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Monday, September 25, 2017

Something To "Mitch" About

Brandon Bridge Sept. 24/17

--If you had told me Sunday morning the Saskatchewan Roughriders would hold the Calgary Stampeders out of the endzone and limit them to under 20 points, I would have told you the Riders would get a win.  As you know, that wasn't the case as the Stamps managed to grind out a 15-9 win in a playoff-type football game.  It was a defensive struggle in an offensive-minded CFL which tells you just  how difficult is was for both teams. 

   What put Calgary over the top on this afternoon was Jerome Messam. The Riders simply not could contain the big bull on this afternoon. When Calgary needed him to get yards, he did so most of the time getting well over 100.  He makes Bo Levi Mitchell better, he makes Calgary better. It's as plain as that. 

  Other thoughts on what transpired 

  • Penalties simply derailed Saskatchewan's chances. The biggest one could have been Caleb Holley going offside on what would have been a 34 yard gain on a well executed screen pass that put the Riders inside the Calgary 35. On the next play, Kevin Glenn was sacked and another drive was snuffed out. 
  • Despite the final outcome, the Riders showed everyone they can play with the CFL's best. The 3rd meeting will come in Calgary.
  • The Naaman Roosevelt hit was ferocious and was a definite head-shot. There have been too many of these in the CFL over the past few weeks. Does the CFL need to take a page from the NCAA and start ejecting guys for "targetting"?
  • Chris Jones said after the game, more emphasis is needed on the run game. No kidding!

At the end of the day, it was a game where maybe if you are playing one of the other teams in the CFL you win, but you were playing the best and you can't have the mistakes you had and expect to win. Calgary wasn't perfect, but they were better than the Riders on this day. 

--Give credit to 620 CKRM's Luc Mullinder.  He called the Hamilton win over BC in Vancouver.  Does that say more about the Lions or the Ti-Cats?

--How much longer does Darian Durant have in Montreal? He has lost all confidence he has.


--Saturday was a tough loss for the Regina Rams.  Give all the credit in the world to the Manitoba Bisons. One week after allowing 76 at home to Calgary, Manitoba came in with their back-up quarterback and shocked Steve Bryce's bunch.  The Rams had no luck whatsoever on this afternoon.  Kyle Moortgat had an easy TD reception slip through his fingers as he was 10 yds behind the closest Manitoba player. On the next play, Noah Picton throws a pick six.  14 point turnaround.

The Rams looked like they might do that themselves in the 3rd quarter when Danny Nesbitt intercepted a Bisons pass and took it back 70 yards deep into Manitoba territory, but that ended when Atlee Simon fumbled at the one.

The team then had not one, but two attempts to kick a game-tying field goal in the last 3 minutes, but both Daniel Scraper and Thomas Huber missed and Manitoba walked out with the improbable "W".

The Rams have not looked crisp in their last two outings offensively.  Something isn't clicking, and with games against the Huskies, T-Birds and Dinos in the 2nd half of the season, whatever isn't working needs to quickly.   It sets up what should be a ring-a-ding-dong dandy in Saskatoon Friday night.
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--  It didn't take long for the buzz to start rolling through the Brandt Centre as the Pats unveiled 100th anniversary jerseys......and a very nice, and smart looking uni as well.   After coming out in their traditional blue for warm-up, I don't know how many were really paying attention when Tyler Brown came out in pre-game introductions with the new look, but it didn't take long.  There were a few who weren't in favour of it, but the majority were with one asking me as I was leaving the building when they could buy one.  I don't know the answer to that question.   

As for the game, it was certainly a different looking Pats team than the one who got blasted 8-1 in Brandon the night before.  Paddock's Proteges came out flying and with guys like Matt Bradley, Wyatt Sloboshan and Jeff De Wit leading the way, they looked fine.  I still would like to see a couple of more experienced blueliners on the squad, and I know Josh Mahura will log a lot of ice-time once he returns from Anaheim, but the forwards look solid with reinforcements on the way.  A couple of people asked me if there is a chance Connor Hobbs could return from Washington's camp.  I don't think so. 

There is a silent confidence oozing from this team though as they begin the journey to the Memorial Cup. I think everyone knows what John Paddock's game-plan is and in Paddock they trust.  They should!

--Week 3 of the NFL was a rather bizarre one.  Those who had Green Bay in their survivor pools (like me) had to sweat one out over Cincinnati while the Vikings found a way to win with Case Keenum,  Other thoughts


  • Cleveland can't even beat the Colts
  • Tom Brady doesn't amaze anymore. You just expect him to do what he did against Houston
  • Jay Cutler is not the answer in Miami.  DUHHH!
  • There are a lot of teams in the NFL who should have a better record after three weeks and a lot of teams who have a good record that shouldn't. There is a long ways to go to correct everything. Three weeks in, and there are only two unbeatens.  #parity
  • You can't say a lot when you are beaten by a 61 yd FG at game's end. That kick by Philly's kicker was amazing!
  • The unsportsmanlike conduct call on Von Miller in the Denver-Buffalo game was horrible. That official should not work again. 

--The last week of the baseball season is upon us and there are basically no races. Minnesota will win the 2nd wildcard spot in the American League, Colorado should win the 2nd wildcard spot in the National League and the Cubs will win the National League Central.   It still sets up what should be a great playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Arizona Diamondbacks popped champagne and jumped into the pool at Chase Field for having the right to host the NL wild-card. Yes, they did all that for possibly playing Game 163 and then calling it a season.  ????? #dumb.   I've said it once, I'll say it again. Celebrate when you win your division, your league or the World Series. The other things mean squat as far as I'm concerned.


That's all I got. Have a great week!
     
     
     




Sunday, September 24, 2017

Depth Charts for Sunday's Riders-Calgary Game


 

 
620 CKRM's game-day coverage starts at 11 with the play-by-play at 2. 

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Pats Unveil 100th Anniversary Jersey



The Regina Pats Hockey Club unveiled their 100th Anniversary Season jerseys at their home opener on Saturday night at the Brandt Centre.

The special edition commemorative jersey design for the Regina Pats 100th anniversary season is a tribute to the proud history of Canada’s oldest junior hockey franchise. The simple, classic styling, with its prominent colour band across the chest and arms, emblazoned with authentic Pats lettering, pays respect to the original uniform, first worn a century ago.

“The Pats would like to thank the design team at the Brandt Group of Companies for making this all possible,” said Pats COO Stacey Cattell. “The entire organization is excited to showcase the jersey on numerous 100th Anniversary themed nights throughout the 2017-18 season.”

The traditional colour palette also harkens back to a century ago, when a hockey sweater really WAS a sweater. The four embroidered crowns, mirroring the crown on the Regina city flag, signify the four Memorial Cup titles won by the team in its century of existence and the new centennial season crest on the left shoulder brings the jersey design full-circle, demonstrating that Regina Pats pride is alive and still growing stronger in 2017.

“We are honoured to have been entrusted with the privilege of recognizing Canada’s oldest hockey brand in its centennial year,” says Brandt Group of Companies Design Director, Chris Kroeker. “We look forward to seeing these 100th anniversary uniforms out there all season long, as the Pats make their way to the Memorial Cup!”

The Pats went on to win their home opener 4-2 thanks to two goals from Matt Bradley including one late in the first period on a penalty shot.

Swift Current visits the Brandt Centre Wednesday.

Manitoba Upsets The Rams




 The University of Regina Rams finally got the offence rolling in the second half but it was too little, too late as Manitoba held on for an 18-16 road win on Saturday afternoon at Mosaic Stadium.

The Bisons (1-3) didn’t score an offensive touchdown in their first victory of the season, but got three field goals from Brad Mikoluff and scored their only major of the game on a 47-yard pick six by Jayden McKoy just before halftime. The Rams had two chances to tie the game in the last three minutes, but Daniel Scraper and Thomas Huber both missed field goals from identical 42-yard distances.

Manitoba’s defence picked off Rams quarterback Noah Picton three times, all in the second quarter. James Mau had the first one and McKoy had critical interceptions on back-to-back possessions late in the quarter, the first coming on the pick six and the second in the end zone as the Rams were trying to answer right back from the defensive touchdown. Houston Rennie and Derek Dufault both had sacks for Manitoba, with Rennie’s coming in the final minute to force the Rams into a second-and-19 situation.

Des Catellier got the start at quarterback for the Bisons and finished 18-for-29 and racked up 212 passing yards. Manitoba running back Jamel Lyles led all players with 207 all-purpose yards, 77 of which came on his 20 rushing attempts.

The only points of the first quarter went to Manitoba on a conceded safety by the Rams, and the Bisons went up 8-0 in the second on Mikoluff field goals from 32 yards out and 11 yards out. Possibly the turning point of the entire game came on a two-play sequence late in the second after the Rams had just collected a pair of first downs to get out to their own 35-yard line. Picton found Kyle Moortgat behind coverage for what surely would have been a 75-yard touchdown, but Moortgat couldn’t find the handle on it and the next play was McKoy’s interception return major. And on the very next drive, the Rams drove 59 yards downfield before Picton’s pass to Huber was picked off by McKoy for his second interception in as many possessions.

The Rams also missed an opportunity in the third quarter after Danny Nesbitt collected the fourth longest interception return in school history, picking off a ball near the Rams’ goal line and bringing it all the way back to the Manitoba 39-yard line. The Rams got all the way down to the three, but Atlee Simon fumbled right at the goal line and Manitoba’s Shae Weekes was there to recover.

In the fourth, the Rams scored the only offensive touchdown of the game for either team after a 56-yard completion to Mitchell Picton set the table for a one-yard plunge for a major by short-yardage quarterback Frankie Gray. On the Rams’ two chances to tie up the game with 42-yard field goals, Scraper’s attempt was wide to the right and run out by Lyles while Huber pulled his kick left of the uprights for a single point with just 23 seconds remaining. Manitoba was then able to kneel out the clock for the win.

Noah Picton ended up 27-for-36 for the Rams and finished with 338 passing yards, but was held without a touchdown pass for the first time since the team’s loss to Alberta last season. Mitchell Picton had nine receptions for 136 yards, while Ryan Schienbein also had nine catches and finished with 86 receiving yards. Layne Hull had Regina’s lone sack, while Cord Delinte was credited with a pair of pass breakups.

The Rams, who outgained Manitoba 263 to 115 in the second half and 390 to 274 overall, fall to 2-2 on the season and will now prepare for a Week 5 road game against the University of Saskatchewan Huskies on Friday

2017-18 WHL BC Division Preview

Image result for western hockey league


KELOWNA ROCKETS


General Manager: Bruce Hamilton
Head Coach: Jason Smith
Pre-season record: 3-0-1-0
2016-17 record: 45-22-5-0, Second in B.C. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference Final to Seattle (4-2)
Top scorers: RW Kole Lind (30-57-87), LW Calvin Thurkauf (33-37-70), C Nick Merkley (23-40-63)
20-year-olds: C Tomas Soustal (18-29-47), LW Carsen Twarynski (17-26-43), LD Devante Stephens (13-22-35), LD James Hilsendanger (6-21-27), LD Gordie Ballhorn (2-7-9)
Imports: C Marek Skvrne (Czech Republic), C Tomas Soustal (Czech Republic), RD Liobr Zabransky (Czech Republic)  
Forwards: With the Nick Merkley era in Kelowna over, the team will still retain enough offensive firepower to make them a division contender.
Kole Lind was returned to the Rockets from the Vancouver Canucks after a brief audition at camp and is projected to be one of the top offensive players for his team and in the conference.
An injury derailed the start of Dillon Dube’s season last year, but the Calgary Flames prospect made an immediate impact when he returned to the lineup in November 2016, tallying seven points in his first four games back. With him having a productive camp with the Flames this season, but likely to be sent back, Dube will bring an energized presence to the forward core of the Rockets. His 1.38 points-per-game in 40 games last season was the best mark of his WHL career so far.
Defence: The Rockets are in a tough spot for overagers, but that situation is especially true on the blue line with three of them. Stephens could alleviate that situation somewhat if he ends up staying in the professional ranks.
That would make Cal Foote the undisputed leader on the team’s blue line when he returns from camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Blue liners like Braydyn Chizen will be asked to take on bigger roles this season and how they adjust will impact how long the Rockets are playing hockey into the spring.
Goal: After Michael Herringer aged out, the starting role appears to have been placed upon the shoulders of last year’s backup Brodan Salmond.
His statistics is 23 games – 12-7-2-0, 2.76, 0.891, 3 SO ­‑ were promising, but he’ll be counted on in a bigger role this season. How he adjusts to a full-time workload will be of critical importance to the Rockets.
Backup James Porter played relatively well in his two pre-season contests and could command some significant time in net. Depending how the Rockets plan to share the crease will be an important factor.
Player to watch: Nolan Foote and Kyle Topping both had productive rookie seasons on a deep Rockets team last season. Foote ended up leading all Rockets rookies with 19 goals and 35 points while Topping had 14 goals and 29 points.
The pair largely represent what has become a continuation of successful season for a Rockets franchise team that has won at least 45 games in each of the past five seasons, winning 50-plus games in three of those years.
Prognosis: The Rockets have finished as one of the top two teams in the B.C. Division for the past five seasons and in nine of the past 10 campaigns. That run has featured four division titles, two Ed Chynoweth Cups as champions of the WHL and one of the richest offerings of alumni to the NHL ranks by any CHL franchise.
The team appears set up front and on the blue line give or take for some minor roster trimmings. Goaltending may be the biggest unknown for the team going forward. Don’t expect the Rockets to fall out of those top two spots in the division because of it though.


KAMLOOPS BLAZERS

General Manager: Stu MacGregor
Head Coach: Don Hay
Pre-season record: 2-2-0-1
2016-17 record: 42-24-2-4, Third in B.C. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference quarter-final to Kelowna (4-2)
Top scorers: RW Deven Sideroff (36-42-78), RW Rudolfs Balcers (40-37-77), C Lane Bauer (36-35-71)
20-year-olds: LW Nic Holowko (7-13-20), C Nick Chyzowski (16-26-42), RD Joel Gatenby (7-31-38)
Imports:  C Justin Sigrist (Switzerland), LD Ondrej Vala (Czech Republic)
Forwards: The aging out of Lane Bauer and Collin Shirley will be 40 goals the team needs to replace if they want to stay competitive in the division this coming season. Add in the likelihood of losing their top two goal scorers from last season in Deven Sideroff and Rudolfs Balcers and it’s a challenging hill for the Blazers to climb.
The x-factor for the Blazers will come from third-year center Garrett Pilon. The third-round selection of the Washington Capitals is impressing in camp and will return hungry for a huge year with the Blazers after a 65-point sophomore campaign last season. Quinn Benjafield impressed with a 42-point season last year and will be relied upon to be one of the Blazers’ offensive leaders this year.
Defence: Where the team will face a bevy of departures up front, the blue line is relatively stable with Gatenby and Vala expected back in increased roles this season. They should help to stabilize the team’s front end and keep the puck out of their own end.
Luke Zazula impressed in a 54-game rookie season last year and should find himself relied upon more this season, especially after the team bid farewell to overage defenceman Dallas Valentine.
The last time the Blazers selected in the top five of the WHL Bantam Draft, they selected North Vancouver, B.C.’s Nolan Kneen third overall. He’s been a regular in the lineup over the past two seasons and could see significant growth this coming year.
Goal: Connor Ingram was a steady presence between the pipes for the Blazers over the last three seasons, but will likely be making the jump to the professional hockey ranks with the Tampa Bay Lightning, forgoing his final year of junior eligibility.
To accommodate for Ingram’s departure, the team acquired 1998-born net minder Kyle Dumba from the Calgary Hitmen to compliment projected starter Dylan Ferguson. Max Pagala posted fair pre-season numbers, but as the youngest of the three goaltenders, could find himself on the outside looking in come the start of the season.
Player to watch: Though not technically a player, the importance of this season to Blazers head coach Don Hay will be worth taking note of. Hay became just the second coach in WHL history to surpass the 700-win mark for his career last year and will very likely set the record for all-time wins this coming season. He’s 22 wins shy of tying the great Ken Hodge, who has 742 wins for his career.
Jackson Shepard returns as the team’s young face in their forward core. With 12 points in 41 games last season as a rookie, both Shepard and the Blazers will be expecting bigger things from the winger’s development this coming year.
Prognosis: There’s no real way around losing four of your top five scorers and your starting goaltender in one off-season. There will be moments where those losses will be felt, but the Blazers have been trending upward in recent seasons, finishing just six points behind the division-winning Cougars last year.
The Blazers might not be the same team they were last year, but it won’t be a catastrophic downgrade either. With the legendary presence of Don Hay behind the bench, it’s reasonable to expect the Blazers to make it back to the post-season, but there’s questions still left unanswered that will determine the true length of their season.


VANCOUVER GIANTS

General Manager: Glen Hanlon
Head Coach: Jason McKee
Pre-season record: 5-1-0-0
2016-17 record: 20-46-3-3, Fifth in B.C. Division
2017 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Top scorers: RW Ty Ronning (25-28-53), C James Malm (20-31-51), LW Tyler Benson (11-31-42)
20-year-olds: RW Ty Ronning (25-28-53), C Jack Flaman (15-7-22), C Brad Morrison (21-31-52), RD Darian Skeoch (1-9-10)
Imports: C Milos Roman (Slovakia)
Forwards: There’s a lot to like about what’s going on in Vancouver.
Captain Tyler Benson is averaging nearly a point-per-game in a 132-game WHL career that has been interrupted by untimely injuries. The winger has already impressed enough to earn a contract with the Oilers, signaling that this could be his final season in the Lower Mainland. If he stays healthy, Benson could easily be one of the top offensive stars in the division.
James Malm had a productive sophomore campaign last season with 20 goals and 51 points. He continued to display his offensive flair in the 2017 pre-season with four goals and eight points in five games. Off-season acquisition Brad Morrison should add some dynamic scoring ability to the team as well.
Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Giants has already been answered in their favour as the New York Rangers returned Ty Ronning, their seventh-round selection in 2016, to the Giants earlier this week. His offensive ability will be relied upon again by the Giants as they push for a spot in the post-season.
Milos Roman, the team’s lone import this season, played at a point-per-game pace in in the Czech U20 league and was effective for his HC Trinec U20 squad in their run to a league championship last season with 12 points in 10 games. How that translates to the North American ice surface remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that Roman brings an incredible offensive upside to the Giants.
Defence: Surrey, B.C. product Matt Barberis led the team’s blue line with 10 goals and 25 points last season in 48 games. A full season in the same role would be beneficial for both sides.
Dylan Plouffe will be eyeing an improvement on his 21-point campaign last season, ranking him second on the team’s blue line.
Overall, team defence will be a key focus for the Giants. An off-season of growth for both their forward and defensive cores should help the team work on turning their defensive game from a liability into an asset.
Goal: After trading away long-time goaltender Ryan Kubic earlier this week, the responsibility in the creases lies with last season’s backup David Tendeck and American goaltender Todd Scott.
Scott’s credentials as well as his stellar pre-season play (3-0, 2.45, .927) may have been enough to convince the Giants he represents the future in the crease.
For all the exciting offensive pieces up front, that core will be broken up after this season, making it imperative that the team remain sharp on defence and in net to effectively utilize those assets up front. It’ll be a big ask of both Tendeck and Scott, but there’s an opportunity for them to rise to the challenge and surprise the rest of the division.
Player to watch: Bowen Byram got an 11-game audition on the blue line last year and the third overall pick from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft has his focus on earning regular ice time with the Giants this season. How head coach Jason McKee utilizes him will be of great importance going forward.
Prognosis: Solid draft selections and savvy moves in the 2017 off-season could very well pay off for the Giants in 2017-18. The team going with two young goaltenders is certainly a question mark, but one that could turn into a big positive for the club throughout the season.
Expect the team’s core of forwards to go toe-to-toe with the best the division has to offer. Competing for a playoff spot is certainly realistic, but with so many moving parts in the division, it’s hard to peg any team to one position before the first puck has been dropped.

PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS

General Manager: Todd Harkins
Head Coach: Richard Matvichuk
Pre-season record: 3-3-0-0
2016-17 record: 45-21-3-3, First in B.C. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference quarter-final to Portland Winterhawks (4-2)
Top scorers: C Jansen Harkins (21-51-72), LW Nikita Popugaev (29-40-69), LW Jesse Gabrielle (35-29-64)
20-year-olds: LW Jared Bethune (22-27-49), LW Radovan Bondra (32-31-63), LW Aaron Boyd (9-15-24), C Brogan O’Brien (9-24-33), RD Shane Collins (2-11-13), LD Tate Olson (7-19-26)
Imports: Radovan Bondra (Slovakia), Nikita Popugaev (Russia), Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Belarus)
Forwards: With a logjam of overagers up front, it appears the team’s leading scorer from last season, Jansen Harkins, will find a new home with the American Hockey League’s Manitoba Moose this season. A player of Harkins’ skill will be hard to replace, but the Cougars are hopeful the players coming in can fill the void. Also gone is veteran Brad Morrison, who was traded to the Vancouver Giants in June as the team aimed to cut down their list over overagers.
Nikita Popugaev is set to re-join the Cougars after taking part in training camp with the New Jersey Devils. He’ll get a chance to improve on his 69 points last season between Moose Jaw and Prince George and play a role in replacing that lost offence from Harkins.
2014 third round WHL Bantam draft selection Ethan O’Rourke led the team in pre-season scoring with four goals and five points in four games. After getting his feet wet in the league with 19 games last season, he’ll be counted on in a more expanded role.
Defence: The Cougars were rewarded for their patience this off-season when 2013 WHL Bantam draft selection Dennis Cholowski left his collegiate team in the United States to join the WHL club.
Coming to the Cougars as a first round selection of the Detroit Red Wings in 2016, Cholowski should help offset the loss of a player like Brendan Guhle who seems destined for the AHL’s Rochester Americans this season.
Shane Collins and Tate Olson will be the other solidified veterans on the Cougars’ blue line, but with three extra overagers on their roster, whatever final decision is made by Todd Harkins could affect one or both of them.
Players like Colorado Avalanche selection Josh Anderson, Joel Lakusta, Ryan Schoettler and Jonas Harkins will come into this season expecting larger roles. Where they fit in the parameters of the Cougars depth chart will be interesting to watch.
Goal: While the team has holes to fill up front and on the blue line, perhaps the toughest departures they’ll face comes between the pipes as both Ty Edmonds and Nick McBride were added to the list of off-season departures.
That resulted in a three-way battle for the starting job in the pre-season between Tavin Grant, 2016 WHL Bantam Draft first round selection Taylor Gauthier and Lakeville, Minn.’s Isaiah DiLaura
Grant has 19 games of experience with the team, though he didn’t play with the team during the 2016-17 season. He didn’t register a win in the pre-season but posted positive figures besides that with a .964 save percentage and 1.21 goals against average in 99 minutes of action.
The tandem they end up going with will face stiff competition from the other four clubs trying to dethrone the defending division champions.
Player to watch: Gauthier is the youngest of the three goaltenders battling for a spot in the Cougars, but the 16-year-old already stands a tall 6-foot-1 and has a long resume full of success. In addition to being named the top goaltender in the Alberta Major Bantam AAA Hockey League two years in a row, Gauthier won a gold medal with Team Alberta at Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup. That winning pedigree in a goaltender as young as Gauthier is a trait any team would covet.
Prognosis: Last season’s battle for the division title came down to the wire and with the players the team are projected to lose, things won’t be any easier for the Cougars.
That being said, in the voids created by the departures, there’s tremendous potential for growth in the present and the future so the Cougars should remain a solid division contender for years to come.

VICTORIA ROYALS 

General Manager: Cameron Hope
Head Coach: Dan Price
Pre-season record: 1-2-1-0
2016-17 record: 37-29-5-1, Fourth in B.C. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference quarter-final to Everett (4-2)
Top scorers: C Matthew Phillips (50-40-90), LW Jack Walker (31-41-72), C Dante Hannoun (25-39-64)
20-year-olds: C Tyler Soy (25-30-55), RW Regan Nagy (18-23-41), LD Chaz Reddekopp (10-33-43)
Imports: LW Igor Martynov (Belarus), RW Yan Khomenko (Russia)
Forwards: For rookie head coach Dan Price, he’ll get a chance to work with a forward core that will bring back four of their top five offensive producers that will be challenging for a better result than their fourth-place finish from last season.
Offensively-dynamic players like Phillips will once again lead the team while they will also expect a player like Tyler Soy to regain his offensive form after a shortened 44-game season last year. Walker, who finished second in team scoring with 72 points will be a big loss to the team, but not one they are incapable of replacing.
Defence: The team will return the likes of Chaz Reddekopp, Scott Walford and Ralph Jarratt to their blue line this season with growth expected from all three. An early-September deal saw the Royals shore up their blue line with the addition of veteran Jared Freadrich from the Red Deer Rebels. His presence will be important to helping the Royals make a push towards the top of the division.
The notable departure on the back end comes from Quesnel, B.C. native Ryan Gagnon, who aged out after spending his entire 320-game WHL career with the Royals franchise and will utilize his WHL Scholarship while continuing his hockey career with the University of Calgary Dinos.
Goal: Griffen Outhouse was a workhorse for the Royals last season, playing 63 games and winning 34 of them. His 2.85 goals against average and 0.915 save percentage were bonuses that should add him into the conversation for the league’s top goaltenders this season. Having answered any questions about him being able to handle a larger workload last season, expect the Royals to utilize their star goaltender as much as possible once again.
Backing up Outhouse will likely be Hunter Arps, who was acquired earlier this month from the Brandon Wheat Kings, though the team still has 2000-born netminder Dean McNabb on their roster as well. Whoever does get to backup Outhouse may not get much game action, but will need to be sharp when they are called upon.
Player to watch: Eric Florchuk had quite the 2016-17 season as the Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. product made the jump to the WHL level with the Royals, playing in 51 games. He also had the chance to represent his country, winning a silver medal with Canada Black at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Eligible for the 2018 draft, this season could be a breakout year for the young center.
Prognosis: The ending to the 2016-17 season for the Royals was marred by injuries and the team’s record suffered. They went 2-6-1 in March before bowing out of the playoffs in six games against the Everett Silvertips. It’s a case of what might have been for the Royals as those lost points down the stretch separated them from what was a tight divisional race.
An off-season removed from that sour ending, the Royals are back and ready to compete for the division title. They’re one of the teams favoured to win the division due to an abundance of offensive talent up front and a similar defensive core that will return all but one key member.
One bad stretch in the B.C. Division can take you out of the division race easily, with the workload increased exponentially to earn it back. Staying consistent may be well-known in the book of hockey clich├ęs, but that trait will be especially true this year with the strong and capable core they have. A second division title for the Royals in three years is well within the realm of possibility.




Friday, September 22, 2017

WHL US Division Preview

Image result for western hockey league


EVERETT SILVERTIPS 

General Manager: Garry Davidson
Head coach: Dennis Williams
Pre-season record: 5-2-0-0
2016-17 record: 44-16-9-3, First in U.S. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference semifinal to Seattle (4-0)
Top scorers: Patrick Bajkov (29-49-78), Dominic Zwerger (28-47-75), Kevin Davis (9-50-59)
20-year-olds: RW Patrick Bajkov (29-49-78), LW Matt Fonteyne (20-27-47), Kevin Davis (9-50-59)
Imports: LW Martin Fasko-Rudas (Slovakia), RW Pavel Azhgirei (Belarus)
Forwards: Nanaimo, B.C. native Patrick Bajkov is set to lead the forward core of the Silvertips in his final year of junior hockey. Bajkov’s production took off last year as he recorded 29 goals and 78 points in 71 games. He’ll be expected to have a big year as the team tries to replace the departures of players like Dominic Zwerger.
2018 NHL Draft eligible prospect Riley Sutter finished with a 20-goal campaign and will factor in as a big part of the team’s continued offensive growth.
Left winger Orrin Centazzo tallied six goals and seven points in six pre-season games, perhaps giving a preview for what he’ll have in store this coming season.
Defence: It appears the Noah Juulsen era in Everett has come to an end. While the Silvertips will miss a player of his caliber when he makes the jump to the professional ranks, there are players ready to step in and fill the void.
The list begins with Kevin Davis, who didn’t miss a single game all season, setting career highs in the process. He’ll be looked to as one of the team’s leaders this year. West Vancouver, B.C. native Jake Christiansen did the same thing on a smaller scale, finishing with six goals and 19 points in the regular season. His role will grow this year as well.
Goal: The WHL’s Top Goaltender from the past two seasons returns looking for a three-peat. Cart Hart may miss a brief amount of time in camp with the Philadelphia Flyers, but his return to the Pacific Northwest seems a forgone conclusion.
With Mario Petit out as their backup, it looks as though Dorrin Luding is ready to inherit that role this season. He posted a 3-1 record in four pre-season games, and could be capable to tide the Silvertips over until Hart’s return.
Player to watch: After a strong second season with the Silvertips, the question for Connor Dewar becomes – what does he have in store for the third act? With the standard departures from the team, Dewar could find himself in a bigger role and a greater opportunity to contribute as the Silvertips attempt to win the division title for the third time in the past four seasons.
Prognosis: The Silvertips have been built into a very good regular season team, but have had yet to go on a deep run into the playoffs, losing in the second round the past three seasons.
What they’ve accomplished over the past three seasons (two division titles and averaging just shy of 42 wins per season) is the kind of success most teams in the league would yearn for.
The Silvertips should once again put forth a strong team in a U.S. Division that is shaping up to be as competitive as ever. What will be the impact of the departure of longtime head coach Kevin Constantine? How will the Dennis Williams era in Everett establish itself? The answers to both these questions will likely help set the stage for the Silvertips come the end of the regular season.

SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS 

General Manager: Russ Farwell
Head coach: Matt O’Dette
Pre-season record: 1-6-0-0
2016-17 record: 46-20-4-2, Second in U.S. Division
2017 Playoffs: Won Ed Chynoweth Cup, 0-3 at 2017 Mastercard Memorial Cup
Top scorers: Ryan Gropp (35-49-84), Matthew Barzal (10-69-79), Ethan Bear (2-8-42-70)
20-year-olds: LW Tyler Adams (4-11-15), C Donovan Neuls (14-27-41), RD Austin Strand (9-23-32), LD Turner Ottenbreit (7-25-32)
Imports: RW Sami Moilanen (Finland), LW Nikita Malukhin (Russia)
Forwards: The tough reality in junior hockey is that after winning a championship, a team will likely never be the same in the season that follows.
That reality rings true for the Seattle Thunderbirds as they begin post-championship life without the likes of forwards Ryan Gropp, Matthew Barzal, Keegan Kolesar and Alexander True, whom either aged out, are at NHL camps or signed to AHL deals. The team will face some big decisions as to how they fill those holes.
On the off-chance that either Barzal or Kolesar return, that’ll create complications with an already too-large 20-year-old core, though we aren’t holding our breath on that possibility.
That opens the door to players like Nolan Volcan, import winger Sami Moilanen and Donovan Neuls to factor into the Thunderbirds’ success more this year.
Defence: Ethan Bear is another one of those players that could return, but will likely find a job in the Edmonton Oilers’ professional organization after three impactful years in the league. His departure will also create a big hole for the Thunderbirds to fill.
Austin Strand and Turner Ottenbreit as well as Jarret Tyszka will likely move up the team’s blue line depth chart with Bear’s departure.
Aaron Hyman was a mid-season acquisition from the Calgary Hitmen who played in a lower-pairing role for the Thunderbirds but could find himself with more responsibilities this coming season, particularly after providing a steady presence during the club’s WHL Championship run.
Goal: With Rylan Toth aging out, there is a veteran void to fill between the pipes in the Emerald City.
The entire WHL watched in awe as 16-year-old Carl Stankowski stole the show during the 2017 WHL Playoffs, and while it was expected he would carry forward his cucumber-cool presence in the Seattle crease, a training camp injury has waylaid the sophomore netminder.
That prompted the Thunderbirds to acquire Liam Hughes from the Edmonton Oil Kings. He joins incumbent Matt Berlin, who owns valuable experience from the WHL Championship and Mastercard Memorial Cup journey. That could prove to be very beneficial, both in the short term and in the long run.
Player to watch: With what is known about the departures, not much is known about the arrival of Nikita Malukhin. The Thunderbirds have utilized their import spots well in past years with players like True and Moilanen. Depending on the type of game Malukhin can bring, it could help fill out some of the voids created from last year’s championship roster
Prognosis: In a league as competitive as the WHL, the Thunderbirds came together and peaked at the right time, going on a run unprecedented in club history. Claiming the first Ed Chynoweth Cup in franchise history, the Thunderbirds did so in electrifying fashion, only losing four playoff contests along the way.
The same challengers from last year in the U.S. Division are just as strong, if not stronger, this year and Seattle will fight to compete with all of them. A spot in the playoffs is certainly a realistic outcome for the Thunderbirds, but several variables still exist in determining their final fate.
Hockey is on the map in Seattle and it’s here to stay.

PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS 

General Manager: Mike Johnston
Head coach: Mike Johnston
Pre-season record: 4-2-0-0
2016-17 record: 40-28-1-3, fourth in U.S. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference semifinal to Kelowna (4-1)
Top scorers: Cody Glass (32-62-94), Skyler McKenzie (42-42-84), Keegan Iverson (26-44-70)
20-year-olds: RW Evan Weinger (20-18-38), C Alex Overhardt (14-18-32), LD Keoni Texeira (12-33-45), G Cole Kehler (32-17-0-3, 3.10, 0.910, 2 SO)
Imports: LW Joachim Blichfeld (Denmark), RD Henri Jokiharju (Finland)
Forwards: Kieffer Bellows’ decision to join the Winterhawks this off-season was a huge get for the club. Though he may be absent due to his commitments with the New York Islanders, when he does eventually arrive, Bellows could be the catalyst that takes the Winterhawks to the top.
There is a looming decision to be made with their overager core for this season, but when you consider that the Winterhawks could keep the core of Glass, Bellows and McKenzie together for the next two seasons, that’s a dangerous proposition for the other four teams in the division.
Team captain Keegan Iverson departed for the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, so there is a sizeable leadership void to be filled.
Defence: The toughest departures for the Winterhawks will come on the blueline. Caleb Jones is eligible to play in the AHL and with him quickly climbing the radar of the Edmonton Oilers, he may find himself in the professional hockey world sooner rather than later, especially with the Winterhawks already above the overage limit.
The question now becomes who can replace Jones and his contributions both offensively and defensively. Jokiharju and Texeira will bolster the team’s blue line, while Carolina Hurricanes draft selection Brendan De Jong will find himself in an increased role this season.
Matthew Quigley was a regular contributor throughout the pre-season for the Winterhawks and could find himself growing in a depth role again for Portland this coming season.
Goal: The Winterhawks appear set in net with the tandem of Cole Kehler and Shane Farkas. Kehler’s 32 wins last season were tied with the likes of Carter Hart and Ty Edmonds. The Winterhawks will be expecting big things out of Kehler in his final season of junior hockey while they’ll also look to Farkas to take a step forward after factoring into 10 games last season.
Player to watch: With the Winterhawks producing four NHL Draft selections this past June, it’s inevitable that those players will eventually move onto the next level. This will in turn make the next generation of Winterhawks players responsible for picking up the reins of their predecessors and continuing the winning tradition.
Ty Kolle could be one of those players. A fourth-round selection of the Winterhawks in the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, Kolle has already played 13 regular season games with the club, registering three assists. In this year’s pre-season, the 2000-born forward from Quesnel, B.C. finished third on the team with four goals and six points.
Jake Gricius led the team with four goals and eight points through the pre-season, potentially signaling big things from the 1999-born center.
Prognosis: With players like Glass, McKenzie and Iverson at the helm of the Winterhawks offence, the team had the top-ranked offence in a powerful U.S. division last season, scoring 278 goals. The downside was that they gave up 256 goals, the third-highest total of any playoff team last season.
Statistics like that can’t rear their head again if the Winterhawks hope to climb up the divisional and conference rankings.
Glass, the first-ever draft selection in the history of the expansion Vegas Golden Knights franchise, could earn a brief audition with his new NHL club, but would be sorely missed around the Winterhawks dressing room.
The division certainly won’t be a cakewalk and the Winterhawks have the skills to overpower teams offensively, it’s just a matter of how they handle their defensive game that could make or break their season.


SPOKANE CHIEFS 

General Manager: Scott Carter
Head coach: Dan Lambert
Pre-season record: 4-1-0-2
2016-17 record: 27-33-8-4, fifth in U.S. Division
2017 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Top scorers: Kailer Yamamoto (42-57-99), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (39-37-76), Hudson Elynuik (29-44-73)
20-year-olds: C Hudson Elynuik (29-44-73), RW Rykr Cole (6-13-19), LD Tyson Helgesen (8-21-29)
Imports: LW Milos Fafrak (Slovakia)
Forwards: Kailer Yamamoto continued to terrorize defences across the league last year, tallying 42 goals and 99 points. He could challenge for the team’s all-time assists record held by Ray Whitney (207) if he has a big enough season.
Anderson-Dolan’s breakout season was enough for the Los Angeles Kings to select him in the second round of last year’s NHL Draft. How he elevates his game this year will impact the Chiefs as well.
This team will need to work to match the high-powered offences and multiple threats of the other clubs in their division though. They scored the most goals of any non-playoff team last season, but were still well off what teams like the Winterhawks and Americans accomplished.
Defence: The 2017-18 season marks the first year of draft eligibility for 2015 Bantam Draft first-overall selection Ty Smith. His 32-point season last year led all blue liners on the Chiefs, but seeing how he rises to the occasion of a big year individually could do wonders for the team at the same time.
Returning players like Tyson Helgesen and Nolan Reid will also be hungry to make it into the playoffs after a long off-season. How they perform early on could be an indicator for the team’s chances this coming season.
Goal: Last season’s goaltending presence was split between Jayden Sittler and Dawson Weatherill. Now that Sittler has aged out, the trio of Weatherill, Declan Hobbs and Donovan Buskey are still on the team’s pre-season roster.
Regardless of which tandem they go with, the Chiefs will be relying on a big improvement between the pipes to carry them back to the post-season.
Player to watch: Riley Woods was a mid-season addition from the Regina Pats and brought some offensive flair to the club with 21 points in 34 games. If he can pick up where he left off last season, he should enjoy a productive year that could substantially benefit the Chiefs.
Prognosis: Spending the post-season on the sideline is a rare occurrence for the Chiefs, one they were forced to deal with last season.
With an off-season to make moves and reposition themselves, the Chiefs have their sights set on the playoffs and more this coming year. Longtime head coach Don Nachbaur moved on to join the NHL’s LA Kings, bringing about the WHL return of Dan Lambert, who coached the Kelowna Rockets to a WHL Championship in 2015.
Having a forward core back that includes Kailer Yamamoto, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Hudson Elynuik and Riley Woods will make the Chiefs a potent threat offensively.
They’ll be in tough against the other four teams in their division, so it may end going down to the wire for playoff seeding among their division and the entire Western Conference.

TRI-CITIES AMERICANS 

General Manager: Bob Tory
Head coach: Mike Williamson
Pre-season record: 4-3-1-0
2016-17 record: 41-28-3-0, third in U.S. Division
2017 Playoffs: Lost in Western Conference quarter-finals to Seattle (4-0)
Top scorers: Morgan Geekie (35-55-90), Tyler Sandhu (23-60-83), Parker Wotherspoon (10-56-66)
20-year-olds: LW Jordan Topping (28-25-53), LW Maxwell James (8-9-17), RD Brendan O’Reilly (1-6-7), G Patrick Dea (19-31-2-1, 3.86, 0.882, 1 SO)
Imports: LD Juuso Valimaki (Finland), LD Sergei Sapgeo (Belarus), LD Roman Kalinichenko (Russia)
Forwards: For the offensive firepower present on the four other teams in the division, the Americans will go toe-to-toe with them and may end up coming out a step ahead.
Morgan Geekie surged offensively last season as the third round selection by the Carolina Hurricanes jumped from 12 goals and 25 points in 2015-16 to 35 goals and 90 points in. What his 2017-18 season holds in store will be critical for the success of the Americans.
Michael Rasmussen was one of three WHL players taken in the top 10 of last year’s draft class, going ninth overall to the Detroit Red Wings. Sixteen of Rasmussen’s goals last year came on the special teams (15 power play and one short-handed). With three more years of eligibility left in the league, the sky is the limit for the Surrey, B.C. product.
The team has likely seen the last of Parker Wotherspoon and Vladislav Lukin as they aim to pursue their professional hockey careers, while the departure of overager Tyler Sandhu will create a void in the team’s offensive attack.
Hoping to fill that void are players like rookie Sasha Mutala. The Americans’ first round selection in 2016, he recorded six goals and 10 points in eight pre-season games and could find his way into a regular role this season.
Defence: Juuso Valimaki, like Rasmussen, was selected in the first round of the 2017 NHL Draft, going 16th overall to the Calgary Flames. The Finnish product who finished fourth in team scoring with 61 points in just his second season, despite missing 12 games, will be back for another campaign and seems ready to dominate once again. The team already has two imports, meaning the Americans are preparing for the reality that Valimaki may spend time with the Flames this season. Valimaki’s gain could be a big loss for the Americans on the blue line.
The anchor for the defence could then become 1998-born blue liner Dylan Coghlan. His role on the blue line should increase dramatically, regardless of Valimaki’s return or not.
Goal: The departure of Rylan Parenteau, who aged out, will be a hole the Americans need to fill. To replace him, the Americans have Beck Warm and Patrick Dea. Whether the Americans decide to go with a rotation in net or have the experienced Dea lead the way, the team has two capable goaltenders.
In the offensive juggernaut that is the U.S. Division, both goalies will need to be at their best throughout the course of the season to keep the Americans near the top of the standings.
Player to watch: The Americans have many first-round picks with tremendous upside in addition to their current production levels. Parker AuCoin, the team’s first rounder in 2013, tallied 21 goals and 43 points last season. What he does for an encore will be worth watching. Carson Focht got a taste of the league last year in 62 regular season games and four more in the playoffs. He’ll be given the opportunity to grow and help the team more than last year and his offensive upside could kick in with that as well.
Prognosis: The Americans had the second-best offence in their division last season, but defence wasn’t the team’s strongpoint as they gave up the seventh-most goals in the conference.
The Americans have the pieces to change that statistic around in their favour, but it’ll take work. Some of those hopes will hinge on getting Valimaki back from the Flames, though his return would also complicate the team’s import situation.
Either way, with the U.S. Division appearing dangerously competitive on paper, you can expect the Americans to be right in the thick of an all-out war for the division crown.

Canada West Week 4 Football Preview

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Week 4 of the Canada West Football Season will see both the UBC Thunderbirds and Regina Rams trying to keep the pressure on first place Calgary. A preview of the weekend contests can be found here