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’ begin on Friday, April 20th.
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.