Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Welcome Back Western Hockey League (WHL)...Oh how I have missed you!

The WHL season recently started up again and I for one could not be happier.  Yes, I know the NHL is where most hockey fans dedicate their attention.  Don't get me wrong, I have 6 fantasy hockey teams, am a huge Penguins fan and love the NHL....but there is something about the WHL that gets me really excited for hockey season.

Maybe it is the fact I was born and raised in a WHL hockey culture centre, Regina, SK.  Little known fact for you: the Regina Pats are the oldest major junior hockey franchise in the world!  Yes...IN THE WORLD!  Regina + "In the world" in one sentence...and in a positive way.  Just let that sink in for a minute....Plus the Pats have more Memorial Cup appearances than any other franchise with 15.  The next closest is Oshawa with 11 (worth noting, both have hosted 4 times as well).

I remember going to games at the Agridome, cheering on the goals, yelling for the fights and booing the opposing teams.  Oh the memories....now I get to relive that at Rexall Place as an Edmonton OilKings season ticket holder.  Besides the fast-paced action and the boys on the ice playing for their hockey future, the value for money is nothing to scoff at either.

With the WHL season started, what a better way to start my blogging career with my predictions for the upcoming 2014-2015 WHL Season.  With special mention to my terrific dentist, Dr. Bob, who always says while drilling into my teeth how bad I should have a blog, here we go....this first post is dedicated to you good sir!  Hope I can live up to your expectations now though...oh the pressure...

There are some interesting new rules to the WHL this season.  The biggest impact comes with the change in playoff format.  The WHL has adopted the same format as their big brothers in the NHL.  It is no longer the best 8 per conference, now the divisional standings and match-ups have a bit more importance.  How will it impact the playoffs this year?  Some say not much, I say it could play a huge impact given some divisions are still going to be more competitive and stronger than their conference counterparts.  Here are my thoughts...as always feel free to share yours...

Eastern Conference
East Division
xyz Brandon Wheat Kings
x Regina Pats
x Swift Current Broncos
Prince Albert Raiders

Moose Jaw Warriors
Saskatoon Blades

Central Division
xy Calgary Hitmen
x Edmonton OilKings
x Red Deer Rebels
x Medicine Hat Tigers
x Kootenay Ice
Lethbridge Hurricanes

Western Conference
B.C. Division
xyz Kelowna Rockets
x Victoria Royals
x Prince George Cougars
Vancouver Giants
Kamloops Blazers

U.S. Division
xy Portland Winterhawks
x Seattle Thunderbirds
x Tri-City Americans
x Spokane Chiefs
x Everett Silvertips

Playoff Predictions
Eastern Conference Championship
Edmonton Oil Kings def. Brandon Wheat Kings 4 - 3: Ok so I know this comes across as a homer pick.  But think about it for a second.  Yes, EOK lost many great players, the D-line is weak and they have a ton of young players.  However, they bring back the best goalie in the league, all the players who went to camp (minus Mr. Smiles) comes back.  That combination alone puts them in a good position.  Yes a new head coach, but not new to the program at all.  It won't be as easy as last year mind you.  Brandon is going to be the team to beat.  they get to beat up on a weaker division all year so that should be enough to put them in the drivers seat for the playoffs.  But they are not as playoff tested and ready as their counterparts.  Expect a battle for the Eastern crown as Kings vs. Kings should be a great series.

Western Conference Championship
Kelowna Rockets def. Portland Winterhawks 4 - 3: I actually think Portland could be upset by Seattle in the US Division finals but, lets be honest, this is the match-up we all want to see.  I think Portland's outstanding play at the Moda Centre will be the difference in the Seattle series but once they make the conference finals, they will find themselves on the road against a much stronger, more hungry Rockets team with revenge on their mind.  PDX has knocked Kelowna out of the playoffs 3 of the past 4 years.  This year Kelowna will finally get over the hump and end the PDX-dominance in the conference.  Sorry, Portland, you will always have a special place in my heart but Kelowna is just too dominate a team (on paper) this year I think.

Kelowna Rockets def. Edmonton Oil Kings 4 - 3: This is the final I think most dedicated fans of the WHL would want to see.  The upstart Rockets, who most believe should have won this league last year, taking on the defending Memorial Cup Champions.  Sure EOK was able to become the first team in WHL history to win the league championship on the road but to do it in back-to-back years?  That might just be too much to ask.  Kelowna is good....no they are great.  EOK is good but is going to have problems matching up with Kelowna's quick offense and stronger defense.  EOK wins the battle between the pipes but Jarry cannot be expected to win all the games alone.  Without the help up front, combined with four straight years of long seasons, may finally put the end to the EOK mini-dynasty and push the Rockets right into the Memorial Cup (where I think they can pull the WHL back-to-back win).

If history teaches us anything, defending Memorial Cup champions can enjoy a successful follow-up year.  Just look at the past 5 Memorial Cup champs:

2013 Halifax Moosehead: 1st overall 120pts - 2nd overall 97pts (lost league semi-final)
2012 Shawinigan Cataractes: 2nd overall 97pts - 17th overall 37pts (missed playoffs)
2011 St. John SeaDogs: 1st overall 119pts - 1st overall 103pts (lost Memorial Cup semi-final)
2010 Windsor Spitfires: 2nd overall 106pts - 4th conference 84pts (lost conference final)
2009 Windsor Spitfires: 1st overall 115pts - 2nd overall 106pts (won Memorial Cup again)

With the exception of Shawinigan, the past few Memorial Cup champions have found success the following year.  Windsor was able to repeat.  St. John made it back to the Memorial Cup as well.  A repeat run into the memorial cup tournament might be a tall task for the EOK but it is not out of the question.  Although I think the Rockets, WheatKings, Winterhawks and even QEII rival Hitmen might have something to say about that...

Either way, we are in for one helluva season!  Keep your sticks on the ice boys and lets have a fun season..may the best team prevail....