The race to determine who will be the WHL rep at the Memorial Cup in Rimouski, Quebec starts in earnest tonight as seven of the eight first round best of 7's get underway. Calgary started things off last night with a 5-0 win over Edmonton. I don't expect the Hitmen to get much of a challenge in this series and to win it in four straight. The Hitmen are so solid from top to bottom and if one guy doesn't get you, another one will. They are so deep in so many different areas that not only should they beat Edmonton in four but they should be the ones hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup and perhaps the Memorial Cup. They are a treat to watch. As for the other first round matchups and predictions, here you go.
Lethbridge vs Saskatoon
The Blades surprised a lot of people this year with their play. They were one of the top teams in the WHL and a lot of people see them as being a legitimate threat to perhaps knock off Calgary. The Blades are also an inexperienced team when it comes to the playoffs having not been in the previous two years. The Hurricanes are the defending Eastern Conference champs and have three NHL first rounders on their team in Zach Boychuk, Kyle Beach and Luca Sbisa. However, Lethbridge has a problem in net as Juha Metsola will miss the opener as he recovers from a concussion suffered last weekend. He will miss Game 1 and maybe Game 2. If Metsola was 100 percent, I would take the Hurricanes in an upset. With Metsola missing perhaps the first two games, I will take the Blades in 6 tough games. Just a reminder, this is the series that SHAW and Access will have. It will be a beaut.
Kootenay vs Brandon
Kootenay played some great hockey down the stretch but they just don't have the horses to compete with Brandon. The Wheat Kings possess six players who scored at least 24 times and have nine forwards who had at least 45 points. They will just keep coming at the Ice and it will eventually become too much. Brandon in 6
Swift Current vs Medicine Hat
I like the Tigers, I really do! Willie Desjardins is one of the top if not the top coach in the league. Tyler Ennis is worth the price of admission alone. Medicine Hat has owned Swift Current in previous playoff matchups and if there is a series that is going to go 7 this will be it. The Broncos have the edge in goal with Travis Yonkman and they have the better team on paper. Medicine Hat will make it interesting if they can steal one of the first two in Swift Current but the Tigers weren't very good on the road this season winning just 13 times. The Broncos take this one and if they do head to Medicine Hat with a 2-0 lead they will take it in 5.
Vancouver vs Prince George
MISMATCH!!! The Giants beat the Cougars in all eight meetings this year and were outscored 40-11 in those eight games. Need I say more. Vancouver in 4.
Tri-Cities vs Everett
The Americans-Silvertips series should also be a short one as Tri-Cities is very solid at all aspects of the game. Like Brandon against Kootenay, I see Tri-Cities just coming in waves at the Tips who just won't be able to cope. Tri-Cities in 4
Kelowna vs Kamloops
The Rockets enter the playoffs as the WHL's hottest team having won their last eight including games against Calgary. They are one of the elite teams in the league having had success against the Hitmen, Giants, Chiefs and Americans. They would have to be considered the longshot to win the Ed Chynoweth Cup. Getting Mark Guggenberger from Swift Current really helped the Rockets in net as he went 17-3-3. The Blazers lost all nine meetings with the Rockets this year but goalie Justin Leclerc will steal one for Kamloops. Take the Rockets in 5.
Spokane vs Seattle
The Chiefs are the defending Memorial Cup champs and with guys like Dustin Tokarski, Drayson Bowman, Mitch Wahl and several others who hoisted the Cup--or at least what was left of it--they will be tough. If Spokane had Jared Cowen in the lineup, I might be prone to taking them to knock off Vancouver. I still think they could. They will beat Seattle in this series and again it could be in 4 straight.
Bottom line.....DROP THE PUCK AND LETS PLAY!!! It gets fun starting now!!!