Surprise is the name of the game in the Western Hockey League. Two championship teams were eliminated in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. In the Eastern Conference, the Brandon Wheat Kings eliminated the Central Division Champions. It all reminds me of something former Winterhawk Taylor Peters once told me. “You can’t take any team in this league for granted. They’re all too good.”
WHL, BC Division Champions Eliminated in Round 1
The Tri-City Americans made headlines at the trade deadline when they acquired World Junior star Jake Bean. They also boast Detroit Red Wings prospect Michael Rasmussen as their captain. The real star of this show is Americans forward Morgan Geekie. He had a hat trick in a 5-3 home ice win that eliminated the Kelowna Rockets. The BC Division Champions were sent packing in a sweep. Geekie was chosen 67th overall in the third round of the 2017 Entry Draft by the Carolina Hurricanes. He’s a late bloomer that may turn out to be a steal for the Hurricanes.
Tip of the Hat
The Everett Silvertips and the Seattle Thunderbirds play a very similar style of hockey. They are both physical, vocal and in your face. So are their fans. Silvertips fans ring cowbells that could be heard in Portland if you really listened hard enough. Seattle fans are known for chanting “Portland Sucks” at every opportunity they get. I’ve asked Portland players if it affects them. The answer is yes, but not in the way you’d think. It’s a motivator, not the other way around. But back to topic.
The Everett Silvertips are the 2018 U.S. Division Champions. The Seattle Thunderbirds are the defending WHL Champions. This series had epic written all over it. The Silvertips ultimately dominated most of it. They eliminated Seattle on Saturday night with a 4-0 shutout, courtesy of Philadelphia Flyers prospect Carter Hart. Everett will play the winner of the Portland Winterhawks-Spokane Chiefs series.
Hail to the Chiefs
The Portland Winterhawks led this series 3-1. San Jose Sharks prospect Joachim Blichfeld scored two goals seven seconds apart on Thursday night in a 4-3 win. The Winterhawks only needed a home-ice win on Saturday. Then it was off to cowbell central next weekend. If only things were that easy.
After a back and forth affair all night, Dennis Cholowski scored what might have been the game-winner for a 4-3 lead. With less than two minutes remaining in regulation, Spokane pulled goalie Dawson Weatherill. There was nothing to lose. Unless of course, you’re the Portland Winterhawks. Spokane Chiefs defenseman Nolan Reid scored the game-tying goal with 30 seconds remaining in regulation. That is what really changed the game for the Winterhawks. It took the life right out of them. Kailer Yamamoto scored the game-winner at 9:19 of overtime, his lone goal of the game. The series moves to Spokane on Monday night.
Reversal of fortune
WHL fans can remember a time not so long ago when the Lethbridge Hurricanes were circling the drain. The Hurricanes’ turnaround is one of the most impressive comebacks I’ve ever seen in this league. They eliminated the Red Deer Rebels on Saturday night with a 6-4 win, taking the series 4-1. Stars of this comeback show are Captain Jordy Bellerive (Pittsburgh Penguins), 2018 NHL Draft prospect Calen Addison and goalie Logan Flodell. The Hurricanes will play the Brandon Wheat Kings in Round 2.
Kings of the hill
The Medicine Hat Tigers rolled into playoffs as the Central Division Champions. They won their first two games in the series with the Brandon Wheat Kings, who qualified for playoffs as a wild card. To say the Wheat Kings fought back would be an understatement. They won the next four games to eliminate the Tigers from the playoffs. The Wheat Kings had five unanswered goals in Game 5. That was also the first time the Wheat Kings won three straight playoff games since their 2016 WHL Championship series with the Seattle Thunderbirds. They outdid themselves in Game 6, when Linden McCorrister scored the game-tying goal and the overtime winner. Tree Brandon players are currently ranked on the NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings for the 2018 draft: Luka Burzan (89), Cole Reinhardt (164) and Chase Hartje (181).