The Most Wonderful Time of the Year
Playoff fever has gripped Western Canada and Washington State as the WHL playoffs have officially kicked off in preperation for the ultimate goal of the Memorial Cup.
Tonight, we run down the Western Conference matchups and try to determine who will be the first-round heroes.
(1) Tri-City Americans 50-18-2-2 v (8) Everett Silvertips 22-40-2-8
We might have to invoke the mercy rule in this series as the Silvertips will likely have no answer for the Americans’ top line of Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman, and Patrick Holland.
The Americans are favourites to hoist the Chynoweth Cup at the end of the year and this first-round matchup should hardly test them. The Americans, in fact, have 358 games of playoff experience collectively. The Silvertips meanwhile are hoping Captain Ryan Murray can somehow singlehandedly do the impossible and shutdown the Americans.
In net, Ty Rimmer will go up against his summer training partner Kent Simpson.
Prediction: Tri-City in 5, but do they break a sweat?
(2) Kamloops Blazers 47-20-2-3 v (7) Victoria Royals 24-41-3-4
If the Royals are going to have any chance in this series they need to find a defensive game that has eluded them all season. They were the only team in the in the conference to give up more than 300 goals.
The Royals are quietly saying the right things about an upset but the team’s season success may have already come in the form of the two game sweep of the Portland Winterhawks that got them into the dance.
Still, it will be the city of Victoria’s first taste of WHL playoff action since 1989, creating energy that could spark the impossible. Throw in the fact that the Blazers haven’t seen the second round since 1999 as well as the Blazers dropping games over the last three weeks like they were the Canucks and well….
Prediction: Kelowna in 6, sorry Victoria
(3) Portland Winterhawks 49-19-3-1 v (6) Kelowna Rockets 31-31-4-6
The wildcard in this series is Sven Bartschi, the standout Calgary Flames prospect who may or may not be playing in this series depending on the whims of Cowtown. If he doesn’t, it opens the door for the Rockets to take advantage of a confused Winterhawks team missing their top scorer.
The Rockets meanwhile are better than their record suggests, having lost over 400 man-games to injury this year, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see them give the Winterhawks a run for their money. If the Rockets are to have a chance, Brett Bulmer is going to have hit and score and essentially emulate Milan Lucic in his run with the Giants.
Also key will be attempting to shut down the Winterhawks’ powerplay which led the WHL and gave Ty Rattie 26 of his 57 goals on the year.
Prediction: I can see the Rockets taking a game or two early but the Winterhawks will take this one. ‘Hawks in six.
(4) Vancouver Giants 40-26-2-4 v (5) Spokane Chiefs 38-25-5-4
This year’s post-season berth marks the tenth straight for Vancouver, one of the flagship franchises of the WHL.
The coaching battle will be key in this series as Don Hay squares off against Don Nachbaur, sixth all-time in coaching wins and fifteenth in playoff wins.
This 4/5 series, already containing the most leveled match-up could very well come down to a battle of the brains between the two Dons.
The Vancouver Giants’ Brendan Gallagher meanwhile, with a 40 goals a pro contract and a bronze medal on the year, will get well acquainted with Spokane’s blueliner Brenden Kichton, who led all blueliners and his team with 74 points on the year.
Adam Morrison, a revelation between the pipes for Vancouver this year, will get his first taste of post-season action but will have to do it without the steady hand of David Musil on the blueline, out with a fractured wrist.
Let’s call this one the Mods v the Rockers as the Giants are owned in part by Michael Buble and the Chiefs have Liam Stewart on their roster, son of Rod Stewart.
Prediction: Giants in seven, Gallagher won’t let his junior career end quite just yet.