Sunday, February 12, 2017

A WHL playoff situational ... Oil Kings shake that skid ... Hurricanes blow past Ice

If you’re wondering about there being four afternoon games on Monday and all of them in B.C., well, we are celebrating Family Day. Heaven forbid that we in B.C. should celebrate Family Day on Feb. 20, along with the good folks of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
If you know anything about the goofiness of B.C. politics, well, it’s a miracle that we don’t celebrate our Family Day on Feb. 30.
So that’s why the Portland Winterhawks are visiting the Blazers in Kamloops today, while the Seattle Thunderbirds meet the Rockets in Kelowna, the Spokane Chiefs are in Prince George to face the Cougars, and the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants clash in Langley, B.C.
With five weeks left in the WHL’s regular season, it’s time for a look at the playoff picture.
As often has been stated, with the number of loser points being doled out — to date, the total this season is 136 — it is hard for teams to make up ground, especially if the need is to pass more than one team in order to move on up the standings.
Anyway . . . here’s a division-by-division look, with the number in parentheses after each division representing the number of loser points that its teams have been awarded:
East Division (43): The Regina Pats (40-6-7) are going to finish atop the overall standings. They will win the conference pennant, so will play the second wild-card team that at the moment is the Saskatoon Blades. . . . The Moose Jaw Warriors (32-17-8) are second. They won’t catch Regina, but could be caught by the third-place Swift Current Broncos (29-17-9), who are five points back with two games in hand. Regardless, they may be headed to a first-round matchup with only home-ice to be decided. . . . The defending-champion Brandon Wheat Kings (27-20-8) will be in the playoffs, either in third place — they are five points behind Swift Current with each team having 17 games remaining — or in the conference’s first wild-card spot. The latter almost surely will mean a first-round go with the Medicine Hat Tigers, who seem likely to finish as the conference’s second seed. . . . This could be the season in which five East Division teams qualify for the playoffs with only the Prince Albert Raiders (14-38-5) not making it.
Central Division (40): The Medicine Hat Tigers (40-16-1) may have pocketed the division title on Saturday when they beat the visiting Lethbridge Hurricanes, 5-0. The Tigers now lead the division by eight points. They only have one loser point, but have seven more victories than do the Hurricanes (33-16-7), the beneficiaries of seven loser points. . . . . The Tigers are six points behind league-leading Regina but the Pats hold four games in hand. The Tigers, then, would appear headed to a first-round engagement with the conference’s first wild-card team and that, right now, looks to be Brandon. . . . The Hurricanes are likely to go into a first-round meeting with the third-place Red Deer Rebels (23-24-9), whose season has been full of inconsistencies. . . . However, the Rebels need to be careful because they are only five points ahead of the Calgary Hitmen (20-26-10). . . . The Edmonton Oil Kings (19-33-4) and Kootenay Ice (12-35-9) aren’t going to make it.
B.C. Division (23): The Prince George Cougars (37-16-4) once appeared to have an insurmountable lead, but that is down to four points over the hard-charging Kamloops Blazers (34-18-6). While the Cougars have been treading water — they are 4-4-2 in their past 10 games — the Blazers, with the WHL’s top goaltending tandem in Connor Ingram and Dylan Ferguson, have gotten close enough that they are looming large in Prince George’s rearview mirror. The teams will meet five times before season’s end, too. . . . Finish first and you’ll get the conference’s second wild-card team in the first round. Finish second and you’ll get the division’s third-place team. . . . It’s looking like the Kelowna Rockets (32-20-4) and Victoria Royals (31-22-4) will scrap for third spot. Kelowna goes into the week with a two-point edge over Victoria. . . . The Vancouver Giants (18-34-5) will be on the outside looking in for the fourth time in five seasons.
U.S. Division (30): The Seattle Thunderbirds (35-15-5) finally tracked down the Everett Silvertips (32-12-10) and passed them. Seattle is 18-2-2 since the Christmas break. . . . Seattle and Everett, which is 1-1-0 on its six-game East Division trip, will meet three more times. . . . The Tri-City Americans (31-23-3) are third, but have lost three in a row and now are only two points ahead of the Portland Winterhawks (30-23-3), who are 8-2-0 in their last 10 outings. Portland holds down the conference’s second wild-card spot, just three points behind Victoria. . . . About the only thing in the U.S. Division that isn’t up in the air is fifth place. The Spokane Chiefs (23-23-9) are eight points out of the playoffs and, with only 17 games remaining, have their work cut out if they are to make the playoffs. They last missed in 2005-06. 
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At Edmonton, the Oil Kings broke a record-tying 16-game losing streak as they beat the Calgary Hitmen 3-2 in OT on F Tyler Robertson’s goal. . . . Robertson, now with 14 goals, scored at 1:12 of extra time. He
has tied his career high in goals from last season. . . . “It was a great feeling to watch that puck go in the net,” Steve Hamilton, Edmonton’s head coach, said in a story on the team’s website. “We talked about wanting to be dialed in for the full length of this game. Of course, we needed some extra time, but it only adds to the relief to watch (Robertson) get that goal. That was a pretty important goal for everybody. I think there was just a collective exhale from everyone involved.” . . . Edmonton hadn’t won since New Year’s Day when it beat the visiting Hitmen 4-3 on F Lane Bauer’s goal 21 seconds into OT. Bauer now plays for the Kamloops Blazers. . . . Edmonton also lost 16 in a row in 2009-10, from Dec. 19 through Jan. 30. That streak ended on Jan. 31 with a 5-4 victory over the visiting Prince Albert Raiders on D Adrian Van de Mosselaer’s goal at 3:07 of OT. . . . On Sunday, the Oil Kings jumped out to an early 2-0 lead as F Trey Fix-Wolansky scored his 15th goal, on a PP, at 2:50 of the first period and F Davis Koch got No. 16 at 6:02. . . . The Hitmen tied it later in the first period. . . . F Beck Malenstyn got his 23rd goal at 13:37, with D Jake Bean scoring his seventh, on a PP, at 15:34. . . . G Patrick Dea stopped 22 shots for the Oil Kings. . . . Dea also set a franchise single-season record for assists by a goaltender. His fifth assist of the season, this one on Fix-Wolansky’s goal, broke the record he had shared with Laurent Brossoit, who did it in 2012-13. . . . The Hitmen got 29 saves from G Trevor Martin. . . . Each team was 1-7 on the PP. . . . 
Edmonton D Wyatt McLeod left in the second period with what appeared to be an injury to his right shoulder. McLeod, who turned 17 on Jan. 27, is a freshman from Dawson Creek, B.C. He has six assists in 41 games. . . . With McLeod out, the Oil Kings’ coaching staff gave ample ice time to Robertson’s brother, Matthew, a 15-year-old who joined the team earlier in the week from the midget AAA Sherwood Park Kings. . . . The Oil Kings (19-33-4) are 10 points from a playoff spot. . . . The Hitmen (20-26-10) are two points behind the Saskatoon Blades, who hold down the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. Calgary also has closed to within five points of the Red Deer Rebels, who are third in the Central Division. . . . Announced attendance: 13,524.

At Cranbrook, B.C., F Zak Zborosky returned to haunt his former teammates as he scored twice and added an assist in leading the Lethbridge Hurricanes to a 6-4 victory over the Kootenay Ice. . . .
Zborosky, a 20-year-old from Regina, had 44 points, 28 of them goals, in 41 games with the Ice when he was moved at the trade deadline. With Lethbridge, he has eight goals and 11 assists in 15 games. . . . F Matt Alfaro, who also went to Lethbridge in that deal, had one assist. . . . The Ice got F Colton Kroeker and F Brett Davis in return, along with a couple of draft picks. Kroeker matched Zborosky with two goals and an assist, while Davis had two assists. . . . Kroeker, who has 13 goals, gave the Ice a 2-0 lead when he scored at 1:01 and 8:23 of the first period. . . . Zborosky answered with goals at 11:22 and 12:49 of the first. . . . F Josh Tarzwell’s second goal, at 16:27, gave the visitors their first lead. . . . Kootenay tied it on F Vince Loschiavo’s 21st goal, at 18:44. . . . F Egor Babenko’s 19th goal, at 19:45, capped a seven-goal first period and gave Lethbridge a 4-3 lead. . . . F Tyler Wong’s 40th goal increased the lead to 5-3 at 6:10 of the second and F Ryan Vandervlis (5) added a shorthanded goal at 9:21. . . . Kootenay got its final goal from F Kaeden Taphorn (4) at 14:32 of the second. . . . Wong also added an assist to his goal. . . . G Adam Swan blocked 28 shots to earn his first WHL victory for Lethbridge. Swan, who will turn 17 on March 25, was an 11th-round selection in the 2015 bantam draft. From Ashern, Man., he has been playing for the midget AAA Interlake Lightning. . . . The Ice started G Jakob Walter, who gave up five goals on 25 shots in 26:10. Payton Lee finished up with 33 saves on 34 shots in 32:34. . . . Lethbridge was 1-3 on the PP; Kootenay was 0-3. . . . The Hurricanes played three games in fewer than 48 hours, winning two of them. . . . Lethbridge (34-16-7) has won 10 of its past 11 games. The Hurricanes are second in the Central Division, six points behind the Medicine Hat Tigers. . . . Kootenay (12-35-9) has lost six in a row (0-5-1). . . . Announced attendance: 1,597.


MONDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

Portland at Kamloops, 2 p.m.
Seattle at Kelowna, 2:05 p.m.
Spokane at Prince George, 2 p.m.
Tri-City vs. Vancouver, at Langley, B.C., 2 p.m.

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