1 - HERE WE GO! - Yes, hold onto your hats Saskatchewan! The Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders are onto the second round after each team swept their opening round series. It will be a wild ride and highway #11 will be packed on a nightly basis.
I’ll get more into this next week. But for now, let’s take a look back at their respective series.
2 - SASKATOON MOVING ON - The Saskatoon Blades knocked off the Moose Jaw Warriors in four-straight (as was predicted here just last week) but it was anything but easy! Each game went down to the wire with the series starting and ending with Saskatoon wins in overtime. The Game 1 victory on Friday night was Saskatoon’s first playoff win since 2011. I bet that one felt good!
Max Gerlach and Kirby Dach led the way for Saskatoon offensively and a veteran backend, that general manager Colin Priestner has assembled over the past two seasons, did a tremendous job keeping Moose Jaw’s stars at bay.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, they had to deal with key injuries to stars Brayden Tracey and Justin Almeida. But, Tim Hunter did get great mileage from some of their depth players while Josh Brook and Jett Woo were workhorses on the back end. After leading the WHL a year ago, this group put together 40 wins and a third place finish. Hold your heads high Moose Jaw.
3 - PA NOT SLOWING DOWN - The Red Deer Rebels proved to be anything but an easy out for the Prince Albert Raiders in round one. Red Deer held the Raiders’ power play to just 2 of 13, Brandon Hagel led the way with four goals and six points but, in the end, the Raiders were just too much.
Deadline acquisition Dante Hannoun is healthy and enjoyed a fine series scoring twice and adding three helper. Former Moose Jaw Warrior Noah Gregor also had five points while Brett Leason chipped in twice in the series-clinching win. Ian Scott finished with a 1.75 goals against average and a .915 save-percentage.
4 - OIL KINGS BACK IN IT - The Edmonton Oil Kings are right back in their series with the Medicine Hat Tigers after an emphatic 5-1 win Wednesday night to even their best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarter-final series at 2-2. Trey Fix-Wolansky picked up a pair of assists (just his second and third points of the series) but has been held without a goal after scoring 37 times and registering 102 points on the season. If he heats up, look out!
Meanwhile, until game four, Mads Sogaard had been terrific in goal and the Tigers’ best players were leading the way. It’s now a best-of-three!
5 - GAME 4 IN COWTOWN - Just a pair of Thursday night games including the Calgary Hitmen at home to Lethbridge for game four in their series. They enjoyed a night off Wednesday as the Calgary Flames were playing host to the Dallas Stars.
The Hitmen are back in the series after a 5-3 win on Tuesday night. Trouble for Calgary if leading scorer Mark Kastelic can’t play. He did not dress in game three. Also, 77-point forward James Malm has been held pointless thus far and it’s time for him to get back on track.
6 - OT FOR TC - The lone other game in the WHL playoffs Thursday night is the Tri-City Americans, fresh off a come-from-behind win in overtime Wednesday night, playing host to the Everett Silvertips. Parker Aucoin was the overtime hero, giving the Americans’ their first win of the series. The 20-year-old put up 42 goals and 84 points in the regular season.
Everett is outshooting Tri-City 128-84 through three games.
7 - PUSHING #1 - The Seattle Thunderbirds are proving to be a tough out over on the West Coast. Their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series with top-seeded Vancouver is even at two games apiece after Seattle’s game four win on Wednesday night. The Thunderbirds erased a 3-1 third period deficit to win the game 4-3.
The two teams have combined for 10 powerplay goals in four games, including the Thunderbirds going 4/9 over the last two. The series shifts back to Langley on Friday night.
8 - ON THE BRINK - The Spokane Chiefs are on the verge of advancing to the Western Conference semi-final after a 4-3 overtime win over Portland in game four. It’s the second overtime win in the series for the Chiefs in as many games.
Wednesday night it was 17-year-old Saskatoon product Adam Beckman who played hero scoring his third goal of the series 4:39 into overtime. Spokane is a whopping 5/9 on the powerplay in the series.
The Winterhawks have been without Vegas Golden Knights’ 1st round pick Cody Glass, who has yet to dress for a game in these playoffs. His absence has been felt on Portland’s top line.
9 - BAD BLOOD - Two full days off will feel like an eternity for the Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Royals after Kamloops evened up their series at two. Things turned ugly when Royals’ forward Kody McDonald let his temper get the best of him and swung his stick at the Kamloops bench. It resulted in a match penalty and further discipline is expected.
For the Blazers, Jermaine Loewen has been a fun story to follow. The 21-year-old has been on fire picking up points in nine of his last 10 games dating back to the tiebreaker and into the end of the regular season. The Arborg, MB product has seven goals and seven assists over that span, including an assist on Connor Zary’s game-winner Wednesday night.
For Victoria, former Prince Albert Raiders’ McDonald and Carson Miller each have three points while veteran netminder Griffen Outhouse has been solid posting a 2.94 goals against average and a .917 save-percentage.
10 - STEEL IN THE SPOTLIGHT - Next week I’ll get more into all the individual performances, like that from Davis Koch of the Vancouver Giants and Nolan Maier of the Saskatoon Blades.
But for now, a big congratulations to former Regina Pats’ star Sam Steel on becoming the youngest player in Anaheim Ducks’ history to record a hattrick on Tuesday night. I love watching young players develop in junior hockey and go on to have success in the pros.
See you at the rink!
(Follow Darren on Twitter at @darrendupont)