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Saturday, March 24, 2012

By GREGG DRINNAN
Daily News Sports Editor
It seems the WHL may be within a year or two of changing its playoff format to one that involves more play within the four divisions.
Appearing with Dan Russell on Sportstalk, the nightly CKNW radio show out of Vancouver, Ron Toigo, the Vancouver Giants’ majority owner, said Wednesday night that a change may be two years from implementation.
“I think it’s got lots of traction . . . it was discussed at length in the Las Vegas meetings (in February),” Toigo said. “And it’ll be picked up again at the annual general meeting in Vancouver in June.”
Asked whether a change could be in place for next season, Toigo replied: “I think it’s something that probably will be two years down the road. You might get the decision this year and plan it for two years after that. I think it’ll end up happening . . . it’s just a matter of when.”
The present format has been in play since 2007-08. While teams play within a division during the regular season, they are seeded one through eight in their conference for the playoffs.
Prior to 2007-08, teams played the first playoff round within their divisions, then were reseeded by conferences.
Toigo said he would be “more in favour of doing the complete division format.”
He said he would prefer each division come up with a playoff winner, with teams then meeting for conference titles and the two survivors advancing to the WHL final.
“Rather than play one series in the division,” Toigo said, “and then go to the conference. . . . If you want to do the rivalry division format, then do it all the way through.”
The biggest reason for wanting change has to do with an attempt to cut down on travel while encouraging geographic rivalries.
According to Toigo, the one problem in the B.C. Division is the presence of the Prince George Cougars.
“The travel aspect is . . . really important,” Toigo explained. “Where it gets killed is when you put Prince George in the mix. For the B.C. Division, you’d still have the 12-hour drive and the 10-hour drive. That’s where it kind of falls off on that part.”
Under the previous format, there were occasions when teams missed the playoffs in their division when they would have made it under a conference format. In 2005-06, for example, the Kamloops Blazers finished last in the B.C. Division with 73 points. In the U.S. Division, the Portland Winterhawks and Tri-City Americans made the playoffs with fewer points.
A desire to eliminate such situations led the WHL to the format it uses today.
“At the end of the day,” Toigo said, “everything goes in cycles and it is what is is . . . I think I’m more in favour of the division format than I have been in the past.”
———
Here are this season's playoff matchups under the conference format:
Western Conference
Tri-City vs. Everett
Kamloops vs. Victoria
Portland vs. Kelowna
Vancouver vs. Spokane
Eastern Conference
Edmonton vs. Kootenay
Moose Jaw vs. Regina
Calgary vs. Brandon
Medicine Hat vs. Saskatoon
Here is how the matchups would be had this season been played using a divisional playoff format:
Western Conference
Tri-City vs. Everett
Portland vs. Spokane
Kamloops vs. Victoria
Vancouver vs. Kelowna
Eastern Conference
Edmonton vs. Kootenay
Calgary vs. Medicine Hat
Moose Jaw vs. Regina
Saskatoon vs. Brandon
———
The Victoria Royals welcomed back F Robin Soudek, a 27-goal man in the regular season, for Game 1 against the Kamloops Blazers last night. Soudek, 20, from Ceske Budejovice, Czech Republic, missed the last three games of the regular season with what is believed to have been a shoulder injury.
The Royals, however, were without F Brandon Magee, 18, who had 23 goals in the regular season. Magee, from Edmonton, won’t play in the series. In fact, he will be out up to six weeks with a foot injury.
Victoria D Zach Habscheid (high ankle sprain) is back taking part in full practices. He was injured while unloading the team bus and hasn’t played since Feb. 3. Habscheid, who turned 20 on March 16, is the son of Marc Habscheid, the Royals’ general manager and head coach.
Meanwhile, the Blazers scratched G Taran Kozun, F Brock Balson, D Landon Cross and F Chase Souto, all of whom are healthy.
———
Victoria had assistant coach Craig Didmon situated in the press box with a walkie-talkie. He watches the Blazers bench and tells  assistant coach Ben Cooper, who is behind the Royals bench, which Kamloops forward line is next up when they are changing on the fly.
———
The Dallas Stars will honour the memory of former D Karlis Skrastins before playing the visiting Calgary Flames tonight. Skrastins was with the KHL’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv when its plane crashed on Sept. 7, wiping out the entire team. His wife, Zane, and three daughters will be at tonight’s game.
The Stars have set up a trust fund for the three girls; Dallas players will make a donation that owner Tom Gaglardi, who also is the Blazers’ majority owner, has said he will match.

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