Category Archives: CHL

All WHL, OHL, and QMJHL related talk

Hot Takes – Mar. 19th, 2018

It’s a junior hockey heavy edition of Hot Takes.  But before I get to talking some CHL playoffs, I got a niece and nephews who had some big weekends of their own.  My niece Devyn captained her Bantam Female B team to the provincial gold.  My nephew Gage and the Lloyd Pee-Wee AA Blazers took home the league title, taking a best of three series (all in Grand Prairie) 2-1, and are now off to provincials.  And finally my twin nephews as I’ve mentioned a few times this season play for the Whitecourt Wolverines who began their second round series with Fort Mac over the weekend in two outstanding games.  Both went to OT, both tied late (Whitecourt in game one with 1:04 to play, Fort Mac in game two with 35 seconds to play).  After being benched in game one, Chase Haygarth responded with a massive two assist performance and the Wolverines tied the series at one Saturday night.  This one really is shaping up to be a classic between two evenly matched teams.  Anyway, obviously my weekend went pretty good!  So let’s take a look at what else was going on in the hockey world, starting with the CHL playoffs.

 

QMJHL

I’d be lying if I suggested that I could speak like an expert to anyone on the Q.  Do I know it reasonably well?  Yeah, but not anywhere near the level to really speak on it.  I’ll simply say what I know.  Blainville-Boisbriand were the top team in the league, an 11 point gap on Acadie-Bathurst.  Blainville-Boisbriand are led by WJC surprise star Drake Batherson, but really don’t boast a star studded team.  If you ask me, the Q is wide open this season.  Again, I’m not the guy to ask, but from the outside looking in I’d say that anyone of Blainville-Boisbriand, Acadie-Bathurst, Rimouski, Halifax, Drummondville or Victoriaville have a legitimate shot to represent the Q in Regina.

 

What I’m going to be watching closely in the Q playoffs is a draft storyline which exists between two of those teams (Halifax and Drummondville) and their star players.  Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno.  The reason I want to focus on these two is because Zadina has become the darling of the scouting community (rightfully so).  Established by at least half of them as the clear cut number two prospect in the draft, and I personally would kill for the Oilers to get that second pick and take him in the draft.  But then you have Joe Veleno, who right from the get go this season felt like someone who the scouting community was looking to shit on.  And then out of the gates, playing for a TERRIBLE St. John team, he looked as though he was proving them right.  Only a PPG player, which is real good, but wasn’t meeting their expectations.  He got dealt to Drummondville right before the new year, and around that time was knocked down to the 15-20 range .  Since the beginning of January however, it doesn’t feel like anyone in the scouting community either notice, or want to notice that Veleno has been outstanding with his new team.  How outstanding?  Veleno put up 1.53 PPG from January on.  Zadina in that time?  1.44 PPG.  That’s tremendous too, but point being that in the same league, on similarly talented teams (Halifax finished one point better overall), Veleno has been the better point producer.  Veleno also gets high marks for his work ethic and commitment to his 200 foot game, he’s a 2000 born where Zadina is a late 99 and is a centre where Zadina is a winger.  I’m REALLY intrigued to follow and compare these two for the next month or so.  I’ve never seen the scouts shoot a player down their rankings and then right back near the top in the same season, but to my eye Veleno SHOULD do just that.  We’ll see…

 

OHL

This one is A LOT more clear cut, as the Soo Geyhounds have been running rough shot over the OHL all season and are the clear cut favourites as of writing this to not only win the OHL playoffs, but take home the Memorial Cup as well.  55-7-3-3 on the season, just ridiculous.  I really don’t mean to piss all over any excitement that may exist for the OHL playoffs, but I don’t know what to tell you.  The Soo are going to win barring a major rash of injuries.

 

And it’s another draft story that I’m looking forward to keeping an eye on here as well, this time a first round matchup between Niagara and Oshawa that’ll feature two kids I’m higher on than most.  Akil Thomas of the Ice Dogs, and Serron Noel of the Generals.  Very different players.  Thomas is a 5’11, 170 lbs highly skilled playmaking centre (though it’s questionable whether he can play the middle at the next level).  Noel is extremely raw, but is massive at 6’5, 209 lbs.  I have Noel higher ranked as of right now, but Thomas is without a doubt currently the better player.  Where these prospects are now and where they are five years from now will be intriguing as hell for a hockey geek like myself to follow.

 

WHL

The big story in the dub is the fact that you have three teams in the East who are probably the three best teams in the league.  So that means we have a first round matchup between two of these teams, Swift Current and Regina.  The Pats will obviously be in the Memorial Cup as hosts, but it’ll be just like Windsor last season where the hosts could be sitting at home for a long time before playing again.  And then the winner will more than likely get the Moose Jaw Warriors, who might be the only serious threat to the Soo Greyhounds Memorial Cup hopes.

 

Other than the tremendous hockey we’ll get to watch between the Broncos/Pats/Warriors, I really want to see how the Vancouver Giants fair.  Since Tyler Benson returned back in November this team has looked as good as any in the B.C. division.  Obviously it’s an Oilers slant with Benson, who has cameback with a vengeance and had about a 20 game stretch where he was close to two points a game.  He’s cooled off in the last two months, so I’m really interested to see if Benson can crank it up again in the playoffs.

 

It’s not playoffs per say, but congrats to the U of A Golden Bears on their 16th national championship!  I don’t know who was calling the game for Sportsnet yesterday, but the guy couldn’t have sounded less enthusiastic about what was a pretty good game.  And it wasn’t as though it was intentionally understated and an attempt to be a minimalist as they say in the sports broadcasting world.  He sounded like a guy who wanted nothing to do with being there and insanely bored.  He also just kind of nonchalantly said “Jamie Crooks from…Vermilion…British Columbia” I’m sorry, but get it right man.  This was after the game, not in the middle of the game and it sounded like he was reading it, and he still said B.C.  I don’t know if I could do a better job, but I would have sounded a hell of a lot more giddy about calling damn good high level hockey.  Hell, I’m talking CHL off the top, these kids all played in the CHL!  I know a kid currently playing in the CHL who isn’t even considering the U of A because he doesn’t think he’s good enough!  U Sports hockey (horrible name) is terrific hockey and deserved more respect than that dude seemed to show it during the broadcast.

 

Ok, onto some NHL stuff.

 

Excuse me if I don’t get that warm tingly feeling watching the Vegas Golden Knights fluke out and get every single break in the book this season.  I love the underdog, but I don’t love the underdog when they haven’t faced any kind of adversity.  The 1996 Florida Panthers weren’t anything lovable.  It was admirable how hard that group of nobodies played, but it was impossible to fall in love with a team that played boring, played in Miami, and had only been going for three years seeing absolutely zero adversity in that time.  The Golden Knights don’t even have many great stories!  They’re not really cast off’s as much as they were cap casualties or traded there.  Sure, teams let them go, but every team had to give up decent players the way the rules were structured.  It isn’t as though the G-Knights picked from the same talent pool the San Jose Sharks did in 1991.  And oh yeah, it’s Vegas.  If you’re living in Vegas it’s tough to gain sympathy from the rest of North America.  Maybe I’m alone in this, but unless they get the Avs in the first round (looks possible at the moment), I think they’re done in a max of five games.  Anaheim would smoke them, so would LA, and Minny would have their way with them too.  I better watch what I say though, because if you follow me on Twitter than you know I got the William Karlsson police watching what I say….what a fucking douche that guy was….

 

Then you have the team they pretty much eliminated yesterday.  I wrote about it last time, but I need to hit on it again with the Flames.  If it wasn’t for what happened in Edmonton, this team would be facing insane heat (pardon the pun) from the fans and media.  Instead, they’re just getting it from their fans.  First things first, Glen Gulutzan is without a doubt finished.  Brad Treliving?  As I wrote two weeks ago, he might also be on the chopping block (I wouldn’t, but I could see them doing it).  I’m not sure if they’ll be in the John Tavares sweepstakes this summer, but they should be.  Tavares, even at an insanely large ticket of 13-14 million per season, puts them in the Cup conversation.  If not him, I’m not sure what move they could make that would put them back in the playoff conversation for next season.  That’s not to say they can’t get there, but they got a brilliant year from Mike Smith and they’re still not going to come close.  Can’t deal the 2019 1st, because they’ll need to re-stock the system thanks to not having their first or second rounders this season (and now will not have their 2019 second rounder thanks to missing the playoffs).  Can’t trade your top prospect because they badly need Juuso Valimaki to step in next season, not to be their number six as was expected back in the fall, they might need him to step into their top four.  That vaunted blueline from the start of the season just hasn’t panned out.  I’d say the top pairing is terrific, but Brodie and Hamonic have both massively disappointed this season as the second pair.  I doubt Hamonic would have near the trade value he had last summer, but Brodie MIGHT still have some.  Brodie though has just not been the same player since Bob Hartley left.  Is that Glen Gulutzan, or can he only do what he did playing for Hartley?  Something is going to need to be done, because right now they’re stuck.  In 2015 I recall writing and constantly suggesting that season was going to be more of a curse than a blessing for the Flames.  Imagine if the Flames are bad that season….maybe they’re the ones with McDavid now?  Or even Eichel?  This organization desperately needs to do something major like a Tavares signing or somehow bringing in another star player.  Barring that, this is a finished rebuild with no hope of ever winning a Cup.

 

Thanks to that Travis Hamonic trade, the Islanders have some hope for the future, but that doesn’t mean the Islanders are in much less of a mess than the Flames.  John Tavares MIGHT re-sign, but I’m going to guess he won’t be re-signing with Garth Snow, and wouldn’t be playing for Doug Weight (which sucks because I LOVE Dougie).  My concern and most of Northern Alberta’s concern with the Oilers is that Peter Chiarelli is going to ruin Connor McDavid’s chances of winning Cups over the next five years or so.  McDavid is now in his prime, and while a generational players prime will last a lot longer than most, the clock is still ticking.  Garth Snow has somehow overseen John Tavares entire career and the best he’s ever got JT was a second round appearance where they got curb stomped by the Lightning.  Garth Snow HAS to be fired.  The guy has done so many awful moves over the years, it’s actually surprising things have done as well as they have.  I shudder to think of where they’d be at if Snow didn’t have that get out of jail free card named Peter Chiarelli….

 

I could write more doom and gloom with the Oilers, but I’m actually not going to.  I will believe Todd McLellan is gone until he’s not, and I would love to see Peter Chiarelli shown the door too even if it’s for a guy like Ken Holland (not my guy, but he’d be an upgrade).  But it’s been pretty clear since Maroon and Letestu were dealt and more speed was inserted that it’s made a world of difference.  Their confidence is still pretty shot as a team, and the blueline mostly thanks to injuries is still a mess, but watching them I do believe they aren’t far away from getting right back to the top of the division next season.  The big thing will be finding the proper wingers for McDavid.  I like that McLellan has given Pontus Aberg a chance and given Ty Rattie a chance with 97.  That’s what needs to happen is they need to find the right guys to play with him, not the biggest name.  Sid playing with Kessel didn’t work.  Chris Kunitz did, Connor Sheary did, Jake Guentzel did.  I don’t think Aberg is the guy at all (I actually don’t believe Aberg is much of a player at this point), Rattie looked better with McDavid but it’s far too early to suggest he’s the right fit, but it’s a guy along these lines.  Nic Petan?  Brett Connolly?  Artturi Lehkonen?  All guys who I personally would be looking into if I were running the Oilers.  And once they find these guys, even in the cap mess the Oilers are in, it’ll alleviate a lot of the problems they currently have.

 

They might have these guys in the system, but the problem is that one of them likely won’t be ready for at least a year, possibly two years in mind, that being the freshly signed Kirill Maksimov.  I got hyped about this kid the moment they drafted him last year and I saw a couple of OHL based scouts (Mark Seidel and Brock Otten) start raving about the pick.  So I made a point of tracking his progression this season and wow were they ever right.  His shot man…whether it’s the one timer or the wrist shot, they’re both bullets.  The wrist shot has no back swing.  And lately he’s proving that when teams are going to start taking away his shot that he can dish it too.  I said it when I did my top 20 prospects list that his big thing lacking is lower body strength, to my eye anyway.  Once he gains that, he’ll have an extra step that he’s currently lacking in his stride.  He’s a good skater, but could use an extra gear.

 

The other kid is Tyler Benson and obviously I talked about keeping a close eye on him in the WHL playoffs.  I just really believe Benson is going to be the perfect fit with McDavid.  Skating isn’t great, but it’s better than say Patrick Maroon and I don’t think anyone has complained about Maroon’s ability to keep up with McDavid.  Benson has always had that next level of hockey smarts, and it’ll always be a matter of staying healthy with him, but as long as he does I believe he’ll end up playing on McDavid’s wing before too long and he’s going to thrive there….as long as someone else hasn’t beat him to the spot.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Missing the TSN Boat

MMC-Championship-Game-2472210I hate that I didn’t have time to write a Memorial Cup preview this year.  Don’t believe I wrote one last year either, so 2 years now without.  This tournament deserves attention from the nation, and obviously me writing about it would give it that attention….

 

But seriously, it does deserve the attention and doesn’t get it.  Part of that is because the Stanley Cup playoffs are on at the same time.  I’m sure a little bit is because the weather is getting good and so us Canadians don’t want to be inside any longer!  But some of it, if not a lot of it, is because of the TV rights holder.

 

David Branch and the CHL had a perfect opening last year.  It was the last year of their deal with Rogers, and Rogers spent every penny they could find (can’t recall if pennies were out by then) on the NHL deal that now sounds like it is going to ruin them before the 12 years are up.  How in the heck did Branch not immediately run to Bell and TSN to get the best deal from them he could?

 

You know what TSN does?  It brings eyes to your games.  The World Juniors blew up as an event once TSN got their hands on it.  They put all their best people on the event and have turned it into a major event during the holiday season.  This year without the NHL, their best people were on the World Championship’s.  They aired just about every game, and while some of this was thanks to the presence of Sidney Crosby, I’ve never seen the World’s talked about more often on social media than they were this season.  The U 18’s, the CFL, NCAA hockey, TSN enhances all of these products.

 

CHL hockey on TSN would have been enormous for the league.  With 5 networks now, I would guess they would be airing 2 or 3 games a week.  Not only that, but TSN seemingly does a much better job promoting these events than Rogers seems to.  How big for the CHL would it have been to have a “game of the week” for each league, rather than the one CHL game a week that Rogers does on Friday nights?

 

I have very little doubt that the Mastercard Memorial Cup transformed into a major event in this country with the TSN machine behind it.  We’re talking about a network that lost the national rights to NHL hockey this season and STILL kicked Rogers ass in the ratings!  If the Mastercard Memorial Cup was on TSN this week we would be sick of hearing the ad’s.  Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro would be doing the games, James Duthie and Bob McKenzie would be on the panel (with others of course), Michael Landsberg would be doing OTR from Quebec City.  I don’t care how much Rogers were willing to give the CHL to renew the deal, David Branch should have known that A) it was the perfect time to leave as exposure would be even less with the NHL coming to Sportsnet, and B) TSN is simply the better network to be on.

 

And this is nothing against the people at Rogers doing the event.  R.J. Broadhead, Sam Cosentino, Jeff Marek, they’re all great.  I by no means am trying to piss on the job they’ve done.  But it just would have been much better for business to walk away from Rogers when they had the chance.

 

It isn’t as if times are tough for CHL owners, but the opportunity they missed out on by re-signing with Rogers instead of walking to TSN is pretty mind blowing.  TSN with the national rights to the NHL would give the CHL a big boost.  With all of their attention on CHL hockey like it would have been, this tournament going on right now which has been incredible, would have the national attention it really deserves.

 

Follow me on Twitter @TJ_Soups

Kings!

 

edmonton-oil-kings-memorial-cup

I was so ticked when I got sick the week leading into the Memorial Cup.  I wanted to do a tournament preview and didn’t get that chance.  Maybe a good thing though in hindsight.  Because this is basically how it would have read: “This tournament is Guelph, and everyone else”.  So I guess it saved me, because the Oil Kings would have made that look ridiculous!

 

What they pulled off was ridiculous.  This is a team that looked to be past it’s window entering the season.  They lost a ton of high end guys.  Half of the WHL’s best blueline in 2013 (Lowe, Musil, Gernat), a lot of key forwards (St. Croix, Ewanyuk, Foster, Wruck, and Legault) and then of course they lost Laurent Brossoit between the pipes.  Of course everyone knew they had a gem in Tristan Jarry, but Brossoit was a stud in the WHL and had proven himself.  Jarry had put up great numbers against weak competition and with such a great defensive squad in front of him.

 

The Calgary Hitmen had taken them 7 in 2013 and most expected them to over take Edmonton as the top team in the East, and even if Edmonton was to make it out of the East there would be no way they would be beating the defending WHL champs from Portland.

 

But Derek Laxdal really took his coaching stock to another level.  Sure they had high end guys still in Lazar, Samuelsson, Moroz and getting Griffin Reinhart back from the Islanders this season was a nice surprise.  But still this teams depth was a huge question mark and he molded guys like Pollock, Sautner, Mayo, Irving, Eller, and Kieser.

 

It isn’t as if this team shocked the world.  But it was clear out of the gate that while this team wasn’t as talented as the team that lost in 6 games to Portland in the WHL final, they were a team that had everyone on the same page.  All season they didn’t wow you on the ice, but they were incredibly efficient.

 

After cruising through the Eastern conference playoffs (in large part thanks to Kootenay upsetting Calgary), the Kings looked outmatched in the first 2 games of the final in Portland.  The Winterhawks just looked too deep and too talented.  But when the series got back to Edmonton, the Oil Kings started taking over the series by playing their game, and matching lines that took the Winter Hawks big guns like Nic Petan out of the series.

 

They pulled off the huge road win in game 5 of the series to take a 3-2 lead home and then held a 5-2 lead in the 3rd period of game 6.  Then the roof caved in.  They imploded, blowing the lead and losing in OT to force a game 7 in Portland the next night.  They were done.  You don’t take a blow like that and get back up.

 

But they did get back up, even after trailing 1-0 after the first period of game 7.  They exploded in the 2nd period and rode that 4 goal outburst to a 4-2 win and the Ed Chynoweth Cup.  We should have known right then that nothing could rattle this team from that point on.

 

Going into the Memorial Cup, I didn’t give them much of a shot.  They had to play 3 games in 4 days, they had so much travel in the Portland series and then to go from Portland to Edmonton to Portland to Edmonton to London in 7 days and then play 3 games in 4 days I just thought it was far too much to ask of a junior team.

 

They didn’t look that good in the round robin, so maybe that travel was affecting them.  Lost the opener to Guelph and lacked jump in their game.  Played well against London, but London was just done as a team as we found out.  And then blew the game against Val Dor, losing in double OT.  Now they needed Guelph to beat London (and the Storm had nothing to play for as they were already in the final).  If London wins, the Oil Kings would have had to play 3 more games to win the tournament.

 

But luckily, the Knights had no fight, and the Oil Kings caught a break in advancing to the semi final for a rematch against Val Dor (fun fact, the name Voyeur stands for Drillers in english, so they are the VD Drillers….just saying…).  They blew it AGAIN.  2 goal lead, gone.  Lead with under a minute to play, gone.  And yet it just didn’t seem to faze them and they kept grinding.  And in the 2nd OT, they kept grinding, and into the 3rd OT they just stuck with it until Lazar with a gorgeous tip ended the longest game in Memorial Cup history.

 

I really figured that was the “B final” so to speak.  Guelph looked great in the tournament and while the Oil Kings were so well coached and had the ability to shut down some of the Storm’s top guns like Rychel and Bertuzzi, the Storm seemingly just had too much speed, too much talent, and were basically playing a home game.  So that’s how smart I am….they had just played this game 13 days previous.

 

I said it in a tweet after and I really believe this, Guelph hadn’t been tested all season long.  They had not been in an elimination game all season let alone a tight elimination game.  That was the difference in this game.  For the Oil Kings, this was nothing and once they made it a 2-2 game early in the 2nd their confidence level clearly shot through the roof.  The game was really done by this point.  Even when the Storm started the 3rd strong and made it 4-3, it didn’t even phase the Kings who came back with a huge goal from Henrik Samuelsson to restore the 2 goal lead.

 

In a way it is sad that the most structured team to play in Rexall this season was the junior team, but that was the case.  And I know it got overused by me on twitter and by the media but this team really was one of the most resilient junior hockey teams you’ll ever see.  They were playing for their boy Kristians Pelss all season and they did him damn proud!

 

Congrats to the 2014 Memorial Cup champion Edmonton Oil Kings.  They brought a title back to the WHL, and gave a city and region starved for some well played high end hockey something to be proud of.  A team in every single sense of the word.

 

Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups

WHL Playoff Preview

 

So I’m trying something new.  I would love to write more about junior hockey.  So what the hell?  I think it’s a bit of an underserved market…or at least as underserved as something could be in this era of loud mouths like your’s truly allowed to run their mouths via social media or blogs….anyway….I’ll take a crack at doing a WHL playoff preview.  Likely not going to do this round by round, just one big preview and we will see how respectable or flat out disgusting I am at discussing the dub.  So with that being said…here we go!

 

Eastern Conference

 

EOK

PAR

#1 Edmonton Oil Kings  vs #8 Prince Albert Raiders

After last night’s tilt in Red Deer it is now settled.  The Prince Albert Raiders will simply travel up highway 2 an hour and a half and take on the Edmonton Oil Kings.  The beast of the east to steal a nickname from the great Bam Bam Bigelow.  I don’t know if this is much of a reward for winning a play in game like the Raiders did as they’ll be in tough.  They do have a great PP (3rd in the league this season) led by Jets 1st rounder and 2014 Canadian World Junior D-man Josh Morrissey, and potential top 5 pick in the upcoming draft Leon Draisaitl.  Draisaitl finished 4th in league scoring with 105 points in the regular season and if he is on he will be tough to shutdown.  I’m guessing he will see a lot of Griffin Reinhart in this series.  I enlisted the services of an anonymous WHL scout to help me out for this piece, and he doesn’t seem to think the Raiders will pose much of a challenge.  I talked to him prior to the play in game last night and this is what he had to say: “Really doesn’t matter who Edmonton plays, they should hammer either P.A. or Red Deer”.  The fact is, the Oil Kings have high end NHL prospects leading the way up front (Curtis Lazar/Henrik Samuelsson/Mitch Moroz), on D (Reinhart) and in goal (Tristan Jarry).  Add to that, a lot of these kids have been to the Memorial Cup in 2012, and been to back to back WHL finals, so they have a huge experience edge in either matchup.  I do think though that P.A. has enough elements (great PP, star player, good coach in former Sens bench boss Cory Clouston) to grab a game at home in this series.

Edmonton sweeps

 

RP

BWK

#2 Regina Pats vs #7 Brandon Wheat Kings

A nice season turned in by the Pats who have only won 1 playoff series in the last 11 years, and had only made the playoffs once in the last 5 seasons prior to this.  But they could be in tough against the Wheaties despite being the 7th seed.  WHL scout: “This is really interesting. Regina is missing some key players in Wapple and Dyson Stevenson. Brandon is fully healthy after losing 5 key guys for about 3 weeks. If Regina doesn’t get healthy I expect Brandon to take this in 6 games”.  Not what Pats fans want to hear.  And I’m going to pile on.  Even though this is a 2 vs 7, the Wheaties were only 8 points back in the standings.  The big advantage in this series is you have the Wheaties number 2 ranked PP against the Pats number 20 ranked PK.  So the Pats MUST keep this series 5 on 5, which won’t be easy…they finished 3rd in the league in PIM’s.  The Wheaties have a talented but erratic blueline.  If it is mostly played 5 on 5, perhaps Chandler Stephenson and Morgan Klimchuk can exploit it.  But in the end, I have to agree….

Brandon 4 games to 2

 

CHM

KI

#3 Calgary Hitmen vs #6 Kootenay Ice

This will likely be the last chance Sam Reinhart has to win the scouts over and reclaim his spot atop the rankings heading into the June draft….on the ice anyway.  The Hitmen are just a lot deeper than the Ice are.  Greg Chase, Brady Brassart, Jake Virtanen and Adam Tambellini were all kids who registered over a point per game during the regular season.  I realize the Ice don’t just have Reinhart, but the production by Jaedon Descheneau and Luke Philip were in large part due to Reinhart.  In net neither team has an advantage as both the Hitmen’s Chris Driedger and the Ice MacKenzie Skapski have nearly identical G.A.A. and Sv%.  The special teams battle is definitely between Calgary’s 3rd ranked PK and Kootenay’s 4th ranked PP.  WHL scout: “Calgary on paper should win this easily but Kootenay is a very good team and well coached, but losing Tim Bozon will be too much for them I think. Calgary in 6”  The Ice are disciplined, finishing the season with the 3rd least amount of PIM’s in the regular season, but I don’t see that being a big advantage in this spot.  I actually think the Hitmen close this one out a little quicker.

Calgary 4 games to 1

 

MHT

SCB

#4 Medicine Hat vs #5 Swift Current Broncos

No big flashy names in this series, but just good solid teams top to bottom in what should be a long series.  The Broncos have a slight special teams advantage, but nothing dramatic.  Both teams have a 90 point scorer (Tigers Curtis Valk had 92 points, Broncos Graham Black had 97 points).  Both teams do a good job staying out of the box.  Both teams are solid between the pipes.  WHL scout: “The Hat has some balanced scoring and some solid D. Swifty is a tough team with a great goalie. If Swifty can stay out of the box they might have a shot at winning. Swifty in 7”.  I don’t disagree with the analysis of the series, but should it go down to a 7th game in the Hat, I like the home team.  There just isn’t much at all that separates these two squads.

Medicine Hat 4 games to 3

 

 

Western Conference

 

KR

TCA

#1 Kelowna Rockets vs #8 Tri City Americans 

What a coaching job done this season by Rockets bench boss Ryan Huska.  It isn’t some secret that this guy is one of the top coaches in the dub, but the job he did this season was incredible leading the Rockets to a WHL best 118 points.  They’re a very balanced team.  Reclamation project and overager Myles Bell led the team in scoring with just 77 points.  Captain and Washington Capitals 3rd round steal Madison Bowey leads the way on the blueline.  Jordan Cooke is one of the top goaltenders in the league.  Solid special teams (9th on the PP, 1st on the PK).  Just an incredibly balanced and well coached group.  Both teams have good size and actually the Americans have a bit of and edge in this department.  They’ll try to wear down the Rockets and will need Eric Comrie to steal a few games to have any shot in this series.  I expect a low scoring series, but I don’t see the Americans winning a game.

Kelowna sweeps

 

PWH VG

#2 Portland Winterhawks vs #7 Vancouver Giants

The 3 time finalists and defending Ed Chynoweth Cup champs had yet another tremendous season and will start their defense against a very young Giants team from Vancouver.  Straight up, the Giants don’t come anywhere close to the fire power the Winterhawks posses.  Petan, Bjorkstrand, Pouliot, Dumba, Leipsic, Leier, De Leo, it is ridiculous.  No shock they had the top PP unit in the league this season, also 4th on the PK.  Head coach Mike Johnston will likely stick with Sean Burke’s kid Brendan for this series, but Corbin Boes has been equally great in net for Portland.  This series actually might be more of a mismatch than the Kelowna/Tri-Cities matchup.  Giants have one of the all time great WHL coaches in Don Hay, but he would have to work some absolutely incredible magic to even take this series 6.  I don’t think they win a game.

Portland sweeps

 

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SC

#3 Victoria Royals vs #6 Spokane Chiefs

This is a matchup of the team (the Royals) vs the star (Mitch Holmberg).  Holmberg lead the dub this season with 118 points.  So Royals head coach Dave Lowry’s game plan will be as elementary as it gets: stop Mitch Holmberg.  And he has the squad to do it.  Nothing flashy about the Royals.  Brandon McGee was the only point per game player for the Royals this season, with 67 points in 65 games.  It is a young team too, with 9 players who are eligible for either this year or next year’s draft.  The Chiefs lack size.  Their tallest kid up front is 6’4 Hudson Elynuik who is only 172 pounds and isn’t draft eligible until the 2016.  Only 2 kids up front are over 200 pounds.  That could be a lot of fun for Royals blueliner and Flames draft pick Keegan Kanzig (6’5, 242).  Maybe the Chiefs take a game once it gets back to Spokane and they’ll have last change and a chance to get Holmberg more favorable matchups, but I don’t see anything more than that.

Victoria 4 games to 1

 

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EST

#4 Seattle Thunderbirds vs #5 Everett Silvertips

While McDavid and American Jack Eichel are getting the love right now for the 2015 draft, another stud for that draft wears number 13 for the T-birds and that is Matt Barzal.  54 points in 59 games this season for the 16 year old who often draws comparisons to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  But the T-birds are led by Ducks 2013 1st rounder Shea Theodore as the D-man led them in scoring with 79 points in just 70 games.  Eye popping stats for a D-man.  The Silvertips also got a 2013 1st round D-man having an impressive season for them in Sharks prospect Mirco Mueller.  They also have one of the leading scorers in the dub in Josh Winquist who registered 93 points in 67 games this season.  As you would expect out of a 4/5 matchup though, there isn’t a lot seperating these teams.  The Silvertips have more size, but the T-birds have some big boys themselves.  T-birds tendy Taran Kozun had a .910 save percentage, but his G.A.A. was 3.22.  Silvertips tendy Austin Lotz had a 2.52 G.A.A. but only a .905 save percentage.  Both teams PP and PK were middle of the pack this season.  So it’s tough.  But at the end of the day I’m going to look behind the bench and suggest Silvertips bench boss Kevin Constantine has more experience than T-birds coach Steve Konowalchuk.

Everett 4 games to 2

 

 

WHL Finals Predicition

As much as I don’t like to say this, I got the Hitmen in a slight upset over the Oil Kings in the East final.  I think they’ll be a little more hungry than the Oil Kings, and in the WHL finals I believe for a 4th straight year the Portland Winterhawks will represent the West.  It looks as though it’ll be Portland and Kelowna in the West and if that’s the case while the Rockets might be a bit better coached, the Winterhawks just have too much talent.  If it comes to that it would be a heck of a matchup as both teams are deep up front, the Winterhawks would have that great top pairing of Dumba and Pouliot, but 1-6 the Hitmen are pretty solid on the blueline.  I’ll take the Winterhawks in 6 to repeat as WHL champs and head back to the Memorial Cup.

 

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Amazing performance, but…

 

That was incredible to watch.  From the puck drop in their first game of not just the Memorial Cup, but the Halifax Mooseheads entire run, Nathan MacKinnon took his game to another level.  The kid who entered the season as a lot of scouts number 1 draft eligible player for the 2013 draft needed to have a performance like he did to have any shot at reclaiming his spot at the top of the rankings.  But despite all he did, I still don’t see him going 1st.

You have to really ignore the Memorial Cup performance right now.  Just sit back and take a deep breath.  MacKinnon got the better of Jones in this tournament, but don’t forget that Jones got the better of MacKinnon at the WJC.  After that tournament all everyone talked about was how great Jones was and how invisible MacKinnon was.

Clearly the Sportsnet pannel forgot that last night.  I have a difficult time respecting what Nick Kypreos or Damian Cox have to say about kids in the WHL or QMJHL, especially when it comes to the draft.  I don’t know first hand, but I have been told that both have a tough time picking up a phone to do research on kids in leagues outside of the OHL in the CHL.  Last night they started bringing up Crosby and saying MacKinnon isn’t Sid but he isn’t very far off.  Right.  Why did you need the Memorial Cup to tell you that guys?!  Meanwhile, just because Nate MacKinnon is that good why should that all of a sudden decrease Jones value?!

If Halifax wasn’t in the Memorial Cup and Seth Jones had the stage more to himself, Kypreos and Cox among others who are much too high about things right now would have walked away from this talking about how amazing Jones was.  He is a 6’3, 208 pound, total package on the blueline.  He is the best prospect on defense since Drew Doughty.  He’s better than Hedman and Larsson were, and don’t forget Hedman was the “Swedish Chris Pronger”.  As for Doughty, he just like MacKinnon would have gone 1st any other year but it just so happened that some kid named Stamkos stood in his way.

I will say this for MacKinnon: IF the Florida Panthers had won the draft lottery, then MacKinnon likely would have played his way into being the top pick.  But it is a toss up between these 2 phenoms and the team who hold the 1st pick just will not pass on Jones.

Seth Jones grew up an Avs fan, started hockey in Denver, an American kid whose dad was a well known NBA player, and fills a HUGE need on the Avs blueline.  MacKinnon might be a better prospect, but if he is it’s by the slimest of margines.  So in this case all those factors will come into play.  Extremely rare that the Avs could ever take a home town kid, and that is a team that has had a difficult time of late putting asses in the seats so the marketing aspect of things will be taken into consideration.

This isn’t to take away from what Nathan MacKinnon did.  He was as dominant during this run as Taylor Hall in 2010, Milan Lucic in 2007 or Corey Perry in 2005.  But I just don’t think it adds up to him going 1st overall.  Of course certain things could happen, namely a team being so desperate to land MacKinnon they give the Avs a trade offer they can’t refuse (something the Flames should look into).  But you simply never see teams trade down in the top 5 anymore, its just too big of a risk.

Make no mistake though, this will be heavily debated over the next month, a lot more than it has been since the WJC.  You can’t go wrong with either kid.  At this time I would like to take the time to point out how ridiculous it was for certain scouting services to put Drouin or Nichushkin ahead of MacKinnon this season.  The kid has amazing talent with even better upside.  Just too bad for him that there is another kid just like that who fits the bill better in Denver.

 

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2013 Mastercard Memorial Cup Preview

 

I’m very much so appreciate anyone who reads my stuff.  Either you are a very good friend, or my parents pay you well and my parents have never read a word of this (although my uncle does, shoutout to uncle Al!)  But today I have something different for you.  Today I have something that is a little more….hell, a LOT more professional.

With the Memorial Cup starting up tonight in Saskatoon I wanted to do a preview.  So here it is, but this time its not just my opinion like always.  Nope, today I’ve not only got the expertise of someone involved in junior hockey, I have the man who a lot of people would describe as the encyclopedia of the CHL.  Peter Loubardias has been kind enough to not call the cops on me for stalking him and discuss the upcoming tourny.  The man whom Elliott Friedman once said “has forgot more about junior hockey in this country than most know” was kind enough to take time out of his day to help me out in anyalying the 4 teams, so without further adieu…

 

Saskatoon Blades Host Saskatoon Blades – Most of us have been watching this team all season from a far.  The reality show “On The Edge” was simply terrific and has a lot of the country pulling for the host team.  But the hosts are in very tough.  Swept by Medicine Hat in the 1st round of the WHL playoffs, they’ve had a long time to rest and prepare….”It’s pretty simple, the x-factor for the Blades is Andrey Makarov.  He is more than capable of carrying this team, having been to back to back World Juniors, and if the Blades are to win this then Makarov has to win it” said Loubardias.  He went onto say “the 18 wins in a row was no fluke.  18 in a row is still 18 in a row, I don’t care who it was against.  This team has 3 good lines, but it will be tough to get up to speed after 50+ days away.  The biggest thing for the Blades is they have to make believers of themselves”.  Couldn’t have said it better myself…actually, I couldn’t have said it nearly that well, which is why I sought out someone to say it better and just happened to get the best source possible.

 

1297411728950_ORIGINAL WHL Champion Portland Winterhawks – 3rd times a charm for the Winterhawks.  After 2 missed opportunities in the WHL final in 2011 and 2012, the Winterhawks sealed the deal in 2013 with a 6 game win over the defending champion Edmonton Oil Kings.  “This is the youngest group they’ve had in the last 3 years, but the leadership group is much improved.  They have their skilled forwards playing a 2 way game which you didn’t see in the 2 previous seasons” Loubardias explained (like how instead of saying “said” I slipped in “explained”?)  The strength of this team however is obviously along the blueline and Peter couldn’t have agreed more.  “That top 4 is so great and I truely believe that all 4 of those kids will play in the show someday, they’re THAT good.  And they make their transition game so amazing.  The Pace they play with really is fun to watch.  This team has as good of chance as anyone in this tournament”.  Strong words and I don’t know how anyone who has watched this team could disagree with that.  They’re just playing at a different level right now, that wasn’t a weak Oil Kings team they just knocked off.  The Oil Kings had most of last year’s championship team back.  Sure they were without Griffin Reinhart, but I’m not sure he would have made a difference.

 

ohllondonknights0145 OHL Champion London Knights – Welcome back, the only returnee this season are the Knights who of course were knocked off in OT of last year’s championship game.  And they’re going to return most of this team again next season when they host the Mastercard Memorial Cup.  Without a doubt they’ll be known as a dynasty in the CHL before all is said and done.  Loubardias explained what the strength of this team was.  “Top to bottom this might be the best team in the tournament.  They’re not as top heavy as some of the teams, but better depth.”  He also added about the Knights “They’re not great between the pipes.  The coaching staff doesn’t have a lot of trust in either kid.  Jake Patterson took over in the playoffs, but he didn’t practice today (Thursday).  Only real question that I have about this team though is fatigue.  Every year I have been at this tournament there is always 1 team that suffers a letdown”.  Coming off an incredible and emotional 7 game series, coming back from 3-1 against Barrie, it’s a great point from Peter as it is going to be very difficult for them to get back up to that kind of intensity level.

 

mooseheadshuskies01-02 QMJHL Champion Halifax Mooseheads – This might be the sexiest team in the tournament for the average fan anyway.  Most scouts have Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin ranked 2nd and 3rd for the NHL entry draft in late June.  They also have stud draft eligible goaltender Zachary Fucale between the pipes, and breezed through the playoffs unlike the other 3 teams.  “For me this is the most intriguing team in the tourny.  1 thing people don’t give enough credit to is…yes, MacKinnon and Drouin drive this bus offensively.  But kids like Martin Frk, Stefan Fournier, Darcy Ashley, Andrew Ryan, Brent Andrews, Stephen MacAulay, they don’t get enough credit for their contributions to this team.  The Mooseheads can go toe to toe with Portland’s talent.”  Peter has seen the Winterhawks more up close than the Mooseheads, so to say that is extremely high praise of their group of forwards, but it’s not all good about them.  “3 concerns: 1) while they’re forwards are great, their D isn’t on the same level.  2) I wonder how they will handle the media circus.  They’ve dealt with it a bit throughout the season, but it will be on another level at the Memorial Cup.  3) How battle tested are they?”  There is so much high end draft eligible kids in this Memorial Cup (more than I can ever remember), and for that reason this could be the team most are excited to watch on the big stage.

So then the question becomes….who will walk out of Saskatoon with the Memorial Cup.  I didn’t push Peter to give me 1 pick, he doesn’t like playing the prediction game.  In fact his quote was “**** off you ******* son of a ***** or else I’m gonna *********** ******** ***** **** ********* ************ ******* and then do it again!!!”…..Ok, so that’s not anything along the lines of what he said, but I know that’s what you were hoping he said to me.  The ACTUAL quote was “If I was a betting man….Portland vs London in the final, but I feel in saying that I’m not showing Halifax enough respect”.  I agree with that and essentially what he is saying is that it’s a 3 horse race which going into this I don’t know how you can see it any other way.

However….Shawinigan wasn’t exactly a power house entering last year’s tourny and look how things went for them.  They peaked at the right time and took home the title.  As I said last year, that might not seem “fair” for a team to be bounced so early in the playoffs to then win the national title.  But while that might be true, it’s also what makes this event not only unique, but intriguing.  The Blades will have home ice and are well rested, those are 2 incredible advantages to have in such a short event.  Can’t wait for the puck to drop tonight!!!

 

A TREMENDOUS thank you to my good friend Peter Loubardias to take time out of his busy schedule to help break things down!

 

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So wrong, yet so right

It wasn’t the most exciting Memorial Cup final to watch.  In fact, the Hunter brothers did a fantastic job this spring trying to set hockey back 10 years.  Remember how in 2006 we all were pleading for the game to go back to 1-0 and 2-1 games…

But if you are a sucker for great endings like quite frankly most fans are then that was your kind of game.  The home team winning in OT, the tournament underdog…dare I say afterthought coming into the tournament, having to go through the tie breaker, playing 3 games in 3 nights, 4 in 5, knocking off the tourney favourite and defending champions along the way, just a story book!

 However, I just can’t help but say at the end of the day….this in no way decided the top team in the CHL.  Shawiniganwas bounced in the 2nd freaking round of the playoffs and there for those 3 games in 3 nights, 4 in 5 shouldn’t have in any way affected them because they were well rested and had home ice advantage!

Meanwhile, and trust me I in no way have a Western bias when it comes to this event, the Edmonton Oil Kings clearly ran out of gas after having to fly back and forth playing Portland in a flat out grueling 7 game series, then fly across the country to play in the Memorial Cup (and yes I am heeding Don Cherry’s words and making certain I call it the MEMORIAL Cup).

It is a phenomenal event that I quite frankly believe doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.  If it were back on TSN I can’t help believe that they would promote it to the level of the World Jr’s and in my mind that is the level it deserves to be on.  I don’t understand a lot of things about the way Sportsnet covers it but then again we all don’t understand a lot of things Sportsnet does.  One example would be having Jeff Marek, a junior hockey encyclopedia, doing the CHL games all year only to get bounced for Darren Millard and 2 analysts that hardly cover any junior hockey…

But I digress and will get back on topic.  In a lot of ways it is a big shame that the CHL champion gets decided in such a compressed and unfair manner.  But at the end of the day it’s so exciting to watch and it just adds to the drama.  As I said in the title: so wrong, yet so right.

 

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