The truth of the matter is that there isn’t much left to be decided, even though each of the 22 teams has at least 15 games remaining.
With the WHL having gone to a new playoff format — top three teams from each division plus two wild-card teams from each conference get in — there really is only one of 16 playoff spots still up in the air. That would be third place in the B.C. Division.
Oh, there are teams that aren’t in playoff position right now but haven’t been eliminated. But when you’re seven and eight points back with fewer than 20 games to play in this era of loser points, well, the odds really aren’t in your favour.
Anyway . . . under this new playoff format, I couldn’t decide if division, conference or overall standings mean more. So I wasn’t sure how to list the teams here; heck, I even considered doing it by alphabetical order.
In the end, I chose to use the conference standings . . .
EASTERN CONFERENCE1. Brandon (87 points, 17 games remaining): Moved into first place in overall standings by winning four games in five days on Central Division trip last week. . . . Now trail Kelowna by one point in the overall standings. Each team has played 55 games. . . . The Wheaties are 12-0-1 in their last 13 games. . . . Likely to meet Kootenay or Edmonton in first round. . . . Need to get healthy, as F Jayce Hawryluk, D Kale Clague and D Ivan Provolov are injured.
2. Medicine Hat (75/17): Appeared home free not that long ago, but injuries and a Calgary hot streak have made it interesting. . . . Tigers lead the Central Division by six points over Calgary. . . . Tigers have been sputtering of late and are 5-4-1 in their last 10. . . . Were swept in weekend home-and-home series with last-place Lethbridge. . . . Should have D Tommy Vannelli (finger) back in early March. . . . Finish atop the Central Division and get Kootenay or Edmonton in the first round. Finish second and it’s likely Red Deer.
3. Calgary (69/18): The Hitmen have won nine in a row to close to within six points of Medicine Hat. . . . There aren’t any injuries. . . . Could end up with seven 20-goal scorers. . . . Have nine skaters with at least 30 points, including 16-year-old Jake Bean, who has set a franchise record for points by a freshman defenceman. . . . G Brendan Burke is 5-1-1, 2.23, .914 in seven appearances since coming over from Portland at the trade deadline.
4. Regina (66/19): Will finish a comfortable second in the division. Chances are Regina, which is second in the East Division, will get a first-round matchup with third-place Swift Current. . . . They meet tonight in Regina in a game both teams will treat as a playoff preview. . . . Two of Regina’s top scorers — F Adam Brooks and F Taylor Cooper — are injured. Brooks is listed as being out for up to two weeks, while Cooper is indefinite. . . . Cooper has 15 points, nine of them goals, in 13 games since being acquired from Lethbridge at the trade deadline.
5. Red Deer (64/19): The Rebels returned home late Sunday from a quick B.C. trip on which they won the opener and then lost two straight. Worse, they lost F Conner Bleackley, their captain, in the second game. He had scored twice in a 3-2 victory in Kamloops and added another goal two nights later in Vancouver before leaving with an undisclosed injury. He is questionable for two weekend home games. . . . They are third in the Central Division, five points behind Calgary. Those two are likely first-round opponents.
6. Kootenay (57/17): The Ice holds down the conference’s first wild-card spot and is seven points behind Red Deer, which is third in the Central Division. . . . With four 20-goal scorers, you can bet no one will be too eager to meet the Ice in the playoffs. . . . The first wild-card spot likely gets Medicine Hat; the second one draws Brandon. . . . D Tanner Faith (shoulder) is finished for this season. . . . G Wyatt Hoflin has played in 51 games. Can you name the Ice’s backup goaltender?
7. Edmonton (56/15): The Oil Kings are coming off a 1-3-0 swing into the B.C. Division during which they scored only six goals. . . . Their roster includes one 20-goal scorer — F Brett Pollock has 25. . . . Veteran forwards Edgars Kulda and Mads Eller have combined for 11 goals. . . . So you know where Edmonton’s problems are right now. . . . The defending Memorial Cup champions are in possession of the conference’s second wild-card spot. . . . If the Oil Kings finish there, they will get Brandon in the first round. . . . You know that G Tristan Jarry will give the Oil Kings confidence when the playoffs start.
8. Swift Current (55/18): The Broncos are eighth in the conference, but their third-place standing in the East Division — if it doesn’t change — will have them meeting Regina in the first round. . . . G Landon Bow has appeared in 50 games. Can you name the Broncos’ backup? . . . Sophomore F Jake DeBrusk is having an MVP-type season, with 33 goals and 24 assists in 54 games. . . . D Dillon Heatherington, who was injured shortly after returning from being part of Team Canada’s winning effort at the WJC, should return in time for the playoffs. . . . The Broncos have allowed 17 more goals than they’ve scored and that’s something that will have to change if they are to have playoff success.
9. Prince Albert (48/16): The Raiders are fourth in the East Division, seven points behind Swift Current. . . . The Raiders are eight points out of the conference’s second wild-card position. . . . When they look back at this season, they will realize their record on home-ice — they are 11-15-1 — wasn’t nearly good enough. . . . They have only five players with at least 10 goals and two of them came over from Kelowna in mid-season trades. . . . Prince Albert is 16-22-2 under head coach Marc Habscheid, who replaced Cory Clouston (6-9-0).
10. Moose Jaw (46/18): The Warriors have lost their last two games, the latest a 6-3 setback in Lethbridge on Wednesday. That was the first of seven straight road games. . . . The Warriors are 7-18-1 on the road. . . . They are nine points out of third place in the East Division and 10 points out of the conference’s second wild-card spot. . . . The Warriors have enough offence to win, with the likes of Brayden Point, Jack Rodewald and Tanner Eberle on the roster, but they have allowed 47 more goals than they have scored.
11. Lethbridge (38/18): The Hurricanes are playing for next season, but you can bet the players felt like they won a playoff series when they swept a home-and-home series from Central Division-leading Medicine Hat on the weekend. . . . Lethbridge is five points ahead of Saskatoon in the race to avoid the WHL cellar. . . . The Hurricanes were 6-19-5 under head coach Drake Berehowsky. They are 10-13-1 with Peter Anholt in charge.
12. Saskatoon (33/19): The Blades also are playing for next season. . . . They have used 41 different players, including five goaltenders, this season.
WESTERN CONFERENCE1. Kelowna (88/17): The Rockets are back atop the overall standings after an absence of a few hours over the weekend. They lead Brandon by one point, with each team having played 55 games. . . . It’s been a long time since the Rockets have been challenged — they lead the Western Conference by 15 points and the B.C. Division by 24 — and they know they are going to have to play better than they have been if they are to make a run into May. . . . The first-round opponent is likely to be Spokane or Tri-City. . . . F Tyson Baillie, who has 32 goals, is sidelined with a concussion. They need him healthy for a deep playoff run. . . . G Jackson Whistle, who is 31-7-3 and has been in 42 games, had his appendix removed on Friday. They’re OK without him in the short term, but he’s the guy for the playoff run.
2. Everett (73/17): The Silvertips lead the U.S. Division by seven points over Portland. Each team has played 55 games. . . . Despite their record, the Silvertips have shown a propensity for third-period woes that has to be causing concern for head coach Kevin Constantine. . . . The way things are now, Everett will get Spokane or Tri-City in the first round. . . . G Austin Lotz, F Nikita Scherbak, who is a game-breaker, and disciplined play make the Silvertips a formidable playoff opponent. . . . Interestingly, the second least-penalized team in the league is No. 1 in bench minors.
3. Portland (66/17): The Winterhawks are 8-1-1 in their last 10 as they make a late-season push after an ugly start to their season. . . . They are second in the U.S. Division and could be headed to a first-round clash with Seattle. . . . G Adin Hill has proven his worth — 20-8-1, 2.85, .924. . . . In the conference, only Kelowna has scored more goals. . . . F Oliver Bjorkstrand is the WHL’s best pure goal scorer. He’s got 37 goals in 42 games this season. . . . The Winterhawks have been in four straight WHL championship finals. That experience and their talent on offence will frighten any opponent.
4. Victoria (64/18): The Royals will finish second, but may not know their first-round opponent until the last weekend of the regular season. The Royals have won four in a row and are 8-1-1 in their last 10, so seem to rounding into playoff form. . . . They’ve got competent goaltending in Coleman Vollrath and Justin Paulic. They’ve got game-breakers up front in Austin Carroll, Brandon Magee, Greg Chase and a quickly maturing Tyler Soy. They get offence from defencemen Joe Hicketts and Travis Brown. They also play team defence. . . . A Kelowna-Victoria series at some point would be worth watching.
5. Seattle (62/18): The Thunderbirds are third in the U.S. Division, six points ahead of Spokane. A third-place finish likely means a first-round meeting with Portland and we all know how much fun that would be. . . . The Thunderbirds have the goaltending (Taran Kozun), the defence (led by Shea Theodore) and the depth up front to cause problems in the playoffs. But they need to play with discipline to have success and so far consistency in that department has escaped them. . . . Still, forwards Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Roberts Lipsbergs, along with Theodore, will create enough on offence to concern other teams.
6. Spokane (56/18): The Chiefs are 2-2-0 on a late-season East Division swing that continues tonight in Brandon. . . . The Chiefs, who hold down the conference’s first wild-card spot, have been shut out in five of their last 11 games. . . . The onus here has to be on getting healthy. When they have all hands on deck, the Chiefs can play with anyone. . . . A few games ago they scratched nine injured skaters and an ill goaltender. . . . F Calder Brooks, who has 37 points, including 15 goals, in 35 games with Spokane, hasn’t played since Jan. 3 and they need to get him back. They are 5-12-1 without him.
7. Tri-City (55/17): Like the Chiefs, the Americans need to get healthy. They got F Brian Williams back but now have lost F Parker Bowles, who leads them in assists (31) and points (44). . . . They are in possession of the conference’s second wild-card spot, and are just a point behind Spokane. . . . The first wild-card spot likely gets Everett in the first round, with the second wild-card spot meeting Kelowna. . . .
8. Vancouver (49/17): The Giants are third in the B.C. Division, meaning they are part of the only real race for a playoff spot left in the WHL. . . . They hold a one-point lead over Kamloops and are three ahead of Prince George. . . . The Giants have won two in a row but are 4-5-1 in their last 10. . . . They are 13-11-3 under head coach Claude Noel, who replaced Troy Ward on Nov. 26. . . . F Matt Bellerive (illness) is out week-to-week. . . . The Giants have two games left with Kamloops, but none with Prince George. . . . Vancouver, with eight of its 17 remaining games scheduled for home ice, also has four games left with Kelowna and three with Victoria.
9. Kamloops (48/16): The Blazers had a brief taste of third place in the B.C. Division last week, but now trail Vancouver by one point. . . . Third place means a first-round matchup with Victoria. . . . The Blazers’ defensive play has improved along with the confidence shown by G Connor Ingram. . . . Kamloops also has a forward line — Matt Needham between Cole Ully and Deven Sideroff — than can score with the best of them. . . . Four of the Blazers’ last five games will be against Prince George. . . . Kamloops also will play Kelowna three more times — the Rockets are riding a 17-game regular-season winning streak against the Blazers.
10. Prince George (46/15): With the Canada Winter Games taking over their city, the Cougars are on the road, where they are 10-15-2. . . . They are 0-0-1 on a four-game dip into the Central Division that continues tonight in Medicine Hat. . . . They have nine road games remaining and six at home. . . . They recently lost 12 in a row so it’s amazing that they still have a chance at the playoffs. . . . As often happens with the Cougars, they have fought injuries through most of the season. D Josh Connolly, who was acquired from Kamloops at the trade deadline, is concussed. The Cougars need him back to run their power play. . . . With four of their last six games against Kamloops, including three in four nights to end the season, this chase might come right down to the end.
F Ben Maxwell (Kootenay, 2003-08) has signed for the rest of this season with Kärpät Oulu (Finland, Liiga) after being released by mutual agreement from Yugra Khanty-Mansiysk (Russia, KHL). The club is having financial issues. This season, Maxwell, an alternate captain, had 14 goals and 13 assists in 46 games.
OK, enough is enough. This upper- and lower-body stuff has gone too far.
Ryan McGill, the head coach of the Kootenay Ice, wasn’t available for a 6-3 victory over the visiting Medicine Hat Tigers on Wednesday night.
He also missed practice on Thursday.
As Taylor Rocca of the Cranbrook Daily Townsman writes: “McGill was absent from practice Thursday afternoon as he continues to nurse what has been officially labelled by the organization as an upper-body injury. He remains a game-time decision for Friday's tilt with the Warriors.”
Rocca also reports that the Ice has brought in G Declan Hobbs, 16, from the midget AAA Saskatoon Contacts. A third-round selection in the 2013 bantam draft, Hobbs is 15-11-0, 3.62, .902 with the Contacts. He is expected to spend the weekend with the Ice, before returning to Saskatoon on Monday. He isn’t expected to play for the Ice; the club’s management just wants to give him a taste of WHL life.
Alison Gordon didn’t get a lot of recognition as the first female beat writer to cover a Major League Baseball team. But that’s exactly who she was when she covered the Toronto Blue Jays for the Toronto Star. Gordon, who spent five years on the beat starting in 1979, died Thursday in Toronto. Brendan Kennedy of the Star has more right here.
D Andrew Alberts of the Vancouver Canucks took a brutal hit just 51 seconds into an NHL game on Dec. 29, 2013. He didn’t know it at the time, but that hit signalled the end of his NHL career. What followed was months of concussion hell. Now he just wants a life without headaches. . . . Dan Murphy of Sportsnet has more right here.
No Games Scheduled.
(all times local)
Swift Current at Regina, 7 p.m.
Spokane at Brandon, 7:30 p.m.
Saskatoon at Calgary, 7 p.m.
Lethbridge at Red Deer, 7 p.m.
Moose Jaw vs. Kootenay, at Cranbrook, 7 p.m.
Prince George at Medicine Hat, 7:30 p.m.
Tri-City at Portland, 7 p.m.
Seattle at Kamloops, 7 p.m.
Victoria at Kelowna, 7:05 p.m.
Vancouver at Everett, 7:35 p.m.
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