Since the last time we chatted in this space, the second round of the playoffs came to an end, the latest draft rankings were revealed, and Team Canada arrived in Sweden for the U-18's. Let's go!
1 RECAP - After going 5-2-1 in the opening round of the WHL playoffs, I went 3-1 in round two. What do I do with Spokane, now, after picking against them in each of the first two rounds? As Alan Caldwell mentioned on Twitter (@smallatlarge), maybe I should be taking bribes to pick against them the rest of the way?
Ok, to recap, 8-3-1 in predictions this spring.
2 RAIDERS OUTLAST BLADES - I had the privilege of calling a good portion of this series on radio alongside Les Lazaruk and we had some fun! This was as good a series as you could have expected between two arch rivals, and the two communities went all-in as well.
While the Art Hauser in Prince Albert was jammed every night, there were over 10,000 at Sasktel Centre for the deciding game six last Sunday afternoon. Incredible stuff.
In the end, it was the Raiders who were just a little too much.
3 UNDER THEIR SKIN - It was fun finally calling Blades’ playoff games after five years without, and my partner Les Lazaruk was in fine form as always.
It was fun to see some emotion between fan bases in this series and Les even got into it with some playful jabs on the air! He really got under the skin of folks in PA and I think it's great! It reminded me of 2007 and following the battle between Rod Pedersen and the Broncos broadcast team of Jon Keen and Ryan Switzer. That was great! It sold tickets and drummed up excitement. I wish it happened earlier!
4 RESPECT - There is nothing quite like the handshake line between two teams after a tough and emotional series. There is always a great deal of respect between combatants, and that was no different on Sunday.
Marc Habscheid had been critical of Kirby Dach in the media but had plenty of time for him after. The Pat on the chest of the young star after their conversation showed me that there is a great deal of respect between those two and the teams as well.
5 WHERE’S TREY? - I'm still waiting on 102 point man Trey Fix-Wolansky to take over. He does have eight points in 10 games though. More on that in a bit...
6 BYRAM MOVES UP - Much of the talk leading up to and through the season has been about the ‘big three’ forwards in the WHL. Yes, Kirby Dach of the Saskatoon Blades, Dylan Cozens of the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Peyton Krebs of the Winnipeg Ice should all be taken in the first round in June’s NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, but they may be taken behind defenceman Bowan Byram.
When we evaluated the prospects earlier in this space, I mentioned that the Vancouver Giants’ defenceman may just be the best of the bunch and the scouts agree in their final rankings.
7 (1) VAN vs (2) SPO - I’ll tell you right now, I have no idea what to do when it comes to a prediction in this series. Vancouver has been impressive in series wins over Seattle and Victoria but the Chiefs have surprised most everyone. They certainly have me second-guessing things in this space today.
Both teams are 8-2 in the playoffs and both teams have impressive power plays that continue to be red hot in the playoffs. Spokane is a mine-boggling 12 for 25 (48 per cent!) while the Giants have converted on a third of their chances at 11 for 33.
Vacouver was 3-1 in the season series and, for that reason alone, I’m taking them in six.
8 (1) PA vs (1) EDM - The Edmonton Oil Kings have advanced through to the Eastern Conference Final in just 10 games while the Raiders have done the exact same thing.
A final note on Fix-Wolansky, to think he hasn't had nearly the same point production and still the Oil Kings are in great shape.
Can Edmonton find a way to win in the very tough Art Hauser? They did for their only win in the season series. I'll take PA in another good six-game series.
9 I HATE THE SCHEDULE - We are down to the final-four and that’s exciting! The thing I don’t like about it, though, is that the games will be played on the same night. They’ll actually overlap for most of the game too.
I’d love to see a situation where games can be played on opposite nights and fans across western Canada can enjoy every minute of every game. Unfortunately, this is junior hockey and those Friday and Saturday night gates are vital to the success of any franchise. I can’t imagine anyone wanting to give up a Friday night home game just so a few more people could watch the game on WHL Live.
I just want to see more hockey!
10 U-18 WORLDS - Team Canada opens play at the World Under-18 Hockey Championship in Sweden today. Saskatoon Blades’ goaltender Nolan Maier was added to the roster earlier this week after an impressive playoffs. Defenceman Daemon Hunt and forward Brayden Tracey of the Moose Jaw Warriors were also added after their opening round playoff exit.
Canada is looking for its first goal medal since 2013.
Puck drops on FRIDAY!