2015 WHL Playoffs : Western Conference Preview

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(ISN) – CALGARY, AB – The 2015 WHL Playoffs open today as 16 WHL Clubs begin the quest to become the 49th WHL Champions and earn a spot in the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Quebec City, QC.

In the WHL’s Western Conference, the Kelowna Rockets finished first in the B.C. Division and the Western Conference. Can the Rockets go all the way? Will the Everett Silvertips’ stingy defence make a deep playoff run? Will the Seattle Thunderbirds continue their recent success into May? Will the Victoria Royals’ stars shine? Or, will another of the Western Conference’s elite make their statement in the post-season?Here’s a look at the WHL’s Western Conference Round 1 match-ups:

KELOWNA ROCKETS vs TRI-CITY AMERICANS

2014-15 regular season record 2015 WHL Playoffs
Kelowna:                      53-13-5-1, 112pts (L10: 5-3-2-0) 
Tri-City:                        31-38-0-3, 65pts (L10: 4-6-0-0)

2014-15 head-to-head record 
Kelowna:                      3-1-0-0, 6pts
Tri-City:                        1-3-0-0, 2pts 

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers 
Kelowna: 
Rourke Chartier            4gp-4g-2a-6pts
Tyrell Goulbourne         4gp-4g-2a-6pts

Tri-City: 
Beau McCue                 4gp-2g-1a-3pts
Brian Williams              4gp-1g-2a-3pts

The Kelowna Rockets come into the playoffs as the regular season’s B.C. Division and Western Conference champions. Kelowna boasts outstanding depth up front with five players who reached the 20-goal mark and eight players who recorded at least 45 points. Nick Merkley led the Rockets in scoring with 90 points (20g-70a), which placed him sixth overall in WHL scoring. The Rockets scored 90 power play goals en route to posting the league’s best power play efficiency at 26.2%. Kelowna was the best defensive team in the WHL, allowing just 183 goals against. Goaltender Jackson Whistle registered a 2.55 goals against average and a .909 save percentage while earning 34 wins in 50 games. Since Leon Draisaitl was acquired via trade the German import put up 53 points in 32 games. Beyond that, Rourke Chartier just scored 48 goals while Madison Bowey and Josh Morrissey wait for the Americans on the blueline. The Tri-City Americans head into the WHL playoffs for a 12th consecutive year. Beau McCue led the Americans in scoring with 26 goals and 51 points. Richard Nejezchleb and Lucas Nickles were the other players to reach the 20-goal mark for the Americans. However, the Americans have a proven track record of closing out games as they finished with a record of 20-1-0-0 when leading after two periods of play this season. Goaltenders Eric Comrie and Evan Sarthou will be relied on to give the Americans a chance in defeating the high octane Rockets. Comrie posted 20 wins and a sterling.914 save percentage in 40 appearances, while Sarthou collected 11 wins to go along with a .906 save percentage in 28 appearances this season. By the way, the former boasts a gold medal at the 2015 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championship while a certain blueliner by the name of Brandon Carlo is expected to be a high-end pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

Series Schedule 

Game Visitor   Home Date Time (PST)
1 Tri-City @ Kelowna Friday, March 27 7:05pm
2 Tri-City @ Kelowna Saturday, March 28 7:05pm
3 Kelowna @ Tri-City Tuesday, March 31 7:05pm
4 Kelowna @ Tri-City Wednesday, April 1 7:05pm
5* Tri-City @ Kelowna Friday, April 3 7:05pm
6* Kelowna @ Tri-City Saturday, April 4 7:05pm
7* Tri-City @ Kelowna Tuesday, April 7 7:05pm

* If necessaryVICTORIA ROYALS vs PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS

2014-15 regular season record 
Victoria:                           39-29-3-1, 82pts (L10: 6-4-0-0) 
Prince George:                31-36-2-3, 73pts (L10: 6-3-0-1)

2014-15 head-to-head record 
Victoria:                           5-3-0-0, 10pts
Prince George:                3-3-1-1, 8pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers
Victoria: 
Brandon Magee               6gp-6g-4a-10pts
Austin Carroll                   8gp-4g-6a-10pts

Prince George: 
Josh Connolly                  7gp-5g-3a-8pts
Jari Erricson                    8gp-2g-5a-7pts

The Victoria Royals enter the playoffs as the second seed in the B.C. Division, having won 39 games. Royals’ defenceman Joe Hicketts had an outstanding season on both ends of the ice as he recorded 64 points (12g-52a) in 62 games and had a plus-17 rating while, in his off-time, helping Team Canada to a gold medal in Toronto last year. Hicketts’ 64 points was the second-most in the WHL amongst defencemen. Austin Carroll, Brandon Magee and Tyler Soy head up a balanced Victoria offense that saw eight players register at least 55 points and five players score 20 or more goals. Royals’ goaltender Coleman Vollrath enjoyed a solid 19-year-old campaign, posting a record of 28-15-3-1, a .905 save percentage and a franchise-record six shutouts. Vollrath may warrant the starting job in the post-season, but if not, veteran Justin Paulic will be equally as tough. 

The Prince George Cougars qualified for the 2015 WHL Playoffs as the third seed in the B.C. Division after earning points in seven of their last 10 games. Cougars’ leading scorer, and 2015 NHL Draft-eligible forward, Jansen Harkins recorded a team-high 59 assists and added 20 goals in 70 games this season. Defensively, the Cougars will be tested after allowing 295 goals this year. Cougars’ goaltender Ty Edmonds should be making his first career post-season appearance after earning 28 wins during regular season play. Defenceman Josh Connolly posted terrific offensive numbers against the Royals during the regular season as he tallied five goals and three assists for eight points in seven head-to-head meetings.

Series Schedule

Game Visitor   Home Date Time (PST)
1 Prince George @ Victoria Friday, March 27 7:05
2 Prince George @ Victoria Saturday, March 28 7:05
3 Victoria @ Prince George Wednesday, April 1 7:00
4 Victoria @ Prince George Thursday, April 2 7:00
5* Prince George @ Victoria Saturday, April 4 7:05
6* Victoria @ Prince George Monday, April 6 7:00
7* Prince George @ Victoria Wednesday, April 8 7:05

* If necessary EVERETT SILVERTIPS vs SPOKANE CHIEFS

2014-15 regular season record 
Everett:                        43-20-3-6, 95pts (L10: 6-2-0-2) 
Spokane:                      34-34-3-1, 72pts (L10: 3-7-0-0)

2014-15 head-to-head record 
Everett:                        5-3-0-0, 10pts
Spokane:                      3-4-1-0, 7pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers 
Everett: 
Nikita Scherbak            7gp-5g-5a-10pts
Ivan Nikolishin               8gp-3g-4a-7pts

Spokane: 
Adam Helewka              8gp-8g-7a-15pts
Calder Brooks               5gp-4g-3a-7pts

The Everett Silvertips enter the post-season having posted a 6-2-0-2 record over their last 10 games of the season. Nikita Scherbak led the Silvertips in scoring with 82 points (27g-55a) while also posting an impressive plus-33 rating. The power play was a key component of the Silvertips’ offense as they executed 24.3% of the time, which was third-best in the WHL. Offensive depth helps the ‘Tips with players such as Ivan Nikolishin, Kohl Bauml and Carson Stadnyk, who each posted 60 or more points. As arguably the best defensive teams in the Western Conference, the Silvertips look to Ethan Bear and Jerret Smith to maintain a steady defensive core. Goaltenders Austin Lotz and Carter Hart, the latter an impressive 1998-born netminder that saw action down the stretch, each finished amongst the top-five in goals against average while both posted four shutouts.The Spokane Chiefs finished the campaign with 34 wins and claimed the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference standings. Overage defenceman Jason Fram enjoyed a huge season for the Chiefs, posting 62 points (9g-53a) to finish second in team scoring and third overall amongst WHL defencemen. Special teams were a significant reason for the success of the Chiefs as they were the only Club to finish in the top-five rankings in both power play and penalty kill. The Chiefs executed on 23.7% of their power plays, fourth-best in the WHL, while their penalty kill worked 82.6% of the time, also ranking fourth. Adam Helewka gave the Everett Silvertips a tough time this season, recording 15 points (8g-7a) in eight meetings. Veteran goaltender Garret Hughson gets his first chance to lead the Chiefs throughout the post-season. Veteran forward Adam Helewka (44g-43a, 87pts) and rookie Kailer Yamomoto (23g-34a, 57pts) round out a balanced attack from a hard-working team. Series Schedule

Game Visitor   Home Date Time (PST)
1 Spokane @ Everett Friday, March 27 7:35
2 Spokane @ Everett Saturday, March 28 7:05
3 Everett @ Spokane Wednesday, April 1 7:05
4 Everett @ Spokane Friday, April 3 7:05
5* Spokane @ Everett Saturday, April 4 7:05
6* Everett @ Spokane Tuesday, April 7 7:05
7* Spokane @ Everett Wednesday, April 8 7:05

* If necessary PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS vs SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS

2014-15 regular season record 
Portland:                       43-23-2-4, 92pts (L10: 6-3-0-1) 
Seattle:                         38-25-4-5, 85pts (L10: 7-2-0-1) 

2014-15 head-to-head record
Portland:                       5-5-0-2, 12pts
Seattle:                         7-4-1-0, 15pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers 
Portland: 
Oliver Bjorkstrand         7gp-13g-2a-15pts
Paul Bittner                   12gp-4g-6a-10pts

Seattle: 
Ryan Gropp                  10gp-10g-4a-14pts
Mathew Barzal              8gp-3g-8a-11pts

The Portland Winterhawks come into the 20145 WHL Playoffs as four-time defending Western Conference champions. The Winterhawks were the second-highest scoring team in the Western Conference this year, having scored a total of 287 goals. Oliver Bjorkstrand, Nicolas Petan and Chase De Leo lead a high-impact offense, combining for 117 goals and 291 points. Bjorkstrand led all WHL players with 118 points to earn the Bob Clarke Trophy this year. The reigning three-time WHL Player of the Month also led the league in goal scoring with 63 markers and a plus-60 rating. The Winterhawks were fifth in the WHL in power play efficiency, converting on 22.5% of their opportunities. Rookie goaltender Adin Hill posted 31 wins and a .921 save percentage, but will get his first taste of playoff hockey. Did we mention Oliver Bjorkstrand had 118 points in 59 games? The Seattle Thunderbirds enter the playoffs as one of the hottest teams in the Western Conference, having won four straight and earning points in eight of their previous 10 contests. Defensively, the Thunderbirds allowed the third-fewest goals against in the WHL, due in part to the play of their team defence and outstanding goaltending. Shea Theodore leads a blueline that cut their goals against by 48 from one season ago. Veteran goaltender Taran Kozun carried the load for the Thunderbirds as he collected 33 wins, a 2.41 goals against average and a .915 save percentage while playing in 60 games this season. The T-Birds’ defensive unit will have to focus on Winterhawks’ top scorer Oliver Bjorkstrand, who netted 13 goals in seven head-to-head meetings this season. But just like the ‘Hawks, the Thunderbirds boast depth in forwards Donovan Neuls and import Roberts Lipsbergs. Although their pair of NHL Draft-eligible forwards in Mathew Barzal and Ryan Gropp still provide the biggest threats up front.

Series Schedule

Game Visitor   Home Date Time (PST)
1 Seattle @ Portland Saturday, March 28 6:00
2 Seattle @ Portland Sunday, March 29 5:00
3 Portland @ Seattle Tuesday, March 31 7:05
4 Portland @ Seattle Thursday, April 2 7:05
5* Seattle @ Portland Saturday, April 4 6:00
6* Portland @ Seattle Tuesday, April 7 7:05
7* Seattle @ Portland Wednesday, April 8 7:00

* If necessary

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