WHL Season Previews
Since winning their second Memorial Cup championship in 2008, the Spokane Chiefs have kept the pedal to the metal racing through long playoff rides including last season’s Western Conference Final defeat to Portland in six hard-fought games.
This year, despite some key departures, the team should continue their torrid offensive ways from last season where they posted a blistering 48-18-4-2 record and scored a league-high 310 goals.
WHL second-leading point getter Tyler Johnson (115 points) and Levko Koper (85 points) graduate and take away nearly 200 points and 85 goals from the cupboard for Chiefs team that boasted the WHL’s best power play. Johnson missed out on the 2010-11 league scoring title to the Medicine Hat Tigers’ Linden Vey (116) by a single point.
On defence the squad will most likely lose 6-foot-5 behemoth Jared Cowen to the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. The 20-year-old posted a plus-44 to go along with his 48 points in 58 games.
On offence, the Chiefs return five players who hit the 20-goal mark in Anthony Bardaro , Blake Gal, Matt Marantz, Steve Kuhn and Dominik Uher. They will need steady contributions from all five of them to stay dominant amid a highly competitive Western Conference.
18-year-old Czech import Marek Kalus will try to find the net a bit more in his second WHL season after getting a taste (22 games) last year. Another potential secondary contributor is sophomore power forward Collin Valcourt who stands at 6’2”, 205 pounds.
With the departure of Cowen, the Chiefs blueline now belongs to all-star Brenden Kichton. Kichton tore up the WHL in points last year hammering 23 goals to go along with 81 points and a staggering plus-55.
For his efforts the 19-year-old was selected in the fifth-round by the New York Islanders in the 2011 draft. Kichton has a high hockey IQ to accompany an uncanny offensive skillet and should continue to be the WHL’s version of Mike Green (Washington Capitals), a prolific point-getter on the point.
19-year-old David Vandane should add some physicality to the team, while Tanner Mort and sophomore Reid Gow should continue to grow and mature into a solid top-six pairing.
Goaltender Mac Engel takes over for the graduated James Reid. The 18-year-old netminder played 32 games in his first WHL season posting a respectable 2.30 GAA with a .909 save percentage. Behind Engel rookies Zach Rakochy and Jacob Edwards will fight it out for the backstopping role.
The Spokane Chiefs begin their 2011-12 campaign Saturday, Sept. 24 on the road against the Tri-City Americans. Puck drops at 7 p.m.