Thursday, November 18, 2010

No tie . . . time to go home?

Some notes from the Subway Super Series stop in Kamloops on Wednesday night . . .
A team winning a game in regulation time gets three points. A victory in a shootout is worth two points. A shootout loss is worth one point. . . . That means that going into Thursday’s season finale in Prince George, the Russians hold a 9-6 lead. . . . What that means is that the WHL has to win in regulation time tonight to pull into a tie, at 9-9.
And what happens then?
Cory Flett, the WHL’s director of communications, tells me that a shootout — five players aside — would be held to determine the series winner.
I caught the second period and half of the third in person — spent the rest of the night laying out pages as our Mark Hunter covered the game — but could feel a buzz as soon as I walked in the building. Yes, it was a fun crowd that was announced at 5,456. . . .
One of the Russian coaches wasn’t wearing a tie. Does that mean it’s time to go home? . . .
F Curtis Hamilton of the Saskatoon Blades obviously isn’t superstitious. He was wearing No. 13 despite having suffered a broken collarbone in the Super Series game in Kelowna a year ago. . . .
F Brendan Ranford of the Kamloops Blazers showed enough in this one that it should warrant him an invitation to the Canadian national junior team’s selection camp next month. It’s time this guy got some well-deserved respect from hockey people. . . .
The referees were Steve Papp, who raced in from Kelowna, and Kris Hartley of Kamloops. They were pressed into service when Matt Kirk and Pat Smith weren’t able to get over the Coquihalla Highway which apparently was closed by an accident. . . . Sheesh, guys, you gotta remember that you’re Canadian and, when the flag is involved, you gotta give our guys a break once in a while. . . . Right?
Brandi Brodsky, the vice-president of the Prince George Cougars, has said that tonight’s game is sold out. Which is great news for the hockey fans of that city. Here’s hoping they get to watch a hockey game as entertaining as the one in Kamloops last night.
The WHL’s 21 other teams should be worried, very worried, about the Portland Winterhawks.
Because no matter how you look at it, this is beginning to take on the aura of a juggernaut.
The Winterhawks were expected to arrive home at around 10 o’clock Wednedsay night after ransacking the East Division to the tune of 5-1-0. Their only loss, as they improved their WHL-leading record to 19-3-1, was by a 5-4 count to the Blades in Saskatoon on Friday.
The Winterhawks arrive home having scored a WHL-leading 96 goals. And their 58 goals-against — 2.52 goals per game — gives them the WHL’s second-best defensive record, behind only the Red Deer Rebels (2.18).
The Winterhawks also lead the WHL with a goal differential of plus—38, which is the best in the league. It is far and away the leading differential in the Western Conference, where the Chilliwack Bruins are second, at plus-7.
When last season ended, the Winterhawks were prolific on offence, scoring an average of 3.69 goals per game. But, at the same, they allowed 3.35.
That, general manager and head coach Mike Johnston knew, wasn’t good enough to win a championship.
The Winterhawks, then, have concentrated on cleaning up the goals-against. A stronger defensive game and strong work by goaltenders Keith Hamilton and Mac Carruth have allowed Portland’s defence to improve by almost a goal a game. And that is huge.
It helps, too, that the Winterhawks, one of the WHL’s biggest and most-penalized teams, has the league’s second-best penalty-killing record.
If you’re going to take penalties — and the Winterhawks have been shorthanded 142 times, more than any team in the league — you have to be able to kill them if you are going to have any success.
The Winterhawks, of course, had eight players selected in the NHL’s 2010 draft, including F Ryan Johansen, who went fourth overall, and F Nino Niederreiter, who was taken fifth overall. All told, they have 10 players on their roster who are either drafted or signed by NHL teams.
And they have four of the top nine NHL prospects according to the first rankings by NHL Central Scouting that were released earlier this week.
F Sven Bartschi shows up at No. 2, with linemate Ty Rattie at No. 3, D Joe Morrow at No. 5 and D Tyler Wotherspoon at No. 9.
And two players off their roster — F Brendan Leipsic and D Derrick Pouliot — will play for Team Western at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge that runs Dec. 26 through Jan. 4 in Winnipeg and Portage la Prairie, Man.
Sheesh, it’s hard to remember that it was only in 2007-08 when this franchise was stumbling and bumbling its way to 11 victories in 72 games. One season later, it had improved to 19.
And now, two seasons later and after an ownership change, the Winterhawks are the best team in the WHL and one of the elite teams in the 60-team CHL.
This, folks, is a great, great story.
The Pats announced Wednesday that D Mitch Spooner has left the club for what the team is calling “personal reasons.”
Spooner, 18, who is from Port Moody, B.C., wasn’t on the bus when it left Regina for Vancouver on Tuesday.
“It’s more than just hockey,” Chad Lang, the Pats’ GM, told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post. “He was having some personal issues and just felt it was important that he go home to his family for a bit and kind of re-evaluate everything. We support his decision. He has to make sure he looks after what’s important.”
Spooner had five points in 15 games, but was a healthy scratch seven times. The Vancouver Giants selected Spooner wtih the 19th overall pick in the 2007 bantam draft. He was dealt to Regina on Dec. 10, along with F Cass Mappin and F Mikael Jung, for G Derek Tendler, the 13th overall pick in the 2010 CHL import draft and a 2011 fifth-round bantam pick.
Harder has more on Spooner right here.
The Vancouver Giants have added F Richard Vanderhoek, 19, to their roster.
Vanderhoek, who had 43 points in 25 games with the BCHL’s Surrey Eagles, was a sixth-round pick by the Kamloops Blazers in the 2006 bantam draft. He was pointless in four games with the Blazers in 2007-08 and was later dropped from their protected list.
Vanderhoek has joined the Giants and is expected to play Friday against the visiting Regina Pats. Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun reports that Vanderhoek may open on the Giants’ top line, alongside Brendan Gallagher and Craig Cunningham.
The Tri-City Americans have assigned F Zach McPhee, 17, to the BCHL’s Vernon Vipers. McPhee, who had one goal in eight games with the Americans, is from Vernon. He was a sixth-round pick in the 2008 bantam draft.
F Matt Fraser, 20, of the Kootenay Ice has signed a three-year contract with the NHL’s Dallas Stars. Fraser, who was an NHL free agent, has 19 points, including nine goals, and 35 penalty minutes in 20 games with the Ice this season. . . . Last season, he had 56 points, 32 of them goals, and 117 penalty minutes in 65 games. He later played two games for the AHL’s Peoria Rivermen.
The Prince Albert Raiders have assigned F RJ Reed, 18, to the AJHL’s Brooks Bandits. The had acquired him from the Vancouver Giants. He was pointless in five games with the Raiders, after going pointless in one game with Vancouver.
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