Monday, January 23, 2017

WHL playoffs nearing . . . Krebs family reunion . . . New hockey team in Nanaimo


F Axel Blomqvist (Lethbridge, Victoria, Moose Jaw, 2012-15) has signed for the rest of this season with Kristianstad (Sweden, Division 1). He had been released Sunday at his request by Södertälje (Sweden, Allsvenskan). He was pointless in seven games there.
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All of the WHL’s 22 teams have either played two-thirds of their regular season or are within an outing or two of the 48-game mark.
So . . . let us pause for a look at the playoff picture.
EASTERN CONFERENCE
East Division: The Regina Pats are atop the division, four points ahead of the Moose Jaw Warriors and with four games in hand. Regina has six regulation-time losses; the Warriors have a dozen. Regina’s point percentage is .784; Moose Jaw’s is .677. Yes, it will be hard for the Warriors to reach the top. . . . The Swift Current Broncos are third, seven points behind Moose Jaw and seven ahead of the Brandon Wheat Kings, who have three games in hand. The Wheat Kings are in possession of the conference’s first wild-card spot. They are five points in front of the Saskatoon Blades. . . . We could be looking at Moose Jaw and Swift Current in the first round, with the Wheat Kings crossing over to play the Central Division’s first-place finisher. . . . The Saskatoon Blades have won five in a row and are in position to get into the playoffs for the first time since the spring of 2013. If they stay in the conference’s second wild-card spot, they likely would meet up with Regina in the first round. Could that fire up what once was a tremendous rivalry?
Central Division: The Medicine Hat Tigers hold down first place, but are only four points ahead of the hard-charging Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Tigers are without D David Quenneville and D Ty Schultz, both of whom suffered broken bones while blocking shots. The Hurricanes have points in eight straight games (6-0-2), but the Tigers have one game in hand. They will meet each other three more times, including a home-and-home series on the regular-season’s final weekend. . . . The Red Deer Rebels, whose season has been a myriad of inconsistencies, are headed to a third-place finish. . . . Three of the division’s six teams end up on the outside looking in. The Calgary Hitmen are four points out of a playoff spot, while the Edmonton Oil Kings have trended the wrong way since the trade deadline, and the Kootenay Ice won’t make it. Again.
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WESTERN CONFERENCE
B.C. Division: The Prince George Cougars lead the division by 10 points over the Kamloops Blazers, who hold two games in hand. The Cougars, who beat the Vancouver Giants, 2-1 in a shootout, in Langley, B.C., on Monday night, will play three games in Alberta this weekend before going home for six in a row — doubleheaders with the Kelowna Rockets, Vancouver and the Spokane Chiefs. The Cougars and Blazers will meet five more times. Yes, they will go home-and-home to finish the regular season. . . . The Blazers are three points ahead of Kelowna, with the Victoria Royals two points in back of the Rockets. . . . Victoria holds the conference’s first wild-card spot at the moment, nine points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks. So it would seem that playoff spot will go to a B.C. Division team. . . . Vancouver is nine points out of a playoff spot.
U.S. Division: The Everett Silvertips lead the way by eight points and have five games in hand on the Tri-City Americans. The Silvertips have yet to experience their six-game East Division swing, one on which the Americans went 6-0-0. . . . Tri-City is seven points ahead of the Seattle Thunderbirds, who hold six games in hand even though their eastern trip is behind them. . . . Seattle is a comfortable seven points ahead of Portland and the Spokane Chiefs, who are tied for the conference’s second wild-card spot. It could well be that either Portland or Spokane won’t make it, with the survivor getting Everett or Prince George, whichever has the better record, in the first round.
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Peyton (left), Maddison and Dakota Krebs.
(Photo: Tri-City Americans)
It was a big night for the Krebs family on Friday when the Kootenay Ice paid a visit to the Tri-City Americans. . . . Peyton, the first overall selection in the WHL’s 2016 bantam draft, was in the Ice’s lineup. Dakota, 17, is a defenceman with the Americans. . . . Sister Maddison, 19, an up-and-coming country singer, handled both anthems. . . . Their parents, Cindy and Greg, along with another son, 13-year-old Drew, were on hand to take it all in. . . . “That was the hardest game I have had to watch,” Cindy told Annie Fowler of the Tri-City Herald. “I didn’t want Dakota to get scored on, but I wanted Peyton to score — just not against Dakota.” . . . Neither Peyton nor Dakota garnered a point but Dakota got bragging rights with a 7-4 victory. . . . Fowler’s story is right here.
The Ice returned Peyton to the midget AAA Foothills Bisons on Sunday, while also returning D Loeden Schaufler, 16, to the midget AAA Notre Dame Hounds of Wilcox Sask. . . . Still, the Ice has six players on the injury list, with F Barrett Sheen, D Nikita Radzivilyuk and D Sam Huston all out a week or more, with D Cale Fleury, F Vince Loschiavo and D Ryan Pouliot all day-to-day.
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There will be a new hockey team in Nanaimo when the 2017-18 season arrives. The Vancouver Island University Mariners will play out of the Ice Centre, which is near the school’s campus. The team will bring membership in the B.C. Intercollegiate Hockey League to six teams. Other teams play out of Selkirk College in Castlegar, B.C., Trinity Western U in Langley, Eastern Washington U in Cheney, Simon Fraser U in Burnaby and the U of Victoria. . . . Steven Paul is the Mariners’ volunteer general manager and head coach. . . . The Mariners will operate as a club team, meaning it will responsible for its own operating budget. . . . The team will hold a spring camp, April 7-9. . . . The original roster could include D Ryan Coghlan, 21, a student at VIU who has played in the WHL with the Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders.
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Coaching

The QMJHL’s Gatineau Olympiques have fired head coach Mario Duhamel, replacing him with assistant coach Éric Landry. Duhamel was in in his first season with the Olympiques, having replaced Benoit Groulx, who now is the head coach of Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. . . . Duhamel spent four seasons (2009-13) as the head coach of the Drummondville Voltigeurs and was an assistant coach with Canada’s national junior team at the 2013 World Junior Championship. He also worked with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche as the video coach for two seasons (2013-15). Last season, he was the assistant general manager with the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. . . . Landry, who is from Gatineau, has been with the Olympiques since 2012 after he ended a pro career that included NHL stops with the Calgary Flames and Montreal Canadiens. . . . The Olympiques, who have lost four straight games, are 19-24-4.
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MONDAY’S GAME:

At Langley, B.C., the Prince George Cougars scored three times in a shootout to beat the Vancouver Giants 2-1. . . . F Nikita Popugaev, F Radovan Bondra and F Jansen Harkins all scored for the Cougars in the shootout, with F James Malm and F Brayden Watts counting for the Giants. . . . F Jared Bethune (13) gave the visitors a 1-0 lead at 5:45 of the second period and they nursed that lead into the final five minutes of the third period. . . . The Giants tied it when F Dawson Holt scored his sixth goal, shorthanded, at 15:49 of the third period. . . . G Nick McBride made 30 saves for the Cougars, three fewer than Vancouver’s Ryan Kubic. . . . Each team was 0-5 on the PP. . . . Vancouver had D Bowen Byram, the third overall pick in the 2016 bantam draft, in its lineup. He has 16 points, including 14 assists, in 11 games with the Yale Hockey Academy’s prep team in the CSSHL. . . . The Giants had eight scratches, including F Tyler Benson, D Darian Skeoch, D Matt Barberis and F Ty Ronning. . . . The Cougars had D Sam Ruopp back in their lineup. . . . The Cougars lead the eight-game season series 5-1-0, while the Giants are 1-4-1. . . . Prince George (34-13-3) had lost its previous two games (0-1-1). The Cougars lead the overall standings by two points over the Everett Silvertips and Regina Pats. . . . Vancouver (17-27-4) had lost two in a row and is nine points from a playoff spot. . . . The Cougars next play Friday against the host Red Deer Rebels and will stop off in Banff for a couple of days en route. After Red Deer, the Cougars will play a Saturday-Sunday night-day doubleheader against the Edmonton Oil Kings. . . . Announced attendance: 2,964.
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TUESDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

Kamloops at Portland, 7 p.m. (ppd. from Jan. 8)
Medicine Hat vs. Kootenay, at Cranbrook, 7 p.m.

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