WHL Playoffs set to begin

Check out a breakdown of each series in the first round of the WHL post-season.

Eastern Conference

 

(1) Edmonton Oil Kings

(8) Kootenay Ice

 

The Oil Kings will be looking to repeat as they prepare to defend their WHL championship from last year. Edmonton has a solid team, with depth up front, in their defensive corps and in between the pipes. However, Kootenay’s record in the second half of the season has been one of the best in the conference, and the two teams split their regular season record at three wins apiece in six meetings. Defence wins championships, and the Ice will have to generate their offence by transitioning from their defensive game. With nine NHL draft picks on Edmonton’s roster, the Ice are the underdogs in this series. Kootenay needs everyone to take their game to the next level if they hope to upset the defending champions.

 

(2) Saskatoon Blades

(7) Medicine Hat Tigers

 

The Saskatoon Blades are the centre of attention for WHL fans this year as they host the Memorial Cup and have an automatic berth in the tournament. After struggling through the first half of the season, the Blades made some trades—before and at the deadline—and set a franchise record with an 18-game win streak in the post-Christmas stretch.  Medicine Hat will be looking for another series victory over the Blades, as the Tigers swept Saskatoon in four games last post-season.Medicine Hat will rely on players like Elgin Pearce, Curtis Valk and Hunter Shinkaruk for scoring, but they’ll have to break through a stingy Blades’ defence.

 

(3) Calgary Hitmen

(6) Swift Current Broncos

 

The Hitmen have made their way towards the top of the conference standings by playing a solid overall team game. They get scoring from their stars such as Cody Sylvester and Brooks Macek, but also get help from secondary areas of the front lines. Special teams—powerplay and the penalty kill—could be a liability for Calgary, as the Hitmen dropped three out of four games against the Broncos. Swift Current will rely heavily on star Adam Lowry, who led the team in scoring and is dangerous anywhere on the ice. Finnish import Eetu Laurikainen will be key for the team as he mans the crease, while the defence, led by Reese Scarlett, have to shut down Calgary’s many weapons.

 

(4) Red Deer Rebels

(5) Prince Albert Raiders

 

After struggling for a bit in the first half of the season, Rebels’ owner Brent Sutter came in and took over from head coach and general manager Jesse Wallin. The result? After making more than a few roster moves, the Rebels climbed up the ladder to finish fourth overall in the conference. Key for the club will be the continued excellence displayed by goaltender Patrik Bartosak, along with the offensive abilities of captain Turner Elson and Tyson Ness. Rhyse Dieno, who wasn’t even in the WHL in the fall, came in after Sutter’s takeover, and finished the season with the team’s scoring title.  Prince Albert, after a hiatus from the post-season, is back in it this time around, after finishing near the bottom of the league last year. The Raiders have five plus-20 goal scorers on the roster, which will have to get by Rebels’ rearguard Mathew Dumba and his blue line teammates.

 

Western Conference

 

(1) Portland Winterhawks

(8) Everett Silvertips

 

The Portland Winterhawks didn’t let the heavy-handed sanctions from the WHL over alleged player benefit violations bother them as they set a franchise record with their most successful season in club history. Brendan Leipsic and Nic Petan both ended the season tied for the league scoring crown, with 120 points each, while defenceman Seth Jones got the conference nod for rookie of the year.  The Winterhawks, in ten meetings with Everett this season, only lost one game. The Silvertips managed to make it into the post-season, despite their struggles with goal production. Goaltender Austin Lotz will be busy in net, as his team in front of him will have to find a way to shut down the Hawks’ high-octane offense.

 

(2) Kelowna Rockets

(7) Seattle Thunderbirds

 

The Rockets have had an exceptional season under the hand of head coach Ryan Huska, which ended with the B.C. divisional title. Kelowna has offensive threats from players like Myles Bell, Dylen McKinlay and Zach Franko. However, the team will be missing star forward Colton Sissons, who suffered an injury late in the regular season. Jordan Cooke, who is in his first year of starting duties, will have to stay strong inside the crease. The Seattle Thunderbirds will have to be strong on defence to contain Kelowna’s offence, which will fall on the shoulders of Shea Theodore and his T-Bird rearguards.

 

(3) Kamloops Blazers

(6) Victoria Royals

 

Kamloops comes into this series as the favourite, but Victoria will want some revenge after getting swept last year at the hands of the same opponent. For much of the season, the Blazers line of Colin Smith, JC Lipon and Tim Bozon were in the top-five of the WHL scoring race. The Royals, which had struggled with key injuries over the season, will be missing Alex Gogolev, a key piece of their offence. Victoria rookie netminder Patrik Polivka is also untested in the WHL post-season, and the Royals will need a big performance out of him.

 

(4) Spokane Chiefs

(5) Tri-City Americans

 

The Chiefs enjoyed another strong season in the Western Conference, and bolstered their roster at the trade deadline with the addition of Alessio Bertaggia and Stewart Coyle. While forwards such as Todd Fiddler and Mitch Holmberg are dangerous, it was defenceman Brendan Kitchton who took the team’s scoring title. The Americans will rely on Justin Feser, who surpassed the century mark for points, to spark the team’s offence. HIghly touted NHL prospect Eric Comrie won’t be in manning the crease, as he had his season cut short by surgery in January. Backup Luke-Lee Knight has been filling those shoes and will need to bring his best game to the post-season.

By: Trevor Crawley