Pundits fearlessly predict WHL playoffs
By Cory Wolfe, The StarPhoenix
March 19, 2009
With WHL playoffs on deck, it's time to drop the gloves and get into some prognosticating pugilism.
Fearlessly, I put my record from last spring (11-4) against StarPhoenix sports editor Kevin Mitchell and our Regina Leader-Post colleague, Rob Vanstone. All parties submitted their picks with no knowledge of others' choices.
Calgary Hitmen (1) vs. Edmonton Oil Kings (8)
Remember when the Oil Kings outshot the Hitmen handily and registered a 4-3 win?
Neither do the Hitmen. But it happened, way back on Sept. 20. Since then, Calgary has piled up 59 wins (including five over Edmonton) to lead the WHL's overall standings. The Oil Kings, conversely, snuck into the playoffs via Tuesday's tiebreaker win in Prince Albert.
Edmonton goaltender Torrie Jung gives his team a chance, but only a slim one. Even if he gets hot, he's unlikely to steal a series against the high-octane Hitmen who boast three of the league's top-eight goal scorers: Joel Broda (53), Brett Sonne (48) and Brandon Kozun (40).
Wolfe: Calgary in 5.
Mitchell: Calgary in 4.
Vanstone: Calgary in 4.
Saskatoon Blades (2) vs. Lethbridge Hurricanes (7)
The wildcard in this series will be the health of Hurricanes goaltender Juha Metsola, who was taken from the ice on a stretcher Saturday after a collision with Kootenay defenceman Eric Frere.
Metsola suffered a concussion, but doctors have reportedly cleared him to play in Friday's opener at Credit Union Centre.
The Blades seemingly have all of the pieces in place with seven 20-goal scorers, a steady defence and standout goaltender Braden Holtby. Their superior road record (28 road wins tied a WHL record ) also bodes well for playoff success.
The Hurricanes should not be underestimated, though. They have 13 returnees that advanced to last season's WHL final versus Spokane.
Wolfe: Saskatoon in 6.
Mitchell: Saskatoon in 6.
Vanstone: Saskatoon in 5.
Brandon Wheat Kings (3) vs. Kootenay Ice (6)
One could hardly describe Brandon's goaltending as consistent earlier this season, but Andrew Hayes answered the bell with impressive numbers down the stretch (4-1-0-1 record, 1.59 goals-against average, .939 save percentage).
That's a scary complement to a slick offence that includes Andrew Clark, Brayden Schenn and Scott Glennie.
Conversely, Kootenay is without its biggest offensive threat. Dustin Sylvester is still recovering from December ankle surgery. Scoring enough goals to stay close could be a problem -- regardless of whether Brandon defenceman Keith Aulie (broken hand) plays or not.
Wolfe: Brandon in 6.
Mitchell: Brandon in 7.
Vanstone: Brandon in 6.
Swift Current Broncos (4) vs. Medicine Hat Tigers (5)
The teams split four regular-season meetings, but the Tigers stumbled down the stretch with just win in their last five games.
Like the Blades, Swift Current boasts a balanced offence. Keegan Dansereau (37 goals) was one of six players to pot at least 20 goals. And Broncos goaltender Travis Yonkman is in fine form, having registered a 6-1 record and a .935 save percentage in his last seven starts.
Winning in Medicine Hat is never easy, but the Tigers' road record (13-18-3-2) mitigates their strength at home.
Wolfe: Swift Current in 5.
Mitchell: Swift Current in 6.
Vanstone: Medicine Hat in 7.
Vancouver Giants (1) vs. Prince George Cougars (8)
The Giants boast an enviable blend of explosive offence and rock-solid defence. Casey Pierro-Zabotel won the scoring title with 115 points and teammate Evander Kane added 96 points in 11 fewer games.
Only the Spokane Chiefs allowed fewer goals (145) than the Giants (151).
The Cougars, meanwhile, wouldn't even qualify for playoffs if they played in the Eastern Conference. Their 25-44-0-3 record would place them no better than 12th behind non-playoff teams Prince Albert, Regina and Red Deer.
Wolfe: Vancouver in 4.
Mitchell: Vancouver in 4.
Vanstone: Vancouver in 4.
Tri-City Americans (2) vs. Everett Silvertips (7)
The Americans dominated the season series, winning eight of 10 meetings. They ice an experienced lineup that's hungry to avenge last season's loss to Spokane in the Western Conference final. Chet Pickard is the kind of goaltender who thrives under pressure, and he'll get plenty of support from offensive weapons such as Mitch Fadden, Jason Reese and Taylor Procyshen -- all 30-goal scorers.
The rebuilding Silvertips aren't the defensive stalwart they used to be, so they're ripe for the picking.
Wolfe: Tri-City in 4.
Mitchell: Tri-City in 5.
Vanstone: Tri-City in 6.
Kelowna Rockets (3) vs. Kamloops Blazers (6)
Like fine Okanagan wine, the Rockets got better with time this season. Kelowna posted a 25-6-1-3 record in the new year, and they capped the regular season with eight straight wins.
The Rockets have star power in forwards Colin Long, Jamie Benn and Mikael Backlund, but they've also got depth. Furthermore, ex-Bronco Mark Guggenberger has solidified Kelowna's goaltending.
Like Edmonton's Jung, Kamloops goaltender Justin Leclerc has steal potential, but he doesn't have enough support from the leaky Blazers.
Wolfe: Kelowna in 5.
Mitchell: Kelowna in 5.
Vanstone: Kelowna in 7.
Spokane Chiefs (4) vs. Seattle Thunderbirds (5)
The Chiefs, defending Memorial Cup champs, finished 20 points ahead of the Thunderbirds. Even so, Seattle played Spokane surprisingly tough, winning four of nine meetings.
Spokane's defence took a significant hit with injuries to Jared Cowen (knee, out for season) and Trevor Glass (neck, week-to-week). But with goaltender Dustin Tokarski as their centrepiece, the Chiefs can surely weather the storm.
The Watson product backstopped Canada to world-junior gold, proving his MVP performance during last spring's Memorial Cup was no fluke.
Wolfe: Spokane in 6.
Mitchell: Seattle in 7.
Vanstone: Spokane in 6.
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