The Road to the Memorial Cup Begins
With the commencement of the Western Hockey League’s playoffs this weekend, here are my Western Conference previews and predictions.
(1) Tri-City Americans versus (8) Everett Silvertips
Season Series: Americans 6-2-0-0
Tri-City – Brendan Shinnimin – Forward – 58 goals, 76 assists, 134 points
Everett – Corbin Boes – Goaltender – 23 wins, 10 losses, 2.84 GAA, .916%
There couldn’t be more of a David versus Goliath matchup in the first round. Everett squeezed into the post season as the 8th-seed thanks to Seattle’s loss to Portland on the final day of the regular season. Now they’re up against a Tri-City club that blew away the competition scoring 281 goals while allowing allowing a league-low 190 against.
Tri-City boasts three players, including Brendan Shinnimin’s league-high 134 points, that were in the Top 10 in WHL scoring. The Americans also owned the head-to-head series against Everett winning six of eight.
Prediction: Americans in four.
(2) Kamloops Blazers versus (7) Victoria Royals
Season Series: Blazers 7-1-0-0
Kamloops – Brendan Ranford – Centre – 40 goals, 52 assists, 92 points
Victoria – Hayden Rintoul – Defence – 17 goals, 34 assists, 51 points
Kamloops blazed their way to a B.C. Division crown for the first time since 2001-02 and boast a scary 25-11-0 record at home this season. As a franchise, the Royals are in the post-season for the fifth time in six years, while it’s their first since moving to Victoria from Chilliwack in September.
While the Royals will be motivated to steal a playoff series for their new fans, they’ll be in tough against a high-octane Blazers team that won seven out of eight in head-to-head games.
Prediction: Blazers in six.
(3) Portland Winterhawks versus (6) Kelowna Rockets
Season Series: Winterhawks 4-0-0-0.
Portland – Sven Bartschi – Forward – 33 goals, 61 assists, 94 points
Kelowna – Brett Bulmer – Forward – 34 goals, 28 assists, 62 points
After Sven Bartschi solidified himself as a bona fide blue-chip prospect by scoring 3 goals in 4 games in an NHL-loan to the Calgary Flames last week, the Portland Winterhawks are more than happy to have the Swiss’ services returned for their first-round match-up against Kelowna.
Along with snipers Ty Rattie and Brad Ross, Bartschi and the Winterhawks have a great opportunity to go deep into the post-season and fight for a Memorial Cup berth. Outside of Tri-City, the Winterhawks boast the most lethal/balanced attack. Portland hammered in a league-high 328 goals.
The only chance Kelowna has to sneaking out of this series, is a Miracle on Ice performance from goaltender Adam Brown and consistent scoring efforts from the likes of Brett Bulmer and Colton Sissons.
Prediction: Winterhawks in five.
(4) Vancouver Giants versus (5) Spokane Chiefs
Season Series: Vancouver 2-0-0-0
Vancouver – Brendan Gallagher – Forward – 41 goals, 36 assists, 77 points
Spokane – Brenden Kichton – Defence – 17 goals, 57 assists, 74 points
On paper this is arguably the tightest first-round matchup. Only one point separated the Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs during the regular season. While the Giants won the head-to-head series with two wins, the fact that neither team saw much of each other means it could get interesting.
Vancouver’s workhorse Brendan Gallagher might be the difference-maker in this series, and if goaltender Adam Morrison can continue his consistent play – 35 wins, 2.75 GAA, .901% – into the playoffs, the Giants will have a sizeable advantage.
The Giants will have to watch out for swift-skating defenceman Brenden Kichton who lead the Chiefs – not to mention all WHL blueliners – with 74 points.