Thursday, March 24, 2016

WHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview


The 2016 WHL Playoffs open tonight in Brandon, MB as 16 WHL Clubs begin the quest to become the 50th WHL Champions and earn a spot in the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Red Deer, AB.

In the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Brandon Wheat Kings finished first in the Conference and scored the most goals amongst all WHL Clubs. Can the defending Eastern Conference Champions return to the WHL Championship Series? Will the MasterCard Memorial Cup host Red Deer Rebels be able to get in through the front door in the face of injuries? Can the resurgent Lethbridge Hurricanes continue their strong play into late May? Or, will another Eastern Conference Club make their statement in the post-season.

Here's a look at the WHL’s Eastern Conference Round 1 match-ups:

2015-16 regular season record 
Brandon:                            48-18-4-2, 102pts (L10: 9-0-1-0) 
Edmonton:                         29-36-6-1, 65pts (L10: 2-8-0-0)
2015-16 head-to-head record 
Brandon:                            1-1-1-1, 6pts
Edmonton:                         3-1-0-0, 6pts
2015-16 head-to-head top scorers 
Jayce Hawryluk                 3gp-1g-5a-6pts
Tyler Coulter                      4gp-2g-3a-5pts

Brett Pollock                      4gp-3g-5a-8pts
Lane Bauer                         4gp-3g-2a-5pts

The Brandon Wheat Kings come into the playoffs as the regular season’s East Division and Eastern Conference Champions. Jayce Hawryluk and Nolan Patrick head up an attack that ranked first in the WHL in regular season scoring and boasted seven players with 20 or more goals this season. Hawryluk finished fourth overall in WHL scoring with 106 points (47g-59a) while playing in just 58 games. Patrick was not too far behind as he placed fifth overall in WHL scoring with 102 points (41g-61a) in 72 games played. Not bad for a player that isn’t draft-eligible until 2017. Philadelphia Flyers prospect Ivan Provorov was solid on the blue-line all season long as the native of Yaroslavl, Russia finished first in scoring amongst defencemen with 73 points (21g-52a) and also posted a league-best plus-64 rating. The Wheat Kings ranked second in the Eastern Conference and fourth overall in power play efficiency, executing on 23.4% of their chances. The Wheat Kings also posted a record of 43-11-3-2 when they outshot their opponent this season. Goaltender Jordan Papirny has been steady all season long for the Wheat Kings as he posted a record of 31-17-4-2 to go along with a 2.61 goals against average, a .910 save percentage and six shutouts.

The 2014 WHL and MasterCard Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings battled their way into the playoffs and earned the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference after defeating the Medicine Hat Tigers in a tiebreaker game by a score of 6-4. Veteran forward Brett Pollock led the Club in scoring with 78 points (30g-48a) to go along with a plus-21 rating and four short-handed goals. The Oil Kings owned the ninth-best power play in the WHL with a success rate of 22.4%. Oil Kings defenceman Dyson Mayo and Aaron Irving were productive from an offensive stand point as they ranked third and fourth in Club scoring. Mayo collected 43 points (6g-37a) while Irving notched 40 points (9g-31a) and combined for nine power play goals. Former Vancouver Giants Payton Lee will get the nod for Edmonton as starting goaltender Patrick Dea recovers from injury. Lastly, Edmonton will be seeking vengeance as it was Brandon who eliminated the Oil Kings in Round 1 of the 2015 WHL Playoffs in five games.

Series A Schedule 

Game Visitor   Home Date Time
1 Edmonton @ Brandon Thursday, March 24 7:30
2 Edmonton @ Brandon Friday, March 25 7:30
3 Brandon @ Edmonton Wednesday, March 30 7:00
4 Brandon @ Edmonton Thursday, March 31 7:00
5* Brandon @ Edmonton Sunday, April 3 4:00
6* Edmonton @ Brandon Tuesday, April 5 7:00
7* Edmonton @ Brandon Wednesday, April 6 7:00
*If necessary

2015-16 regular season record 
Prince Albert:                   38-26-5-6, 84pts (L10: 4-6-0-0)
Moose Jaw:                       36-27-7-2, 81pts (L10: 4-5-0-1)
2015-16 head-to-head record  
Prince Albert:                   2-5-1-0, 5pts
Moose Jaw:                       6-2-0-0, 12pts
2015-16 head-to-head top scorers
Prince Albert:                     8gp-2g-5a-7pts
Jordan Tkatch:                  8gp-2g-5a-7pts
Moose Jaw:
Dryden Hunt                      8gp-9g-6a-15pts
Brayden Point                    7gp-7g-8a-15pts

The Prince Albert Raiders head into the WHL Playoffs as the second seed in the East Division and finished with 84 points. In addition, Prince Albert collected the second most wins on home-ice with 23. Led by Reid Gardiners’ 43 goals, the Raiders boasted four players who gathered at least 58 points. Gardiner finished eighth overall amongst all WHL skaters with 92 points (43g-49a) while defenceman Jesse Lees scored the second-most goals by defenceman with 23. The Raiders own a 22-1-2-1 record when leading after two periods of play this season. Veteran goaltender Rylan Parenteau and rookie netminder Ian Scott were solid for the Raiders this season as they combined to post 38 victories. Parenteau posted 25 wins and a 2.82 goals against average while Scott earned 13 victories and .892 save percentage.

The Moose Jaw Warriors return to the WHL Playoffs after an absence last season. Warriors’ leading scorer Dryden Hunt had a consistent campaign as he recorded 58 goals along with 58 assists for 116 points. Hunt’s performance has earned him a nomination for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy as WHL Player of the Year. Tampa Bay Lightning prospect and Warriors captain Brayden Point had a solid season on both ends of the ice as he registered 88 points (35g-53a) to go along with a plus-24 rating in only 48 games. The Moose Jaw Warriors are productive on special teams as their power play ranked eighth in the League while their penalty killing finished seventh overall. Expect Marc McNulty to play a significant role on the Warriors blue line. Goaltender Zach Sawchenko posted 28 wins this season and the three-year veteran will get his first taste of playoff hockey. The series will be broadcasted on Shaw TV and Shaw HD channel 304 to viewers across Western Canada.

Series B Schedule
Game Visitor   Home Date Time
1 Moose Jaw @ Prince Albert Friday, March 25 7:00
2 Moose Jaw @ Prince Albert Saturday, March 26 7:00
3 Prince Albert @ Moose Jaw Monday, March 28 7:00
4 Prince Albert @ Moose Jaw Tuesday, March 29 7:00
5* Moose Jaw @ Prince Albert Friday, April 1 7:00
6* Prince Albert @ Moose Jaw Saturday, April 2 7:00
7* Moose Jaw @ Prince Albert Monday, April 4 7:00
*If necessary

2015-16 regular season record 
Lethbridge:                       46-24-1-1, 94pts (L10: 6-4-0-0)
Regina:                             36-28-3-5, 80pts (L10: 6-3-0-1)
2015-16 head-to-head record 
Lethbridge:                       1-2-0-1, 3pts
Regina:                             3-1-0-0, 6pts
2015-16 head-to-head top scorers
Brayden Burke                   4gp-2g-11a-13pts
Tyler Wong                        4gp-6g-5a-11pts

Adam Brooks                     4gp-3g-7a-10pts
Cole Sanford                      6gp-4g-4a-8pts

The Lethbridge Hurricanes went from missing the post-season in 2015 to claiming the Central Division crown in 2016, collecting 46 victories along the way. The Division crown was the ‘Canes first in nearly two decades (1996-97). The Hurricanes ended a six-year absence from the playoffs and their offence played a major role in their success. Brayden Burke led the Hurricanes in scoring this year with 109 points (27g-82a), which placed him third overall in WHL scoring. Featuring seven players with 20 or more goals and eight players with at least 50 points, Lethbridge is a potent offensive group. The Hurricanes scored the second-most goals in the Eastern Conference with 304 while allowing the third-fewest goals against amongst all Eastern Conference Clubs. The Hurricanes enjoyed success on special teams this year, including a strong power play unit that was the WHL’s best with 86 goals scored and a 28.9% success rate. Andrew Nielsen ranked third amongst all WHL defenceman in scoring as he tallied 18 goals and 52 assists for 70 points. Goaltenders Stuart Skinner and Jayden Sittler look to keep the Hurricanes rolling as they are set to participate in their first post-season.

The Regina Pats won six of their last 10 games to wrap up a playoff berth with the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Adam Brooks led the way with 120 points (38g-82a) to win the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s top scorer. Forwards Cole Sanford and Sam Steel collected 70 points each to give the Pats a trio that combined for 102 goals and 260 points this season. Regina was boosted this season with effective play from their defensive core. Connor Hobbs and Chase Harrison notched 41 points (19g-22a) and 38 points (8g-30a) respectively. Scoring early and often is essential for the Pats success as they own a 23-1-1-1 record when leading after the first period of play. Pats goaltender Tyler Brown carried the workload this season playing in 50 games to earn 21 wins and a .909 save percentage with two shutouts.

Series C Schedule
Game Visitor   Home Date Time
1 Regina @ Lethbridge Friday, March 25 7:00
2 Regina @ Lethbridge Saturday, March 26 7:00
3 Lethbridge @ Regina Tuesday, March 29 7:00
4 Lethbridge @ Regina Wednesday, March 30 7:00
5* Regina @ Lethbridge Friday, April 1 7:00
6* Lethbridge @ Regina Tuesday, April 5 7:00
7* Regina @ Lethbridge Wednesday, April 6 7:00
*If necessary

2015-16 regular season record 
Red Deer:                           45-24-1-2, 93pts (L10: 8-2-0-0) 
Calgary:                              42-26-2-2, 88pts (L10: 7-3-0-0)
2015-16 head-to-head record
Red Deer:                            3-4-0-0, 6pts
Calgary:                              4-2-0-1, 9pts
2015-16 head-to-head top scorers 
Red Deer:
Adam Helewka                  5gp-6g-0a-6pts
Jake DeBrusk                     5gp-2g-3a-5pts

Jake Bean                          7gp-6g-4a-10pts
Travis Sanheim                  6gp-2g-8a-10pts

The Red Deer Rebels finished second in the Central Division after having been narrowly edged out by Lethbridge for first place in the division. However, the Rebels come into the playoffs having earned wins in eight of their past 10 games. The hosts of the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup were active in bolstering their roster, acquiring forwards Jake DeBrusk, Adam Helewka and Luke Philp through a series of trades this year. Led by playmaker Ivan Nikolishin, the Rebels demonstrated a balanced attack this season as 10 players recorded at least 40 points. Defencemen Colton Bobyk and Haydn Fleury lead a steady blue line that allowed the second-fewest goals against in the Eastern Conference. The Rebels have been very effective in closing out games as they are 36-1-0-0 this season when leading after two periods of play. Trevor Martin will carry the load for the Rebels heading into the WHL Playoffs. The 20-year-old netminder enjoyed a solid season with an 18-8-1-1 record in 38 appearances. Early season starter Rylan Toth is out with an injury, as is Arizona Coyotes prospect Conner Bleackley.

The Calgary Hitmen enter the post-season as the third seed in the Central Division and on a three-game winning streak. Calgary was consistent this year as they posted 23 of their wins at home and the remaining 19 on the road. Hitmen defenceman Jake Bean elevated his game to a new level in his second season, finishing first overall in goals amongst WHL defenceman with 24 and third overall in team scoring with 64 points (24g-40a). Five Hitmen skaters finished with 20 goals or more and eight players notched at least 43 points. The Hitmen clicked for 74 power play markers this season as they converted on 23.1% of their man advantage opportunities, good enough for fifth-best across the League.  The Hitmen’s 81.0% conversion rate on the penalty kill was ranked sixth overall this year. Goaltenders Cody Porter and Nik Amundrud will look to provide stability in the Hitmen goals to slow down the Rebels offence.  Porter posted 25 wins and three shutouts while Amundrud collected 13 victories for the Hitmen this year.

Series D Schedule
Game Visitor   Home Date Time
1 Calgary @ Red Deer Friday, March 25 7:00
2 Calgary @ Red Deer Saturday, March 26 7:00
3 Red Deer @ Calgary Sunday, March 27 4:00
4 Red Deer @ ^Calgary  (Corral) Friday, April 1 7:00
5 * Calgary @ Red Deer Saturday, April 2 7:00
6 * Red Deer @ ^Calgary  (Corral) Monday, April 4 7:00
7 * Calgary @ Red Deer Wednesday, April 6 7:00
*If necessary

^The Stampede Corral will be the home for the Calgary Hitmen in games four and six of this Eastern Conference Round 1 series. The Corral was also the host to the 1974 Memorial Cup when the Regina Pats became the first team in League history to win the national title. The MasterCard Memorial Cup returns to Alberta for the first time in 42 years this May in Red Deer.

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