WHL Playoffs Begin Thursday

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2012 WHL PLAYOFFS FIRST ROUND PREVIEW

CALGARY, AB (ISN) – The 2012 WHL Playoffs open this week as the quest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup and a spot in the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament in Shawinigan, QC, begins on Thursday, March 22nd.

The Edmonton Oil Kings were the top team in the WHL’s Eastern Conference this season, skating to a 50-win season and capturing the Scotty Munro Memorial trophy as the WHL’s to regular-season club. Now, they look forward to a first-round playoff match-up versus the defending champion Kootenay Ice. The Moose Jaw Warriors were beasts of the East Division this season. Can they prevail in a first-round series versus archrivals the Regina Pats?

The Tri-City Americans were the Best in the West during the 2011-12 WHL regular season. Can the red-hot trio of Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland propel the Ams on a deep playoff run? The Kamloops Blazers burned a path to the B.C. Division title for the first time since 2001-02. Can Brendan Ranford’s Blazers keep their torch going well into the spring? What about the high-flying Portland Winterhawks? Last year’s Western Conference champions will be gunning for another shot at the Ed Chynoweth Cup after falling short last spring.

Here’s a look at the first-round Husky WHL Eastern Conference and Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Quarter-Final match-ups (Also find attached).

HUSKY WHL EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) EDMONTON OIL KINGS vs (8) KOOTENAY ICE

2011-12 regular-season record: (W-L-OTL-SOL, PTS)
Edmonton: 50-15-3-4, 107pts (L10: 10-0-0-0)
Kootenay: 36-26-6-4, 82pts (L10: 3-5-2-0)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Edmonton: 6-0-0-0, 12pts
Kootenay: 0-3-2-1, 3pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Edmonton:
Rhett Rachinski 6gp-3g-4a-7pts
Dylan Wruck 5gp-0g-7a-7pts

Kootenay:
Max Reinhart 6gp-2g-5a-7pts
Sam Reinhart 5gp-2g-2a-4pts

The Edmonton Oil Kings meet the Kootenay Ice for their first ever playoff series. The series will feature Edmonton defenseman Griffin Reinhart matching up against his brothers, Sam and Max, from Kootenay.

The Oil Kings are making their third playoff appearance in their five-year history, and come into the 2012 post-season as the WHL’s top-ranked team. The Oil Kings also enter the playoffs on an 11-game winning streak. Edmonton’s success this season was due largely to their proficiency at both ends of the rink. They owned the WHL’s second-ranked offense and power play as well as the second-ranked defense and penalty killing unit. Led by 105-point man Michael St. Croix, the Oil Kings boast seven players with 20 or more goals and seven with 50 or more points, meaning they have plenty of depth. A defense corps led by Canadian World Junior vet Mark Pysyk held the Ice to just one goal in four of their six meetings this season. Griffin Reinhart, along with the rest of Oil Kings blue liners, will need to pay attention to his brothers, Sam and Max Reinhart, the top two Ice scorers. In Laurent Brossoit, the Oil Kings boast one of the WHL’s best goaltenders. Brossoit, though, has just two games worth of playoff experience under his belt.

The Ice may have slid down the standings over the final two weeks of the season, but they still come into the post-season as the defending WHL champions. The team boasts 13 players who were a part of the 2011 WHL Championship side, so there is no shortage of playoff experience. The Reinhart brothers, veteran Max and rookie Sam, co-lead the Ice in goals with 28 apiece this season, but were two of just four players on the team to top the 20-goal mark. The Ice will need more from the likes of Jesse Ismond, Joe Antilla and Dylen McKinlay if they are to match the Oil Kings’ high-octane offense. Kootenay’s team defense ranked second in the Eastern Conference and third in the WHL. However, the Ice gave up at least three goals in five of six meetings versus the Oil Kings this season. Led by veterans Joey Leach and Jagger Dirk, Kootenay’s defense will need to tighten up if they are to limit the Oil Kings’ offensive output. Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen is a well-known playoff performer. The 20-year-old Buffalo Sabres prospect was the MVP of the WHL Championship series last year.

Series Schedule (All Start Times Local)

#1 – Kootenay @ Edmonton; Friday, March 23 (7:00pm)
#2 – Kootenay @ Edmonton; Sunday, March 25 (5:00pm)
#3 – Edmonton @ Kootenay; Wednesday, March 28 (7:00pm)
#4 – Edmonton @ Kootenay; Thursday, March 29 (7:00pm)
#5 – Kootenay @ Edmonton; Sunday, April 1 (2:00pm)**
#6 – Edmonton @ Kootenay; Tuesday, April 3 (7:00pm**
#7 – Kootenay @ Edmonton; Wednesday, April 4 (7:00pm)**
**If Necessary

(2) MOOSE JAW WARRIORS vs (7) REGINA PATS

2011-12 regular-season record:

Moose Jaw: 45-19-6-2, 98pts (L10: 7-2-1-0)
Regina: 37-27-6-2, 82pts (L10: 4-4-1-1)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Moose Jaw: 4-2-2-0, 10pts
Regina: 4-2-2-0, 10pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:

Moose Jaw:

Cody Beach: 7gp-2g-6a-8pts

Kenton Miller: 10gp-4g-3a-7pts

Regina:

Jordan Weal: 7gp-5g-10a-15pts

Chandler Stephenson: 7gp-5g-1a-6pts

The Moose Jaw Warriors face East Division archrival the Regina Pats for the first playoff series between the teams since the 2003-04 season. Kyle Brodziak and the Warriors swept Dan Waschuk and the Pats 4-0 in the opening round of the 2004 WHL playoffs.

The Warriors come into the 2012 WHL post-season as the East Division champions for the first time since 2005-06. That year, they went all the way to the WHL championship series where they lost to the Vancouver Giants. This year’s Warriors team boasts plenty of size, character and competitiveness with gritty, talented forwards like Cam Braes, James Henry, Kenton Miller and Cody Beach making life difficult for opposition defensemen. Quinton Howden, Justin Kirsch and Sam Fioretti round out an offense that boasts good depth, and helped the team to the eighth-ranked power play in the WHL. Defensively, only Edmonton, Kootenay and Medicine Hat surrendered fewer goals among Eastern Conference teams. An imposing group of defensemen, led by New York Rangers prospect Dylan McIlrath, will need to make life difficult for the Pats’ Jordan Weal. Goaltender Luke Siemens was a steady presence in the Warriors’ net all season after coming over from Everett in early October. He posted four wins in seven appearances versus Regina this season.

The Pats are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007-08 season after posting a solid 37 wins this season. The Pats have been largely carried by veteran star Jordan Weal, who had a hand in over half of the team’s 230-goal output this season. With 116 points, the Los Angeles Kings prospect made it three straight years finishing among the top five scorers in the WHL. Weal also put up five goals and 15 points in just seven games versus the Warriors this season. Aside from Weal, only Lane Scheidl and sophomore Chandler Stephenson cracked the 20-goal mark this season for the Pats. They will need big contributions from the likes of Dominik Volek, Dyson Stevenson and impressive rookie Morgan Klimchuk if they are to crack Moose Jaw’s tough defense. Goaltender Matt Hewitt posted a 4-1-1 record and a solid .917 save percentage in six games versus Moose Jaw this season. At the top of his game, Hewitt can be a huge difference-maker for the Pats. The big challenge for the Pats will be winning in Moose Jaw, where the Warriors are 30-3-2-1 this season. They did win once while losing twice in overtime in four tries there this season, and all four of their visits to Moose Jaw ended with a 3-2 score line.

Series Schedule

#1 – Regina @ Moose Jaw; Friday, March 23 (7:00pm)
#2 – Regina @ Moose Jaw; Saturday, March 24 (7:00pm)
#3 – Moose Jaw @ Regina; Tuesday, March 27 (7:00 pm)
#4 – Moose Jaw @ Regina; Wednesday, March 28 (7:00pm)
#5 – Regina @ Moose Jaw; Friday, March 30 (7:00pm)**
#6 – Moose Jaw @ Regina; Saturday, March 31 (7:00pm)**
#7 – Regina @ Moose Jaw; Monday, April 2 (7:00pm)**

(3) CALGARY HITMEN vs (6) BRANDON WHEAT KINGS

2011-12 regular-season record:
Calgary: 44-25-2-1, 91pts (L10: 8-2-0-0)
Brandon: 39-28-1-4, 83pts (L10: 7-2-0-1)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Calgary: 3-1-0-0, 6pts
Brandon: 1-3-0-0, 2pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Calgary:
Victor Rask 4gp-2g-4a-6pts
Trevor Cheek 4gp-4g-1a-5pts

Brandon:
Alessio Bertaggia 4gp-4g-2a-6pts
Mark Stone 3gp-2g-3a-5pts

The Calgary Hitmen and Brandon Wheat Kings meet up for their second playoff series in the last three seasons. Brandon Kozun and the Calgary Hitmen defeated Brayden Schenn and the Brandon Wheat Kings 4-1 in the 2010 WHL Eastern Conference championship series.

The Hitmen are back in the post-season after missing the playoffs last year for the first time in 13 years. After a slow start to the 2011-12 season, the Hitmen found their game and were among the WHL’s most consistent clubs from the midway point in November. Calgary’s offense tied Brandon’s for the second-best in the Eastern Conference, having scored 273 goals. A balanced attack was the key to the Hitmen’s offense this season, with six players who topped the 20-goal mark and another three players with at least 14 goals on the season. Veterans Jimmy Bubnick and Cody Sylvester, along with defensemen Jaynen Rissling and Peter Kosterman, are holdovers from Calgary’s 2010 WHL championship side, giving them some valuable playoff experience. Defensively, the Hitmen owned the WHL’s fourth-best penalty killing unit this season. They will need a strong PK to shut down the Wheat Kings’ lethal power play. Sophomore Chris Driedger and veteran Brandon Glover give Calgary two solid options in goal. Both played very well this season, and both could be go-to guys in the playoffs.

The Wheat Kings charged their way to a sixth-place finish with a very strong stretch run, and come into the playoffs playing some of their best hockey of the season. Offense is the key for the Wheat Kings, who boast six players with at least 20 goals this season. Mark Stone, the WHL’s second-leading scorer, and Michael Ferland propel Brandon’s third-ranked power play, while Kevin Sundher, Brenden Walker, Alessio Bertaggia and Darian Dziurzynski add terrific offensive depth. The Wheat Kings also boast two of the WHL’s best puck-moving, offensive defensemen in 17-year-olds Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy. Defensively, the Wheat Kings will need to be vigilant to stop Calgary’s attack. The Wheat Kings allowed 17 goals to the Hitmen over their last three meetings. They will need to improve on that stat if they are to beat the Hitmen in the opening round. Goaltender Corbin Boes has been outstanding down the stretch for the Wheat Kings, posting an 11-4-0-1 mark with a 2.48 GAA and a .928 save percentage over his last 16 games. He could be a difference-maker in the series.

Series Schedule

#1 – Brandon @ Calgary; Thursday, March 22 (7:00pm)
#2 – Brandon @ Calgary; Friday, March 23 (7:00pm)
#3 – Calgary @ Brandon; Sunday, March 25 (6:00pm) In Winnipeg
#4 – Calgary @ Brandon; Tuesday, March 27 (7:00pm) In Winnipeg
#5 – Calgary @ Brandon; Thursday, April 29 (7:00pm)** In Winnipeg
#6 – Brandon @ Calgary; Sunday, April 1 (4:00pm)**
#7 – Brandon @ Calgary; Tuesday, April 3 (7:00pm)**

(4) MEDICINE HAT TIGERS vs (5) SASKATOON BLADES

2011-12 regular-season record:
Medicine Hat: 42-24-2-4, 90pts (L10: 6-3-0-1)
Saskatoon: 40-29-1-2, 83pts (L10: 4-4-1-1)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Medicine Hat: 1-1-1-1, 4pts
Saskatoon: 3-1-0-0, 6pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Medicine Hat:
Hunter Shinkaruk 4gp-5g-2a-7pts
Curtis Valk 4gp-3g-2a-5pts

Saskatoon:
Josh Nicholls 4gp-2g-3a-5pts
Jake Trask 4gp-2g-2a-4pts

The Medicine Hat Tigers and Saskatoon Blades meet up in the post-season for the first time in six years. Kris Russell and the Medicine Hat Tigers swept Devin Setoguchi and the Saskatoon Blades 4-0 in the second round of the 2006 WHL Playoffs.

The Tigers are in the playoffs for the 10th straight year, and have advanced past the first round in nine of those 10 post-season appearances. They also come into the post-season having topped the 40-win mark for the eighth time in nine years. The team’s success this season has been largely defined by the scoring exploits of their dynamic duo up front, Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk. Etem became the first WHL player to hit the 60-goal mark since 2000-01 while Shinkaruk fell just one goal shy of the 50-goal mark as a 17-year-old. Aside from those two, only sophomore Curtis Valk and veteran defenseman James Bettauer topped the 20-goal mark. Bettauer and fellow veteran Matt Konan anchored the Tigers to the third-best team defense in the Eastern Conference. It will be up to them to stop Blades’ scorers like Matej Stransky, Josh Nicholls and Lukas Sutter. Tyler Bunz was another key player in Medicine Hat’s solid season, posting 39 wins and a stellar .921 save percentage in 61 appearances. The Edmonton Oilers prospect can be a dominant force in the post-season as well, and has 24 games of playoff seasoning under his belt.

The Blades started the season on a hot streak, but have endured some inconsistent outings over the final few weeks of the 2011-12 regular season. Yet, when firing on all cylinders, the Blades have shown they can be a dangerous club. Led by Stransky, Nicholls and Sutter, Saskatoon boasted five players with 20 or more goals and another four with at least 15 goals, giving them good offensive depth. Defensively, only Brandon allowed more goals than the Blades among Eastern Conference playoff teams. Dalton Thrower and Darren Dietz combined for 33 goals from the point, while Connor Cox boasted a team-leading +26 rating. Yet, they will need to be vigilant on the defensive side of the puck if they are to limit the firepower of Emerson Etem and Hunter Shinkaruk. A physical group of rearguards, the Blades’ defense must make life difficult for the Tigers’ star snipers. Goaltender Andrey Makarov may have endured some inconsistencies this season, but has shown with his play for Russia’s junior team that he can step up and play a major role when needed. Makarov’s play will be a key factor in determining the Blades’ fate.

Series Schedule

#1 – Saskatoon @ Medicine Hat; Friday, March 23 (7:30pm)
#2 – Saskatoon @ Medicine Hat; Saturday, March 24 (7:30pm)
#3 – Medicine Hat @ Saskatoon; Tuesday, March 27 (7:00pm)
#4 – Medicine Hat @ Saskatoon; Wednesday, March 28 (7:00pm)
#5 – Saskatoon @ Medicine Hat; Saturday, March 31 (7:30pm)**
#6 – Medicine Hat @ Saskatoon; Monday, April 2 (7:00pm)**
#7 – Saskatoon @ Medicine Hat; Wednesday, April 4 (7:00pm)**

KAL TIRE WHL WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) TRI-CITY AMERICANS vs (8) EVERETT SILVERTIPS

2011-12 regular-season record:
Tri-City: 50-18-2-2, 104pts (L10: 6-3-1-0)
Everett: 22-40-2-8, 54pts (L10: 5-4-1-0)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Tri-City: 6-2-0-0, 12pts
Everett: 2-5-0-1, 5pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Tri-City:
Brendan Shinnimin 8gp-10g-10a-20pts
Adam Hughesman 8gp-9g-7a-16pts

Everett:
Josh Birkholz 8gp-4g-3a-7pts
Josh Winquist 7gp-2g-3a-5pts

The Tri-City Americans meet the Everett Silvertips in the post-season for the first time since the 2008-09 campaign. Taylor Procyshen and the Americans beat Shane Harper and the Everett Silvertips 4-1 in the first round of the 2009 WHL playoffs.

The Americans come into the post-season as U.S. Division champions for the fourth time in the last five seasons, and as the top seed in the Western Conference. They boast the most dangerous and productive line in the WHL, the top power play in the WHL, the League’s stingiest defence, and one of the best goaltending tandems in the WHL. The trio of WHL scoring champion Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman and Patrick Holland racked up a whopping 133 goals and 359 points this season, and will cause havoc for even the WHL’s best defensive units. Add in 37-goal man Justin Feser, veteran Jordan Messier and sophomore Connor Rankin and the Ams have solid offensive support for their top line. On the other end, Zach Yuen and the Ams’ defense corps allowed the fewest number of goals in the WHL and boasted the seventh-ranked penalty killing unit. Veteran goaltender Ty Rimmer turned in an all-star caliber season in the Ams’ net while rookie Eric Comrie enjoyed a very strong season as a 16-year-old. Both could provide the elite-level netminding the Ams will need for a long playoff run.

The Silvertips snuck into the playoffs on the last day of regular-season play, thanks to Seattle’s loss to the Portland Winterhawks. Though they have made the playoffs every year they have played in the WHL, the ‘Tips have not advanced past the first round since the 2006-07 campaign. The Silvertips scored 185 goals this season, which is the lowest total for any playoff-bound team Josh Birkholz led the way with 29 goals, including four in eight games versus the Ams, while Reid Petryk had three goals in four games versus Tri-Cities. Aside from Birkholz, only Ryan Harrison was able to crack the 20-goal mark. If JT Barnett can return from injury, it would add another offensive element to the ‘Tips’ forwards. Defensively, the Silvertips gave up 268 goals, which is also the most of any playoff-bound club. Ryan Murray may be one of the best defensemen in the WHL, but he and his fellow blue liners will need to find another level of play to stop the Ams’ top line and dynamic power play. Goaltender Kent Simpson was at his best during the stretch run for the ‘Tips, and can be credited with helping the team qualify for the post-season. The Chicago Blackhawks prospect will see plenty of action versus the high-powered Americans.

Series Schedule (All Start Times Local)

#1 – Everett @ Tri-City; Friday, March 23 (7:05pm)
#2 – Everett @ Tri-City; Saturday, March 24 (7:05pm)
#3 – Tri-City @ Everett; Tuesday, March 27 (7:05pm)
#4 – Tri-City @ Everett; Wednesday, March 28 (7:05pm)
#5 – Everett @ Tri-City; Saturday, March 31 (7:05pm) **
#6 – Tri-City @ Everett; Monday, April 2 (7:05pm) **
#7 – Everett @ Tri-City; Wednesday, April 4 (7:05pm) **

(2) KAMLOOPS BLAZERS vs (7) VICTORIA ROYALS

2011-12 regular-season record:
Kamloops: 47-20-2-3, 99pts (L10: 4-5-1-0)
Victoria: 24-41-3-4, 55pts (L10: 4-5-1-0)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Kamloops: 7-1-0-0, 14pts
Victoria: 1-6-1-0, 3pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Kamloops:
JC Lipon 8gp-5g-8a-13pts
Tim Bozon 8gp-7g-4a-11pts

Victoria:
Logan Nelson 8gp-4g-7a-11pts
Jamie Crooks 8gp-3g-3a-6pts

The Kamloops Blazers and Victoria Royals meet up for the first ever playoff series between the B.C. Division rivals.

The Blazers enter the playoffs having enjoyed their finest regular-season performance since the 1998-99 campaign, and as B.C. Division champs for the first time since 2001-02. A well-rounded club with great offensive depth and a very solid defense corps, the Blazers are equally adept at putting the puck in the net as they are keeping it out of theirs. Brendan Ranford, Colin Smith and Tim Bozon all scored at least 35 goals and helped the Blazers to the third-best offensive output in the WHL. Offensive depth is there with Dylan Willick and Brandon Herrod among eight Blazers with 50 or more points this season. Defensively, Austin Madaisky and the Blazers’ blue liners boasted the League’s fifth-best team defense. Madaisky and Bronson Maschmeyer combined for 28 goals and 93 points from the blue line, and led the Blazers’ rearguards to a collective +113 rating. They will have to pay close attention to the Royals’ top guns like Jamie Crooks and Logan Nelson. Cole Cheveldave enjoyed a terrific rookie season in the Blazers’ net, posting 34 wins and a .909 save percentage in 55 games, and was a huge factor in the team’s success. He will be getting his first taste of the WHL playoffs this year.

The Royals won their way into the post-season, beating the high-octane Portland Winterhawks twice over their final two games to secure a post-season berth in the team’s first year on Vancouver Island. Yet, the Royals are in tough versus a Blazers team that dominated them during the regular season, outscoring them 35-19 while winning seven of eight meetings. Offensively, the Royals do have scoring punch with Jamie Crooks, Logan Nelson and Robin Soudek leading the way. However, they may be missing sparkplug Brandon Magee, which would be a blow. Defensively, the Royals surrendered the most goals of any team in the WHL this season. They will need to find another level of defensive acumen if they are to stop Kamloops’ potent offense. Goaltender Keith Hamilton appeared in 58 games this season for the Royals, and posted a 4.10 goals-against average and a .880 save percentage. He will have to better those numbers for the Royals to have any chance in the series.

Series Schedule

#1 – Victoria @ Kamloops; Friday, March 23 (7:00pm)
#2 – Victoria @ Kamloops; Saturday, March 24 (7:00pm)
#3 – Kamloops @ Victoria; Tuesday, March 27 (7:05pm)
#4 – Kamloops @ Victoria, Wednesday, March 28 (7:05pm)
#5 – Victoria @ Kamloops; Friday, March 30 (7:00pm)**
#6 – Kamloops @ Victoria; Monday, April 2 (7:05pm)**
#7 – Victoria @ Kamloops; Wednesday, April 4 (7:00pm)**

(3) PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS vs (6) KELOWNA ROCKETS

2011-12 regular-season record:
Portland: 49-19-3-1, 102pts (L10: 6-4-0-0)
Kelowna: 31-31-4-6, 72pts (L10: 5-3-1-1)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Portland: 4-0-0-0, 8pts
Kelowna: 0-3-0-1, 1pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Portland:
Ty Rattie 4gp-4g-5a-9pts
Derrick Pouliot 4gp-2g-2a-4pts

Kelowna:
Zach Franko 4gp-3g-1a-4pts
Brett Bulmer 4gp-2g-2a-4pts

The Portland Winterhawks meet the Kelowna Rockets for the second straight year in the post-season. Ryan Johansen’s Winterhawks downed Tyson Barrie’s Rockets 4-2 in the second round of the 2011 WHL Playoffs.

The Winterhawks come into the 2012 WHL playoffs as the defending Western Conference champs, and looking to seal the deal this year after losing to Kootenay in the WHL championship series last year. Portland’s bread and butter has been their run-and-gun offense. Led by 121-point man Ty Rattie, the Winterhawks had six players average better than a point per game this season, and nine players with 40 or more points. Sven Bartschi led all WHL players with a 2.00 points-per-game average this season while Brad Ross fired home 42 goals. Add in high-scoring defensemen Derrick Pouliot and Joe Morrow, and skilled forwards like Cam Reid, Oliver Gabriel, Marcel Noebels, Brendan Leipsic and rookie Nick Petan, and it’s no wonder the Hawks’ power play clicked at a League-best 29.1% success rate this season. Defensively, the Hawks allowed 99 fewer goals than they scored, but often won by simply outscoring teams instead of playing stifling defense. Morrow, William Wrenn and the Hawks’ defense corps will need to pay close attention to Rockets’ forwards like Shane McColgan and Brett Bulmer. Goaltender Mac Carruth enjoyed a strong season, tying for the WHL lead with 42 wins. He also has his experience from last year’s run to the final to fall back on.

The Rockets are in the playoff for a fifth straight season, and come into the post-season as the conference’s sixth seed – a position they have been locked into for some time. One of the youngest teams in the WHL, the Rockets endured many ups and downs this season. Offensively, the Rockets scored the second-fewest goals of any playoff-bound team. Brett Bulmer, Colton Sissons and Carter Rigby all set career highs for goals this past year, but were the only three to crack the 20-goal mark. If Shane McColgan can rediscover his dominating form from last year’s post-season, he will give the Rockets a better chance at winning. Defensively, a young Rockets’ blue line will be tested by the Winterhawks’ firepower. Myles Bell has proven he can contribute offensively, but will be tasked to step up his defensive game versus the offensively-gifted Hawks. Four of the Rockets’ seven regular rearguards are 17 years old or younger. However, youngsters like Madison Bowey and Jesse Lees should gain valuable experience from this series. Though goaltender Adam Brown has struggled at times this season, he still has the ability to be a difference-maker for the Rockets.

Series Schedule

#1 – Kelowna @ Portland; Friday, March 23 (7:00pm) MC
#2 – Kelowna @ Portland; Saturday, March 24 (7:00pm) MC
#3 – Portland @ Kelowna; Tuesday, March 27 (7:05pm)
#4 – Portland @ Kelowna; Thursday, March 29 (7:05pm)
#5 – Kelowna @ Portland, Saturday, March 31 (7:00pm)** VENUE TBD
#6 – Portland @ Kelowna; Monday, April 2 (7:05pm)**
#7 – Kelowna @ Portland; Wednesday, April 4 (7:00pm)** MC
MC = Memorial Coliseum

(4) VANCOUVER GIANTS vs (5) SPOKANE CHIEFS

2011-12 regular-season record:
Vancouver: 40-26-2-4, 86pts (L10: 5-3-1-1)
Spokane: 38-25-5-4, 85pts (L10: 5-3-1-1)

2011-12 head-to-head record:
Vancouver: 2-0-0-0, 4pts
Spokane: 0-1-0-1, 1pts

2011-12 head-to-head top scorers:
Vancouver:
Cain Franson 2gp-1g-1a-2pts
Brendan Gallagher 2gp-1g-1a-2pts

Spokane:
Collin Valcourt 2gp-0g-2a-2pts
Darren Kramer 2gp-1g-0a-1pts

The Vancouver Giants meet the Spokane Chiefs in the playoff for the first time since the 2008-09 season. Evander Kane and the Giants beat Drayson Bowman and the Chiefs 4-3 in the second round of the 2009 WHL Playoffs.

The Giants are making their 10th straight playoff appearance, and will be looking for a better showing after being swept for just the second time in franchise history last year. The Giants found themselves in the middle of the pack offensively and defensively this season. Brendan Gallagher has once again been the straw that stirs the Giants’ drink. He topped the 40-goal mark for the third straight season this year. Marek Tvrdon, Jordan Martinook and Cain Franson all scored at least 27 goals this season to carry the bulk of the offense. However, no other player had more than 12 goals for the team. The Giants will need to spread around their scoring if they are to consistently break down Spokane’s stingy defense. The Giants lost David Musil on the back end, which leaves a big hole in the defensive plans. Rookie Brett Kulak has been terrific on the blue line for the Giants this season, putting up a team-best +29 rating. He and veteran Neil Manning will need to take on big minutes in the series to offset the loss of Musil. Goaltender Adam Morrison has performed admirably for the Giants, earning an entry-level NHL contract with Boston for his efforts. Morrison, however, has yet to play in the post-season in his career.

The Chiefs dipped below the 40-win mark for the first time since the 2006-07 season, and come into the post-season without home-ice advantage in the first round for the first time since the 2007 playoffs. Led by top offensive defenseman Brenden Kichton, the Chiefs managed 255 goals this season, which is just two more than the Giants scored. Dominik Uher was the team’s most consistent forward during the regular season, scoring a career-best 33 goals. The Chiefs do spread around their offense, with 12 forwards who topped the 10-goal mark this season. Defensively, the Chiefs are among the top 10 in the WHL in goals against. A tight defensive structure helps the team allow very few shots on goal. As good as Kichton is offensively, he also boasted a +24 rating this season, and helped the Chiefs’ defense corps to a combined +90 rating. Look for Kichton and Co. to keep a close eye on the shifty Brendan Gallagher. Goaltenders Mac Engel and Eric Williams both posted save percentages below the .900 mark this season. Engel, who is likely to start, will need to find consistency if the Chiefs are to prevail in the series.

Series Schedule

#1 – Spokane @ Vancouver; Friday, March 23 (7:30pm)
#2 – Spokane @ Vancouver; Saturday, March 24 (7:00pm)
#3 – Vancouver @ Spokane; Tuesday, March 27 (7:05pm)
#4 – Vancouver @ Spokane; Wednesday, March 28 (7:05pm)
#5 – Spokane @ Vancouver; Friday, March 30 (7:30pm)**
#6 – Vancouver @ Spokane; Sunday, April 1 (6:00pm)**
#7 – Spokane @ Vancouver; Wednesday, April 4 (7:00pm)**

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