2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 3) & Semi Final Previews

Val Dor Pants Part

Tuesday’s wild overtime win for the Val-d’Or Foreurs in Game 7 to erase a 3-0 deficit against the Baie-Comeau Drakkar was the perfect conclusion to the second round of the CHL playoffs. It was easily the best series of the bunch (with apologies to the Halifax/Moncton affair) and it set the stage for a semi-final round that features some incredible matchups.

As ever, we start with out farewells to the teams that are now out of the post-season, starting with the Ontario Hockey League.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Niagara IceDogs (37-27-2-2 – 3rd in Central Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in five games)

What I Predicted: For me, this is easily the best team in the Eastern Conference. It’s a long way to go until the OHL finals, but I expect this team to be there when May rolls around.

What Actually Happened: A terrible start to the season brought an end to that theory pretty quickly, in addition to Oshawa’s strong play. However, Niagara was a much better side in the second half as Brendan Perlini returned from injury to join newly acquired forward Josh Ho-Sang and the defence was a lot stronger.

What Lies Ahead: I’m starting to think that I was a year early on the IceDogs. The entire defence will be coming back next season and both Ho-Sang and Perlini will be coming back to lead the way up front. The one question mark remains in goal though, as Brent Moran struggled early on as was replaced by Brandon Hope. With Hope graduating from the league, the Dallas Stars prospect will need to prove that he’s ready to become a full-time starter.

Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.

Guelph Storm (38-26-2-2 – 3rd in Midwest Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in four games)

What I Predicted: I expected the Storm to go into a rebuild after winning the title last season, but I’m starting to think that won’t happen until next year.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that, as the only big player that the Storm dealt away was defenceman Ben Harpur to the Barrie Colts. Guelph was a strong side and could have been a third seed as London struggled down the stretch. However, given the depth of both the Otters and Greyhounds, a second round exit was probably a fair result.

What Lies Ahead: As mentioned earlier, this is where the rebuild officially starts. Robby Fabbri and Justin Nichols are the two key players that are still left from the 2014 OHL champions, and I expect both of them will be dealt during next season in order to build the roster back up.

Mitchell Marner

London Knights (40-24-1-3 – 2nd in Midwest Division/3rd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in four games)

What I Predicted:  It’s a transition year for the Knights, but they still shouldn’t be taken lightly, even if their goaltending leaves a lot to be desired.

What Actually Happened: The goaltending wasn’t a disaster and despite losing both Bo Horvat and Nikita Zadorov to the NHL, the Knights were still a strong side. A lot of that had to do with the play of Max Domi, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak, who all had over 100 points this season.

What Lies Ahead: Domi is heading to the Arizona Coyotes next year, which brings an official end to an era that saw the Knights go to three Memorial Cups. There’s a few holes left to be filled on the Knights for next season, but if they are able to bring the Tkachuk brothers (Matthew and Brady), 2014 first round pick Max Jones or current Michigan defenceman Zach Werenski, London might become the favourite to win the Western Conference.

Joseph Blandisi

Barrie Colts (41-24-1-2 – 1st in Central Division/2nd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Batallion in five games)

What I Predicted: With Aaron Ekblad seemingly set to begin his pro career, it makes sense to expect a drop-off from the Colts. However, they still have a number of decent forwards on the roster, which should be enough to put them in the mix to be a home seed in the first round of the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Like the London Knights, the Colts had three players with over 100 points in Joseph Blandisi, Kevin Labanc and Andrew Mangiapane. However, for the second straight season, they were unable to solve the Batallion and had their campaign come to an early end.

What Lies Ahead: Blandisi is graduating from the OHL and Labanc may follow him, so there will be big holes left up front. Some younger talent will becoming into the squad, but they will still be a top team in the Eastern Conference with Mangiapane, Brendan Lemieux and Mackenzie Blackwood all returning.

4-040609gynmastic.jpg

With apologies to the Oshawa and North Bay series, the Western Conference final between Sault Ste. Marie and Erie has a chance to become my all time favourite playoff series in OHL history, a title that currently belongs to the 2009 affair between London and Windsor.

For those that may not remember that series, here’s a brief refresher. Like the Greyhounds and Otters, Windsor and London were the class of their conference with 115 and 101 points each. Belleville and Brampton were both strong teams in the Eastern Conference and ended up playing for a spot in the final themselves, but this is the matchup everyone wanted to see.

I mean, just look at what each team had for a roster. Michael Del Zotto and John Carlson led the way for London on the back end while Zac Rinaldo and Nazem Kadri were among the top players up front, along with some fellow by the name of John Tavares. Windsor’s lineup wasn’t even more loaded with Ryan Ellis, Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, Eric Wellwood, Greg Nemisz and Andrei Loktionov all among the key contributors. Sure Trevor Cann vs. Josh Unice isn’t a pulse-pounding goaltending matchup but they were both good junior netminders.

The series itself only went five games, but every game was an end to end affair that went to overtime. Both teams split the first two games with Ellis and Phil Varone getting game winners, before the Spitfires won three straight contests thanks to the heroics of Wellwood, Loktionov and Wellwood again in Game 5. That last game also introduced me to my favourite junior hockey announcer Mike Stubbs, who I was convinced was going to have a heart attack as both teams flew around the ice.

As I wrote on Twitter a couple of weeks ago, if Erie and the Soo come anywhere close to this series, I’ll be dead by Game 3.

OHL Eastern Conference Final Prediction

Gens Battalion Carlisle Henriksson

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 3) North Bay Battalion: North Bay in seven (The Generals have more depth than the Batallion but after watching North Bay shut down Kingston and Barrie with ease, I really think they can pull this off. Plus, the fact that North Bay swept Oshawa in last year’s conference final has to be in both teams heads as this one gets underway.)

OHL Western Conference Final Prediction

Erie Soo

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 2) Erie Otters: Sault Ste. Marie in seven (If this series doesn’t go the distance, I’ll be pretty disappointed. Future Edmonton Oiler Connor McDavid is probably going to have a couple of crazy games where he will get four or five points, but in the end, I think the Greyhounds overall depth will be the deciding factor.)

Now that we got the big one out of the way, let’s move on to the QMJHL.

Drummondville Voltigeurs v Gatineau Olympiques

Gatineau Olympiques (31-31-0-6 – 5th in West Division/14th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in five games)

What I Predicted: For me, this is the clear-cut favourite to win the West Division title. They aren’t on the same level as the elite teams in the league, but Gatineau should be a legit threat to make the semi-finals.

What Actually Happened: Gatineau had to claw their way into the playoffs. However, they were red-hot in the final months of the season and knocked off the third ranked Armada before losing to Rimouski.

What Lies Ahead: 

Nikolaj Ehlers

Halifax Mooseheads (32-30-42 – 4th in Maritimes Division/12th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in seven games)

What I Predicted:  Zach Fucale is still there, and Nikolaj Ehlers is back for a second season after being drafted by Winnipeg, but it’s a massive drop-off from where they were in the past. A new era may officially start in Halifax sooner rather than later.

What Actually Happened: Fucale was dealt to the Quebec Remparts but Ehlers was still around and was a man amongst boys throughout the regular season and the playoffs. They upset Shawinigan in a great seven-game series and almost pulled off another surprise in the semis against Moncton.

What Lies Ahead: Ehlers got called up to the Jets for their Game 4 loss to Anaheim and I expect he will be in the NHL come next fall. Timo Meier is still around but that’s about it, and that could mean a long season for the 2013 Memorial Cup champions.

Daniel Sprong

Charlottetown Islanders (35-28-1-4 – 2nd in Maritimes Division/9th in QMJHL – Elminiated by the Quebec Remparts in four games)

What I Predicted: After a youth movement of sorts in the second half of last season, and with Mason McDonald and Daniel Sprong leading the way, Charlottetown should be a lot better this year. 

What Actually Happened: Exactly that as the Islanders made their way to the second round of the playoffs, despite losing their top netminder McDonald to an injury in the first round against Sherbrooke. Had he not gone on the shelf, they probably would have given the Memorial Cup hosts a tougher challenge.

What Lies Ahead: With almost everyone coming back next year, this team might be a legit threat to win the QMJHL title. They might need to strengthen the defence a little bit, but I expect them to solve that during the summer via trades.

Maxime St Cyr

Baie-Comeau Drakkar (35-25-5-3 – 4th in East Division/7th in QMJHL – Elminiated by the Val-d’Or Foreurs in seven games)

What I Predicted: With head coach Eric Veilleux moving on to the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals and the possible hangover of losing two straight league finals, the Drakkar may fall down to earth a little bit this year.

What Actually Happened: They weren’t as strong as they were in 2014 but Baie-Comeau still had a pretty good season, well at least until they blew a 3-0 series lead to Val-d’Or, which had to be just as upsetting for the players that lost the finals to them last year.

What Lies Ahead:  The Drakkar will return quite a few players next year, especially on defence as almost everyone can come back. As a result, I expect them to have home ice advantage for their first round series, but it’s still to early to say where exactly they will end up in the grand scheme of things.

Shawinigan 2012

Now why the heck is there a photo of the 2012 Memorial Cup champions in this blog post you ask? Well it’s because Shawinigan is the last tournament hosts to win the Memorial Cup and the Quebec Remparts are looking good in their quest to accomplish that same goal, as they became the first host team since 2011 to make their league semi.

With the debate still raging about the purposes of a host team, and the rumours of Sportsnet wanting to change the event into a March Madness/Frozen Four type of tournament, I decided to take a look at how the tournament hosts have done in their league playoffs and in the event itself since the Memorial Cup went to four teams in 1983.

1983: Portland Winterhawks (Lost the WHL final to Lethbridge and won the Memorial Cup over Oshawa.)

1984: Kitchener Rangers (Lost the OHL final and the Memorial Cup final to Ottawa.)

1985: Shawinigan Cataractes (Lost the QMJHL semi to Verdun and lost the Memorial Cup final to Prince Albert.)

1986: Portland Winterhawks (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Kamloops.)

1987: Oshawa Generals (Won the OHL title over North Bay and lost the Memorial Cup final to Medicine Hat. Oshawa won the right to host the tournament after winning a Super Seires over North Bay in seven games. Have I mentioned lately that the Centennials got royally screwed out of that tournament?)

1988: Chicoutimi Saugneenes (Lost in the QMJHL first round to Shawinigan and were replaced in the tournament by league finalists Drummondville. At the time, the QMJHL had a rule where the host Memorial Cup team had to make the championships series in order to be in the tournament.)

1989: Saskatoon Blades (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup final to Swift Current.)

1990: Dukes of Hamilton (Failed to make the OHL playoffs. After winning only 11 games, the team declined the automatic invite to the tournament and were replaced by league finalists Kitchener.)

1991: Beauport Harfangs (Failed to make the QMJHL playoffs and were replaced by league finalists Drummondville. Also, due to the fact that the Harfangs home arena only held 2,000 people, the tournament was held at Le Colisee in nearby Quebec City.)

1992: Seattle Thunderbirds (Lost the WHL semi and the Memorial Cup semi to Kamloops. Apparently Kamloops beat the Soo Greyhounds thanks to a goal with only 14.6 seconds left, but I have erased this game from my memory.)

1993: Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (Lost the OHL final to Peterborough and won the Memorial Cup over Peterborough. The Greyhounds won the right to host the tournament over the Petes with a clean sweep in a Super Series.)

1994: Laval Titan (Lost the QMJHL final to Chicoutimi and lost the Memorial Cup final to Kamloops.)

1995: Kamloops Blazers (Won the WHL title over Brandon and won the Memorial Cup over Detroit.)

1996: Peterborough Petes (Won the OHL title over Guelph and lost the Memorial Cup final to Granby.)

1997: Hull Olympiques (Won the QMJHL title over Chicoutimi and the Memorial Cup over Lethbridge.)

1998: Spokane Chiefs (Lost the WHL semi to Portland and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Guelph.)

1999: Ottawa 67’s (Lost in the OHL quarters to Belleville and won the Memorial Cup over Calgary.)

2000: Halifax Mooseheads (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Rimouski and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Barrie.)

2001: Regina Pats (Lost in the WHL first round to Calgary and lost the Memorial Cup semi to Val-d’Or.)

2002: Guelph Storm (Lost in the OHL quarters to Windsor and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Victoriaville.)

2003: Quebec Remparts (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Baie-Comeau and failed to make the Memorial Cup playoffs.)

2004: Kelowna Rockets (Lost the WHL semi to Everett and won the Memorial Cup over Gatineau.)

2005: London Knights (Won the OHL title over Ottawa and won the Memorial Cup over Rimouski.)

2006: Moncton Wildcats (Won the QMJHL title over Quebec and lost the Memorial Cup final to Quebec.)

2007: Vancouver Giants (Lost the WHL final to Medicine Hat and won the Memorial Cup over Medicine Hat.)

2008: Kitchener Rangers (Won the OHL title over Belleville and lost the Memorial Cup final to Spokane.)

2009: Rimouski Oceanic (Lost the QMJHL semi to Drummondville and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to Windsor.)

2010: Brandon Wheat Kings (Lost the WHL semi to Calgary and lost the Memorial Cup final to Windsor.)

2011: Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (Lost the OHL final to Owen Sound and the Memorial Cup final to Saint John.)

2012: Shawinigan Cataractes (Lost in the QMJHL quarters to Chicoutimi and won the Memorial Cup over London.)

2013: Saskatoon Blades (Lost in the WHL first round to Medicine Hat and lost the Memorial Cup tiebreaker game to London.)

2014: London Knights (Lost in the OHL quarters to Guelph and failed to make the Memorial Cup playoffs.)

So what can we learn from this? Well besides the fact that how they fare in the league playoffs is pretty cyclical, the host team is almost always in the league finals or at worst the semis. Things seem to be back to normal now with Quebec getting to the final four in the QMJHL, but it’s hard to say at the moment if Red Deer will have the same fate given the current playoff structure in the WHL.)

QMJHL Semi Final Predictions

Rimouski Valdor

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 6) Val-d’Or Foreurs: Rimouski in five (Val-d’Or has a ton of momentum on their side now after coming from 3-0 down to beat Baie-Comeau, but the Oceanic are just too strong in this one.)

Moncton Quebec

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 4) Quebec Remparts: Quebec in five (I don’t think Ted Nolan or Alex Radulov are coming back for this one, which is slightly upsetting, but this should still be a good matchup. This may end up going longer than I have predicted, but I think the fact that Quebec had little trouble with Charlottetown will be a huge difference after Moncton went the distance with Halifax.)

As ever, our final stop is the Western Hockey League, which saw one of their division winners fail to make it to the conference finals.

Austin Carroll

Victoria Royals (39-29-3-1 – 2nd in BC Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in five games)

What I Predicted: They aren’t as loaded as Kelowna, but Victoria should have another strong campaign after a season that saw Dave Lowry win coach of the year honours.

What Actually Happened: They were nowhere close to the Rockets in the division race but the Royals did have another solid campaign. The gap between Kelowna and Victoria was clear to see though in the divisional final, despite an impressive Game 4 comeback.

What Lies Ahead: With Joe Hicketts, Tyler Soy and Jack Walker all coming back, the Royals will probably be a strong contender to win the Western Conference next year. Just don’t ask me who’s going to be the starting goalie as of yet.

Adam Brooks

Regina Pats (37-24-5-6 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games)

What I Predicted: I’m not totally convinced about the Pats’ defence, and I still think Morgan Klimchuk will be dealt before the trade deadline. But the Sam Steel hype train is currently going out of control, so I might as well jump on board and have the Pats as a playoff team.

What Actually Happened: Klimchuk was dealt to Brandon of all teams at the trade deadline, along with other key components of the roster, as the Pats are now building around Steel. They made the playoffs with ease and challenged Brandon throughout the division final despite being short-staffed.

What Lies Ahead: This is Steel’s team and the talented rookie should have a monster season ahead of the 2016 NHL Draft. They aren’t on the same level as Brandon yet, but a young forward core that includes Jesse Gabrielle and incoming rookie Jake Leschyshyn will be tough to deal with.

Medicine Hat Tigers v Calgary Hitmen

Medicine Hat Tigers (45-23-2-2 – 2nd in Central Division/3rd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Calgary Hitmen in five games)

What I Predicted: The final year for the Tigers in the Medicine Hat Arena should be another good one, as I think this is a pretty solid team from top to bottom.

What Actually Happened: The return of import overage goaltender Marek Langhamer played a huge part in the Tigers success as they were one point behind the Hitmen for the division. They probably deserved a better fate than a five-game loss in the second round, but that’s how playoff hockey goes.

What Lies Ahead: In addition to moving to a new arena, this will be a different looking squad come next fall. Langhamer, Tyler Lewington, Kyle Burroughs and Tommy Vanelli are all gone, and it’s highly unlikely that the scoring trio of Trevor Cox, Dryden Hunt and Cole Sanford will be back. With that said, the Tigers haven’t missed the playoffs since 2002 and I don’t expect that streak to end any time soon.

Nikita Scherbak

Everett Silvertips (43-20-3-6 – 1st in US Division/2nd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in five games)

What I Predicted: If Mirco Mueller ends up staying with the Sharks, the Silvertips might be in tough, but given how the other teams look near the bottom of the Western Conference, I think they should be in good enough shape to make it to the post-season as a wildcard team.

What Actually Happened: Mueller went to the pros but the Silvertips were able to bring in Montreal prospect Nikita Scherbak at the start of the season. They won the US Division over a red-hot Winterhawks squad and I’m still at a loss for words as to how they pulled that off.

What Lies Ahead: Scherbak is gone but the Silvertips will retain a lot of the players that made this year a good one, including goaltender Carter Hart who was outstanding in the playoffs. At the moment, it looks like they will be fighting it out with Seattle for the division title.

WHL Playoffs

So with three out of the four division champions now fighting for a spot in the WHL final, you could say that the new playoff format did it’s job as the league now has the same model as the NHL.

When it comes to the overall series so far though? Not so much.

Now there was a seven-game affair between Calgary and Kootenay, and both US Division semis (Everett/Spokane and Portland/Seattle) were solid six game series, but it felt like we were going through the motions just to get to this point.

Would that have been the case under the old setup? Well let’s take a quick gander at the Eastern Conference.

1) Brandon vs. 8) Swift Current: This would have been over in short order.

2) Calgary vs. 7) Edmonton: It’s Calgary vs. Edmonton, anything can happen, but Calgary would have probably escaped.

3) Regina vs. 6) Kootenay: Given the way that Kootenay played against Calgary they may have pulled an upset off here.

4) Medicine Hat vs. 5) Red Deer: These two played each other and the Tigers won in five games in what was a close series.

So that would have left us with Brandon vs. Kootenay and Calgary vs. Medicine Hat, and we would probably have the Wheat Kings and Tigers anyways.

What say you Western Conference?

1) Kelowna vs. 8) Tri-City: This happened and it was a four game sweep.

2) Everett vs. 7) Prince George: Everett probably would have won but I think Prince George would have given them a decent challenge

3) Portland vs. 6) Spokane: Spokane did give Everett a test but this probably wouldn’t last long with Portland’s fire-power

4) Seattle vs. 5) Victoria: Another really good matchup here that could have gone either way. I probably would have gone with Seattle though.

So that would have left us with Kelowna vs. Seattle and Everett vs. Portland and again the same matchup would have happened. Maybe the WHL was right after all.

Either way, I still want a 1 vs. 16 format. Kelowna would have come to Moose Jaw this year!

WHL Eastern Conference Final Prediction

Brandon Calgary

East 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Central 1) Calgary Hitmen: Brandon in six (This is one of those matchups that can go either way as both teams are pretty solid from top to bottom. There’s no real advantage here but I went with Brandon based upon the fact that I think they are building towards a special run over the next couple of seasons. It’s corny I know, but I really don’t have any in depth to add, it’s a coin flip.)

Portland Winterhawks v Kelowna Rockets

BC 1) Kelowna Rockets vs. US 2) Portland Winterhawks: Kelowna in six (It’s the Western Conference final everyone has wanted since Portland won in five games over Kelowna a year ago. This time around, I think the Rockets have the advantage in the depth deparement and will bring an end to Portland’s Drive for Five. My apologies to Fake Mike Johnston.)

That does it for now. See you all in a couple of weeks time for the OHL, QMJHL and WHL finals.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 2) & Second Round Previews

Goodbye Belleville

From the emotional farewell to the Belleville Bulls to some wild series in the QMJHL, the first round of the 2015 playoffs in the Canadian Hockey League have been intriguing, and the matchups in the second rounds in all three leagues may be even better.

As everything gets underway tonight as Sault Ste. Marie takes on Guelph, it’s time once again to take a look back at the teams that were knocked out of the playoffs already and attempt to predict what will happen in the coming weeks. Let’s begin, as always, in the OHL.

Michael Clarke

Peterborough Petes (26-36-1-5 – 5th in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Oshawa Generals in five games)

What I Predicted: Following last season’s comeback from 3-0 down in the first round against Kingston, I expect the Petes to build on that momentum to make a second straight trip to the post-season.

What Actually Happened: Even though they traded Nick Ritchie at the deadline the Petes made it to the playoffs again. Even though they lost in five games, they still fared well against the top ranked team in the Eastern Conference.

What Lies Ahead: The forwards aren’t really stellar, but the back-end is very strong with Kyle Jenkins and Matt Spencer on defence and Matthew Mancina in goal. They won’t be a title threat by any means, but the Petes may be in the mix for a home-ice spot if the cards fall right next year.

Dylan Sadowy

Saginaw Spirit (29-36-2-1 – 3rd in West Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in four games)

What I Predicted: If the youngsters get up to speed quickly, this might be a playoff team. If that doesn’t happen though, the rebuilding process in Saginaw may officially begin at the Trade Deadline.

What Actually Happened: A combination of both things actually. The Spirit traded away Jimmy Lodge, Nick Moutrey and Jake Paterson, but their young players filled in the gaps and they made it to the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The Spirit were the youngest team in OHL history to make it to the post-season and that should set the stage for a strong campaign next year. Dylan Sadowy, Mitchell Stephens and Tye Felhaber will lead the way up front and goaltender Evan Cormier may prove to be a huge pick-up from the trade with North Bay for Moutrey.

Jordan Subban

Belleville Bulls (27-33-3-5 – 4th in East Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Barrie Colts in four games)

What I Predicted: Even though the Bulls struggled last year, they have a decent core of guys coming back, and they should be able to bounce back into the playoffs this season.

What Actually Happened: The Bulls started off well but faded and almost missed out on the playoffs. The move to Hamilton overshadowed everything in the end however and it was a shame to see them be swept out by Barrie.

What Lies Ahead: The Bulls are headed to the white elephant that is Copps Coliseum (or whatever they call it these days) to become the Hamilton Bulldogs. While everyone is debating what the fan support will be like, the Bulldogs should have a pretty solid team in their first year in Hamilton. It’s a pretty solid roster with some solid young players like Justin Lemcke and Brandon Saiegon, and they may be in the mix for a home playoff spot.

Nikita Korosteleve

Sarnia Sting (29-32-4-3 – 2nd in West Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in five games)

What I Predicted: They won’t be as bad as they were last year, but I suspect it will be another long season in Sarnia, with a few bright spots along the way courtesy of the top players.

What Actually Happened: Well it certainly wasn’t a long year. They traded Anthony DeAngelo and Nikolai Goldobin never came back but they saw a new star develop in Jakob Chyrchurn while Pavel Zacha and Nikita Korostelev led the way up front. They ended up second in a surprisingly lacklustre West Division and they pushed the Erie Otters to the limit in their first round series.

What Lies Ahead: Sarnia made a surprising move on Tuesday as head coach Trevor Letowski was let go and co-owner Derian Hatcher became the new bench boss. It remains to be seen how that will go but right now the Sting look to have a solid young core to build around. The one question mark might be in goal though as Taylor Dupuis has graduated from the junior ranks.

Lawson Crouse of the Kingston Frontenacs. Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images

Kingston Frontenacs (32-28-5-3 – 3rd in East Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Battalion in four games)

What I Predicted: The forward core is arguably the best in the Eastern Conference (especially if Sam Bennett doesn’t stick in Calgary), and the defence looks pretty solid, but I have some major question marks about the goaltending.

What Actually Happened: Lucas Pressini proved me wrong in goal and the forwards weren’t super impressive until late in the year when Bennett came back from a lengthy injury. It didn’t matter in the end though as the Frontenacs had another underwhelming playoff run.

What Lies Ahead: The Fronts are in an odd place. I’ll touch on Sam Bennett later on but they still have guys like Lawson Crouse and Roland McKeown around, but their defensive depth worries me a lot. It’s hard to give them an early ranking until after the summer trade season ends.

Ryan MacInnis

Kitchener Rangers (32-26-3-7 – 5th in Midwest Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the London Knights in six games)

What I Predicted: The Rangers should be better than they were a year ago, but they aren’t quite back to a legit Western Conference contender just yet.

What Actually Happened: Getting Jake Paterson was a surprise at the deadline and the Rangers were in the mix for fourth place for a time. However, thanks to Guelph and Owen Sound’s strong finishes, they ended up facing London and saw their season end early.

What Lies Ahead: With a number of 96-born players on forward and defence the Rangers will look to have a big run next season. However, I doubt they will be leaning on Dawson Carty in goal so I suspect that they will either make a trade or bring in one of the three NCAA committed goalies (Chris Birdsall, Hayden Lavigne or Luke Opilka) that they have drafted in the past couple of years.

Kyle Platzer

Owen Sound Attack (35-24-2-7 – 4th in Midwest Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Guelph Storm in five games)

What I Predicted: I like the majority of the lineup, especially the NHL prospects that they have, but I’m not convinced that a goaltending pairing of Brandon Hope and Jack Flinn is enough to lead you to the promised land.

What Actually Happened: Brandon Hope got dealt to Niagara early on while both Jack Flinn and Michael McNiven did well in between the pipes. Being stuck in what was arguably the best division in all of the CHL didn’t do them any favours come playoff time though. 

What Lies Ahead: I would suspect the Attack are going to drop off quite a bit next year, especially with Zach Nastasiuk, Kyle Platzer and Chris Bigras all moving on. Don’t be surprised if they move off some of their 96’s in order to build for the future in the next couple of months.

Dante Salituro

Ottawa 67’s (38-25-4-1 – 2nd in East Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Niagara IceDogs in six games)

What I Predicted: I’m not quite convinced yet on the goaltending and the overall depth of the roster. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat out Mississauga for the eighth and final playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Liam Herbst showed why he was a first round pick by London a few years ago in goal and the play of Dante Salituro and Travis Konecny helped Ottawa earn home ice for the first round. Even though they lost to Niagara, first year bench boss Jeff Brown did an excellent job.

What Lies Ahead: With Herbst, Salituro and Konecny all back, the 67’s should have another good season. They do have five 95-born defenders on the roster though, so that might be a worrying issue in the weeks ahead.

Sam Bennett

Before I make my second round predictions, let’s return to Sam Bennett, who may be the most intriguing question mark heading in the 2015/16 OHL season.

A brief recap on the 18-year-old’s year first. After being selected 4th overall by the Calgary Flames in June, Bennett suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery and forced him to the sidelines until February. When he was healthy, he returned to Kingston and put up a staggering 24 points in 11 games, though he was held to just three points in the series sweep by North Bay.

As he currently awaits to make his NHL debut with the Flames, it remains to be seen if Bennett will stick around in the show next fall or return to the OHL. If he does come back to Kingston, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s dealt straight away to a contender like Leon Draisaitl was when Edmonton sent him back to the WHL. It’s a move that may work out well for Kingston as well as they need to load up on picks and players to build their roster up for the next couple of seasons. I mean, Lawson Crouse isn’t going to be around for much longer as well.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Oshawa Niagara

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 5) Niagara IceDogs: Oshawa in five (Niagara has enough firepower to maybe steal a game or two from Oshawa, but the Generals seem to be on another level compared to almost everyone else in their conference.)

Barrie North Bay

2) Barrie Colts vs. 3) North Bay Battalion: North Bay in six (Like last year’s second round meeting between these two teams, this is another series that go either way. I’m sure have a slight Northern Ontario bias here but the way North Bay shutdown Kingston’s offence in the first round has me convinced they will do the same, albeit to a lesser extent, to Barrie’s top scorers.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Sault Ste Marie Guelph

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 4) Guelph Storm: Sault Ste. Marie in five (Guelph’s the defending OHL champions and they won’t go quietly into the night, but once again, I expect the Greyhounds’ depth to be too much for their opponents to handle.)

Erie London

2) Erie Otters vs. 3) London Knights: Erie in seven (For me, this is the best second round series in the entire country and I expect this to be a dandy. The Otters should be able to take care of the Knights, but with Sarnia pushing them to the limit and the combination of Mitch Marner and Max Domi set to run wild, I think this one will go the distance.)

Next up is the QMJHL, where a couple of highly ranked teams saw their seasons come to an end rather early.

Angelo Micelli

Victoriaville Tigres (27-34-3-4 – 6th in East Division/16th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rimouski Oceanic in four games)

What I Predicted: I have them fifth in their division, but that may end up being way too low to where they end up when March rolls around.

What Actually Happened: My original assumption ended up being much closer to reality. Having to deal with Rimouski, Quebec and Shawinigan in their division probably had them lower in the standings than they would have hoped.

What Lies Ahead: I would suspect another similar campaign next year, though they probably won’t be at the bottom of the playoff race. There’s a few young pieces to build around here, and Samuel Blais might be a nice deadline day piece to deal to a title contender.

Laurent Dauphi

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (29-32-4-3 – 5th in East Division/15th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in five games)

What I Predicted: It’s a bit of a bummer that Chicoutimi is in the same division as Quebec and Rimouski, because this is quite a good team.

What Actually Happened: Okay I was slightly wrong on that front, Julio Billia was better in goal and the forwards weren’t that bad, but this was a team that ended up being more a middle of the road squad than a sleeper for a lengthy playoff run.

What Lies Ahead: With Nicolas Roy and Frederic Allard both coming back for two more years at least, Chicoutimi will be looking to go on a run in the next couple of seasons. They have a ton of 95’s on their roster right now, however, so you may see some movement to help out with that building process.

Kyle Farrell

Cape Breton Screaming Eagles (31-31-3-3 – 5th in Maritimes Division/13th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Quebec Remparts in seven games)

What I Predicted: Okay, maybe I’m biased because they have two Russian forwards, but they should score a number of goals, and Francois Brassard could prove to be a great pickup in goal.

What Actually Happened: Brassard struggled in Cape Breton and ended up being dealt to Gatineau where he’s helped the Olympiques move on to the second round. Their forward core was strong though and they almost pulled off a stunning result in their series with Quebec as they pushed the Memorial Cup hosts to Game 7.

What Lies Ahead: I’m not sure what they are doing in goal yet (hey look, another team that can benefit from an import netminder, thanks a lot Branch) but their defence looks solid and the Russian duo of Maxim Lazarev and Evgeny Svechnikov will both be back. This might be a team that contends for a division title in 2015/16.

Mathieu Lemay

Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (33-30-4-1 – 4th in West Division/11th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Val-d’Or Forerus in six games)

What I Predicted: I’m expecting the Huskies to be in the middle of the road again this year, though Alexander Belanger may help to steal a few games in between the pipes.

What Actually Happened: Well Belanger went to Cape Breton at the deadline, but the team was in the middle of the league standings. Part of that had to do with a strong forward core that was led by overage player Mathieu Lemay and Ottawa draft pick Francis Perron.

What Lies Ahead: Since the Huskies will have a lot of players coming back, this might be a sleeper pick to win the QMJHL title next year. The biggest thing that will have to happen though is that Jeremy Belisle and Samuel Harvey will both need to continue to improve in goal.

Nathan Noel

Saint John Sea Dogs (32-36-4-6 – 3rd in Maritimes Division/10th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Baie-Comeau Drakkar in five games)

What I Predicted:  If Nathan Noel increases his scoring output from his rookie year and the newcomers gel, the Sea Dogs should return to the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that. There was a bit of a slide after a strong start but the Sea Dogs were a much improved side after having just 19 wins a year ago.

What Lies Ahead: With another high draft pick (they will be picking first overall after getting Drummondville’s first round choice in a trade) joining Noel and Luke Green, the Sea Dogs should have another strong season. Okay, I’m not sure about their goaltending either, but this is a team that is building towards a run for 2017, when they may host the Memorial Cup.

Daniel Audette

Sherbrooke Phoenix (36-26-2-4 – 3rd in West Division/8th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Charlottetown Islanders in six games)

What I Predicted: In it’s third year of existence, the Phoenix will finally turn the corner this season in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: It was easily the best season so far for Sherbrooke. They had home ice for the playoffs and Daniel Audette continued his fine play up front. Alas, it didn’t mean much in the post-season as they lost a closely contested series with Charlottetown.

What Lies Ahead: Audette will be back, as well high scoring defenceman Jeremy Roy and goaltenders Alex Bureau and Evan Fitzpatrick. The depth’s a slight concern but the Phoenix may improve yet again in their fourth campaign.

Anthony Beaulvier

Shawinigan Cataractes (39-26-1-2 – 3rd in East Division/5th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Halifax Mooseheads in seven games)

What I Predicted: The rebuilding process continues for the 2012 Memorial Cup champions, but they’ll probably remain near the bottom of the QMJHL standings.

What Actually Happened: Well I was dead wrong. The young players on the team ended up developing big-time, with Anthony Beauvillier leading the way. If it wasn’t for a Halifax team that had a couple of overtime winners, they probably would be in the second round right now.

What Lies Ahead: The defence and the goaltending might not be as strong, but the forwards once again look really strong. Like Sherbrooke, this is a team that should get a series win next spring.

Danick Martel

Blainville-Boisbriand Armada (41-18-2-7 – 1st in West Division/3rd in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Gatineau Olympiques in six games)

What I Predicted:  With so many question marks on the team, and with the overagers probably going to be sold off like many of them were during the off-season, it might be a rough year for this squad.

What Actually Happened: If you had this team finishing in third and winning their division you are clearly lying. Now they did have two 100-point overagers, but it still amazes me that the Armada was one of the top teams in the league all season. It also surprised me that Gatineau knocked them out early, but since I didn’t see any of the series it’s hard for me to say if they got outplayed or not.

What Lies Ahead: The two overage forwards (Nikita Jevpalovs and Danick Martel) are leaving as is overage defender Daniel Walcott. Once again, there seems to be a lot of question marks looking at this Armada roster and I’m expecting a huge drop-off. I’m fully expecting to be wrong on that prediction come next year once again.

Charlottetown OT Winner

Despite winning three straight Memorial Cup titles from 2011-2013, the QMJHL has often been called the weak sister of the three major junior hockey leagues in this country. Whether or not that’s the case can be debated for months, but what they have over the WHL and the OHL at the moment is that the Q was home to the best overall first round series in the CHL this year.

When it came to memorable encounters, you had three of them. There was Gatineau’s stunning upset of the third ranked Armada, a wild Quebec and Cape Breton series that went seven games, and Nikolaj Ehlers’ overtime winner in his Game 7 return to help Halifax upset Shawinigan. Plus, the Val-d’Or and Rouyn-Noranda series was pretty entertaining, as was the Charlottetown and Sherbrooke affair.

If you look at the other two leagues, there wasn’t really much for them to counter with. In the OHL, Ottawa and Niagara wasn’t bad until the IceDogs pulled away, and Kitchener tried to make things interesting against London before being moved aside in six, but that didn’t get the pulse excited. To be fair though, the WHL was probably the closest, as they did have a seven-game series between Calgary and Kootenay, an Everett and Spokane encounter that finished in triple overtime in Game 6, a great battle between Portland and Seattle and a Medicine Hat and Red Deer series that was much tighter than their five games would indicate.

Will this trend continue? I think it’s possible, especially since the conference semi-finals and the league finals went seven games in 2014. Hey maybe that 1 through 16 structure is the way to go. I’m looking at you NHL.

QMJHL Second Round Predictions

Rimouski Gatineau

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 14) Gatineau Olympiques: Rimouski in four (Gatineau has been red-hot as of late but I suspect this is where their run will end. Rimouski is just too strong.)

Moncton Halifax

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 12) Halifax Mooseheads: Moncton in six (I have this one going a little bit farther than most because of Halifax’s recent success over the last few years. Either way, I think Moncton should advance to the semi-finals, but they may have some trouble dealing with Ehlers like everyone has seemingly had over the last two years.)

Quebec Charlottetown

4) Quebec Remparts vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders: Quebec in five (Cape Breton showed that the Memorial Cup hosts are there for the taking, but with Islanders goaltender and Calgary Flames prospect Mason McDonald out of the playoffs with a knee injury, Charlottetown may be in tough.)

Vald'Or Baie Comeau

6) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 7) Baie-Comeau Drakkar: Val-d’Or in six (A rematch of last year’s great QMJHL final? Don’t mind if I do. This one can go either way, but I think Val-d’Or will win this encounter once again.)

As ever, we wrap things up in the WHL, where there was a severe lack of upsets in the first round.

Beau McCue

Tri-City Americans (31-38-0-3 – 5th in US Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in four games)

What I Predicted: The Americans have a pretty young lineup that may not come to full fruition until next season, but they do have a top-notch goalie in Eric Comrie on their side. If the youngsters hit the ground running, this might be a dark horse for a league championship. 

What Actually Happened: Excluding Parker Wotherspoon and Evan Sarthou, the Americans young core didn’t really come out on fire. Injuries to the roster didn’t help matters as well as they ended up having to deal with Kelowna as the second wild card in the West.

What Lies Ahead: Well I was way off on the Americans being a dark horse title threat, but almost everyone is back next year and Tri-City may be a contender to win their division. Losing Comrie to the pro ranks will sting, but Sarthou should transition nicely into a starting role in goal.

Jansen Harkins

Prince George Cougars (31-36-2-3 – 3rd in BC Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Victoria Royals in five games)

What I Predicted: It might be a little bit before they are a legit contender, but the Cougars should be right in the mix to make it into the playoffs this season with a fairly exciting forward core.

What Actually Happened: For the first time since 2011 the Cougars made it back to the playoffs thanks to a stellar second half performance. They probably deserved a slightly better fate than a five-game series loss to Victoria, but it was still a great season.

What Lies Ahead: The nice buzz building around Prince George should continue next year as almost all of their top contributors will be back. Depending on how Kelowna and Victoria look next year, a division title isn’t that farfetched.

Spokane Chiefs v Kelowna Rockets

Spokane Chiefs (34-34-3-1 – 4th in US Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Everett Silvertips in six games)

What I Predicted: The Chiefs have some exciting players in the pipeline but this has all the makings of a long season in Spokane.

What Actually Happened: Despiite losing Mike Aviani, Reid Gow and Mitch Holmberg, the Chiefs were able to still have a solid campaign. They weren’t flashy but they got the job done and they almost pulled off an upset against Everett.

What Lies Ahead: The Chiefs will have two young forwards to build around in Kailer Yamamoto and incoming rookie Jaret Anderson-Dolan that will make them a threat in the future. When it comes to next season, however, they will probably in the middle of the road.

Jake DeBrusk

Swift Current Broncos (34-33-1-4 – 3rd in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Regina Pats in four games)

What I Predicted: They might not have the sexiness of the Wheat Kings, but the Broncos are a team that shouldn’t be taken lightly.

What Actually Happened: I expected the Broncos to be a lot better than they actually were but they were rather underwhelming. A lengthy late-season losing skid almost saw them miss the playoffs entirely, which sort of underlined the underwhelming campaign for the squad.

What Lies Ahead: This is going to be a team that can go one of two ways depending on how the season starts. If they are in the top of the conference standings, I expect them to stand pat. But if the Broncos are struggling, goalie Landon Bow and forward Jake DeBrusk will probably be sold off to title contenders.

Brett Pollock

Edmonton Oil Kings (34-31-4-3 – 5th in Central Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games)

What I Predicted: If Curtis Lazar doesn’t come back, then their might be a drop-off and Tristan Jarry may be traded away for future building blocks, though I think the Oil Kings should still make the playoffs if that happens.

What Actually Happened: Lazar ended up staying in Ottawa but Jarry stuck around and the Oil Kings returned to the playoffs. Their three-year run to the league finals would come to a quick hand however against Brandon.

What Lies Ahead: Aaron Irving, Dysin Mayo and Brett Pollock will all be back and that might boost the Oil Kings into a top three spot in their division. The overall depth isn’t the greatest, but Edmonton always seems to pluck out strong players out of nowhere.

Luke Philip

Kootenay Ice (37-31-1-3 – 4th in Central Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Calgary Hitmen in seven games)

What I Predicted: I expect Jaedon Descheneau will be traded if Sam Reinhart doesn’t come back, which will probably prevent the Ice from making the playoffs. 

What Actually Happened: Reinhart ended up coming back from the Buffalo Sabres and was probably the difference for the Ice to return to the playoffs. They almost pulled off a second straight upset of the Calgary Hitmen in round one, until Connor Rankin scored a first period hat-trick in Game 7.

What Lies Ahead: Reinhart will be in Buffalo full-time while Descheneau will more than likely be in the St. Louis Blues system. The signs are there for a full-fledged rebuild to begin with the Ice.

Ryan Gropp

Seattle Thunderbirds (38-25-4-5 – 3rd in US Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Portland Winterhawks in six games)

What I Predicted: With forwards such as Ryan Gropp and Matthew Barzal, and a top-notch defender in Shea Theodore, the T-Birds will be fun to watch. I’m not quite convinced on the goaltending though, and that may prove to be the one issue the prevents this team from hosting a playoff series.

What Actually Happened: Tarun Kozun proved me wrong big time in goal as he ended up being one of the best netminders in the league. Injuries and a white-hot Portland squad ended up being what cost Seattle a chance at home-ice, but they gave the Winterhawks all that they could handle in their first round series.

What Lies Ahead: Like the other three teams in the US Division that I talked about earlier, this seems like a middle of the road team. Barzal and Gropp will be back, but losing Theodore and Kozun may be too much to overcome.

Riley Sheen

Red Deer Rebels (38-23-5-6 – 3rd in Central Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Medicine Hat Tigers in five games)

What I Predicted: I’m quite convinced that the Rebels will be the host city for the Memorial Cup in 2016 so this will be a year that will be used to help build Red Deer into being a legit title threat.

What Actually Happened: Exactly that. The Rebels will be hosing the Memorial Cup next year and we’re right in the mix to win the Central Division this season. The five game loss to the Tigers wasn’t a real indiction of how close the series was, as it could have gone either way.

What Lies Ahead: The big guns (Connor Bleackley and Haydn Fleury) will both be back and that will be huge. The overall depth isn’t super scary yet for a Memorial Cup host, but I expect that to change over the course of the summer.

Medicine Hat Arena

I got to pay a visit to the Medicine Hat Arena for Game 5 of the Medicine Hat/Red Deer series last Saturday, and pretty much fell in love with the rink, which the Tigers will be leaving for a new facility next year.

While that new rink is needed, I was very upset that the Tigers will be departing the 4,006 seat arena after going to see a game there, as it’s pretty much what a junior hockey rink should be like.

So I began to think about how many of these true junior hockey rinks are left and not just being shared with NHL teams (such as the Scotiabank Saddledome and Rexall Place), have a capacity over 10,000 (sorry FirstOntario Centre, Colisee Pepsi, Scotiabank Centre, SaskTel Centre, Pacific Coliseum and Veterans Memorial Coliseum) or one that’s been open later than 1990. Here’s what I came up with.

OHL: TD Place Arena (Ottawa 67’s – 1967), Peterborough Memorial Centre (Peterborough Petes – 1956), North Bay Memorial Gardens (North Bay Battalion – 1955), Sudbury Community Arena (Sudbury Wolves – 1951), Erie Insurance Arena (Erie Otters – 1983), Kitchener Memorial Auditorium (Kitchener Rangers – 1951), Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre (Owen Sound Attack – 1983), Perani Arena (Flint Firebirds – 1969), Dow Event Centre (Saginaw Spirit – 1972)

QMJHL: Centre Marcel Dionne (Drummondville Voltigeurs – 1963), Robert Guertin Centre (Gatineau Olympiques – 1973), Arena Iamgold (Rouyn-Noranda Huskies – 1951), Palais des Sports (Sherbrooke Phoenix – 1965), Centre Air Creebec (Val-d’Or Foreurs – 1949), Centre Harry Leonard (Baie-Comeau Drakkar – 1970), Centre Georges Vezina (Chicoutimi Sagueneens – 1949), Colisee Rimouski (Rimouski Oceanic – 1966), Colisee Desjardins (Victoriaville Tigres – 1980), Centre 200 (Cape Breton Screaming Eagles – 1987), Moncton Coliseum (Moncton Wildcats – 1973)

WHL: Keystone Centre (Brandon Wheat Kings – 1973), Art Hauser Centre (Prince Albert Raiders – 1971), Brandt Centre (Regina Pats – 1977), Credit Union iPlex (Swift Current Broncos – 1967), ENMAX Centre (Lethbridge Hurricanes – 1974), Medicine Hat Arena (Medicine Hat Tigers – 1970), Toyota Centre (Tri-City Americans – 1988)

So as you can see, there’s still quite a few of the older barns left. If you’re a junior hockey fan like I am, I highly recommend seeing these rinks before they are replaced.

WHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Brandon Regina

East Division Final: 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 2) Regina Pats: Brandon in four (Regina is gearing up for the future and facing the Wheat Kings will be a good test for them. With that said, Brandon should have little trouble moving on to the next round.)

Calgary Medicine Hat

Central Division Final: 1) Calgary Hitmen vs. 2) Medicine Hat Tigers: Medicine Hat in seven (These two teams went until the end of the season to win the division and I expect this series to go either way. I ended up going with the Tigers just because of how well they preformed in the series with Red Deer and that they got a little bit of rest while Calgary went the distance with Kootenay.)

WHL Western Conference Predictions

Victoria Kelowna

BC Division Final: 1) Kelowna Rockets vs. 2) Victoria Royals: Kelowna in four (The Rockets were 800 points (okay that’s probably not right) ahead of the Royals in the regular season, so a long series between the two teams would be a major surprise.)

Everett Portland

US Division Final: 1) Everett Silvertips vs. 2) Portland Winterhawks: Portland in six (I still can’t make heads or tails of Everett, especially after that series with Spokane. This will be a pretty good series, but Portland’s high-octane offence will be the difference maker.)

Well that’s it for now. Between these three leagues, the Frozen Four and the NHL playoffs, this should be an epic couple of weeks if you’re a hockey fan.


2014/15 CHL Assessments (Part 1) & First Round Previews

Goodbye Plymouth

It’s that time of the year again. Over the course of the next two months I’ll be looking back to see where I went wrong in my pre-season predictions and what teams I had on the money in the OHL, QMJHL and WHL. Along with that, I’ll also be making my playoff predictions as well for each round.

Without further delay, let’s get things started with the OHL and showcasing the four teams that won’t make the playoffs, including one that will be heading to a new location come next city.

Pavel Jenys

Sudbury Wolves (12-54-1-1 – 5th in Central Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 18th)

What I Predicted: There’s a couple of decent players here, but there is not a lot to be desired, and I expect the Wolves to be at the bottom of the league standings

What Actually Happened: Not only was Sudbury the worst team in the OHL, but they ended up having the worst record in the entire Canadian Hockey League. At least we got that Paul Fixter rant.

What Lies Ahead: The Wolves have the number one overall pick in the draft and it seems like a fairly wide open class with Owen Tippett and David Levin among the top choices. Despite a couple of good pieces to build around in Matt Schmalz and Kyle Capobianco, it may be another long season ahead in Sudbury.

Owen Sound Attack v Windsor Spitfires

Windsor Spitfires (24-40-2-2 – 5th in West Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: I’m not quite convinced on the defence, but I really like the forwards Windsor has, and they are my sleeper pick in the Western Conference.

What Actually Happened: Well they traded Josh Ho-Sang away for starters, so that kind of messed with my predictions for a great forward core. An 11-game losing streak to end the season proved to be far more damaging.

What Lies Ahead: I still like the forwards here, especially Logan Brown, and 63-point defenceman Trevor Murphy could be a huge asset at the trade deadline next January. The rest of the back-end and the goaltending do have question marks still, and they will need to improve that if they hope to win a playoff game for the first time since 2011.

Sonny Milano

Plymouth Whalers (23-38-5-2 – 4th in West Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 15th)

What I Predicted: Following a slight blip last season, the Whalers should return to form this year.

What Actually Happened: Not only did Plymouth fail to come close from being the Soo Greyhounds’ biggest threat, they missed the playoffs for the first time in 23 years. The only other time they missed was their first season as a franchise in 1990-91 as the Detroit Compuware Ambassadors.

What Lies Ahead: The Whalers are moving to Flint to become the Firebirds and will have a brand new look in the management and coaching staff. With Sonny Milano, Alex Peters, Josh Wesley and Alex Nedeljkovic all coming back, not to mention a high-end draft pick, they should return to the playoffs.

Jimmy Lodge

Mississauga Steelheads (25-40-2-1 – 4th in Central Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 19th)

What I Predicted: Every year I bet against Mississauga making the playoffs, and they end up getting there, so I’ve decided to stop picking against them this season.

What Actually Happened: They actually missed the playoffs this time around. They went all-in by getting Jimmy Lodge in a trade from Saginaw but the season ending knee-injury of goalie Spencer Martin ended up costing them in the end.

What Lies Ahead: For starters, I would be surprised if James Boyd is brought back, so I expect that there will be a new coach behind the bench. Michael McLeod and Sean Day will be the building blocks to build around and the Steelheads might be back in the post-season, but I doubt they will be a high seed.

Bulls Final Win

The biggest storyline heading in the OHL playoffs if of course the impending end of the Belleville Bulls franchise. It was announced out of nowhere on March 12 that the Bulls had been sold and would be moving to Hamilton to become the Bulldogs.

I’ll save my thoughts over how this deal was done and the fact that junior hockey in Hamilton hasn’t really worked another day. Instead I’ll bid a fond farewell to a franchise that I’ve always considered to be one of the most well-run in the Eastern Conference. Those teams in 2008 and 2009 were sublime and they were a game away from playing London for the title in 2013. Those teams, and players like Mike Murphy, PK Subban and Luke Judson (who I got to know while working in Fort Frances), will be my lasting memories of the club.

Jack Miller

And of course, there’s Jack Miller, my second favourite announcer in all of junior hockey behind the London Knights’ Mike Stubbs. While Stubbs’ style is like throwing a hair dryer in a hot tub, Miller has the stylings of a master jazz musician who hits the right notes at the right moments. He will still be involved in the TSN Radio’s World Junior broadcasts, but the fact that he won’t be doing any more OHL games is an absolute crime.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Oshawa Peterborough

1) Oshawa Generals vs. 8) Peterborough Petes: Oshawa in four (This one won’t be close. While it’s good for the Petes to make it back to the playoffs again, the Generals are way to strong for them to pull off another massive upset.)

Barrie Belleville

2) Barrie Colts vs. 7) Belleville Bulls: Barrie in five (Obviously I’m rooting for Belleville here in this one, but they don’t have the firepower to matchup with the Colts on offence. Here’s hoping that the fans at the Yardmen Arena will get one more victory before the Bulls leave town for good.)

North Bay Kingston

3) North Bay Battalion vs. 6) Kingston Frontenacs: Kingston in 6 (Ever since Sam Bennett returned to Kingston after being injured at Calgary Flames training camp, the Frontenacs have been on fire. Now North Bay is the defending conference champions and they are a very good team, but Kingston’s offence has been sublime over the last month. I’ll probably regret this, but I have Kingston advancing to the second round for the first time since 1998.)

Ottawa Niagara

4) Ottawa 67’s vs. 5) Niagara IceDogs: Niagara in five (Back in September, I had Niagara as the runaway favourite in the Eastern Conference while Ottawa would be fighting it out to just make the playoffs. As you can see, I was way off the mark. When it comes to this series, I think Niagara has too many offensive weapons for Ottawa to try and slow down.)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Soo Saginaw

1) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds vs. 8) Saginaw Spirit: Sault Ste. Marie in four (If Jake Paterson was still in Saginaw I would be slightly worried that he could steal a few games from the Greyhounds. Since he’s now in Kitchener, the Greyhounds should have little trouble with the Spirit in the opening round. As a huge Greyhounds fan, I have now doomed them to a six game upset loss I’m sure.)

Erie Sarnia

2) Erie Otters vs. 7) Sarnia Sting: Erie in 5 (McJesus and Co. should have no problems at all in their opening round series. The only reason why I don’t have this as a sweep? Erie tends to have one odd game in a span where they lose to a team they shouldn’t, and Pavel Zacha might bust out a hat-trick when you least expect it.)

London Kitchener

3) London Knights vs. 6) Kitchener Rangers: London in five (I’m still surprised Sportsnet is showing the Oshawa and Peterborough series over this one, but I digress. Jake Paterson might steal a game or two, but I expect Kitchener’s defence will have a tough time trying to stop Max Domi, Christian Dvorak and Mitchell Marner.)

Guelph Owen Sound

4) Guelph Storm vs. 5) Owen Sound Attack: Guelph in 6 (This one can go either way, but I think Guelph’s run to the Memorial Cup final last year will be a key factor in helping them advance to the next round. Plus, the question marks around Attack defenceman Chris Bigras’ health can’t be a good sign.)

Our next stop is the QMJHL, where only two teams missed out on the playoffs.

Mark Simpson

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (17-43-6-2 – 6th in Maritimes Division/18th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 2nd)

What I Predicted: For a team that doesn’t have a whole lot to begin with, there is still isn’t a whole lot here.

What Actually Happened: The lack of overall depth had me peg this team to be at the bottom of the QMJHL standings and that’s where they ended up. They weren’t Sudbury bad, but they did struggle on their way to being in the basement.

What Lies Ahead: The QMJHL draft lottery is in April so we won’t know if Acadie-Bathurst will have the number one pick, which is expected to be Shane Bowers (unless Joseph Veleno gets exceptional status, but that’s another story for another day). At the moment, the Titan do have some nice young pieces to build around with forward Jordan Maher and defenceman Guillaume Brisebois leading the way, so a return to the playoffs might not be far off.

Joey Ratelle

Drummondville Voltigeurs (26-38-1-3 – 6th in West Division/17th in QMJHL – Eliminated on March 13th)

What I Predicted: The squad is fairly young on both forward and defence, but they have two 1995-born goalies who had strong seasons a year ago. If the duo of Joe Fleschler and Louis-Philip Guindon match their performances from last season, they might have a strong season.

What Actually Happened: Fleschler’s numbers much worse, Guindon got dealt to Rimouski and Anthony Brodeur was brought in after Christmas. That and a number of other trades resulted in a late-season slide in the standings and caused Drummondville to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: Drummondville’s draft pick ended up in Saint John so they won’t be involved in the draft lottery, (Saint John got the pick from Cape Breton at the trade deadline for captain Olivier LeBlanc. The Screaming Eagles got that pick from the Voltigeurs for William Carrier last year.) so that’s not good for the rebuilding process. They have two exciting forwards in Joey Ratelle and Alex Barre- Boulet, but it might be another tough season in Drummondville next winter.

Zach Fucale

The most intriguing player in the entire QMJHL playoffs might be Quebec Remparts netminder Zach Fucale, who will sadly not be rocking this awesome looking tuque.

After winning the Memorial Cup with Halifax in 2013 and becoming a second round pick by Montreal in the NHL Entry Draft, Fucale’s had a rough time over the last 12 months. Sure, he did win the gold medal for Canada at the World Juniors, but he lost his starting job in last year’s QMJHL semi-finals and his numbers so far with Quebec (an 8-8 record and a 3.22 GAA) leave a lot to be desired.

As the Memorial Cup hosts, a lot is expected of Quebec in the playoffs. But if Fucale continues to be just average, things might get ugly unless Callum Booth takes things over in a big way.

QMJHL Playoffs Predictions

Rimouski Victoriaville

1) Rimouski Oceanic vs. 16) Victoriaville Tigres: Rimouski in four (For me, the Oceanic are the class of the QMJHL and they should have no problem at all in their opening round series.)

Moncton Chicoutimi

2) Moncton Wildcats vs. 15) Chicoutimi Sagueneens: Moncton in five (The Wildcats have the top scorer in the league in Conor Garland and Russian hero Ivan Barbashev on their roster. That should be more than enough for them to get the win.)

Blainville-Boisbriand Gatineau

3) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada vs. 14) Gatineau Olympiques: Blainville-Boisbriand in five (I still have no idea how the Armada are pulling this off. Either way, they should move to the second round with ease, even though Gatineau has won 13 of their last 16 games heading into the playoffs.)

Quebec Cape Breton

4) Quebec Remparts vs. 13) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles: Quebec in five (As much I’m hemming and hawing over Fucale’s play, and despite the fact that Cape Breton has two draft eligible Russian forwards in Maxim Lazarev and Evgeni Svechnikov, the Remparts are too good to not advance to the second round.)

Shawinigan Halifax

5) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 12) Halifax Mooseheads: Halifax in 6 (Now I know this isn’t the Mooseheads of the last couple of years, and Shawinigan does have a pretty good lineup that’s headlined by 94-point draft eligible centre Anthony Beauvillier. However, I saw Nikolaj Ehlers carry Denmark into the World Junior playoffs so who says lightning can’t strike twice. Okay, Olivier Bjorkstrand helped him out as well but still.)

Val-d'Or Rouyn-Noranda

6) Val-d’Or Foreurs vs. 11) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies: Val-d’Or in five (It’s a shame this isn’t being broadcast on Sportsnet because this might be a really fun series. In the end, the experience of winning the QMJHL title a year ago should help the Foreurs in this one, though I’m starting to think this might go the distance.)

Baie-Comeau Saint John

7) Baie-Comeau Drakkar vs. 10) Saint John Sea Dogs: Saint John in six (The Sea Dogs had a bit of slide in the later part of the year but I think they should be able to come out on top with a mild upset in this one.)

Sherbrooke Charlottetown

8) Sherbrooke Phoenix vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders: Sherbrooke in six (A Daniel Audette vs. Daniel Sprong matchup in the playoffs? Just take my money already. Mason McDonald may steal a game or two, but the Phoenix have too many offensive weapons for the Islanders to try and stop.)

Our last stop on our CHL playoff preview train is the WHL, where six teams will not be heading to the post-season.

Brett Stovin

Saskatoon Blades (19-49-2-2 – 6th in East Division/12th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on February 27th)

What I Predicted: With the team already putting Nikita Scherbak on the market and bringing in Alex Forsberg and Ty Mappin as reclamation projects, that should show you where the Blades will end up this year.

What Actually Happened: Scherbak was dealt to Everett only four days into the season, while Mappin ended up back in the AJHL with the Olds Grizzlys. The Forsberg move worked out as he had a good season (a career best 58 points) and was dealt to Victoria for a first round pick in 2017 at the deadline, but it was a long season yet again for the Blades.

What Lies Ahead: For the second year in a row, a first round pick that the Blades traded ended up in with another team, and the Spokane Chiefs will have a chance to take the top prospect in the draft (more than likely Ty Smith) with the first overall pick. Brycen Martin’s the lone high-end guy on the team at the moment, so it might get worse yet before things recover from the hot mess that was the 2013 Memorial Cup hosting experience.

Tyler Wong

Lethbridge Hurricanes (20-44-5-3 – 6th in Central Division/11th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 4th)

What I Predicted: I don’t think things will be as bad as last season, but with Macoy Erkamps wanting out, and Reid Duke visiting a USHL camp before reporting to Lethbridge, it’s going to be another long winter for the Hurricanes.

What Actually Happened: Duke and Erkamps were both traded to Brandon in yet another fleecing by the Wheat Kings on the Hurricanes, and both Drake Berehowsky and Brad Robson were let go of their head coach and general manager duties in early December. With that said, the Hurricanes were better in the second half and weren’t getting blown out of the water like they were a year ago, so there was some progress.

What Lies Ahead: The ownership situation remains the hot button topic and probably won’t be resolved until late in the summer. On the ice, goaltender Stuart Skinner was a star in his rookie year with the club and his future looks bright. Leading scorer Tyler Wong will probably be dealt at next year’s deadline but some good young players might put this team in the mix to contend for a wild card in 2016. Now if only they can sign last year’s second overall pick Jordy Bellerive.

Jackson Houck

Vancouver Giants (27-41-2-2 – 5th in BC Division/10th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 20th)

What I Predicted:  I don’t think they have the depth of Victoria or Kelowna, but the Giants have a pretty exciting lineup besides Benson, and they will be looking to impress all year long as they try to upend Red Deer’s bid of hosting the Memorial Cup in 2016

What Actually Happened: Troy Ward got canned in favour of Claude Noel in November, the Giants didn’t win the bid for the 2016 Memorial Cup and they lost 11 of their last 12 regular season games to miss the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The Giants announced on Wednesday that Noel would not be coming back so the club is now looking for its fourth head coach in the last three seasons. The team is going to be built around sophomore forward Tyler Benson, so their might be a shake-up of the current roster to give him more high-end pieces to play with.

Cole Ully

Kamloops Blazers (28-37-4-3 – 4th in BC Division/9th in Western Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: Legendary coach Don Hay is back with the Blazers, but I’m not expecting them to be back in the playoff mix quite yet.

What Actually Happened: The Blazers were in it right until the end, but a loss to the Prince George Cougars on March 20th proved to be their undoing. That and only winning eight games on the road all season.

What Lies Ahead: Prior to the season, I expected NHL prospects Cole Ully and Ryan Rehill to be traded to help with the rebuild in Kamloops. That didn’t happen and that may prove to be a missed opportunity if both turn pro and no assets were gained. With that said, there are some nice young forwards on the roster like Deven Sideroff and Jake Kryski, and the Blazers have a solid starter in goal in Connor Ingram that might help them return to the playoffs next year.

Reid Gardiner

Prince Albert Raiders (31-37-2-2 – 5th in East Division/10th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 14th)

What I Predicted: Even with Leon Draisaitl more than likely not coming back to Prince Albert, the Raiders will still be a playoff team in my opinion.

What Actually Happened: Well that didn’t happen at all did it. Cory Clouston got fired in October, Draisaitl (who played in Edmonton for the first half of the season) and Josh Morrissey were both dealt to Kelowna and they weren’t able to overcome a slow start to get into the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: The overall depth isn’t the greatest, but if Reid Gardiner has another strong season and Nick McBride improves in goal, the Raiders might sneak into the wild card discussion next year. They won’t challenge Brandon by any means for the division crowd, but things won’t be too bad.

Brayden Point

Moose Jaw Warriors (32-35-4-1 – 4th in East Division/9th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated on March 21st)

What I Predicted: I went back and forth between the Warriors and the Pats over who will finish in fourth place in the final standings, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s Moose Jaw that ends up making the post-season as a wild card team when March rolls around.

What Actually Happened: Well I wasn’t right on Regina, but Moose Jaw ended up getting fourth and just missed out on making the playoffs after Swift Current went on a late season slide. A number of close losses over the last couple of months will leave the Warriors wondering what might have been.

What Lies Ahead: With a talented young goaltending duo in Zach Sawchenko and Brody Wilms, and Brayden Point leading the way up front, the Warriors should again be in the mix to make the playoffs. However, if it looks like they will miss the post-season for a fourth straight year, Point will become the biggest piece on the trade market in the WHL during the 2016 trade deadline.

Sam Steel

It’s not often that the loss of a rookie forward is considered a game-changer for the WHL playoffs, but Sam Steel is not your ordinary first year player.

Steel, the second overall pick in the 2013 WHL Bantam Draft behind Vancouver’s Tyler Benson, is expected to miss the entire playoffs with an ankle injury that he suffered on March 10th against Prince Albert and will be a much missed weapon for the Pats as they look to win a playoff series for the first time since 2007.

After the Pats made a number of trades at this year’s deadline, the squad is now built around the 16-year-old centre, who had 54 points in 61 games this season.

With so much of the team going through Steel already, it’s disappointing that he won’t be involved in the post-season, but I figure this will give him extra motivation to be even better come next year. For the rest of the WHL, that’s not something they will want to hear.

WHL East Division Predictions

Brandon Edmonton

1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. Wild Card 2) Edmonton Oil Kings: Brandon in five (Tristan Jarry might steal a game, but the Wheat Kings have way too much for the defending Memorial Cup champions to handle.)

Regina Swift Current

2) Regina Pats vs. 3) Swift Current Broncos: Regina in six (The Pats are a much different looking squad than they were two months ago and the Broncos stumbled big-time down the stretch. Given Swift Current’s struggles in form, I expect Regina to come out on top in a competitive series.)

WHL Central Division Predictions

Calgary Kootenay

1) Calgary Hitmen vs. Wild Card 1) Kootenay Ice: Calgary in five (The Ice stunned the Hitmen last year in the first round but I don’t see another upset happening this year. Calgary’s been on fire over the last few weeks and I don’t think Kootenay can matchup with them, even with Sam Reinhart on their roster.)

Red Deer Medicine Hat

2) Medicine Hat Tigers vs. 3) Red Deer Rebels: Red Deer in seven (This might be my favourite matchup in the entire first round of the CHL as both teams were dead even with Calgary for the division title. I’ve hemmed and hawed over this one, but I decided to go with Red Deer as they look to build some momentum for the 2016 Memorial Cup that they will host.)

WHL BC Division Predictions

Kelowna Tri-City

1) Kelowna Rockets vs. Wild Card 2) Tri-City Americans: Kelowna in 5 (This one is similar to the Brandon and Edmonton series.  Eric Comrie might steal a game for Tri-City, but Kelowna will probably run over the squad with their depth.)

Prince George Kelowna

2) Victoria Royals vs. 3) Prince George Cougars: Victoria in six (The Cougars have played great over the last few weeks and the CN Centre will be rocking. However, I think the Cougars have just enough to pull out the series win.)

WHL US Division Predictions

Everett Spokane

1) Everett Silvertips vs. Wild Card 1) Spokane Chiefs: Everett in four (I still have no idea what to make of either of these teams, but I think Everett is far stronger than Spokane in this matchup.)

Portland Seattle

2) Portland Winterhawks vs. 3) Seattle Thunderbirds: Portland in six (With both teams having high-end forwards this might be a really good series. Olivier Bjorkstrand has been a man possessed after the World Juniors though, and I think that might be the difference.)

Well that wraps things up. Here’s hoping the opening round of the playoffs in all three leagues have some wild upsets and triple overtime thrillers.


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Brier Review

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. third Ryan Kuhn, Ontario skip Mark Kean, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

This year’s Tim Hortons Brier will go down as one of the best in recent memory. There were so many twists, turns, drama filled games, broom smashing, broom breaking and insane shots. Yes there was the usual bad picks on the ice when it comes to big arenas but what can you do. Anyways, this goes to show how the men’s curling scene is the most competitive it has been in a while. Also for the first time since the playoff format began at the Brier in 1980, Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta all failed to make it into the final weekend. Not only that, some big names had less than impressive weeks for their standards.

Best in recent memory? Try the greatest Brier of all time. Okay I wasn’t around for the ones in the 1980’s and my memory is vague on the 90’s and early 2000’s, but this was the best curling event I have ever seen. You’ll see why as this review goes on, but I doubt any event will top this Brier for the foreseeable future.

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Champions and Biggest Surprise: Team Canada (Pat Simmons)

As Team Canada sat at 2-3 on Monday night, things were bleak and my eighth place prediction seemed more and more likely, though they were not out of it by any stretch of the imagination. Then John Morris proposed to drop to vice and have Pat Simmons become the skip. Pat agreed, but only if he ran the show, and boy did it turn out to be a terrific move.

The team won all but one game (they lost Draw 16 to Northern Ontario) and had super close wins in the playoffs over Saskatchewan and Newfoundland & Labrador. Simmons was on fire in the championship final, including a huge runback double while facing two in the fourth end to force a blank. Morris’ play improved tremendously as a third, and at times it looked he was playing the same way he did when he was on Kevin Martin’s team. For Morris to step down to vice and give the confidence to have Simmons call the shots was huge on his part also.

Finally this is justice for Simmons to win the Brier as a skip after a terrible pick in 2008 cost him a playoff win against Kevin Martin at the Brier in Winnipeg.

The Curling Gods indeed came through for Simmons after they turned on him seven years ago, as he was lights out in the finals. For Morris to make the switch will go down as one of the all-time great moves in Brier history, and it shows just how much of a team player he has become. Unlike Brett, I felt that Team Canada was going to be in the final four but I never expected this, especially after their poor start. I’m not sure how they will do at the Worlds yet, but it looks like this group will stick together for another season, and possibly all the way until the 2017 Olympic Trials.

Team Stats

Lead: Nolan Thiessen – 3rd – 91%

Second: Carter Rycroft – 2nd – 90%

Vice: John Morris – 4th – 88% (80% as Skip)

Skip: Pat Simmons – Tied for 2nd – 84% (86 % as Vice)

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Northern Ontario skip Brad Jacobs, third Ryan Fry, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Runner-Up: Northern Ontario (Brad Jacobs)

The reigning Olympic champions were definitely showing the stuff that made them Brier winners two years ago. They almost ran the table in the round-robin and they didn’t have that usual mid-week slump that we’re used to seeing, although they came close to that in the 1 vs. 2 page playoff game.

Although they turned up the intensity for the playoffs, they ran into a red-hot Pat Simmons in the final and one bad end (where they gave up three points in the 9th) cost them a chance at a second Brier crown. However, we know that this team will be back and out for blood next year, because the bigger the stage and the tougher the competition, the more intense this team becomes.

I still think there was a little bit of a mid-week slump for Team Jacobs as they probably should have lost a game against Saskatchewan. At any rate, the top team in the world (unless you’re a Mike McEwen supporter) were the best rink all week with only the bad ninth end and the lights out showing by Simmons prevented them from winning a second title. Nevertheless, they will probably enter the 2015-16 season as one of the top three teams in the world and it would be quite a surprise if they weren’t in the mix in Ottawa next March.

Team Stats

Lead: Ryan Harnden – Tied for 6th – 88%

Second: EJ Harnden – 4th – 87%

Vice: Ryan Fry – 1st – 92%

Skip: Brad Jacobs – 1st – 86%

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Saskatchewan, skip Steve Laycock, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Bronze Medalists: Saskatchewan (Steve Laycock)

Steve Laycock was having a career year prior to the Brier and this is a rink that has been getting better and better over the past few season. The performance at the Brier has shown that they look primed for an Olympic Trials run as they can hang with some of the top teams in the country. The one thing they will need to work on is their soft shots, especially on their setup shots early in the ends, but other than that this looks to be Saskatchewan’s best hope to end their Brier drought in quite some time.

Prior to the Brier I had this rink ranked in seventh place and feared that I had them placed way lower than I should have. I was proved right on that assumption as the Saskatoon rink ended up being my surprise team of the week. I knew they were good, especially after strong showings over the last two season, but I didn’t expect them to be in the medal hunt. I don’t know if they will be a favourite to win it all quite yet, but I expect them to be in the discussion for a playoff spot if they make it back next year.

Saddledome

An honourable mention for my biggest surprise has to be Prince Edward Island’s Adam Casey. Other than one really bad game against Northern Ontario, they were great for a first-year team as they worked through the pre-qualifying round and finished at 5-6. I wouldn’t be surprised if they sneak into the tiebreaker discussion over the next couple of years at the Brier.

Team Stats

Lead: Dallan Muyers – 8th – 87%

Second: Colton Flasch – 10th – 83%

Vice: Kirk Muyers – 5th – 87%

Skip: Steve Laycock – Tied for 2nd – 84%

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Fourth Place: Newfoundland & Labrador (Brad Gushue)

The way things looked throughout the week, it appeared that this would be the year that Brad Gushue’s Brier drought would end, especially after beating Northern Ontario, Saskatchewan and Team Canada in the round-robin. Unfortunately, one bad miss in the 1 vs. 2 game and two more close losses left Gushue on the outside looking in and leaving a real bitter taste of what could have been.

After Gushue made his insane game-winning shot against Alberta, I felt like this was finally going to be the year that the 2006 Olympic gold medalist would win it all. Alas, a couple of close misses against Northern Ontario and Team Canada in the playoffs proved to be his undoing. Since he’s not really good in even-numbered years at the Brier, I’m assuming he will finally win it all in 2017 when it will more than likely be held in St. John’s. I look forward to the hate mail I will receive from folks in my hometown about that last line.

Team Stats

Lead: Geoff Walker – Tied for 4th – 89%

Second: Brett Gallant – Tied for 7th – 84%

Vice: Mark Nichols – 9th – 81%

Skip: Brad Gushue – Tied for 4th – 82%

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Biggest Disappointment: Alberta (Kevin K0e)

During the course of the season, the new lineup for Team Koe would look great one game then really off the next. This week it was the struggles of the skip and three heroic game-winning shots (by British Columbia, Newfoundland & Labrador and Saskatchewan) that left Koe out of the playoffs for the very first time in his fourth trip to the Brier.

Kevin himself didn’t perform really well this week shooting wise, and while we can forgive him for his struggles early on because of food poisoning, the amount of shots he missed at key times was not like him at all. As a result, his confidence seemed to take a big hit. Hopefully he can regain that form in the final events of this season or at the start of next year and show the potential of this lineup.

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You could argue that Manitoba finishing at 4-7 was worse than Alberta’s result, but Reid Carruthers’ rink was ranked anywhere from fourth to ninth place in the standings heading into this week. Koe was expected to be in the finals or the semis at worse, so to finish at 6-5 is a huge shock. Granted a couple of those losses came on wild game-winning shots, but the skip’s struggles were too much to overcome in my opinion. I think this was more of a case of first year jitters for a new squad, as I expect them to be at the top of their game in the lead-up to the 2018 Olympics.

Patch

My other disappointment from this year’s event was the 0-11 week for cult hero Jamie Koe of the Northwest Territories. After he lost to New Brunswick in Draw 2, I was worried that his one chance of avoiding relegation had disappeared, and that proved to be the case. He’s teased retirement on Twitter and I really hope that doesn’t happen, as I want to by him an adult beverage some day at the #Patch.

Team Stats

Lead: Ben Hebert – 2nd – 93%

Second: Brent Laing – 1st – 91%

Vice: Marc Kennedy – 2nd – 91%

Skip: Kevin Koe – Tied for 4th – 82%

Award Winners and All Stars

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, Team Canada skip Pat Simmons, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Hec Gervais Playoff MVP: Pat Simmons- Team Canada

1st Team All-Stars

Lead: Colin Hodgson – Manitoba

Second: Carter Rycroft – Team Canada

Vice: Ryan Fry – Northern Ontario

Skip: Brad Jacobs – Northern Ontario

2nd Team All-Stars

Lead: Ben Hebert – Alberta

Second: Brent Laing – Alberta

Vice: Marc Kennedy – Alberta

Skip: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador

2015, Calgary Ab, Tim Hortons Brier, B.C. skip Jim Cotter, Curling Canada/michael burns photo

Ross Harstone Award (Most Sportsmanlike): Jim Cotter – British Columbia

The Punkari Brothers Shot of the Week: Brad Gushue – Newfoundland & Labrador (Game winning double-runback double-takout in Draw 12 against Alberta)


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Brier Preview

2015brierWritten by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Before we get rolling I just want to point out this is the hardest bit of predictions I have ever done, even more so than last year’s Olympic Trials. You can make a case in my opinion  for the top nine teams (Brett seems to have excluded Ontario from this) to win this event, and I would buy that argument. This is the best Brier field I’ve ever seen and I can’t wait for this event to get started.

 

Now that the Scotties is over it’s now Brier time as we head to Calgary where the field is really stacked. You can make a case for at least eight teams to have a legitimate shot at winning the Brier Tankard. So without a doubt this is one of the toughest fields to predict so don’t be surprised if these picks are way off. Once again, the Grand Slam Records will be mentioned like we did at the Scotties with the Masters of Curling, The National and the Canadian Open all being included.

northernontario1

1Northern Ontario – Soo Curlers Association

Skip – Brad Jacobs “J-Cups, Vice -Ryan “Medium Size” Fry “79”, Second – E.J Harnden, Lead – Ryan Harnden

Grand Slam Record: 12-8  (Semi-Finalist, Runner-Up, Quarter Finalist)

The Olympic champs are back and to be honest, they are the most consistant team on paper even though they have won one event this year. Though in true Team Jacobs tradition, they have done things the hard way as they had to win out to make the playoffs. Also Ryan Fry’s play has not been as great this year as he has missed some shots he would make with his eyes closed.

However when this team gets on a roll almost nobody can stop them, and in two of their losses in finals (Canada Cup and The National) it was to a certain team that lost a certain provincial…..Hmm who could that be? (Oooo, throwing shade at Mike McEwen)

Either way if they can keep winning and not have to do things the hard way they are the favourites to win a second title.

brad-gushue-afternoon-draw-0308

1) Brad Gushue (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Alright, we got our first disagreement. So why have I gone against Northern Ontario? Well there’s three reasons. Firstly, I’ve had this hunch that Gushue is going to win the Brier since about October. Secondly, the return of Mark Nichols has done wonders for this team as they have won two Grand Slams already this season. Thirdly, Gushue is always good it seems in odd-numbered years at the Brier. Put it all together, and that’s why I have Gushue finally winning the Canadian title for the first time. 

newfoundlandlabrador1-3

2Newfoundland & Labrador – Bally Haly Country Club (St. John’s)

 

Skip – Brad Gushue, Vice – Mark “Bam Bam” Nichols, Second – Brett Gallant, Lead – Geoff Walker

Grand Slam Record – 14-6 (Win, DNQ, Win)

This year has been one of Brad Gushue’s most successful to date with two Grand Slam victories, even though they had a DNQ in the other and their Canada Cup appearance was not that impressive. The return of Mark Nichols to the Gushue rink is a major boost and the lineup is probably the best Gushue has had in quite a while. If they can perform well and not force Gushue to make hero shots then perhaps he may finally get that ever elusive first Brier crown.

Winnipeg Mb. Tim Hortons Roar of the Rings.2013.Skip Brad Jacobs.CCA/michael burns photo

2) Brad Jacobs (Northern Ontario)

If it wasn’t for my Gushue hunch, the defending Olympic gold medalist would be my pick to win it all. They are the top team in the World at the moment (although defenders of a certain Manitoba team who has yet to make a Brier would tell you otherwise) and it’s hard to bet against them. This time, however, they won’t come in under the radar.

alberta2-3

3) Alberta – Glencoe Club (Calgary)

 

Skip – Kevin Koe, Vice – Marc Kennedy, Second – Brent Laing “Lainger”, Lead – “Benny Heebz” Ben Hebert

Grand Slam Record – 10-6 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, Semi-Finalist)

As we mentioned before in our provincial previews, this lineup is godly, at least on paper. However, they have not have that strong of a season.

There have been times where they have looked great and there have been times where they looked really bad. Though it’s probably more of a case of feeling things out as this team’s lineup is new for Koe himself.

It could be perhaps a bit of a reach to pick this team this high considering the year they have had. Though I do think this lineup is way too good to not be talked about as a podium threat at the very least.

2010 Tim Hortons Brier

3) Kevin Koe (Alberta)

The defending champion is back with a brand-new team that is gearing up for a run at the 2018 Winter Olympics. Given their season to date it’s easy to write them off but I fear anything less than a semi-final prediction would be foolish, even if I have them finishing behind the two Brad’s. Also, the Marc Kennedy vs. Ryan Fry matchup at third is going to be amazing, even though the CCA booked that game for Sunday morning. That schedule maker should be fired. 

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4Manitoba – West St. Paul Curling Club

 

Skip – Reid Carruthers, Vice – “Pimp” Braeden Moskowy, Second – Derek Samagalski, Lead – Colin Hodgson

Grand Slam Record – 8-4 (N/A, Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist)

After last season Jeff Stoughton cleaned house and Reid Carruthers decided to become a skip again. He has put together a pretty decent combination, with a former Canadian Junior champion (Moskowy) and a former Brier Competitor as well (Samagalski).

Although we have not seen a lot of this team, Carruthers has definitely picked up his shooting ability and Samagalski’s big weight ability helps too. Overall for a first year team it is a pretty potent combination, however this is Carruthers first ever Brier as a skip so it’s tough to say how it will go for him.

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4) John Morris (Team Canada)

Brett will get into his reasons why he’s not convinced on Johnny Mo’s squad a little bit later on, but I have this team as a playoff threat. Sure their season hasn’t been stellar with a limited schedule, but you have three members of last year’s championship team and a skip who almost led Jim Cotter to a Brier and Olympic Trials title a year ago. Doubt this rink at your own peril.

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5Saskatchewan – Nutana Curling Club (Saskatoon)

 

Skip – Steve Laycock, Vice – Kirk Muyres, Second – Colton Flasch “Gordon Saviour of the Universe”, Lead – Dallan Muyres

Grand Slam Record – 11-7 (Quarter-Finalist, Quarter-Finalist, Runner-Up)

This year has been a career year for Steve Laycock. In addition to making his first ever Grand Slam final and coming inches short of his first title at the Canadian Open, he has also had two wins on the World Curling Tour as well. This is a team that just seems to get better and better ever since we took notice of them at the pre-trials two years ago and Laycock has become a more complete player. They have a pretty good shot at making their first playoff appearance but with the field as stacked as this one is, it’s going to be extremely tough.

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5) Mike McEwen (Manitoba)

After some tough luck, Mike McEwen actualized all of the years of dominance on the World Curling Tour by…wait what’s that? HE LOST THE PROVINCIAL FINAL AGAIN?!?!?

In all seriousness the luck this team is on at the provincials is just horrific. I picked the team I’ll mention shortly to win the event but now it’s just getting to the point with McEwen where it’s starting to become gut-wrenching. Here’s hoping the lineup stays intact and gets to the Brier soon.

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5) Reid Carruthers (Manitoba)

This is a team that I loved on paper the moment I saw it, and not just because my boy Braeden Moskowy is there. This is a solid squad from top to bottom that will probably trade provincial titles with McEwen in the years to come. I don’t think they’ll make the playoffs in their first go-around, but I expect them to be in the mix for a tiebreaker at least.

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6) British Columbia – Vernon & Kelowna CC

 

Skip – Jimmmmmmm Cotter, Vice – Ryan Kuhn, Second – Tyrel Griffith, Lead – Rick Sawatsky

Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (DNQ, N/A, Quarter-Finalist)

What a different a year makes. Last year Jim Cotter was one win away for a stunning Olympic trials win and he was one win away from his first Brier crown. Now he is back to his usual darkhorse role as he looks to prove that he can get it done as a skip and that he does not need John Morris to help him, which is what a lot of people are going to be talking about.

In terms of this season, they got off to a pretty slow start but they have picked up their play in the second half of the year. Can he beat any of the big teams to make playoffs? It’s going to be real tough.

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6) Jean-Michel Menard (Quebec)

After two strong showings in the last two Briers, I expect the 2006 champion to be in the mix once again. I would probably have this team in the playoffs as well if it wasn’t for the insane depth that is on display in Calgary this week.

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7Quebec – Club De Curling Etchemin (Saint-Romuald)

 

Skip – Jean-Michel Menard, Vice – Martin Crete, Second – Eric Sylvain, Lead – Philippe Menard

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Jean-Michel Menard has had a major resurgence the past two years at the Brier and he’s almost rekindled his title form from 2006. With this year’s lineup, he is probably the true wildcard in the field as you can perhaps make a case for him to get back on the podium or finishing mid pack, it’s just that close. Either way prepare to have your glass and speakers destroyed from his screaming. (Disclaimer: The Punkari Brothers will not be held responsible for glass and speaker damage, you’ve been warned.)

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7) Steve Laycock (Saskatchewan)

Now we get into the teams where I feel like I’ve ranked them lower than I should have. In addition to his great year on the tour, Laycock probably should have made the playoffs in a tiebreaker game last year at the Brier if it wasn’t for a late collapse against James Grattan. I expect him to be strong this week, but it will be tough to make the playoffs in this field.

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8) Team Canada – Glencoe Club (Calgary)

 

Skip – John ‘Johnny Mo’ Morris, Vice – Pat Simmons, Second – Carter Rycroft, Lead – Nolan Thiessen

Grand Slam Record – 7-9 (Quarter-Finalist, DNQ, DNQ) Note: Scott Bailey was playing second for all of the Grand Slam events

So John Morris has left Jim Cotter’s team to take over the old Kevin Koe rink and decided to play a somewhat limited schedule. Thus far it has not gone real well as it has been a major struggle for the most part, including a 1-5 record at the Canada Cup. Although they have looked better in recent months, it’s tough to see them doing well considering the limited schedule they played in this year, even though this is a good lineup on paper.

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8) Jim Cotter (British Columbia)

It’s not that I think Jim Cotter is going to have a bad week. I just think no more Johnny Mo will lead to some struggles that they might not have dealt with a year ago. With that said, I wouldn’t be surprised if last year’s runner-up is in the mix for a tiebreaker by the end of the round-robin.

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9) Ontario – Fenelon Falls CC 

Skip – Mark Kean, Vice – Mat Camm, Second – David Mathers, Lead – Scott Howard

Grand Slam Record – 1-4 (N/A, DNQ, N/A)

Mark Kean was mostly known for being a good but not great team on the tour and in Ontario over the past couple of years. Then all of a sudden, Kean’s fortunes took a turn for the better as he recruited a former Canadian Junior runner-up skip (in Camm) and two players who won a grand slam with John Epping (in Mathers and Howard.

On paper, this is a pretty darn good young lineup who could potentially be a threat down the road if they stick together. However with the amount of great teams at this year’s event, it could be a tough learning experience, but they may scare some people.

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9) Mark Kean (Ontario)

For me, this is the biggest wild-card of the entire field. One of my favourite young teams in all of men’s curling at the moment, I was pleasantly surprised to see them reach the Brier. A 6-5 record wouldn’t stun me, but it’s going to be quite hard to do well at a Brier for the first time with a field as good as this one is.

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10Northwest Territories – Yellowknife Curling Centre

 

Skip – Jamie Koe “3:16”, Vice – Mark Whitehead, Second – Brad Chorostkowski, Lead – Robert Borden

Grand Slam Record – N/A

“You talk about your guards, your taps and your John 3:16, Koe 3:16 says I just whipped your Ass!” Yeah we know he is not Stone Cold but Koe 3:16 was the shirt he had at last year’s Brier so I had to run with it. Anyway, this is the toughest lineup the former fourth place finisher has ever had to deal with, though there are some teams near the bottom he could knock off.

He is always very capable of pulling off a couple of his big upsets as well, so while it may be tough, I see Koe 3:16 staying out of relegation.

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10) Adam Casey (Prince Edward Island)

The clear-cut favourite to advance out of pre-qualifying, this talented young line-up sure picked the wrong year to make it onto the scene. I expect that Casey and his rink will pull off a couple of upsets and escape relegation.

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11) Prince Edward Island  – Silver Fox Curling & Yacht Club (Summerside)

 

Skip – Adam Casey, Vice – Josh Barry, Second – Anson Carmody, Lead – Robbie Doherty

Grand Slam Record – 3-6 (N/A, DNQ, DNQ)

We already talked about how this team came about in our provincial preview and of course they will be fighting through the relegation round to get in. What I’ve learned about Adam himself as a skip is that he is not afraid to be very aggressive and potentially try crazy and insane shots that either make look like a hero or zero.

So could he perhaps make a case to try for shot of the week honours? It wouldn’t surprise me. In all honesty, this team is real young and will be great for PEI in the future, but not with this stacked field.

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11) Jamie Koe (Northwest Territories)

Poor Jamie. Had this been any other year I would have them in the mid-pack, but not with this stacked lineup. They should still be safe from avoiding relegation though, as they have loads of experience at the Brier.

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12New Brunswick – Thistle St. Andrews Curling Club (Saint John)

 

Skip – Jeremy Mallais, Vice – Zach Eldridge, Second – Chris Jeffrey, Lead – Jason Vaughn

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In perhaps the upset of the provincials, Jeremy Mallais stunned multi-time New Brunswick champion James Grattan. The trouble is, Jeremy has never been on a stage like this before and a lot of NB curlers are used to straight ice. So that combination will unfortunately see New Brunswick drop to the relegation round in my opinion.

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12) Jeremy Mallais (New Brunswick)

Sure he’s been at a couple of Juniors in the past, but I fear Mallais is being thrown to the wolves at this week’s event. If they avoid relegation, that should be considered a huge accomplishment.

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13) Nova Scotia – Mayflower CC (Halifax)

 

Skip – Glen MacLeod (Throws Third), Vice – Peter Burgess (Throws Skip), Second-Colten Steele, Lead-Rob Mclean

Grand Slam Record – N/A

In another upset Glen MacLeod upset former Nova Scotia champ Jamie Murphy to make it to the Brier. He is in the relegation round where he has to face Adam Casey, which will be a real tough task, so I think Nova Scotia will miss its first ever Brier, since they have been there since the beginning.

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13) Glen MacLeod (Nova Scotia)

MacLeod has been to the Brier once before a third for Paul Flemming’s 5-6 Nova Scotia rink in 1998, so he knows what to expect. However, he’ll be in tough against Casey and even if he wins that game, I think he’ll be in that relegation mix with New Brunswick.

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14) Yukon – Whitehorse Curling Club

Skip – Robert Smallwood, Vice – Wade Scoffin, Second – Steve Fecteau, Lead – Clint Ireland

Grand Slam Record – N/A

Robert Smallwood has been to a Brier before but that was years ago, and this is the first time in quite a long time that Yukon has returned to the Brier. If a certain young skip (Shout-out to Brett’s boy Thomas Scoffin) returns to his province and leads this team then they might be able to fight out of relegation. However, with this current lineup, that won’t be the case.

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14) Robert Smallwood (Yukon)

In his previous two trips to the Brier, Smallwood went 2-9 in 1994 (with wins over PEI’s Mike Gaudet and Alberta’s Ed Lukowich) and repeated that mark in 1995 (with wins over Alberta’s Kevin Martin and New Brunswick’s Bryan MacPherson). Perhaps Kevin Koe should be worried, but it’s hard to see this rink making it that far. If they get to the play-in game against Casey, I would consider that mission accomplished.

 

 


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Scotties Review

Team Northern Ontario skip Tracy Horgan third Jennifer Horgan second Jenna Enge lead Amanda Gates at the Scotties 2015

Written by Brett Punkari (With Cameos by Lucas Punkari)

The 2015 Scotties Tournament of Hearts had a bit of history with of course the first pre-qualifying games and the first Northern Ontario representative as well. In terms of the tournament itself it started off pretty routine, however it got real interesting near the end and in the playoffs itself.

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1Manitoba – Jennifer Jones

Well it looks like the Queen of curling has finally returned as Jennifer Jones showed why she is the most successful skip in women’s curling today with a steady and terrific performance all week long. Though she had some scares and some dominant wins, the turning point came after a stunning loss to Nova Scotia mid-week as she turned up the wick. Although her  percentages were lower in the playoffs, you have to go back to her 2nd shot in the 1vs2 game and the shot that catapulted her towards another crown.

Manitoba was the most consistent team from start to finish, and it wasn’t a surprise to see them win. They reached their peak when it mattered the most, and while they weren’t totally sharp in the finals, Jones made two incredible pick takeouts in the ninth end to prevent Val Sweeting from taking the lead. They are a deserving champion and it was great to see Kaitlyn Lawes finally win a Scotties title.

Final Stats

Lead: Dawn McEwen – 1st – 90% (Perfect Game in Draw 4 – British Columbia)

Second: Jill Officer – 1st – 86%

Vice: Kaitlyn Lawes – 1st – 84%

Skip: Jennifer Jones – 2nd – 81%

Team Alberta skip Val Sweeting thrid Lori Olson-Johns second Dana Ferguson leadRachelle Brown win the semifinal at the Scotties 2015

2) Alberta – Val Sweeting

It felt like throughout the entire tournament that Val Sweeting and company were the most consistent team and seemed destined for perhaps running the table or being the favorite in the 1 vs. 2 game. Then  in the final two round robin draws it looked like they hit a brick wall, especially Val herself as draw weight had escaped her. Then, one bad end cost her in the 1 vs. 2 game, and as if things could not be any more sour, the entire team outcurled Manitoba in the final only to lose the title game for the second straight year. Ok so last year’s loss was one thing considering how much Rachel Homan destroyed everyone, but to outcurl Jones and lose has to sting even more.

The losses against Saskatchewan and Manitoba to finish off the round-robin were ugly but they stepped up big time in the semis and the finals. Sure they didn’t win it all, but they proved last year was no fluke though and I expect them to be considered a true threat once again if they make it to the 2016 event.

Final Stats

Lead: Rachelle Brown – Tied for 4th – 85%

Second: Dana Ferguson – Tied for 3rd – 81%

Vice: Lori Olson-Johns – 2nd – 82%

Skip: Val Sweeting – 4th – 79%

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3) Team Canada – Rachel Homan

This team was easily one of the favorites coming in, but this was the first year for this lineup and the fact that they have struggled in finals this season didn’t make them a shoe-in for the finals when the event began. They never really destroyed anyone at this year’s Scotties and they had a number of tough games against teams that they should have annihilated on paper.  The turning point came after their loss to Manitoba and they never seemed to get back on stride as they had lost three of their last five before squeaking out a win against Northern Ontario just to make playoffs. They ran into a red hot Saskatchewan team in the 3 vs. 4 game but managed to get revenge in the bronze medal contest. Though being on the podium three years in a row is nice, it was definitely an un-Homan like week.

Having covered the entire event in Moose Jaw this week, I can easily say that the Homan team was just off slightly, though they were incredible on the last three games they had (especially Emma Miskew’s showing against Northern Ontario). Rachel was missing shots that she would make in her sleep last year and I think that’s what made the difference. With that said, the addition of Courtney made this more or a less a brand-new rink, so a third place result isn’t all that bad. I expect this rink to be back with a vengeance in 2016.

Final Stats

Lead: Lisa Weagle – 2nd – 88%

Second: Joanne Courtney – Tied for 5th – 80 %

Vice: Emma Miskew – 3rd – 81%

Skip: Rachel Homan – 3rd – 80%

Team Saskatchewan, Stefanie Lawton, Sherry Anderson, Stephanie Schmidt, Marliese Kasner and coach Rick Folk Scotties in draw twetve action at the 2015 Scotties

4) Saskatchewan – Stefanie Lawton

It had been an up and down year for Stefanie Lawton’s rink as the skip had a child earlier in the year and Sherry Anderson took over. Then, to make matters worse, Sherri Singler injured her ankle just days before the Scotties and Stephanie Schmidt had to fill in at second. As if things couldn’t get any tougher, two of their first three games were losses to Canada and Manitoba. The team got a lot better as the week went on, including a 9-1 beatdown of Alberta, and they made it to semifinals where they came one point away from Lawton’s first ever Scotties final. To lose the bronze medal game and finish fourth again has to be disappointing but considering what has happened to this team throughout the year it was a good results. They have a chance of reaching the podium next year if things fall the right way.

With Sweeting’s struggled at the end of the round-robin and Homan looking human, Lawton’s red-hot form had everyone convinced that she would be playing Jones in the final. If it wasn’t for a three-ender against Alberta, Saskatcheawn may have been in their first final since Amber Holland won in 2011. It wasn’t the best finish, but this rink did an amazing job of working through their challenges. It’s hard to know how things will play out come next winter, We do know that Schmidt won’t be taking over for Singler next year, as she’s joining up with Michelle Englot’s Regina rink.

Final Stats

Lead: Marliese Kasner – Tied for 4th – 85%

Second: Stephanie Schmidt -2nd – 82%

Vice: Sherry Anderson – 5th – 79%

Skip: Stefanie Lawton – 1st – 83%

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Biggest Surprise – Nova Scotia – Mary-Anne Arsenault

Yes, their record was 5-6. However Nova Scotia played a lot better than what the record showed. They had one point losses to Alberta, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Quebec and Saskatchewan. They also had two straight upset wins over Manitoba and Canada. So had those losses went the other way they could have been 10-1! This is definitely a case of what could have been and they might have  done what Prince Edward Island almost did in 2010.

Nova Scotia may have been a playoff team, and they certainly did a lot better than I thought they would, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say they would have been a finalist. For starters, that 2010 field was a lot weaker than that was in Moose Jaw this past week. With that said, Arsenault said on a few occasions that they could have been 5-1 at one point and they may be a darkhorse for a playoff spot if they return next year, especially as the younger players have that experience of being in the national spotlight.

Team Stats

Lead: Jennifer Baxter – 3rd – 86%

Second: Jane Snyder – Tied for 3rd – 81%

Vice: Christina Black – Tied for 7th – 76%

Skip: Mary-Anne Arsenault – 8th – 74%

Team Northern Ontario skip Tracy Horgan in final draw action vs Team Canada at the Scotties 2015

My biggest surprise, however, is Northern Ontario. Now to be fair, Brett and I both had Tracy Horgan’s Sudbury rink being an outsider for the playoffs if they made it through pre-qualifying, but I never expected them to push Team Canada to the limit. This week made them known nationally and I expect them to be in the playoffs before the next Olympic Trials.

Team Stats

Lead: Amanda Gates – 11th – 78%

Second: Jenna Enge – Tied for 5th – 80%

Vice: Jennifer Horgan – Tied for 9th – 75%

Skip: Tracy Horgan – 7th – 75%

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Biggest Disappointment – British Columbia – Patti Knezevic

To go from being an alternate last year to winning your provincial title the next year has to be a dream come true. Unfortunately it turned into a nightmare for Patti Knezevic as it was a struggle from first stone to the last. You can almost compare this to Kristie Moore’s performance for Alberta in 2013 as they were not considered a world beater but for this team to struggle that badly left a lot to be desired. Also as a result BC will join the Yukon and Northwest Territories in the relegation round next year.

Perhaps Curl BC will learn from booking Kelly Scott and Kesa Van Osch in the first round of a triple knockout event. Either way, it wasn’t a good week for Knezevic and I doubt that Sarah Koltun and Kerry Galusha will be pleased to play BC next year in the pre-qualifying round.

Team Stats

Lead: Rhonda Camozzi – 7th – 83%

Second: Jen Rusnell – 8th – 75%

Vice: Kristen Fewster – Tied for 9th – 75%

Skip: Patti Knezevic – 12th – 64%

Award Winners

2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts

Sandra Schmirler Award (MVP): Jennifer Jones – Manitoba

1st Team All Stars

Lead: Dawn McEwen – Manitoba

Second: Jill Officer – Manitoba

Vice: Kaitlyn Lawes – Manitoba

Skip: Stefanie Lawton – Saskatchewan

2nd Team All Stars

Lead: Lisa Weagle – Canada

Second: Stephanie Schmidt – Saskatchewan

Vice: Lori Olson-Johns – Alberta

Skip: Jennifer Jones – Manitoba

Team Saskatchewan third Sherry Anderson, throws her rock in draw five action at the Scotties 2015

Marj Mitchell Sportsmanship Award: Sherry Anderson – Saskatchewan

The Punkari Brothers Shot Of The Week: Stephanie Schmidt – Saskatchewan (Triple peel in 3 vs. 4 game vs. Team Canada in the 11th end)


The Punkari Brothers 2015 Scotties Preview

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Written by Brett Punkari (With cameos by Lucas Punkari)

Before the event preview let’s round up our provincial playdown predictions series.

Part 4 (Brett’s Pick/Lucas’ Pick/Actual Winner)

Northern Ontario: Brad Jacobs/Al Hackner/Brad Jacobs

Alberta: Brendan Bottcher/Kevin Koe/Kevin Koe

British Columbia: Jim Cotter/Jim Cotter/Jim Cotter

Saskatchewan: Steve Laycock/Steve Laycock/Steve Laycock

Ontario: John Epping/Wayne Middaugh/Mark Kean

Nova Scotia: Mark Dacey/Jamie Murphy/Glen MacLeod

Newfoundland & Labrador: Brad Gushue/Brad Gushue/Brad Gushue

Prince Edward Island: Adam Casey/Adam Casey/Adam Casey

Northwest Territories: Jamie Koe/Jamie Koe/Jamie Koe

Manitoba: Mike McEwen/Reid Carruthers/Reid Carruthers

Oh Brett, he didn’t learn in regards to McEwen. My wacky picks (Hackner and Middaugh) didn’t come true, and Brett’s Bottcher prediction was a year early. Other than that we were pretty close though, except for our swing and a miss in Nova Scotia. Now, to our regular scheduled programming.

With all of the provincials over and done with, it is time to crown our national champion on the women’s. This year there is a relegation qualifying round with three teams fighting for a Scotties spot. So for this preview the teams will be ranked 1-14 with 13th and 14th being the two relegation teams that we think will not qualify. Some of these teams have played in the Grand Slams (in this case the Masters of Curling and the Canadian Open) slams so their records will be mentioned as well. Oh yeah, and I get to cover this event in Moose Jaw this week, so I’ll be making some random blog posts as we go along from Mosaic Place. 

1) Team Canada (Ottawa Curling Club)

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Skip: Rachel Homan “Destroyer”, Vice: “A miscue by” Emma Miskew, Second: Joanne “Frizz” Courtney, Lead: Lisa “Da” Weagle

Grand Slam Record: 9-3 (Runner Up and Semi Finalist)

This season Team Homan made a change as Allison Kreviazuk left to go to Sweden. So Joanne Courtney has come in to fill her shoes and it has paid off on the sweeping side as she has made Weagle and Miskew look like fools. However they haven’t come up clutch in finals where it has matter the most. They have lost four of five finals they have been in and they have gotten out curled, especially at second. In order to bring a three-peat they have to get it done in the championship final and Joanne has to bring her best.

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1) The Rachel Homan Killing Machine (Team Canada)

Oh come on, like you were expecting me to pick someone else. In her last two Scotties title, Homan has a combined record of 25-1 and she didn’t even have to throw her final stone in any game last year in Montreal. It’s hard to bet against that especially with the best sweeper in the women’s game now onboard in Joanne Courtney.

With that said, the Homan rink can implode at a moment’s notice and in spectacular fashion (see last year’s world finals against Switzerland or the Canada Cup final in December where Rachel basically kept the game from being a romp). If they are off in any way, they are there for the taking.

2) Alberta (Saville Sports Centre – Edmonton)

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Skip: Val Sweeting “Sweetning Sauce”, Vice: Lori-Olson Johns, Second: Dana Ferguson, Lead: Rachelle Brown

Grand Slam Record: 10-2 (Winner and Semi Finalist)

This year has been a roller coaster for Val Sweeting. At the beginning of the season the team brought in New Brunswick champion Andrea Crawford to be the vice, but that didn’t last long and she left early on. Before the Masters of Curling, they brought in Cathy Overton Clapham to spare and they won the event. Then they brought in Lori-Olson Johns and things got even better as they won the Canada Cup. They have also had Team Homan’s number this season as they have beaten them in the playoffs on their way to winning the Masters of Curling and the Canada Cup. It will be super close, so don’t be surprised if they win this whole thing.

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2) Val Sweeting (Alberta)

In my opinion, Sweeting has been the most impressive team in the country so far this year. They’ve build off of the momentum of their breakthrough campaign in 2013-14 and have become a major threat despite a couple of line-up changes.

It may be foolish to not pick a Jones/Homan final but with how strong this rink has been, I’m not convinced that will happen.

3) Manitoba (St. Vital Curling Club – Winnipeg)

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Skip: Jennifer Jones, Vice: Kaitlyn Lawes, Second: Jill Officer, Lead Dawn “The Mongoose” McEwen

Grand Slam Record: 7-5 (Semi Finalist and Quarter Finalist)

After winning Olympic gold in 2014, Team Jones has returned and is once again one of favorites. They have not really shown their form from the Olympics as of yet, especially in the Canada Cup as they failed to qualify for the playoffs and were near the bottom in terms of stats in four categories. Though this is the Scotties and you can be sure that Jones will try very hard to get Kaitlyn Lawes her first Scotties crown.

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3) Jennifer Jones (Manitoba)

Okay it’s probably foolish to bet against the most dominant force in Canadian women’s curling in the last decade, but I honestly think Jones is there for the taking. Her overall level of play in the Manitoba playoffs wasn’t all that hot, and coughing up a 4-0 lead and allowing nine straight points to Rachel Homan at the Canada Cup has to be a slight concern.

Like Brett said though, this rink is always on their game at the Scotties. You can make a case that they should have won six in a row prior to being in Sochi, and they will probably be in the finals again. I just can’t pick against Homan or Sweeting at the moment.

4) Saskatchewan (Nutana Curling Club – Saskatoon)

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Skip: Stefanie Lawton, Vice: Sherry Anderson, Second: Sherri Singler, Lead: Marlese Kasner

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (DNQ – Sherry Anderson skipping)

This year has been different to say the least for Team Lawton as Stefanie Lawton herself sat out most of the year as she had her second child. Sherry Anderson was moved  back to a skipping role with mixed results, including a DNQ at the Canada Cup. With Lawton back, it should help them contend once again however they have to knock off one of the big three teams to do it.

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4) Stefanie Lawton (Saskatchewan)

In addition to being the home rink at the Scotties, Lawton and her rink won the only other major curling event held at Mosaic Place as they capture the 2012 Canada Cup. They should be in the mix for the finals but they will need to avoid a random upset that has dogged them in the past, such as their Draw 17 to defeat to Sarah Koltun that dropped them to the 3 vs. 4 Page playoff game last year.

5) Northern Ontario (Idylwylde Golf and Country Club – Sudbury)

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Skip: Tracy Horgan, Vice: Jennifer Horgan, Second: Jenna Enge, Lead: “Pimp” Amanda Gates

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Tracy Horgan became the first team to qualify for Northern Ontario in Scotties history and the former Ontario champion could have a case for being a potential playoff threat as she has had experience on arena ice before from her 2012 appearance. Now of course they have to fight through the relegation games, though they will have a bit of a leg up on ice conditions, so that has to help in some degree.

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5) Tracy Horgan (Northern Ontario)

The pre-qualifying round is going to be insane as you can make a case for Northern Ontario, Northwest Territories or the Yukon to advance. Personally, I have Horgan coming through based upon their play over the last couple of years on the tour, and if she does she has the best chance of possible sneaking into the playoffs if the big four falter. 

6) Ontario (Bayview Golf & Country Club – Thornhill)

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Skip: Julie Hastings, Vice: Christy Trombly, Second: Stacey Smith, Lead: Katrina Collins

Grand Slam Record: 1-3 (DNQ)

This was our darkhorse team to win Ontario and they came through by beating Sherry Middaugh in the final. They are among the top teams in Ontario but it’s really difficult to tell how they will do in their first ever Scotties. They should be in the mix for a playoff spot, but it’s going to be tough.

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6) Julie Hastings (Ontario)

After Crystal Webster, Hastings was probably the best skip never to have been at a Scotties based upon her strong play in Ontario. Now that she’s here, she’s flying in under the radar compared to more well-known teams, and that should allow them to be in the playoff discussion if a top rink falters. 

7) New Brunswick (Curl Moncton)

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Skip: Sylvie Robichaud, Vice: Rebecca Atkinson, Second: Marie Richard, Lead: Jane Boyle

Grand Slam Record: N/A

With Andrea Crawford moving to Val Sweeting’s team (and we all know what happened there), Rebecca Atkinson had to look for a new team and has joined Sylvie Robichaud who has been a New Brunswick runner-up over the past few years. Although Atkinson’s experience has to help Robichaud in some regard, it will be a rebuilding year for New Brunswick before we’d consider them a playoff darkhorse.

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7) Sylvie Robichaud (New Brunswick)

Robichaud has skipped at the Scotties before in 2008, where she finished with a 1-10 record with her only win coming against Prince Edward Island’s Suzanne Birt. Atkinson has impressed me with her play with Crawford over the last few years and should help Robichaud out a lot here, even if they may not be in the playoff discussion. 

8) Newfoundland & Labrador (Bally Haly Golf & Country Club – St. John’s)

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Skip: Heather Strong, Vice: Stephanie Korab, Second: Jessica Cunningham, Lead: Kathryn Cooper

Grand Slam Record: N/A

It’s another Scotties appearance for Heather Strong, as Stephanie Korab has taken Laura Strong’s place on the team. Last year’s saw Strong get off to a 4-1 start but she lost her last six games to fall out of the playoff race. This year, with a slightly stronger field, it will be tougher for Strong to have that same type of start so don’t be surprised if she is around mid-pack all week.

Team Newfoundland/Labrador skip Heather Strong throws her rock at the 2014 Scotties Tournament of Hearts, the Canadian Women's Curling Championship

8) Heather Strong (Newfoundland & Labrador)

Strong has a daunting stretch where she has to play Jones, Sweeting and Homan in rapid succession, with the qualifier team facing her in between the Alberta and Team Canada contests. If she can pull off an upset there, she might sneak into the tiebreaker mix, but she can’t afford to drop a game to one of the lesser squad.

9) Nova Scotia (Mayflower Curling Club – Halifax)

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Skip: Mary-Anne Arsenault, Vice: Christina Black, Second: Jane Snyder, Lead: Jennifer Baxter

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Mary-Anne Arsenault returns after her 2013 Scotties appearance with a much younger squad though she still has Jennifer Baxter with her. The field wasn’t great in 2013 and she could have made the playoffs had things tipped in her favor in some games. This year, I don’t see that happening.

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9) Mary-Anne Arsenault (Nova Scotia)

Obviously not having another Colleen Jones reunion tour isn’t fun but Arsenault should do alright. Okay she won’t probably won’t be in the playoff mix, but I wouldn’t be stunned if this five-time national champion pulls off a few upsets and plays a spoiler role to the top sides.

10) British Columbia (Prince George Golf and Country Club)

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Skip: Patti Knezevic, Vice: Kristen Fewster, Second: Jen Rusnell, Lead: Rhonda Camozzi

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Patti Knezevic was at the Scotties as an alternate for Kesa Van Osch. When a flu bug spread it hit BC the worst as Knezevic has to skip a couple of games (a 7-3 win over Ontario and a 8-7 win over the Yukon) and at times had to play with only three players. We know she can skip on Scotties ice, which should help, but its tough to see this team finishing higher than mid pack.

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10) Suzanne Birt (Prince Edward Island)

It’s been 12 years since the two time Canadian Junior champion took the Scotties by storm with a 10-1 record and a third place finish in her debut. She’s been nowhere close to that since then and while I would love for her to be in the mix once again, I just don’t see that happening. Now if she could somehow get Erin Carmody and Geri-Lynn Ramsay to come back to PEI, that might be the spark that’s needed. 

11) Prince Edward Island (Charlottetown Curling Complex)

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Skip: Suzanne Birt, Vice: Shelly Bradley, Second: Michelle McQuaid, Lead: Susan McInnis

Suzanne Birt is still trying to find that magic form that she had way back in 2003. Though the lineup is different than in previous years, it’s really tough to see her ever rekindling that form. Though I could be absolutely wrong by the end of the week as PEI could be at best a mid-pack team, but that does not seem likely.

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11) Patti Knezevic (British Columbia)

 Like Jill Shumay in 2013, I really have no idea where to put this rink. I think I have them way too low in the grand scheme of things but since they are a brand new rink to this experience, I really can’t put them anywhere else. I fully expect this team to be the one I miss the most in my predictions.

12) Quebec (Glenmore & Etchemin Curling Clubs – Dollard-des-Ormeaux and Saint-Romuald)

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Skip: Lauren Mann, Vice: Amelie Blais, Second: Brittany O’Rourke, Lead: Anne-Marie Fliteau

Grand Slam Record: N/A

This province has had its struggles ever since Marie France-Larouche’s last appearance three years ago. Their records have been below .500 and it has gotten worse. It will be up to Lauren Mann to try to prevent relegation, though they are the best team in Quebec at the moment so they could be in okay shape. Plus, having two former Scotties competitors in O’Rourke and Fliteau should help a bit.

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12) Lauren Mann (Quebec)

They might be the top team in Quebec at the moment but the drop-off between Marie France and everyone else in that province is like the one between Eve Muirhead and everyone else in Scotland. Mann will be in tough in Moose Jaw and Quebec is my pick to be in the relegation pool for the 2016 event.

13) Northwest Territories (Yellowknife Curling Centre)

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Skip: Kerry Galusha, Vice: Megan Cormier, Second: Danielle Derry, Lead: Shona Barbour

Grand Slam Record:N/A

Normally Galusha would be almost a sure bet to make it out of the relegation round. Unfortunately with Northern Ontario in the mix it might be a very tough task. However if Galusha manages to make it out of relegation she is always capable of pulling a big upset or two so approach this team with caution.

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13) Kerry Galusha (Northwest Territories)

I actually got to see the Galusha rink play in Calgary against Team Homan in October and they gave them a bit of a scare before the defending Scotties champs pulled away. Horgan’s favoured to get out of the relegation round but Galusha won’t make things easy. If she advances, I have her finishing in ninth place and pulling off one or two upsets.

14) Yukon (Whitehorse Curling Club)

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Skip: Sarah Koltun, Vice: Chelsea Duncan, Second: Patty Wallingham, Lead: Jenna Duncan

Grand Slam Record: N/A

Last year Koltun made her first Scotties appearance right after being in the Canadian Juniors. It was definitely a learning experience with only two wins, however that included a huge upset over Saskatchewan. Unfortunately it could be a real tough road for her to make it out of relegation with the other two teams in the group. If she were to make it out I don’t see her finishing higher than the bottom of the pack.

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14) Sarah Koltun (Yukon)

Kolton’s going to a massive threat in the future but being stuck in a stellar relegation group may result in a short visit to Moose Jaw. I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes it into the main tournament though and I would have her finishing in 10th place ahead of BC and Quebec, mainly because she’s been here before.


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