CALGARY, AB -- The quest for Western Hockey League glory and an opportunity to compete in the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, QC, continues as the 2012 WHL Conference Championship series’ - the league's Final Four - begins this weekend.
In the Eastern Conference, the Edmonton Oil Kings swept their way through the first two rounds of the 2012 WHL playoffs, knocking off the defending champion Kootenay Ice in the opening round before derailing the Brandon Wheat Kings in the second round. Now, they carry their 19-game winning streak into their first appearance in the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.
The Moose Jaw Warriors toppled East Division archrival the Regina Pats in five games in the first round, then made short work of the Medicine Hat Tigers in a second-round sweep to advance to their first appearance in the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series since 2006. Now, they take an eight-game winning streak of their own into the Conference final.
Can Edmonton’s offensive depth and defensive acumen carry them through to an Eastern Conference championship title? Or, will Moose Jaw’s towering defense and relentless pressure and physical play help them knock off the Eastern Conference’s top regular-season club?
Here's a look at the 2012 Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series match-up (also attached along with event logo):
HUSKY WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE
(1) EDMONTON OIL KINGS vs (2) MOOSE JAW WARRIORS
2011-12 regular-season record: (W-L-OTL-SOL, PTS)
Edmonton: 50-15-3-4, 107 pts
Moose Jaw: 45-19-6-2, 98 pts
2011-12 head-to-head record:
Edmonton: 3-0-0-1, 7pts
Moose Jaw: 1-2-1-0, 3pts
2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Griffin Reinhart 3gp-2g-2a-4pts
Michael St. Croix 4gp-1g-3a-4pts
Cam Braes 6gp-4g-1a-5pts
Cody Beach 3gp-0g-3a-3pts
Edmonton and Moose Jaw meet up in the WHL playoffs for the first time since the 1966-67 season. Garth Rizzuto and the Moose Jaw Canucks defeated Garnet ‘Ace’ Bailey and the original incarnation of the Edmonton Oil Kings in a best-of-nine second-round series in the 1967 WHL playoffs en route to the WHL championship.
The Oil Kings are making their first appearance in the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series after completing successive sweeps of the Kootenay Ice and Brandon Wheat Kings in the first and second rounds, respectively, and carry a 19-game winning streak into the third round. The Oil Kings haven’t lost since dropping a 6-4 decision to the visiting Kelowna Rockets on February 22nd. The second-highest scoring team in the WHL during the regular season, the Oil Kings have spread their offense around in the post-season, with 16 different players finding the back of the net and 13 players posting at least four points through the first two rounds. Rookie Curtis Lazar and Latvian sophomore Kristians Pelss share the team lead with four goals apiece. Scoring depth will be key versus a Warriors team that boasts a tough defense. The Oil Kings have allowed just 12 goals through eight post-season contests, and just two goals on 24 opposition power plays. Mark Pysyk and the Oil Kings’ defense corps have also contributed seven goals. They will need to step up their game to slow down a Warriors’ attack that is also averaging better than four goals per game in the playoffs. Goaltender Laurent Brossoit has stopped 191 of the 203 shots he’s faced for the stingiest numbers of any WHL goaltender in the post-season. He will face a tougher test versus a Warriors offense that averaged more than 45 shots per game in four games versus Medicine Hat in the second round.
The Warriors made it to their first Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series since 2006, when they advanced all the way to the WHL final, losing to Vancouver. After a strong regular season, the Warriors have found a new level of play in the post-season, and have become more and more a dominant force with each game they’ve played. Having lost their first game to Regina in the opening round, the Warriors have rattled off eight straight wins and outscored their opponents 39-17 in the process. Offensively, veterans Quinton Howden, James Henry and Cam Braes have led the way, combining for 10 goals and 40 points in nine games. Rookie Brayden Point, who just turned 16 a month ago, has been a key performer, netting five goals, including two overtime game-winners, while Eric Arnold, Cody Beach, Kenton Miller and Sam Fioretti have all helped provide secondary offense. The Warriors only scored seven times in four meetings with the Oil Kings in the regular season – something they will need to improve upon if they are to win the series. Defensively, Dylan McIlrath and Co. have been able to shut down two of the WHL’s top offensive players in Regina’s Jordan Weal and Medicine Hat’s Emerson Etem. How they deal with the offensive depth of the Oil Kings will go a long way in determining the outcome of the series. The return of speedy, puck-moving rearguard Morgan Rielly further strengthens the Warriors back end. Goaltender Luke Siemens has held the fort for the Warriors, but has faced a rather light workload over the first two rounds. He will certainly see more action versus the Oil Kings.
Series Schedule(All Start Times Local)
#1 – Moose Jaw @ Edmonton; Friday, April 20 (7:00pm)
#2 – Moose Jaw @ Edmonton; Sunday, April 22 (5:00pm)
#3 – Edmonton @ Moose Jaw; Tuesday, April 24 (7:00pm)
#4 – Edmonton @ Moose Jaw; Wednesday, April 25 (7:00pm)
#5 – Moose Jaw @ Edmonton; Friday, April 27 (7:00pm)**
#6 – Edmonton @ Moose Jaw; Sunday, April 29 (6:00pm**
#7 – Moose Jaw @ Edmonton; Tuesday, May 1 (7:00pm)**
Out west, the Tri-City Americans are bound for the third round, having prevailed in a hard-fought seven-game series versus archrivals the Spokane Chiefs in the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference semi-final following their first-round sweep of the Everett Silvertips.
The Portland Winterhawks will get the chance to defend their 2011 Kal Tire Western Conference Championship, having edged the Kamloops Blazers in a thrilling seven-game second-round series after sweeping away the Kelowna Rockets in the opening round.
Will the WHL’s leading regular-season scorer, Brendan Shinnimin, lead his Americans to a Western Conference title? Or, can Ty Rattie spark the Hawks’ high-octane attack to their second straight Western Conference crown?
Here's a look at the 2012 Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship series match-up
KAL TIRE WHL WESTERN CONFERENCE
(1) TRI-CITY AMERICANS vs (2) PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS
2011-12 regular-season record:
Tri-City: 50-18-2-2, 104 pts
Portland: 49-19-3-1, 102 pts
2011-12 head-to-head record:
Tri-City: 6-4-0-0, 12pts
Portland: 4-6-0-0, 8pts
2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Adam Hughesman 10gp-6g-10a-16pts
Justin Feser 10gp-8g-7a-15pts
Sven Bartschi 9gp-7g-6a-13pts
Ty Rattie 9gp-7g-6a-13pts
The Tri-City Americans and Portland Winterhawks meet up in the post-season for the first time since the 2003-04 season. Ryan Kinasewich and the Americans knocked off Braydon Coburn and the Winterhawks four games to one in the first round of the 2004 WHL playoffs.
The Americans are back in the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship series for the first time since 2010 when they advanced all the way to the WHL final, losing to Calgary.
The 2011-12 regular-season Western Conference champions, the Americans are coming off a tightly-contested second-round series versus the Chiefs that saw all but one game decided by a single goal and three of seven games decided in overtime. As he has all season, Brendan Shinnimin led the Ams’ offense versus Spokane, netting three goals and 10 points in the series and scored the series-winning goal. Shinnimin has recorded a point in 34 straight games, dating back to the regular season. Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman, Justin Feser and Connor Rankin all had success offensively versus the Winterhawks during the regular season, and will need to find their scoring touch versus the Hawks in the post-season. Defensively, the Ams have been strong, allowing only 23 goals though 11 post-season contests. Zach Yuen and the Ams’ defense corps gave up four or more goals in six of the 10 regular-season meetings versus Portland during the regular season. They will need to step up their game to stop the Hawks’ Ty Rattie, Sven Bartschi and Brad Ross, who combined for 20 goals and 37 points in 10 regular-season encounters. Ty Rimmer has carried his strong regular-season play into the playoffs, boasting a 1.98 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He won five of his eight starts versus the Hawks during the regular season, posting a .923 save percentage in the process. If he can maintain his current level of play, the Ams have a much better shot at winning the series.
The Winterhawks are back in the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship series for a second straight year. They defeated Spokane in the 2011 Western Conference final before losing in five games to Kootenay in the 2011 WHL Championship series. The defending Western Conference champs survived a real scare in the second round, blowing a 3-0 series lead over the Blazers before winning the seventh and deciding game on home ice. The Hawks’ offense averaged four goals per game versus the Blazers and is averaging nearly 4.5 goals per game in the post-season. Though Ty Rattie and Sven Bartschi slowed their torrid scoring pace in the second round, the Hawks got plenty of offensive contributions from the likes of Brad Ross, Brendan Leipsic and Cam Reid. Their offensive depth will be key if they are to overcome Tri-Cities’ tough defense. The Hawks can take comfort in knowing they can score goals on the Ams, having scored an average of 3.5 goals per game in 10 regular-season clashes. Defensively, the Hawks were exposed at times by Kamloops’ dangerous offense, yet also responded when it counted with a shutout performance in Game 7. While the like of Derrick Pouliot and Joe Morrow certainly can add to the attack, it will be their ability step up defensively and shut down several of the WHL’s top scorers like Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland that will determine their fate in the series. Mac Carruth came up big when the Hawks really needed him to, pitching a shutout in Game 7 versus the Blazers. Carruth may not have the numbers that Ty Rimmer boasts, but he has plenty of playoff experience to draw from. He’ll need to better his .889 save percentage he posted in 10 appearances versus the Ams in the regular season.
Series Schedule (All Start Times Local)
#1 – Portland @ Tri-City; Friday, April 20 (7:05pm)
#2 – Portland @ Tri-City; Saturday, April 21 (7:05pm)
#3 – Tri-City @ Portland; Wednesday, April 25 (7:00pm)
#4 – Tri-City @ Portland; Thursday, April 26 (7:00pm)
#5 – Portland @ Tri-City; Saturday, April 28 (7:05pm) **
#6 – Tri-City @ Portland; Monday, April 30 (7:00pm) **
#7 – Portland @ Tri-City; Tuesday, May 1 (7:05pm) **