick

Certainly a close series. Even with the offencive stars with the Warriors, the Blades depth will be what helps them in the long run, as they will win the series in seven.

Central Division

(1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (WC1) Medicine Hat Tigers

While Saskatoon was one of the hottest teams in the league, Edmonton was THE hottest team in the WHL. The Oil Kings ended the regular season on an 11 game winning streak, and have only lost once since Valentine’s Day. Much of the credit can go to the incredible season Trey Fix-Wolansky has had. The Columbus draft pick finished the season tied for fourth in league scoring with 102 points, and his 65 assists was second in that category. Another reason the Oil Kings were so good this season was the play of netminder Dyland Myskiw, whose 2.53 GAA was fifth in the league, with a .914 SV% that was ninth.

While Myskiw was the backbone for Edmonton, Medicine Hat’s Mads Sogaard was outstanding this season. No question, he was the best rookie goaltender in the WHL, certainly staking his claim for rookie of the year. Without big-time scoring, the Tigers would not be in the position they are without the play of Danish netminder. That said, goals are needed to win hockey games, and the Tigers will be looking at James Hamblin and Ryan Jevne to produce. Hamblin led the team in goals and assists, with his 77 points a career high. Jevne followed with 68 points in his fourth season with the Tigers.

There were very few signs of the Oil Kings slowing down in the waning days of the regular season. The Tigers had to earn their way into the playoffs, and winning three in a row in the past month helped them achieve that. While Edmonton won five of the six meetings between the two, four of them were decided by one goal, two being decided in overtime and another via shootout.

My Pick

Good hard battles, and Sogaard will make it tough on Fix-Wolansky and the rest of his teammates, but it’s hard to see the Tigers winning at Rogers Place, Oil Kings in six. 

(2) Lethbridge Hurricanes vs. (3) Calgary Hitmen

The Hitmen bounced up and down between a top-three position and Wild Card spot throughout this season. Yet, winning seven out of their last 10 games helped distance themselves from Medicine Hat and Red Deer enough to earn the third seed in the Central Division. Mark Kastelic and James Malm have shared the spotlight in Calgary, both leading the Hitmen with 77 points. Malm lead the team in assists with 43, and Kastelic’s 47 goals third among all WHL goal scorers.

The Hurricanes, despite having a young talent in Dylan Cozens, decided this is a great opportunity to make a run to the Ed Chynoweth Cup Finals, and went out a bought talent. GM Peter Anholt completed a trade with Regina to obtain Nick Henry and Jake Leschyshyn. The move paid dividends, as Henry went on to lead the team in points, and his 97 points ranked him seventh in league scoring. Leschyshyn has been a very balanced player with 81 points, and Jordy Bellerive has been a consistent presence on the power play with 24 points with the man advantage, second on the team. Probable first-rounder Cozens has also been exceptional heading into this summer’s draft, as he is second on the team in scoring with 84 points. 

While Hitmen ended the season on a high note, the Hurricanes ended the season on a higher note, winning 11 of their last 12 games. Lethbridge is clicking on all cylinders heading into this series, whereas the Hitmen lost three games to the streaking Oil Kings in the final two weeks of the season. The Hurricanes have Calgary’s number this year, winning five of the six meetings this season, including a 7-4 win just two weeks ago.

My Pick

Lethbridge is just too good right now for the Hitmen to handle, ‘Canes in five. 

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