CALGARY, AB (ISN) — 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 Eastern Conference Championship series begins on Friday, April 20th.
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?
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)**
- **If Necessary