Thursday, March 23, 2017

Scattershooting on playoff's eve . . . Cougars get motivation from snubs . . . Giants coach: No oil change here

Scattershoot

Doing some scattershooting on the night before the WHL playoff grind gets started . . . 

If you watched the World Baseball Classic, you will know that John Smoltz is as good as any analyst working in any sport today.
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Russ Howard, TSN’s curling guru, is pretty good, too. In fact, TSN’s curling crew — Vic Rauter with Cheryl Bernard and Howard — is a rare case of three-in-a-booth working well.
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There’s an interesting story developing in Kamloops where the junior B Storm had a disastrous season at the gate after moving from McArthur Island to Memorial Arena for the 2016-17 season. There is lots of parking on the island, not so much downtown around Memorial Arena, and that’s a recipe for disaster. Owner Barry Dewar now says he may not be able to afford to bring back head coach Ed Patterson, a former NHLer, for another season.
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The same 22 head coaches who started the WHL’s 2016-17 regular season managed to finish it. The question now is: How many of them will start 2017-18?
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I like the Kelowna Rockets and Regina Pats to meet in the WHL’s final for the Ed Chynoweth Cup. But all bets are off if the mumps virus pops up somewhere along the playoff trail.
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Headline at whl.ca on Sunday night: Winterhawks fly north for clash with Cougars to open WHL Playoffs.
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Not so fast, Sully. The WHL prohibits flying until the championship final when it’s Eastern Conference vs. Western Conference.
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You are aware that actor/comedian/bad golfer Bill Murray is a long-time supporter of the Chicago Cubs, who ended that million-year drought by winning the World Series last spring. But are you aware that Murray also backs the Xavier Musketeers, who upset the Arizona Wildcats, 73-71, in the NCAA tournament on Thursday night? Murray’s son, Luke, is on Xavier’s coaching staff.
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Next up for Xavier? Spokane’s Gonzaga Bulldogs in an Elite 8 game on Saturday, 3:09 p.m. PT, from San Jose.
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“If I was running the NHL, I’d be terrified of offside video reviews in the post-season. One of them is going to decide a playoff series, and it’s going to be ugly.” That was Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman in his weekly 30 Thoughts essay this week.
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F Massimo Rizzo made his BCHL playoff debut with the Penticton Vees on Thursday night against the visiting Merritt Centennials. . . . The Kamloops Blazers selected him 15th overall in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft. Rizzo, from Burnaby, was the Canadian School Sport Hockey League’s MVP and freshman of the year after putting up 53 points, including 12 goals, in 28 games with the Burnaby Winter Club’s midget prep team. . . . The Centennials won last night’s game, 5-4, to send the series back to Merritt. The Vees, who won 2-1 in OT in Merritt on Tuesday, hold a 3-2 lead.
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The 2017 IIHF World Women’s Championship is scheduled to open March 31 in Plymouth, Mich. What if Team USA doesn’t show up, sticking to its guns and boycotting? I covered the 2016 event in Kamloops and I couldn’t imagine what that would have been like without Canada’s national team.
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You have to wonder what the TSN pooh-bahs are thinking as they repeatedly run promos for its coverage of the IIHF World Women’s Championship, focussing on a Canada-Team USA game that is scheduled for opening night. With the way Team USA is sticking to its guns, TSN better get some darts or poker cued up and ready to go.
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G Marek Schwarz (Vancouver, 2004-05) and F Tomáš Plíhal (Kootenay, 2001-03) have signed one-year extensions with Orli Znojmo (Czech Republic, Erste Bank Liga). In 31 games, Schwarz was 2.87 and .907 with one shutout. Plíhal had seven goals and nine assists in 30 games.
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The Prince George Cougars won the first pennant in that city’s 23-year WHL history by going wire-to-wire to capture the B.C. Division title. But when the WHL announced its all-star teams and award winners on Wednesday, the Cougars were blanked. Zippo. Nada.
Hey, Cougars, what do you think of that?
Todd Harkins, the team’s general manager, told Brendan Pawliw of myprincegeorgenow.com: “We have a lot of good players and people in our organization and I think when you win something you should be recognized for it and we weren’t recognized by anybody. I think it was us and Vancouver that didn’t have any accolades. I think this will be motivation for the players.”
The Cougars open a first-round series against the visiting Portland Winterhawks tonight (Friday). There could be some extra fire in this series — the Winterhawks wanted a 2-3-2 format; the Cougars wanted, and got, a 2-2-1-1-1 series.
“We had a lot of pressure to put the series in a 2-3-2 format,” Harkins said, “but we felt if we could move the games around enough we could give the players the experience and rest they need throughout the seven-game series if it goes that long and would still work in our favour.”
The Winterhawks’ roster boasts Mike Johnston, the Western Conference’s coach of the year, and F Cody Glass, who was named to the conference’s first all-star team.
Glass, who will be an early first-round selection in the NHL’s 2017 draft, missed the last five periods of Portland’s regular season with an apparent arm injury. There has been nothing but crickets out of Portland on his status, so fans will have to wait until Johnston posts his lineup for Game 1 to find out whether Glass will play.
The Cougars likely will have F Brad Morrison back for the first time since he suffered an ankle injury during a fight in a game with the visiting Edmonton Oil Kings on Feb. 24. Morrison, who missed nine games, finished with 52 points, including 21 goals, in 61 games.
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If you enjoy stopping off here and would care to make a donation to the cause, please feel free to do so by clicking on the DONATE button and going from there.
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If you are a subscriber to Shaw TV, you will have access to a pair of WHL first-round playoff series. . . . The Shaw crew will cover the series between the Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers. Games 1 and 2 are set for Kelowna on Friday at Saturday nights, with the telecasts starting at 7 p.m. PT. . . . Meanwhile, Shaw subscribers also will be able to watch the series between the Regina Pats and Calgary Hitmen, which will be produced by Access7 out of Regina. That series opens with games in Regina on Friday and Saturday nights, with the telecasts starting at 7 o’clock MT.
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The Medicine Hat Tigers have signed D Trevor Longo to a WHL contract. Longo, from North Vancouver, was a sixth-round selection in the 2015 bantam draft. Longo will turn 17 on April 23. He played this season with the Vancouver-Northwest Giants of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League, putting up 37 points, 11 of them goals, in 40 games. Last season, he had 11 points, including two goals, in 38 games with the Giants.
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The Vancouver Giants missed the WHL playoffs for the third straight season and the fourth time in five seasons. Of course, general manager Glen Hanlon and head coach Jason McKee both were in their first seasons and they know this project will take some time. . . . “I have said it before, it is not an oil change, it can’t be fixed in 20 minutes; it is going to take some time,” McKee told Gary Ahuja of the Langley Times. “When I came out here, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task, I knew it was going to take some time.” . . . Ahuja’s story is right here.
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The AJHL’s Grande Prairie Storm has named Mark Bomersback as general manager and signed head coach Matt Keillor to a new contract. . . . Bomersback, the AJHL’s all-time leading scorer, had been the Storm’s director of scouting. As GM, he is working on a month-to-month deal, at least for now. . . . Keillor, who had been the head coach of the midget AAA Ernie’s Sports Experts Storm, took over as general manager and head coach when Kevin Higo was fired in midseason. Keillor’s contract is for two hers with the team holding an option on a third season. . . . The Storm reached the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2013, finishing 15-38-7 before losing a best-of-five series in three games to the Whitecourt Wolverines.
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If you enjoy stopping off here and would care to make a donation to the cause, please feel free to do so by clicking on the DONATE button and going from there.
If you have some information you would like to share or just a general comment, feel free to email me at greggdrinnan@gmail.com.
If interested, you also are able to follow me on Twitter at @gdrinnan.
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MONDAY-THURSDAY GAMES:

No Games Scheduled.
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FRIDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 1, best-of-seven series)
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.
Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.
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SATURDAY GAMES (all times local):

Red Deer at Lethbridge, 7 p.m.


(Game 1, best-of-seven series)
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Victoria at Everett, 7:05 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:05 p.m.
(Game 2, best-of-seven series)

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Closing in on WHL playoffs . . . Raiders get No. 1 draft selection . . . Hockey Canada picks Hamilton


D Brett Carson (Moose Jaw, Calgary, 2001-06) has signed a one-year extension with SaiPa Lappeenranta (Finland, Liiga). This season, he had three goals and five assists in 30 games.
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The WHL playoffs open on seven fronts on Friday night.
There are series previews available elsewhere, starting with dubnetwork.ca and whl.ca, so I’m not going to bother replicating any of that work.
Instead, here’s a quick look at each series and the injury implications, knowing full well that, like Sgt. Schultz, we’ll know nothing until Friday’s lineups are posted:
WESTERN CONFERENCE

Everett (44-16-12, 1st in U.S., 1st in conference) vs. Victoria (37-29-6, 2nd wild-card): They’ll play Friday and Saturday in Everett. . . . The Silvertips swept the season series, going 4-0-0; the Royals were 0-3-1. . . . D Aaron Irving missed a couple of late-season games but has returned and will be a key for Everett. Their top three defencemen — Noah Juulsen, Kevin Davis and Irving — all are right-hand shots. . . . Everett F Devon Skoleski didn’t finish Sunday’s final game, while F Orrin Centazzo won’t play again this season. . . . Victoria F Tyler Soy missed a good chunk of time late in the season, but returned for the last couple of games. . . . The Royals may open without F Ryan Peckford, D Ralph Jarratt and D Chaz Reddekopp, all of whom are injured. Peckford is practising, while Jarratt is skating in a non-contact sweater. Reddekopp, who has a broken foot, won’t be there for the start of the series.
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Prince George (45-21-6, 1st in B.C.) vs. Portland (40-28-4, 1st wild-card): It starts with games Friday and Sunday in Prince George. . . . How competitive was the Western Conference? Portland is a wild-card entry with 40 victories. . . . In the season series, the Cougars were 2-2-0; the Winterhawks 2-1-1. . . . Prince George F Brad Morrison suffered an ankle injury in a Feb. 24 fight and hasn’t played since. He’s a point-a-game guy. . . . Portland F Cody Glass, who will be an early first-round selection in the NHL’s 2017 draft, missed the season’s last five periods. He had 94 points, including 32 goals, in 69 games. . . . The Winterhawks have been without F Evan Weinger, a 20-goal man, for 10 games. He last played on Feb. 24. . . . Portland might find motivation from the fact that it wanted a 2-3-2 format, but Prince George got the 2-2-1-1-1 it wanted, perhaps believed that the bus travel will wear on the Winterhawks. . . . The Cougars, who went wire-to-wire to win the B.C. Division, will get motivation from the fact it didn’t place one player on the conference all-star team or have anyone win an individual award. They also didn’t show up in the final CHL rankings.
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Seattle (46-20-6, 2nd in U.S.) vs. Tri-City (41-28-3, 3rd in U.S.): They’ll get started in Kent, Wash., on Friday and Saturday. . . . Seattle won the season series, 6-2-0. . . . Seattle F Mathew Barzal had 79 points, including 69 assists, in 41 games but hasn’t played since March 7 because of the mumps. Will he, or won’t he? We won’t know until Friday. . . . Seattle G Rylan Toth led the WHL with 36 victories but last played on March 11. How badly injured is he? We’ll find out on Friday. . . . Two Tri-City forwards — Max James and Vladislav Lukin — are back from late-season injuries. Each played two of three weekend games and should be ready for Friday. However, F Nolan Yaremko is likely out after being injured in practice last week, and F Michael Rasmussen (wrist) won’t play in this series.
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Kelowna 45-22-5, 2nd in B.C.) vs. Kamloops (42-24-6, 3rd in B.C.): The series begins in Kelowna on Friday and Saturday. . . . Kamloops was 6-3-1 in the season series; the Rockets were 4-6-0. . . . Since the start of the 2015-16 exhibition season, these teams have met 30 times. Kelowna is 16-13-1 in those games; Kamloops is 14-14-2. . . . A year ago, the Rockets beat the Blazers in a seven-game first-round series, winning Game 7, 2-1, in OT on a goal by F Tomas Soustal. . . . The Rockets have been missing Soustal, a point-a-game guy who hasn’t played since he was injured while blocking a shot on March 1. . . . The Blazers are believed to be healthy.
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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Regina (52-12-7, 1st in East, 1st in conference, 1st overall) vs. Calgary (30-32-10, 2nd wild-card): They’ll get started with games in Regina on Friday and Saturday. . . . Regina won the season series, 3-1-0; Calgary was 1-2-1. . . . The Pats go into the playoffs on an eight-game winning streak. . . . Regina F Jake Leschyshyn (knee) won’t play again this season. The Pats will be without F Nick Henry for Game 1 as he serves a one-game WHL suspension. . . . The Hitmen are believed to be healthy.
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Medicine Hat (51-20-1, 1st in Central) vs. Brandon (31-31-10, 1st wild-card): The Wheat Kings open defence of the Ed Chynoweth Cup in Medicine Hat on Friday and Saturday. . . . The Tigers won the season series, 3-1-0. . . . Medicine Hat may get back two defencemen — Kristians Rubins and Ty Schultz. Both have been out with injuries but have been taking part in full practices this week. . . . Brandon D Garrett Sambrook hasn’t played since Feb. 24. The Wheaties say he is out with an illness that isn’t mumps. . . . F Reid Duke, who led the Wheat Kings in goals (37) and assists (71), was injured in a 7-1 loss to host Regina on Friday and didn’t play in the Pats’ 6-0 victory in Brandon on Saturday. . . . Brandon also was without F Tanner Kaspick, D Kale Clague and F Nolan Patrick on Saturday. However, all four of those players returned to practice this week. . . . The Wheat Kings will get F Tyler Coulter back from a one-game suspension.
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Lethbridge (44-21-7, 2nd in Central) vs. Red Deer (30-29-13, 3rd in Central): They’ll get started in Lethbridge on Saturday and Sunday. . . . The Hurricanes were 5-0-1 in the season series; the Rebels were 1-4-1. . . . Two of the Hurricanes’ top forwards — Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky — have played once (March 15) since March 4. Both are point-a-game players. . . . Red Deer won’t have D Alex Alexeyev, F Adam Musil or F Reese Johnson. F Grayson Pawlenchuk is skating but hasn’t been cleared for contact after January shoulder surgery. D Austin Pratt is doubtful.
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Moose Jaw (42-21-9, 2nd in East) vs. Swift Current (39-23-10, 3rd in East): It begins with games in Moose Jaw on Friday and Saturday. . . . The Warriors won the season series, 4-2-0. . . . Despite being 175 km apart on the Trans-Canada Highway, these rivals haven’t met in the playoffs since Moose Jaw won a six-game series in 1999. . . . The Warriors may have F Spencer Bast available after a late-season injury. . . . For their final regular-season game, the Broncos’ scratches included G Jordan Papirny, (mumps), F Lane Pederson, D Colby Sissons, D Max Lajoie, F Kaden Elder and F Ryan Graham. Emanuel Viveiros, the Broncos’ head coach, has said they should have all of them back for Game 1, with the exception of Graham.
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The Prince Albert Raiders won the WHL’s draft lottery on Wednesday, meaning they moved up two spots and now hold the first selection the bantam draft that is scheduled for May 4 in Calgary.
In the standings, the Raiders had finished ahead of the last-place Kootenay Ice, which now has the second pick, and the Vancouver Giants, who have the third pick.
The Edmonton Oil Kings are in the fourth spot, followed by the Saskatoon Blades and Spokane Chiefs. The rest of the first round is in the inverse order of the final regular-season standings, as are the remaining rounds.
The Raiders also hold an option on the Kelowna Rockets’ first-round selection, thanks to a deal in which F Reid Gardiner headed west. The Raiders have to exercise that option this draft or in 2018. Prince Albert also holds two second-round picks and three in the third round.
When Jeff D'Andrea of paNOW asked Curtis Hunt, the Raiders’ general manager about the possibility of trading the No. 1 pick, the response was:
“My track record proves that I’ll trade just about everything. I haven’t thought about it, but if it worked for us now and in the future, I think you have to consider everything moving forward.”
The Raiders haven’t held the first selection since 2001. That’s when they took F Kyle Chipchura, who went on to total 165 points, including 59 goals, over four seasons with them.
Some observers have D Kaiden Guhle, a 6-foot-1, 170-pounder from Sherwood Park, Alta., as the favourite to go first overall. The Raiders selected his brother, Brendan, with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft. He was dealt to the Prince George Cougars this season.
Here is the first-round order for the 2017 bantam draft, as of Wednesday night
1. Prince Albert
2. Kootenay
3. Vancouver
4. Edmonton
5. Saskatoon
6. Spokane
7. Calgary
8. Brandon
9. Swift Current (from Red Deer)
10. Saskatoon (from Victoria)
11. Portland
12. Tri-City
13. Swift Current
14. Kamloops
15. Moose Jaw
16. Lethbridge
17. Kelowna (Prince Albert has option)
18. Prince George
19. Seattle
20. Everett
21. Medicine Hat
22. Red Deer (from Regina)
NOTES: Portland is in the first round with its own selection for the first time since Nov. 28, 2012, when the WHL took away first-round picks in five straight drafts, starting in 2013. That was after ruling that the Winterhawks had violated rules regarding player benefits. . . . Prince Albert holds an option on Kelowna’s first-round pick in 2017 or 2018. . . . Swift Current holds Red Deer’s first-round pick from a Dec. 27, 2015 trade in which F Jake Debrusk went to the Rebels, with F Lane Pederson among the pieces going to the Broncos. . . . Saskatoon has Victoria’s first-round pick from a Jan. 6, 2015 deal in which F Alex Forsberg went to the Royals. . . . Red Deer has Regina’s first-round selection from a Jan. 10 deal that involved, among other things, D Josh Mahura and F Jeff de Wit going to the Pats for F Lane Zablocki and D Dawson Barteaux. . . . To keep up on WHL trades involving draft picks, visit Alan Caldwell’s blog, Small Thoughts at Large, right here.
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The WHL also announced its all-star teams and some of its award winners on Wednesday. For a look at those lists, visit whl.ca.
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If you enjoy stopping off here and would care to make a donation to the cause, please feel free to do so by clicking on the DONATE button and going from there.
If you have some information you would like to share or just a general comment, feel free to email me at greggdrinnan@gmail.com.
If interested, you also are able to follow me on Twitter at @gdrinnan.
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The U of Saskatchewan Huskies of 2016-17 had some 23 players on their roster who played in the WHL. You may have seen the Huskies on action on TV last weekend. They were in Fredericton, N.B., where they lost the Canadian university final, 5-3, to the U of New Brunswick Varsity Reds on Sunday. . . . But there was more to the story than that. It seems the Huskies ‘adopted’ a young hockey player, Carson Ferdinand, and gave him the thrill of a lifetime by making him part of the team. . . . It’s a nifty story — especially when you consider that Carson’s mother is a swim coach at UNB — and Darren Zary of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix has it all right here.
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Steve Ewen of Postmedia tweeted Wednesday morning that F Ty Ronning of the Vancouver Giants “says he’s signed a PTO with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the AHL affiliate of the New York Rangers.”
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Ronning was a seventh-round selection by the Rangers in the NHL’s 2016 draft.
The son of former NHL F Cliff Ronning, Ty had 53 points, including 25 goals, in 68 games with the Giants this season. He led them in goals and points, and was selected as the team’s MVP.
In 215 regular-season games, he has 134 points, including 66 goals.
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Hockey Canada has named Darren Rumble, the head coach of the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, as head coach of the team that will play in the 2017 IIHF U-18 World Championship. . . . Rumble, a former assistant coach with the Seattle Thunderbirds (2012-13), was an assistant coach with Hockey Canada’s U-18 team at the 2015 and 2016 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup summer tournaments. . . . Rumble’s assistant coaches at the World Championship will be Steve Hamilton of the Edmonton Oil Kings and Stephane Julien of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix. . . . Jory Stuparyk of the Oil Kings will be the video coach, with Hockey Canada’s Fred Brathwaite the goaltending consultant. . . . The 10-team U18 World Championship is scheduled for Poprad and Spisska Nova Ves, Slovakia, from April 13-23. Canada is in a pool with Finland, Latvia, Slovakia and Switzerland. The other pool features Belarus, Czech Republic, Russia, Sweden and the U.S.
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The Prince George Cougars have signed F Chance Adrian to a WHL contract. From Dalmeny, Sask., he was a seventh-round pick by the Red Deer Rebels in the 2014 bantam draft. He was dropped and the Cougars added him to their protected list in December. . . . Adrian, who won‘t turn 18 until Nov. 16, had 46 points, including 19 goals, in 43 games with the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts this season.
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If you enjoy stopping off here and would care to make a donation to the cause, please feel free to do so by clicking on the DONATE button and going from there.
If you have some information you would like to share or just a general comment, feel free to email me at greggdrinnan@gmail.com.
If interested, you also are able to follow me on Twitter at @gdrinnan.
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“At some point, you just have to suck it up and play.” . . . That’s how Mike Fraser, the writing scout, starts this week’s column for the Brandon-based Westman Journal. Fraser, who scouts for the Wheat Kings, spends a lot of time in Western Canada’s arenas, and he sees it all. . . . You don’t want to miss his latest work and it’s right here.
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Elliotte Friedman leads this week’s 30 Thoughts with a look at the staredown that is doing on between USA Hockey and its national women’s team. As he points out. the American women are tying to get what Canada’s national women’s team already has. . . . That’s all right here.
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Griffin Foulk, who played in the WHL with the Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds, Lethbridge Hurricanes and Swift Current Broncos (2012-16), is from Broomfield, Colo. These days, he’s attending Colorado U and has walked on with the school’s football team, the Buffaloes. "It was one of those things where I elected to forego college hockey and try and go professional at the age of 16, and it kind of came time this past fall to make the call to get my education," Foulk, 21, told Adam Dunivan of BoCoPreps.com. "But I love competing, I love working hard and it's just second nature to me. Coming here, having an opportunity to try out . . . I'm just dipping my toes in the water right now but I hope to make something of it." . . . Dunivan’s story is right here
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MONDAY-THURSDAY GAMES:

No Games Scheduled.
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FRIDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 1, best-of-seven series)
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.
Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.
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SATURDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Red Deer at Lethbridge, 7 p.m.
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:05 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:05 p.m.

There has never been a subscription fee for this blog, but if you enjoy stopping by here, why not consider donating to the cause? Just click HERE. . . and thank you very much.
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WHL attendance report: Oil Kings show way; Ice crowds continue to slide

The Prince George Cougars feel they are trending up.
During a season in which 14 of 22 WHL teams saw a decrease in attendance, the Cougars’ attendance improved for a third straight season.
This season, their average announced home attendance was 3,626, an increase of 504 over last season. In 2014-15 that number was 2,852.
“This is our third straight year of having significant attendance increases,” Andy Beesley, the franchise’s vice-president of business, told Brendan Pawliw of myprincegeorgenow.com, “and in an environment where several teams are struggling to stay even keel with their attendance . . . our community has been fantastic in supporting what’s going on . . .”
The Cougars have added a lot to their game-night package and feel that it’s working.
“One of the funniest things we ever heard was somebody criticizing us,” Beesley added, “saying the reason we are raising attendance is through smoke and mirrors and all sorts of gimmicks. We all laughed back in our office and said, ‘Absolutely.’ . . . We’re going to have more smoke, more mirrors because people want to be entertained.”
The Cougars open the playoffs at home on Friday against the Portland Winterhawks. And it’ll be a Mega Jackpot night, meaning the 50/50 draw starts at $20,000, with the first 2,000 adults through the door each to be given a $10 strip of tickets.
This season’s announced attendance was the best since it hit 4,386 in 2002-03. The Prince George single-season record is 5,801 (1999-2000).
This season, according to figures compiled by the WHL, it drew 3,543,688 fans to its games, an average of 4,474. That’s down 61 per game from last season.
The WHL’s attendance got a boost this season from the Edmonton Oil Kings. Despite being a non-playoff team that cashed its chips at the trade deadline, the Oil Kings, buoyed by a new arena, drew a WHL-leading 340,605 fans, for an average of 9,461. That is the second-highest single-season attendance total in WHL history. Last season, Edmonton’s average was 6,838.
The last time a team other than the Calgary Hitmen led the WHL in attendance was in 2006-07 when the Vancouver Giants were No. 1.
Calgary now has had eight of the top nine single-season attendance totals, the record (362,227) having been set in 2004-05. The Oil Kings now slide into the No. 2 slot with this season’s total, ahead of the 2010-11 Hitmen, who drew 334,812 fans.
But the Oil Kings’ success was kind of balanced by decreases in Vancouver, Portland, Red Deer and Calgary. Of course, Red Deer got a bump last season as the Memorial Cup host, so this season’s drop likely wasn’t a surprise.
It may not be a surprise that the Kootenay Ice is last for a second straight season, this time with an average of 1,754, down 203 from the previous season.
The Ice twice has had an average attendance lower than that, but in both seasons (1998-99 and 1999-2000) it was playing in the old building. If you eliminate those two seasons, the only time since 1996-97, when the WHL began compiling attendance fitures, that a WHL team has had an average attendance lower than 1,754 was in 2013-14 when Prince George’s number was 1,693.
It may seem a distant memory but the Ice began life in the new building in Cranbrook by drawing more than 3,000 fans per game in seven of nine seasons. In 2000-01, the Ice’s first season in what now is Western Financial Place, the average announced attendance was 3,635, almost 2,000 per game higher than what the Ice drew this season.
The Ice last averaged more than 3,000 fans in 2008-09, when that number was 3,071.
——
This season, 10 of the 22 teams showed a minuscule increase or decrease, going up or down by fewer than 100 fans per game.
Keeping in mind that the announced attendance, which is what WHL-compiled figures are based on, doesn’t always equate to bums in seats, here’s a look at some numbers from this season, showing a team’s total attendance, increase/decrease from last season, average attendance this season and average’s increase/decrease from last season:
Edmonton 340,605 (+94,440) 9,461 (+2,623)
Calgary 273,567(-22,238) 7,599 (-618)
Portland 218,863 (-33,271) 6,080 (-924)
Spokane 209,225 (+1,698) 5,812 (+47)
Regina 196,423 (+32,153) 5,456 (+893)
Kelowna 185,842 (-2,867) 5,162 (-80)
Everett 175,129 (-478) 4,865 (-13)
Victoria 173,894 (-1,055) 4,830 (-30)
Red Deer 172,555 (-30,304) 4,793 (-842)
Seattle 172,164 (-359) 4,782 (-10)
Brandon 145,555 (-6,065) (4,043) -169
Saskatoon 142,849 (-14,711) 3,968 (-409)
Vancouver 138,521 (-47,575) 3,848 (-1,321)
Kamloops 136,135 (+437) 3,782 (+13)
Tri-City 135,670 (+1,807) 3,769 (+51)
Lethbridge 133,506 (-1,342) 3,709 (-37)
Prince George 130,546 (+18,166) 3,626 (+504)
Medicine Hat 129,096 (-23,816) 3,586 (-662)
Moose Jaw 121,393 (+1,429) 3,372 (+40)
Prince Albert 76,773 (-8,496) (2,133) (-236)
Swift Current 72,225 (+1,320) 2,006 (+36)
Kootenay 63,152 (-7,300) 1,754 (-203)


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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Portland, P.G. schedule released . . . What if a W had been worth 3 points? . . . Milestone for ex-scoring king



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The WHL has released the schedule for a first-round playoff series between the B.C. Division-champion Prince George Cougars and the Portland Winterhawks, the Western Conference’s first wild-card team. . . . Portland had wanted a 2-3-2 format; the Cougars had insisted on a 2-2-1-1-1 schedule. . . . In the end, it was decided to go 2-2-1-1-1, but one slight change was made. The series will open in Prince George with games on Friday and Sunday, rather than Friday and Saturday as originally was announced. . . . The teams will play in Portland on March 29 and 30 (Wednesday/Thursday) and then, if necessary, return to Prince George for a game on April 1. . . . If further games are needed, they will be played in Portland on April 3 and in Prince George on April 5.
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The Regina Pats will open the playoffs without F Nick Henry as he sits out a one-game suspension. Henry was suspended after taking a boarding major and game misconduct during a 6-0 victory over the host Brandon Wheat Kings on Saturday. . . . The Pats open at home against the Calgary Hitmen on Friday. . . . Henry, the MJHL’s rookie of the year last season with the Portage Terriers, enjoyed a fine first WHL season, finishing second among freshmen in goals (35), assists (46) and points (81). He played in all 72 games.
The WHL also suspended F Adam Berg of the Edmonton Oil Kings after he took a charging major and game misconduct in Sunday’s 5-4 OT victory over the visiting Red Deer Rebels. Berg, who will be a 20-year-old, will serve the suspension at the start of next season.
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The WHL has scheduled its bantam draft lottery for this morning (Wednesday) — 11 o’clock Mountain time — in Calgary. The lottery will determine the order of the draft’s first six selections. . . . It involves the six non-playoff teams — the Spokane Chiefs, Saskatoon Blades, Edmonton Oil Kings, Prince Albert Raiders, Vancouver Giants and Kootenay Ice. . . . If you’re interested, the lottery will be carried live on a webcast at whl.ca. . . . The bantam draft is scheduled for Calgary on May 4.
——
The WHL plays out its regular-season schedule awarding two points for a victory of any kind, with one point going to an overtime or shootout loser. So what if the WHL had awarded three points for a regulation victory this season, with two points for an OT victory and one for a win in a shootout?
Charlie Seablom, a fan of the Everett Silvertips, decided to find out.
He reports:
“So, is there a difference? Not much. The top nine teams are the same ones but in a different order. The bottom six are the same, too, just in a different order. With the three points per win system there are 11 teams with a .500+ winning percentage and 11 with .499 or worse, which should make some people happy.”
For starters, the Regina Pats and Medicine Hat Tigers still would have run away with the East and Central divisions, respectively.
However, the Seattle Thunderbirds would have put up 128 points and finished atop the U.S. Division, three points ahead of the Everett Silvertips. In reality, the Silvertips wound up two points ahead of the Thunderbirds.
The Prince George Cougars still would have won the B.C. Division, by one point over the Kelowna Rockets.
In terms of playoff matchups, things would have remained the same in the Eastern Conference — Regina vs. Calgary, Medicine Hat vs. Brandon, Moose Jaw vs. Swift Current, and Lethbridge vs. Red Deer.
However, there would have been changes in the Western Conference.
When the playoffs begin this weekend, it’ll be Everett, which finished atop the conference, vs. Victoria, Prince George vs. Portland, Seattle vs. Tri-City, and Kelowna vs. Kamloops.
Under the three-point plan, Seattle would have won the Western Conference title and would open against Victoria.
Portland and Tri-City would have tied for third in the U.S. Division, with the Winterhawks getting the edge on the first tiebreaker (32-31 in victories). That would put Prince George up against Tri-City, which would slide into the first wild-card spot. Everett, then, would draw Portland.
The other series would remain the same — Kelowna vs. Kamloops.
So there you have it, for what it’s worth.
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D Libor Hajek of the Saskatoon Blades has signed a three-year, two-way entry-level contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who selected him in the second round of the NHL’s 2016 draft. Hajek, a native of Smrcek, Czech Republic, flew out of Saskatoon on Tuesday, headed to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch. . . . Hajek had four goals and 22 assists in 65 games with the Blades this season. In 134 career games, he has seven goals and 45 assists.
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F Hudson Elynuik of the Spokane Chiefs has joined the AHL’s Charlotte Checkers on an amateur tryout basis for the remainder of this season. Elynuik was selected by the parent Carolina Hurricanes in the third round of the NHL’s 2016 draft. This season, he had 73 points, including 29 goals, in 64 games with Spokane. From Calgary, Elynuik, 19, has 53 goals and 84 assists in 209 regular-season WHL games.
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Two WHL officials — referee Brent Iverson and linesman Nathan Van Oosten — will work the IIHF World Championship that is scheduled to be held in Paris, France, and Cologne Germany, from May 5 through May 21. Iverson, from Richmond, B.C., worked at the 2016 World Championship in Russia. Van Oosten, from Surrey, B.C., will be making his World Championship debut after working the lines in the 2017 World Junior Championship in Montreal and Toronto.
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F Casey Pierro-Zabotel recorded his 300th career ECHL regular-season assist on Monday as his Colorado Eagles beat the host Utah Grizzlies, 5-3. He drew four assists in the game, the last one getting him to the milestone.
Pierro-Zabotel, 28, won the WHL’s scoring title when he put up 115 points with the 2008-09 Vancouver Giants.
In 470 career regular-season games, Pierro-Zabotel has 127 goals to go with his 300 assists.
He has played in the ECHL with Wheeling, Cincinnati, Bakersfield, Gwinnett, Florida, Allen and Colorado.
F Louis Dumont, who played in the WHL with the Regina Pats and Kamloops Blazers (1990-94) holds the ECHL’s career assists record, with 566. Dumont played with Tallahassee, Wheeling, Louisiana, Augusta, Pensacola, Mississippi and Utah (1994-2006).
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Coaching

Tom Anastos has resigned after six seasons as head coach of the Michigan State Spartans. . . . Assistant coach Tom Newton has been named interim head coach while the school searches for a replacement. . . . The Spartans reached the NCAA tournament in Anastos’ first season, but weren’t able to get back in any of the preceding five seasons. This season, they went 7-24-4 (3-14-4 in the Big Ten), putting up the fewest victories since 1977-78. . . . Anastos, who was 78-122-24 as head coach, is a former MSU player (1981-85) and assistant coach (1990-92).
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The Battlefords Stars of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League have signed Norm Johnston as head coach for 2017-18. Johnston joined the Stars with six games left in the 2016-17 season after Jean Fauchon, who was in his first season, was fired. . . . A veteran junior A owner, general manager and head coach, Johnston last coached on a full-time basis (2008-13) with the Regina Pat Canadians. He is familiar with the Battlefords area as he owned the SJHL franchise there (1988-90). He also did two coaching stints with that team (1983-86, 1988-90). He won an SJHL championship with the Flin Flon Bombers in 1992-93. In 1994-95, he was the head coach of the Regina Pats.
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——

MONDAY-THURSDAY GAMES:

No Games Scheduled.
——

FRIDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 1, best-of-seven series)
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.
Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.
——

SATURDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Red Deer at Lethbridge, 7 p.m.
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:05 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:05 p.m.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

No coaching changes appear imminent . . . Blades staff back for sure . . . Lawsuit moves to Toronto




F Jakub Rumpel (Medicine Hat, 2006-07) has signed a one-year extension with Preussen Berlin (Germany, Oberliga). This season, he had eight goals and 15 assists in 12 games. He started the season on a tryout with Schönheide (Germany, Oberliga). He had a goal and two assists in four games, then was released on Nov. 23. He signed with Preussen on Jan. 20. . . .
F Jan Eberle (Seattle, 2006-08) has signed a one-year extension with Olomouc (Czech Republic, Extraliga). He had seven goals and 10 assists in 51 games this season.
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——
Here’s a look at the 22 WHL head coaches who have more than 300 regular-season victories to their credit (following 2016-17):
1. Ken Hodge (Edmonton, Portland), 742
2. Don Hay (Kamloops, Tri-City, Vancouver) 720
3. Don Nachbaur (Seattle, Tri-City, Spokane) 692
4. Lorne Molleken (Moose Jaw, Saskatoon, Regina) 626
5. Ernie McLean (Estevan, New Westminster) 548
6. Mike Williamson (Portland, Calgary, Tri-City) 534
7. Pat Ginnell (Flin Flon, Victoria, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, New Westminster) 518
8. Peter Anholt (Prince Albert, Seattle, Red Deer, Kelowna, Lethbridge) 466
    Jack Shupe (Medicine Hat, Victoria) 466
10. Dean Clark (Calgary, Brandon, Kamloops, Prince George) 465
11. Kelly McCrimmon (Brandon) 456
12. Bob Lowes (Seattle, Brandon, Regina) 453
13. Brent Sutter (Red Deer) 441
14. Marc Habscheid (Kamloops, Kelowna, Chilliwack, Victoria, Prince Albert) 424
15. Doug Sauter (Calgary, Medicine Hat, Regina, Brandon) 417
16. Marcel Comeau (Calgary, Saskatoon, Tacoma, Kelowna) 411
17. Bryan Maxwell (Medicine Hat, Spokane, Lethbridge) 397
18. Graham James (Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Calgary) 349
19. Bob Loucks (Lethbridge, Tri-City, Medicine Hat) 340
20. Willie Desjardins (Saskatoon, Medicine Hat) 333
21. Kevin Constantine (Everett) 326
22. Shaun Clouston, Medicine Hat 320
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Colin Priestner, the general manager of the Saskatoon Blades, says the team’s coaching staff will be back for another go-round next season.
When Taking Note queried Priestner on that subject, he quickly responded: “For sure. They did an
unbelievable job.”
Dean Brockman was in his first season as head coach, after spending two seasons working with Bob Woods, the previous head coach, who now is an assistant with the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres. Bryce Thoma and Ryan Keller completed their first seasons as Saskatoon’s assistant coaches. Of course, Jerome Engele, the other assistant coach, is a Blades lifer.
The Blades have yet to appear in the postseason during the Priestner era. Mike Priestner, who is based in Edmonton, purchased the team prior to the 2013-14 season. The Blades had been the host team for the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament.
This season, they dealt with a number of long-term injuries, but were in the playoff chase right to the final weekend.
Meanwhile, Steve Ewen of Postmedia points out that “Jason McKee is the longest-serving (head) coach that the Vancouver Giants have had among the past four bench bosses. He’s lasted an entire season.”
The Giants missed the playoffs in McKee’s first season behind their bench, but they went all-in for the future at the trade deadline and also paid the price when F Tyler Benson and D Darian Skeoch, two key performers, had their seasons cut short by injuries.
Vancouver is on the outside looking in for a third straight season, and the fourth time in five springs, 
Still, as Ewen writes, “By all accounts, owner Ron Toigo is bringing back McKee, 37, and general manager Glen Hanlon, 60, for a second season. There’s a calm. They need to capitalize on that.”
Ewen’s piece is right here.
McKee has two seasons left on his contract.
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If you have some information you would like to share or just a general comment, feel free to email me at greggdrinnan@gmail.com.
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——

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The Spokane Chiefs joined the Vancouver Giants as the other Western Conference team not to make the playoffs. Don Nachbaur, the Chiefs’ head coach and the third-winningest coach in WHL regular-season history, has one season left on his contract.
In the Eastern Conference, the other non-playoff teams are the Edmonton Oil Kings, Kootenay Ice and Prince Albert Raiders.
Steve Hamilton, the Oil Kings’ head coach, signed what was announced as a “multi-year” deal in July 2014, and you would think he isn’t going anywhere. He spent four seasons as an assistant under Derek Laxdal and moved up when Laxdal left for a job with the AHL’s Texas Stars. Hamilton has Oil Kings bloodlines — his father, Al, is a former team captain who also captained the Oilers. The Oil Kings committed to a rebuild when they dealt D Aaron Irving and F Lane Bauer, two key 20-year-olds, at the deadline.
The future of Luke Pierce, who has completed two seasons as head coach of the Kootenay Ice, may hinge on what appears to be the impending sale of the franchise. Pierce signed a three-year contract, so has a year left on his deal. The Ice went young two seasons ago and has paid a steep price, going 26-99-19 during Pierce’s stint in Cranbrook.
In Prince Albert, veteran WHL coach Marc Habscheid has a contract that runs through 2018-19. He took over from the fired Cory Clouston on Nov. 1, 2014.
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Rick Westhead, a senior reporter with TSN, has filed his latest piece on the proposed class-action lawsuits that more than 400 present and former major junior players have filed. The lawyers were in a Calgary courtroom last month and, while there hasn’t been a decision rendered from there just yet, the scene now has shifted to Toronto.
“The Ontario Hockey League says its teams may have to pare back their drug education, anti-doping, concussion management, and medical and dental programs if the league loses a minimum-wage lawsuit, according to a new court filing,” Westhead writes.
“The OHL made the claims days before it appears in Ontario Superior Court on Tuesday to begin a hearing into whether a lawsuit filed against the league by former players should be certified as a class action.”
According to a rebuttal filed by the plaintiffs: “. . . The vast majority of the benefits which the defendants claim are threatened are not true player benefits. It would be impossible for the league to operate without coaches, away games, billeting, equipment, etc. Accordingly, the likelihood of these ‘benefits’ being cut is virtually nil.”
Westhead’s latest story is right here.
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MONDAY-THURSDAY GAMES:

No Games Scheduled.
——

FRIDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 1, best-of-seven series)
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m.
Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.
——

SATURDAY GAMES (all times local):

(Game 2, best-of-seven series)
Red Deer at Lethbridge, 7 p.m.
Swift Current at Moose Jaw, 7 p.m.
Brandon at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Calgary at Regina, 7 p.m.
Kamloops at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Victoria at Everett, 7:05 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:05 p.m.
Portland at Prince George, 7 p.m.

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