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Saturday, September 22, 2018

WHL BC DIvision Preview

KELOWNA ROCKETS:
General Manager: Bruce Hamilton
Head coach: Jason Smith
Pre-season record: 0-2-1-1
2017-18 record: 43-22-5-2, First in B.C. Division
2018 Playoffs: 0-4-0-0, Eliminated in Round One of 2018 WHL Playoffs to Tri-City Americans (4-0)
Top scorers: RW Kole Lind (39-56-95), C Dillon Dube (38-46-84), LW Carsen Twarynski (45-27-72)
20-year-olds: RW Ryan Bowen (1-5-6), D Braydyn Chizen (6-13-19)
Imports: D Libor Zabransky (Czech Republic), D Lassi Thomson (Finland)
Forwards: Through the likes of Kole Line, Dillon Dube, and Carsen Twarynski, the Kelowna Rockets roared to their eighth B.C. Division title in franchise history last season, but now face the reality that all three are bound for the professional game.
That leaves Kyle Topping as the team’s highest-scoring returning player. A 65-point (22G-43A) campaign in his second full season had Topping on the radar for the 2018 NHL Draft and after being passed over, he’ll be on a mission to show teams made a mistake on not selecting him.
Big seasons from Leif Mattson and Conner Bruggen-Cate during 2017-18 will thrust the pair into bigger offensive roles this coming season. On the overage front, Ryan Bowen could find himself in a critical spot throughout the team’s top nine forwards. Acquired in a trade with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last January, Bowen has 57 points (21G-36A) in 143 career WHL games.
The spotlight will continue to be on the Rockets’ and their system of development as 2019 NHL Draft prospect Nolan Foote earns more attention in the build up to June’s annual event. With impressive campaigns of 40 and 35 points, Nolan will spend the year striving to try and equal or better his older brother’s draft position of 14th overall from 2017.
Defence: Losing their three highest-scoring defencemen in captain Cal Foote, Gordie Ballhorn, and James Hilsendager isn’t an easy blow for the team to take, but they still have some strong talent coming back to them in the form of Braydyn Chizen and import Libor Zabransky.
Kaedan Korczak’s role will the team will also undoubtedly increase as he enters his first year of eligibility for the NHL Draft. The Yorkton, Sask. product was part of the group of WHL players who won gold with Hockey Canada at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup and could garner more requests to represent Canada on the international stage in the short future. The 11th overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft put up a respectable 16 points (3G-13A) in his rookie campaign. While his offensive contributions aren’t what make Korczak who he is, after the pieces the Rockets lost, they certainly won’t turn down anything the promising young talent has to offer.
While the Rockets have lost three big names, their incoming defensive core is centred around a group of five players who have just turned 18 or are soon-to-be turning 18-years-old as Finnish defenceman Lassi Thomson will celebrate a birthday on Monday, September 24. It may not be enough to keep them in championship contention this year, but could provide dividends during next year’s run and beyond.
Goaltending: The Rockets appear to have been set for a while on the going with the young tandem of 18-year-old James Porter and 17-year-old Roman Basran, a smart move for a team experiencing so much change.
While the natural thought process would be to stick a strong veteran in net or trade for an upgrade in net, the team appears to be content for the time being in letting the pair battle it out amongst each other for the right to earn the majority of time in net. This is a battle that Porter may get the edge in too as the Bonners Ferry, Idaho product aptly filled in with a 22-9-4-1 record while picking up three shutouts last season.
Basran meanwhile made his first start one to remember in November 2017, stopping all 38 shots from the Medicine Hat Tigers to shut them out. Now, both weren’t perfect and experienced their own share of struggles, but by leaning on the pair, the hope appears to be that the team can develop one of the better young tandem’s in the league that could be with them for the next three seasons.
Player to watch: Names like Lind, Comeau, and Guard among many others have followed their roots from the province of Saskatchewan to the Kelowna Rockets and beyond while other players like Erik Gardiner and Korczak carry the flag currently. Weyburn’s Ethan Ernst could be the next to follow that path as the 16-year-old center looks to make an impact in his rookie season with the Rockets.
Ernst had himself a productive season in the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League, recording 35 points (15G-20A) in 41 games with the Notre Dame Hounds as they won the 2018 Telus Cup. With that championship experience in the back of his mind, he’ll be ready to take on a role with the Rockets that could lend itself to more offensive responsibility as he matures and adjusts to the league.
Prognosis: Given the offseason losses for the Rockets, they may have a hard time contending for their ninth B.C. Division crown. Exceptional performances from a young roster will be required to keep the Rockets in contention. That being said, the Rockets have never strayed too far from the spotlight. Any of the other four B.C. Division teams making inroads this season will have to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror as soon as the start of the 2019-20 campaign. It’s fair to expect a dip in performance this coming season, thought that still may be enough to earn them a playoff spot.
VICTORIA ROYALS:
General Manager: Cameron Hope
Head coach: Dan Price
Pre-season record: 4-1-0-0 
2017-18 record: 39-27-4-2, Second in B.C. Division
2018 Playoffs: 4-7-0-0, Eliminated in Round Two of 2018 WHL Playoffs to Tri-City Americans (4-0)
Top scorers: C Matthew Phillips (48-64-112), C Tyler Soy (36-56-92), C Dante Hannoun (25-54-79)
20-year-olds: C Dante Hannoun (25-54-79), D Ralph Jarratt (2-13-15), G Griffen Outhouse (35-17-4-1, 3.08 GAA, 0.914 SV%, 2 SO)
Imports: LW Igor Martynov (Belarus), Phillip Schultz (Denmark)
Forwards: Losing your top two scoring forwards in franchise history over the course of an off-season, but that appears to be a reality the Royals will live through heading into the 2018-19 campaign with absences of both Tyler Soy and Matthew Phillips.
Returning to lead the club’s group of forward though will be Dante Hannoun, who finished third behind the aforementioned duo with 79 points (25G-54A), with import Igor Martynov another top-scoring returner with 43 points (18G-25A) last season. Kaid Oliver is another returning forward that could give the club a boost after the White Rock, B.C. product tallied 25 points (6G-19A) in 64 games last season, establishing career highs in all three categories.
With 17 points (8G-9A) in 99 career WHL games, D-Jay Jerome hasn’t quite found his offensive game at the WHL level until the 2018 WHL pre-season. In five games, the Lethbridge, Alta. product led the league with 10 points (5G-5A). Could the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season be a breakout one for the former Lethbridge AAA Hurricanes forward?
While last year’s version of the Royals heavily relied upon Soy and Phillips, Vancouver Island’s team will need to enact a by-committee approach to achieve offensive success. After an 18-point (11G-7A) rookie campaign, Parker, Colo. product Dino Kambeitz could become a critical part of the team’s offensive attach. Offseason acquisitions like Brandon Cutler and Tanner Sidaway will also be looked to for help while the trio of Tarun Fizer, rookie Tyus Gent and import Phillip Schultz will be given opportunities to succeed.
Defence: With the departures of Chaz Reddekopp and Jared Freadrich, the Royals will also undergo some change on the blue line, but remain in a relatively stable position.
Luckily for them, they’ll have Montreal Canadiens prospect Scott Walford back into the fold to help ease the team’s transition to a new generation. Regulars from last season, including Mitchell Prowse and Ralph Jarratt will be back in the lineup and looking to contribute more as well. Trading for Jameson Murray isn’t quite the blockbuster move the club, but more a calculated depth one that could be beneficial in the long run of the team’s season.
Walford returns having been one of the team’s top two leading scorers as he tied Freadrich for the scoring lead among blue liners with 32 points (2G-30A), though Walford had 10 fewer goals and 10 more assists, tying them for 35th in the league’s defensive scoring race. Former captain Joe Hicketts was the last defenceman to surpass 50 points and finish inside the Top 10 for defensive scoring, so the Royals aren’t leaning too heavily on Walford and company to drive
Goaltending: Last season, you could easily find Griffen Outhouse on the highlight reels as he made one spectacular save after another. The unfortunate reality was that while we saw him there on several occasions, it wasn’t enough to turn the tide in the Royals’ season as they fell short of capturing the B.C. Division crown in the regular season then were swept in Round Two by the upstart Tri-City Americans.
Now, there’s no benefit to shouldering the blame on Outhouse, his defence or other teammates, but in a year where he could have worked himself into a conversation among the elite goaltenders in the league, he seemed to always be just on the outside of that bubble, setting a new career-high with 35 victories while posting a 3.08 goals-against-average and 0.914 save percentage.
Luckily for the Likely, B.C. product there’s still one more season to showcase and it could provide a strong second chance for him. What he does with it will define his time in the league.
Player to watch: With secondary scoring a big requirement for the Royals coming into the season and the period open for the team to test out new options to determine their fit, Delta, B.C. product Tyus Gent could find himself as one of those options. The 2001-born winger recorded his first WHL point last season in a five-game audition with the Royals and is back for more. The team’s fourth round selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft was a force for the Delta Hockey Academy of the CSSHL last season, racking up 45 points (21G-24A) in 29 games. How quickly he transitions his game to the WHL could be of great importance to the Royals.
Prognosis: The Royals window for being a division contender may be closing, but there’s still a ray of hope for the club this season. Without a doubt, the club should have an easy time returning to the WHL Playoffs in March 2019, but without Soy and Phillips, the path won’t be as certain. After scoring the most goals in the B.C. Division last season, they’ll be hard-pressed to repeat that feat, but an area they could identify for improvement comes with their defence where they allowed 264 goals, the second-highest total in the five-team division.
VANCOUVER GIANTS:
General Manager: Barclay Parneta
Head coach: Michael Dyck
Pre-season record: 2-3-0-1
2017-18 record: 36-27-6-3, Third in B.C. Division
2018 Playoffs: 3-4-0-0, Eliminated in Round One of 2018 WHL Playoffs to Victoria Royals (4-3)
Top scorers: RW Ty Ronning (61-23-84), LW Tyler Benson (27-42-69), C James Malm (19-47-66)
20-year-olds: RW Davis Koch (22-36-58), RW Jared Dmytriw (15-11-26), D Matt Barberis (3-27-30)
Imports: C Milos Roman (Slovakia), RW Yannik Valenti (Germany)
Forwards: The Giants had three players selected at the 2018 NHL Draft, including forward Milos Roman, who was taken by the Calgary Flames and appears poised to come back and be a bigger part of the Giants’ success.
The highest-scoring returning forward is 19-year-old James Malm, who set career-highs in goals (19), assists (47), and points (66) last season and is ready for more. Mid-season acquisition and Surrey, B.C. product Davis Koch will play his overage season close to home with the Giants. In 68 games last season between Edmonton and Vancouver, he tallied 58 points (22G-36A), dipping down from his 70-point season in the 2016-17 campaign. If he can return to that form, the Giants will be better off for it.
Brayden Watts is another forward with potential going forward. The 19-year-old California product broke out for 39 points (17G-22A) last season and will be on the hunt for more. Also from the team’s group of 1999-born forward is Dawson Holt. The team’s first round selection from the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft performed at his best last season in 65 games, potting 34 points (12G-22A). If he can continue to play a regular role this coming season, Holt could be a big reason the Giants succeed how they do.
Defence: If the Giants are going to live up to the contender status for this coming season, you can bet their strong defensive core will have a lot to do with it.
The biggest storyline heading into the season is that of Cranbrook, B.C. product Bowen Byram, whose name has been tossed around as the top defenceman available at the 2019 NHL Draft. Byram finished his rookie season by recording 27 points (6G-21A) in 60 games, third among all rear guards on the team.
While he’s in competition with the league’s other top prospects, he’s worked with them on the international stage over the past 12 months, winning silver with Canada Red at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and then being a part of Canada’s gold medal victory at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
With June’s draft taking place just a short distance from his home rink of the Langley Events Centre, Byram has had his name mentioned as one of the top-ranked WHL talents available in the draft and will face a lot of attention over the coming months.
In addition to Byram’s growth, the team will welcome back their top two scoring defencemen in Dylan Plouffe and Matt Barberis, who recorded 40 (9G-31A) and 30 (3G-27A) points respectively last season.
Even after ranking those three, there’s still the matter of discussing Alex Kannok-Leipert, who heard his name called at the 2018 NHL Draft by the Washington Capitals. A modest 21-point (5G-16A) rookie season for the 6-foot-0, 195-pound Regina, Sask. product has emerged as a strong option on the right side for the team and could take a step forward on a strong Giants team this coming season.
Goaltending: The Giants’ roster has their fair share of first-round blue-chip selections up front and on the blue line, but what’s become more apparent in looking at this year’s roster buildup is lower-round picks that are now yielding benefits for the Giants. Case in point, with the 130th overall selection at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft, the Giants selected North Vancouver, B.C. product David Tendeck. In his first season handling full-time duties, he rose to the challenge, going 25-16-3-2 with a 3.02 GAA, and a 0.912 SV% with three shutouts.
The Arizona Coyotes deemed Tendeck worthy of the 166th selection at last June’s NHL Draft and the 18-year-old, who will turn 19-years-old in late November, is eager to prove his team worthy of an entry-level contract.
If that wasn’t enough, Brandon, Man. product and the 20th overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft Trent Miner, is waiting in the wings as this year’s backup.
Player to watch: The 2018 WHL Trade Deadline yielded many benefits for the Giants, but perhaps it was most evident in Edmonton, Alta. product Joel Sexsmith. The 2017 first-round selection from the Swift Current Broncos tallied 16 points (3G-13A) in 19 games with the Edge School Elite 15s last season and has five games worth of WHL experience under his belt already. Sexsmith may not yet be the dominant offensive beast the Giants might want from him in the future, but for this coming season, it feels like the perfect situation to let him grow in a second or third pairing role, possibly attend the 2018 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, and have him for a lengthy run in the 2019 WHL Playoffs.
Prognosis: It’s important for every team to take baby steps when rebuilding their franchise, but the Giants appear ready to run after their long-awaited return to the WHL Playoffs last March. Of the teams already discussed as having a roster balanced and deep enough to compete for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, the Giants deserve a mention on that list too.
In losing Ronning and Benson, the Giants took a hit, but not as much as some may think. The team still has the pieces in place to succeed up front and retained the core of their defence for the coming season. While those writing the previews may believe this team is ready to make another run at winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup, it’ll be interesting to see what the new General Manager and Head Coach duo of Barclay Parneta and Michael Dyck do to improve the team’s odds.
KAMLOOPS BLAZERS:
General Manager: Matt Bardsley
Head coach: Serge Lajoie
Pre-season record: 4-1-0-0
2017-18 record: 30-37-1-4, Fourth in B.C. Division
2018 Playoffs: Did not qualify for 2018 WHL Playoffs
Top scorers: LW Jermaine Loewen (36-28-64), D Joe Gatenby (13-46-59), RW Quinn Benjafield (19-28-47)
20-year-olds: LW Jermaine Loewen (36-28-64), C Luc Smith (21-23-44), G Dylan Ferguson (24-28-1-3, 2.95 GAA, 0.907 SV%, 1 SO)
Imports: RW Martin Lang (Czech Republic), Joonas Sillanpää (Finland)
Forwards: Jermaine Loewen’s breakout 64-point (36G-28A) was one of the major individual storylines for the season. Loewen, who calls Arborg, Man. home set career-highs in all three statistical categories. At the 2018 NHL Draft, his story continued as the 20-year-old was selected in the seventh round, 199th overall, by the Dallas Stars, making him the first-ever Jamaican-born player to be selected at the NHL Draft. With Loewen now established as the team’s top scoring threat for the coming season, how he follows up last season’s performance will be worth watching.
Luc Smith is another one of the team’s returning 20-year-olds, looking to improve on a 44-point (21G-23A) campaign last season. Like Loewen, Smith experienced a sharp offensive increase, doing so in his first full season with the club, producing at a point-per-game pace nearly double to what he accomplished in 61 games between the Regina Pats and Blazers last season. What he has planned for an encore will be critical for the Blazers’ success as he takes on a bigger offensive role with the club.
Secondary scoring options for the Blazers are plentiful. Offseason acquisition Zane Franklin is one of those options, tallying 38-points (14G-24A) in 67 games with the Lethbridge Hurricanes last season. That was a similar point total put up by Brodi Stuart, who had 16 goals in 70 games to boot as part of an impressive rookie season, helping him earn WHL Rookie of the Month honours in November 2017.
Connor Zary and Orrin Centazzo will also feature in a Blazers attack that will be eyeing an improvement on the 212 goals they scored last season, ranking last among all B.C. Division clubs.
Defence: Surprisingly, a statistic lost in the shuffle of last season was that the Blazers allowed the fewest goals in the B.C. Division, giving up just 3.29 goals per game, though their offensive production couldn’t meet that same standard. Looking to turn the tide to the positive on the offensive side of the puck, the Blazers will be eyeing a continuation of what made them successful defensively.
With the departure of overage defenceman Joe Gatenby, the Blazers will look to players like Nolan Kneen to steer the team’s group of talent on the blue line. The third overall selection from the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft recording a career-high 37 points (7G-30A) in 68 games. As one of the two 19-year-olds on the team’s defence, Kneen is the eldest and most experienced, entering the season with 194 games of WHL experience.
Piquing NHL interest was Montana Onyebuchi, who put together a modest 17-point (4G-13A) campaign split between the Blazers and Everett Silvertips. The 18-year-old’s physical play is one of his many positive traits as is his 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, which should punish those seeking to score against Kamloops this season. After being ranked by NHL Central Scouting on their list of North American skaters last season and earning an invite to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s rookie camp, Onyebuchi will be out to get noticed and make the Blazers better in the long run.
Goaltending: For the Blazers, a lot depends on whether or not the Vegas Golden Knights return veteran Dylan Ferguson to the WHL club.
His return could significantly boost the odds of the Blazers returning to the WHL Playoffs, especially as the Golden Knights aren’t in a particularly dire need of players between the pipes at the moment — knock on wood. Ferguson’s 2.95 GAA and 0.907 SV% were solid performances that may have gone unnoticed. During a 13-day stretch in late January 2018, Ferguson won all five games he played in, allowing seven goals for a 1.41 GAA and 0.960 SV%. Those were peak good times though, which didn’t always last.
It’s fair to question Ferguson’s consistency, which stands to reason that another year in the league honing is skills is a benefit to Ferguson, the Blazers, and the Golden Knights.
Waiting in the wings are a trio of puckstoppers at or under the age of 18 in Max Palaga, 2017 WHL Cup champion Dylan Garand, and Saskatoon, Sask. product Rayce Ramsay.
Player to watch: Martin Lang is an intriguing add to the Blazers’ forward core. Turning 17-years-old just a few days ago, the 14th overall selection in the 2018 CHL Import Draft was born on the cutoff date for the 2019 NHL Draft.
Posting 59 points (37G-22A) in 35 games with HC Plzen U18 last season, it’s evident Lang is eager to test his offensive talents in the WHL as part of his journey that he hopes leads to the professional game. He’s found offensive success quickly at his respective age groups and even when tasked against playing up a level in his native Czech Republic.
Like many of the 2019 NHL Draft Canadian-born talent available, Lang has represented his country internationally over the past year, participating in the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. How quickly he adapts to the league will be a storyline worth taking note of.
Prognosis: A rough start at the beginning of the season put the Blazers in a hole early on. While they did an admirable job at finishing strong, the difference for them missing the 2018 WHL Playoffs could easily be factored into that early slide. Simply put, avoiding a repeat of that performance will be essential.
With a new General Manager and Head Coaching duo in Matt Bardsley and Serge Lajoie the Blazers have two quality minds at the helm of the organization in an important time. The team also has a top-ranked WHL prospect waiting for them in the 2019-20 regular season as Logan Stankoven will look to boost his home team’s status within the league.
Eyeing the 2019 WHL Playoffs and beyond, the future is bright for the Blazers.
PRINCE GEORGE COUGARS:
General Manager: Mark Lamb
Head coach: Richard Matvichuk
Pre-season record: 3-1-1-0
2017-18 record: 24-38-5-5, Fifth in B.C. Division
2018 Playoffs: Did not qualify for 2018 WHL Playoffs
Top scorers: LW Jared Bethune (21-48-69), LW Josh Maser (28-21-49), D Joel Lakusta (9-33-42)
20-year-olds: RW Josh Curtis (9-27-36), RW Mike McLean (2-2-4), D Joel Lakusta (9-33-42)
Imports: LW Matéj Toman (Czech Republic), RW Vladislav Mikhalchuk (Belarus)
Forwards: The Cougars will lose a valuable trio in Jared Bethune, Brogan O’Brien, and Aaron Boyd, but should see jumps in production from Josh Maser, Jackson Leppard, and Josh Curtis among others.
Maser is the highest-returning scorer from last season, totalling 49 points (28G-21A) in a career-best season. Also setting new personal best in goals, assists, and and points was Jackson Leppard, who earned an extended invitation to camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning this fall following a 36-point (15G-21A) performance in the 2017-18 campaign. Other returning forwards inlcuding Josh Curtis and Vladislav Mikhalchuk will be counted upon to grasp more of the offensive reins on the team.
Ilijah Colina was a mid-season acquisition in the Dennis Cholowski trade, one of the pieces of the trade that could step in immediately to the club and contribute. After posting 15 points (3G-12A) in 37 games with the Portland Winterhawks, Colina saw his totals rise, adding 16 points (8G-8A) in 29 games with the Cougars. The 18-year-old will look to further develop those totals in his first full season in northern B.C.
Defence: Allowing 295 goals last season ranked the Cougars fifth out of five teams in the B.C. Division, a figure they’ll look to change for the better over the next 68 games.
Led by Sherwood Park, Alta. product Joel Lakusta, the Cougars retained the majority of their defensive core for the coming season. Lakusta led all Cougars defenders last season with 42 points (9G-33A) and will figure to be the team’s top-performing offensive option on the blue line.
The team also appears ready to return the likes of Ryan Schoettler, Cole Moberg, Austin Crossley, Cameron MacPhee, and Rhett Rhinehart to keep together a group for another season that can hopefully develop more chemistry and improve on the aforementioned goals allowed figure from last season.
Goaltending: As a rookie, Taylor Gauthier posted the first eight wins of his WHL career, facing 30.47 shots per 60 minutes in his first 32 games. While he showed great potential throughout the year, his efforts sometimes weren’t full utilized by the Cougars.
Case in point, Gauthier recorded 56 saves against the Regina Pats in January 2018. In mid-December, he stopped 50 of 54 shots against the eventual-Western Conference Champion Everett Silvertips. Against the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy-winning Moose Jaw Warriors, Gauthier stopped 44 of 48 shots in early February. Finally, against the B.C. Division Champion Kelowna Rockets near the end of the regular season, Gauthier stopped 44 of 50 shots. He took a regulation loss in all four of those games and picked up just one win in games where he stopped 35 or more shots.
Gauthier showed at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup how valuable he can be, stopping all 16 shots he faced in the gold medal game of the tournament after replacing the game’s starting goaltender. The Cougars have a talented netminder in Gauthier, who should have control of the net this season. It’d be best to build around the 17-year-old for the next two seasons.
Entering his first year of eligiblity for the NHL Draft, Gauthier will be looking to elevate his game to the next level.
Player to watch: Tyson Phare, the 18th overall selection from the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft has already made his WHL debut, playing a pair of games for the Cougars last season, but he’s hoping to lock down a full-time role this coming season.
Winning gold at the 2017 WHL Cup with British Columbia, the Maple Ridge, B.C. product has switched from forward to defence where the Cougars are hoping his 6-foot-0, 183-pound frame will be most effective.
With the Yale Hockey Academy last season, Phare recorded 39 points (20G-19A) in 27 games. Now those numbers were in his previous position, and asking him to replicate those same numbers from the blue line would be too much to ask of a 16-year-old. Regardless, the Cougars have a strong prospect in Phare, regardless of where he plays and he’ll be an up-and-comign asset for years to come.
Prognosis: A year after winning their third division title in franchise history last season, the Prince George Cougars missed the playoffs, mainly due to the process of losing their top offensive stars ahead of the 2017-18 WHL Regular Season, a reality many of their rivals in the division have no undergone.
To build upon that, last year’s young stars are now a year older and with more of a stable footing in the league should provide a better effort than last year’s 58-point effort. Things still won’t be easy, but even with the introduction of new General Manager Mark Lamb, there was no big offseason shakeup of the roster, leaving the team’s young core in tact for the coming seasons.
The Cougars capitalized on the value of both Dennis Cholowski and Josh Anderson at the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline, adding several assets for the coming years that Lamb will be able to play with to keep his team in the spotlight as a divisional contender.
What the Cougars have now is a window with their talent like Gauthier, the Cougars will look to improve upon their 13-15-5-1 record in the B.C. Division last season and will get plenty of opportunity to compete for a spot in the 2019 WHL Playoffs.
(WHL.ca)

What Did You Miss Friday?

Winnipeg Blue Bombers quarterback Matt Nichols hands off to Andrew Harris during the first half of CFL action against the Montreal Alouettes in Winnipeg Friday.
--The Bombers four-game losing streak is over.  They beat Montreal 31-14.  Matt Nichols threw for 256 yards and a touchdown in the victory.   Running back Andrew Harris also went over the 1000 yard mark for the season.

--The U of R Rams fell to 2-2 on the season as they were beaten 33-20 in Saskatoon by the U of S Huskies.  It was a rough night for Noah Picton as the Rams QB threw three interceptions including one late in the 4th quarter in the endzone to squash any hopes of a comeback.

--The Pats were beaten 7-2 in Prince Albert.  The Raiders led the game 4-0 after two.  Goals by Aaron Hyman and Duncan Pierce made it close in the 3rd, but PA finished the game by scoring the last three goals.  The two teams meet Saturday night in Regina.

--Justin Rose and Tiger Woods are tied for the lead at the midway point of the Tour Championship in Atlanta.  Both are at 7 under par.

--Chicago Cubs shortstop  was placed on administrative leave Friday following fresh allegations of domestic violence from his ex-wife.  Late Thursday, a blog post from Russell's ex-wife contained detailed allegations of physical and emotional abuse.  It is the second time Russell has faced allegations with the first ones being unproven after failed co-operation by his ex-wife and a friend.
"These allegations are completely false," Russell said in a statement put out by the union. "I made that clear to Major League Baseball last year and reiterated it to the Cubs today. I'm confident any full and fair investigation will fully exonerate me.

Friday, September 21, 2018

WHL Eastern Division Preview



MOOSE JAW WARRIORS: 

General Manager: Alan Millar
Head coach: Tim Hunter
Pre-season record: 2-3-0-1, 5 points
2017-18 record: 52-15-2-3, 109 points ­– First in East Division, First in WHL
2018 Playoffs: Eliminated in second round by Swift Current Broncos
Top scorers: C Jayden Halbgewachs (70-59–129), LW Brayden Burke (31-82–113), C Justin Almeida (43-55–98)
20-year-olds: LW Tristin Langan (16-26–42), D Dalton Hamaliuk (4-12–16), D Brandon Schuldhaus (8-19–27), G Brodan Salmond (13-10-0-1, 3.67 GAA, .880 SV%)
Imports: RW Yegor Buyalski (Belarus), C Daniil Stepanov (Belarus)
Forwards: CHL leading scorer Jayden Halbgewachs, along with his 70 goals and 129 points are gone – graduated to the professional ranks with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. The same can be said for 82-assist man Brayden Burke, who is off to the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes. Combined, that’s 101 goals and 242 points subtracted from the arsenal of head coach Tim Hunter.
While Halbgewachs and Burke won’t be easily replaced, fans and opponents shouldn’t sleep on Justin Almeida. Selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins (5-129) at the 2018 NHL Draft, the product of Kitimat, B.C. shone in a supporting role last season and will have every opportunity to take on some of the offensive slack left behind by Halbgewachs and Burke.
None of the aforementioned includes the loss of heart-and-soul captain Brett Howden, who graduates to join the New York Rangers organization. LW Ryan Peckford, acquired from the Victoria Royals prior to the 2018 WHL Trade Deadline enjoyed a breakout year with 49 points in 73 contests and will be relied upon in a bigger role.
Defence: Despite the graduation of Kale Clague – who took home the Bill Hunter Memorial Trophy as WHL Defenceman of the Year – the blueline remains an area of strength in Moose Jaw. Also departed is import defenceman Oleg Sosunov, and there’s no question the big man logged big minutes.
Still, a capable crew exists in the form of Montreal Canadiens prospect Josh Brook and Vancouver Canucks prospect Jett Woo, while rookie Daemon Hunt joins the roster full-time and stands to make his presence known after being selected 15th overall at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft.
Goal: Unexpectedly, overage goaltender Brody Willms won’t be available to the Warriors in 2018-19 due to a hip injury. Sophomore Adam Evanoff was a bright spot in relief of Willms last season, going 15-4-0-1 with a 2.65 goals-against average (GAA) in 20 appearances last season. How he responds to a heavier workload in 2018-19 will factor into the Warriors success.
Brought into the mix in the absence of Willms is 20-year-old Brodan Salmond, who joined the Warriors after having spent the past three seasons with the Kelowna Rockets. The product of Calgary battled injuries in 2017-18 and went 13-10-0-1 with a 3.67 GAA and .880 save percentage in 26 appearances. But with an unsettled overage situation, it remains to be seen whether or not Salmond will stick around.
Player to watch: With quality minutes left vacant up front, the time has never been better for Brayden Tracey – the 21st overall selection of the Warriors at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft. The 17-year-old product of Calgary skated in five contests with the Warriors last season, notching two assists, while racking up 52 points (21G-31A) in 30 contests with the Calgary AAA Northstars. Having also skated for Canada Red at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, Tracey has high-end ability and his youthful spark will be a welcome addition in Moose Jaw.
Prognosis:  One year after eclipsing the 50-win plateau for the first time in franchise history, en route to claiming the Club’s first Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as WHL Regular Season Champions, the Moose Jaw Warriors enter a new era with the departure of Howden. While star power carried the Club in 2017-18, success will need to come by committee in 2018-19. Healthy seasons from the likes of Brook and Woo on the blueline, coupled with shared responsibility up front on offense and the Warriors will find themselves off to the post-season once again in 2019.

SWIFT CURRENT BRONCOS: 
General Manager: Dean Brockman
Head coach: Dean Brockman
Pre-season record: 1-3-0-0
2017-18 record: 48-17-5-2, 103 points ­– Second in East Division
2018 Playoffs: Won WHL Championship
Top scorers: C Glenn Gawdin (56-69–125), C Aleksi Heponiemi (28-90–118), C Tyler Steenbergen (47-55–102)
20-year-olds: C Kaden Elder (18-14–32), RW Tanner Nagel (5-6–11), RW Andrew Fyten (9-14–23), D Artyom Minulin (13-30–43), D Ryan Pouliot (2-8–10)
Imports: RW Joona Kiviniemi (Finland), D Roope Pynnonen (Finland), Minulin (Russia)
Forwards: Perhaps the only team hit worse than the Moose Jaw Warriors would be the Broncos. Gawdin, Heponiemi and Steenbergen were perhaps the most lethal trio in all of Canadian junior hockey and there’s no question they contributed immensely to the Broncos championship run in 2018. All three have graduated on to the pro ranks, leaving large shoes to be filled Swift Current.
Newcomer Ethan O’Rourke – a former third-round selection of the Prince George Cougars at the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft – was acquired from the Everett Silvertips this offseason after post 18 points (6G-12A) in 66 games last year. The product of Penticton, B.C. serves as one new candidate to take on some of the vacated minutes.
Aside from the 20-year-olds, Max Patterson returns as a big-bodied veteran up front. The product of Kamloops, B.C. was versatile in his ability to move up and down the line up when injuries called for it last season. This year, with plenty of room in the top six, this could be the year the lanky winger finds a permanent home there. In 72 contests last season, Patterson posted career highs in all major offensive categories with nine goals, 15 assists and 24 points.
Aside from the big three, the Broncos also graduated Giorgio Estephan, Matteo Gennaro and Beck Malenstyn up front.
Defence: The cost of winning a WHL Championship is often immense turnover and the Broncos saw more of the same on the blueline. Gone are Colby Sissons, Sahvan Khaira, Josh Anderson and Jacson Alexander. Minulin will begin the season on the injured list and seems a long shot to play as both an import and overager.
Ryan Pouliot serves as the most experienced on the blueline, having 169 games of WHL experience under his belt. Next in line is Noah King (70 games) and sophomore Connor Horning (50 games).
Import Roope Pynnonen could provide some mobility and two-way presence after being selected in the second round of the 2018 CHL Import Draft.
Goal: Sophomore puck stopper Joel Hofer takes over from Stuart Skinner. After being selected in the fourth round (107th) by the St. Louis Blues at the 2018 NHL Draft, the product of Winnipeg, Man. will have every opportunity to impress as the only returning netminder with WHL experience. In 19 appearances last season, the 6-foot-3 goaltender went 8-31-1 with a 2.61 goals-against average, .914 save percentage and one shutout.
Set to backup Hofer is 17-year-old rookie Isaac Poulter, who was a sixth-round selection (112th) at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft.
Player to watch: Right winger Ben King will look to shoulder some of the heavyload left behind by the likes of Gawdin, Heponiemi and Steenbergen. Selected 13th overall at the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, the 6-foot, 169-pound product of Vernon, B.C. carries immense potential and will have ample opportunity to make the most of it in 2018-19.
Prognosis: The Broncos went all out in their effort to win the 2018 WHL Championship – the franchise’s first since 1993 – and they were rewarded with the Ed Chynoweth Cup in May. But the 2018-19 edition of the Broncos is vastly different from that which won the WHL title this past spring. Gone is head coach Manny Viveiros, who left for the Edmonton Oilers. The veteran rangers have moved on for pro opportunities. Make no mistake, this roster saw near complete turnover. Fans in Swift Current can look forward to cheering on some fresh faces this season.

REGINA PATS: 
General Manager: John Paddock
Head coach: Dave Struch
Pre-season record: 3-3-0-0
2017-18 record: 40-25-6-1, 87 points – Third in East Division
2018 Playoffs: Eliminated in first round by Swift Current Broncos
Top scorers: C Cameron Hebig (41-49–90), C Sam Steel (33-50–83), C Matt Bradley (37-42–79)
20-year-olds: LW Bryce Platt (4-2–6), D Aaron Hyman (3-10–13), D Cale Fleury (12-39–51), D Brady Pouteau (1-12–13), D Liam Schioler (0-9–9), G Kyle Dumba (0-0-0-0, 4.44 GAA, .857 SV%)
Imports: LW Sergei Alkhimov (Russia), D Nikita Sedov (Russia)
Forwards: Like many of their East Division brethren, the Pats saw plenty of turnover since the page turned on the 2017-18 WHL season. The Clubs’ top three scorers – Hebig, Steel and Bradley – have all graduated.
The time now comes for Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jake Leschyshyn (18-22–40) and Colorado Avalanche prospect Nick Henry (14-15–29) to take the lead in 2018-19. Mix in the physicality of Robbie Holmes (16-13–29) and Austin Pratt (7-13–20) and you have a nice mix of veterans up front.
Intrigue exists in the form of former first-round bantam selection Koby Morrisseau. Selected ninth overall by the Spokane Chiefs at the 2015 WHL Bantam Draft, the product of Grandview, Man. showed immense potential in racking up 61 points through 30 games with the Parkland AAA Bantam Rangers. Injuries have slowed the skilled forward, but perhaps the departure of key pieces up front will provide the former bantam standout with an opportunity to shine.
Defence:  There’s a backlog of four overage blueliners in the Queen City, including Montreal Canadiens prospect Cale Fleury. While not all will be able to stick around, the veteran depth on the back end will help Regina keep pace in the East Division race this season.
Import Nikita Sedov steps in to take the place of import defenceman Libor Hajek, who is off to the pro game with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Meanwhile, 17-year-old Jonas Harkins came over in a mid-season trade last season. Standing 6-foot-2 and tipping the scales at 234 pounds, the hefty rearguard could grow into a bigger role this season after skating in 21 contests last season.
Harkins isn’t the only sophomore looking to munch more minutes. Mobile Marco Creta found his way into 33 outings last season and could tackle bigger tasks in 2018-19.
Let’s not forget the departure of two-way beast Josh Mahura, who moves on to join the Anaheim Ducks organization, leaving a monstrous amount of minutes behind in his wake.
Goal: Max Paddock had his coming out party at the 100th Memorial Cup this past May, going 3-1-0-0 with a 3.65 goals-against average and .908 save percentage on the national stage. The 6-foot-2, 161-pound product of Brandon, Man. did all he could to steal a home-tournament triumph for the Pats, but ultimately fell just short.
Still, it did enough to earn him an invite to training camp with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. With former Pats Tyler Brown and Ryan Kubic having moved on, the crease belongs to Paddock, who will look to build upon a 2017-18 where he went 19-7-1-1 with a 2.90 GAA and .904 SV%.
Player to watch:  The sky is the limit for 15-year-old Cole Dubinsky. Potentially one of the youngest skaters in the entire WHL, the product of Adrossan, Alta., was selected in the fourth round (79th) of the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft and won’t turn 16 until December 4. The Pats remain very high on the 5-foot-8, 154-pound speedster after watching him register 30 points (7G-23A) in 34 games with the Delta Hockey Academy Prep squad in 2017-18.
Prognosis:  With the celebration of their 100th season and the accompanying 100th Memorial Cup entered into the history books, the second century of Pats hockey begins with a new face behind the bench. Gone is former WHL Coach of the Year John Paddock, who relinquished his dual duties in favour of strictly the general manager’s role. Taking the reins is former associate coach Dave Struch, who previously served as head coach of the Saskatoon Blades during the 2013-14 season.
The star-power of Steel and Mahura is long gone. But the Pats return a number of key pieces that should allow them to once again push their way in the WHL Playoffs come spring 2019.
BRANDON WHEAT KINGS: 
General Manager: Grant Armstrong
Head coach: David Anning
Pre-season record: 2-0-1-1
2017-18 record: 40-27-3-2, 85 points ­– Fourth in East Division
2018 Playoffs: Eliminated in second round by Lethbridge Hurricanes
Top scorers: LW Ty Lewis (44-56–100), C Stelio Mattheos (43-47–90), RW Evan Weinger (31-26–57)
20-year-olds: LW Ty Lewis (44-56–100), LW Linden McCorrister (20-23–43), D Schael Higson (5-23–28),
Imports: G Jiri Patera (Czech Republic)
Forwards: Mattheos figures to be the focal piece for the Wheat Kings in 2018-19. The 19-year-old product of Winnipeg was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round (73rd) of the 2017 NHL Draft and brings with him 182 points (83G-99A) in 188 career WHL regular season contests.
Lewis remains eligible to return for his WHL overage campaign after signing with the Colorado Avalanche as a free agent last season. Should the hometown product return for one final run, the Wheat Kings will welcome his offensive exploits with open arms.
Passed over at the 2018 NHL Draft, 18-year-old Luka Burzan will be out to prove people wrong. A former first-round bantam selection (sixth overall, Moose Jaw), Burzan posted 40 points in 72 games last season, including 21 points in 30 contests after being acquired by the Wheat Kings at the WHL Trade Deadline.
A mix of talented youngsters fills out the forward group, with Jonny Hooker and Ben McCartney looking to build upon promising rookie seasons.
Defence: The hard-nosed Higson serves as the veteran anchor on the blueline. Standing 6-foot-1 and weighing in at 220 pounds, the product of Grande Prairie, Alta., has collected 335 penalty minutes in 262 WHL regular season contests and won’t give an inch freely to the opposition.
The mobile Chase Hartje landed in Brandon as a key piece in the deal that sent Kale Clague to Moose Jaw last season. A product of Bemidji, Minn., the 5-foot-11 mobile defender managed 25 points in a 58-game rookie campaign.
Perhaps the greatest intrigue on the Brandon blueline exists in a pair of youngsters.
Sophomore Braden Schneider stands 6-foot-2 and already weighs 210 pounds at only 17 years old. In a 66-game rookie season, the former 12th overall bantam selection registered 22 points and followed up by helping Canada win gold at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Meanwhile, Jonny Lambos was acquired by the Wheat Kings in another mid-season deal that saw Tanner Kaspick shipped to the Victoria Royals. Lambos, a product of Winnipeg, was a third-round pick (49th) at the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, and is highly touted after notching 28 points in 36 games with Rink Hockey Academy of the CSSHL last season.
Goal: Vegas Golden Knights prospect Jiri Patera appears set to take over the crease in Brandon. Selected in the sixth round (161st) at the 2017 NHL Draft, Patera spent the 2017-18 season with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the USHL, going 13-13-0-0 with a 3.24 goals-against average in 34 appearances. While the jury remains out on the 6-foot-2 product of Prague, the fact he already has some North American hockey under his belt should help.
Player to watch: Connor Gutenberg is the kind of player who oft goes unnoticed, but night in and night out provides incredible value to his Club. Beyond notching 53 points (18G-35A) in 72 contests last season, Gutenberg is a reliable shutdown force. The product of Brandon, Man. has continually increased his offensive output and the expectation will be for more in 2018-19. So long as he continues to make life difficult for the opponent any extra offense is a simple bonus.
Prognosis: There is plenty to be excited about in Brandon heading into 2018-19. Not far removed from winning the 2016 WHL Championship, the Wheat Kings find themselves firmly planted in contender conversations heading into the WHL season. Timely offense from veteran forces combined with an up-and-coming blueline and a large European netminder could provide the recipe for success.
PRINCE ALBERT RAIDERS: 
General Manager: Curtis Hunt
Head coach: Marc Habscheid
Pre-season record: 2-2-0-1, 5 points
2017-18 record: 32-27-9-4, 77 points – Fifth in East Division
2018 Playoffs: Eliminated in first round by Moose Jaw
Top scorers: C Jordy Stallard (44-47–91), LW Cole Fonstad (21-52–73), C Kody McDonald (34-32–66)
20-year-olds: C Sean Montgomery (12-17–19), McDonald, G Curtis Meger (8-10-5-1, 3.43 GAA, .886 SV%)
Imports: C Aliaksei Protas (Belarus), D Sergei Sapego (Belarus)
Forwards: Selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth round (128th) of the 2018 NHL Draft, Cole Fonstad seems set to carry the Prince Albert Raiders in their pursuit of an East Division title. The two-way winger broke out with career-high marks in all major offensive cateorgies last season, including goals (21), assists (52) and points (73). With the departure of leading scorer Jordy Stallard, there’s no better time for Fonstad – a product of Estevan, Sask. – to step up his game.
In a year where the Moose Jaw Warriors, Swift Current Broncos and Regina Pats had all loaded in up for the hunt, the Raiders acquisition of Kody McDonald left some puzzled. Fast forward to 2018-19 and it’s easy to see the plan GM Curtis Hunt had in mind. McDonald, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound power forward from Lethbridge, could emerge as one of the tougher overage players to handle this year.
When you mix in veterans Brett Leason (16-17–33), Spencer Moe (9-13–22), Justin Nachbaur (9-11–20), and Carson Miller (1-7–8), it’s easy to see the Raiders boast enviable depth.
Rookies Ozzy Wiesblatt (2-25, 2017) and Jakob Brook (2-40, 2017) will be eager to make a mark.
Defence: Freshly-minted captain Brayden Pachal is coming off a training camp invite with the Calgary Flames after enjoying a career campaign in 2017-18, notching 26 points (7G-19A) in 68 contests. The 19-year-old product of Estevan, Sask. is set to lead the Raiders as they seek out their first WHL Championship since 1985.
Providing a strong secondary presence on the blueline is veteran Max Martin. The product of Winnipeg also enjoyed a career year in 2017-18, posting 32 points (8G-24A) in 72 outings.
With high-end veterans in Pachal and Martin, the experienced depth of big man Jeremy Masella (6-foot-5, 216 pounds), Zack Hayes (3-14–17) and Konrad Belcourt, not to mention import Sergei Sapego, has the Raiders well stocked on the blueline.
Goal: Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Ian Scott returns to tend net in Prince Albert. After going 24-16-3-3 with a 3.10 goals-against average and .897 save percentage last season, the pressure is on for the 6-foot-3 product of Calgary to elevate his game. If the Raiders hope to extend their year deep into the post-season, they will need a monstrous performance from the former first-round bantam selection.
Player to watch: Prince Albert will debut 2017 first-overall selection Kaiden Guhle in 2018-19. The younger brother of former WHL standout Brendan Guhle, Kaiden has a bevy of supports to work with, which should help to alleviate any pressure in his rookie season. But make no mistake, the kid can play. After securing 39 points (14G-25A) in 35 games with OHA Edmonton of the CSSHL last season, the younger Guhle brother is already being flagged as a top prospect for the 2020 NHL Draft.
Prognosis: There is absolutely no reason to believe the Prince Albert Raiders won’t run with the best of the rest in the East Division this season. You can count on the Raiders being big, tough and nasty – no win against this Club will come easy. But don’t be surprised if they rack up an impressive regular season while battering opponents along the way. Marc Habscheid-coached teams rarely give an inch and this edition of the Raiders is set to beat teams both on the scoreboard and in the alleyway.
SASKATOON BLADES: 
General Manager: Colin Priestner
Head coach: Mitch Love
Pre-season record: 6-1-0-0, 12 points
2017-18 record: 35-33-3-1, 74 points – Sixth in East Division
2018 Playoffs: Did not qualify
Top scorers: LW Braylon Shmyr (37-51–88), RW Max Gerlach (35-35–70), C Josh Paterson (31-22–53)
20-year-olds: RW Max Gerlach (35-35–70), C Bradley Goethals (15-17–32), D Dawson Davidson (10-33–43)
Imports: LW Kristian Roykas Marthinsen (Norway), D Emil Malysjev (Sweden)
Forwards: The Blades are set to return two of their top scorers in Gerlach and Paterson, which is always a good starting point for a Club coming out of the gates.
Meanwhile, sophomore forward Kirby Dach appears healthy after having helped Canada to a gold medal performance at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup. The product of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., has seen his stock rise and is ranked among the top prospects for the 2019 NHL Draft in Vancouver. Despite battling injuries, the 6-foot-4 pivot still managed to post 46 points (7G-39A) in 52 games last season. Now, expectations are as high as they’ve ever been for Dach.
Two-way centre Chase Wouters was passed over at the 2018 NHL Draft, but found his way to training camp with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The product of Lloydminster, Alta. will be out to prove his worth once again after registering a career-high 51 points (18G-33A) in 72 contests last season.
Centre Eric Florchuk may have been the final player selected in the 2018 NHL Draft (Round 7, 217th – Washington), but he will find himself front and centre in the Bridge City this season. Acquired at the WHL Trade Deadline from the Victoria Royals, the 6-foot-2 product of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta. found his stride in Saskatoon and finished the campaign with a career high 50 points (16G-34A) in 71 games.
Defence: Davidson, an overage product of Moosomin, Sask., brings with him 233 games of WHL regular season experience and will serve to anchor the backend.
Jackson Caller enjoyed a solid sophomore season in the Blades lineup last season, notching 26 points (4G-26A) in 70 games.
The exciting name joining the Blades blueline this season is that of former fifth overall bantam selection Aidan De La Gorgendiere. The 16-year-old product of Langley, B.C. was solid in 19 games with Yale Hockey Academy last season, registering 17 points (3G-14A). He was a force at the 2017 WHL Cup, notching two assists in five games to help Team BC knock off Team Alberta to win the entire tournament. The sky is the limit for the impressive youngster. The expectation is for De La Gorgendiere to step in and make an immediate impact as the Blades pursue a return to the post-season.
Goal: Sophomore puckstopper Nolan Maier exploded onto the scene in 2017-18. Originally selected in the second round (25th) of the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, not many expected the product of Yorkton, Sask. to take over the starting role in Saskatoon as a 16-year-old. But after earning an early season call-up from the SJHL’s Yorkton Terriers, Maier forced the Blades’ hand as he earned himself start after start. By the end of the campaign, the youngster had appeared in 43 games, going 23-17-1-1 with a 3.31 goals-against average, .895 save percentage and two shutouts. He was nothing short of exciting and earned himself a place on Canada’s gold-medal winning squad at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
This season, the crease belongs solely to Maier. What he does with it from here on in is up to him.
Player to watch: Former 10th overall bantam draft selection Kyle Crnkovic provides Blades fans with yet another electrifying rookie to be excited about. Like De Le Gorgendiere, Crnkovic showed off his skills at the 2017 WHL Cup, as he tallied 12 points (3G-9A) in five games for Team Alberta. The pint-sized speedster has an engine that doesn’t quit and talent for days, proven by the 64 points (36G-28A) he registered in 30 games with the CSSHL’s Northern Alberta Xtreme last season.
Should Crnkovic – a left winger – establish the smallest shred of chemistry with a player like Dach – look out.
Prognosis: The 2018-19 WHL season might bring with it the most excitement felt in Saskatoon since the Club hosted the 2013 Memorial Cup.
This is a team that has been built with high-end young talent primarily through the WHL Bantam Draft. Dach, Wouters, Paterson, Crnkovic, De La Gorgendiere and Maier have all been drafted and developed within the Blades system.
New head coach Mitch Love is nothing short of motivated, having spent seven seasons as an assistant coach in Everett before earning his opportunity in Saskatoon. Having made a trip to the 2018 WHL Championship as a member of the Silvertips staff and also worked with Hockey Canada at various events, Love brings with him excellent experience and will demand accountability.
With youthful enthusiasm, experienced veterans and an emerging netminder, the expectation is not only an appearance in the WHL Playoffs, but a push well beyond the opening round.

(WHL,ca)