Monthly Archives: April 2016

2015/16 CHL Assessments (Part 2) & Second Round Previews

Hounds Win

(But Lucas, why are you posting this when the semi-finals are underway in all three CHL leagues? Well long story, but my old lappy was sounding like a plane was about to take off so this was delayed quite a bit as I got a new computer last week. Obviously it’s outdated but since I’m planning to post my Semi Final preview late Monday/early Tuesday I figure I should post this, especially for the laughs that come with my wrong selections)

It’s been a heck of a start to the post-season this year in the Canadian Hockey League. With a number of seven-game battles and title threats being knocked out early in all three leagues, the stages is set for what should be a wild run to this year’s Memorial Cup in Red Deer.

So with a number of interesting second round matchups set to begin, it’s time to look back at the teams that we won’t be seeing in the quarter-finals. We start off in the Ontario Hockey League where the reigning Memorial Cup champions have seen their chance at a repeat come to an early end.

Artem Artemov

Saginaw Spirit (24-36-5-3 – 4th in West Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Erie Otters in four games)

What I Predicted: I might be a year early on the Spirit as I was with Niagara last year, but I love the young core that Saginaw has.

What Actually Happened: Well certainly not that. The expected growth didn’t happen and head coach Greg Gilbert ended up getting the heave-ho as a result

What Lies Ahead: There’s some solid players on the roster with Mitchell Stephens leading the way and if the younger players on the team (including some top college bound prospects) develop this may be a surprise team in 2016-17. It’ll be interesting to see if Moe Mantha remains in charge after coming in to coach after Gilbert was fired or if someone new will take charge.

Anthony Cirelli

Oshawa Generals (27-33-4-4 – 4th in East Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Kingston Frontenacs in five games)

What I Predicted: Even if Michael Dal Colle is traded the Generals still have enough solid pieces, especially on the back-end, to make it into the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Not only was Dal Colle traded, but the Generals also dealt Stephen Desrocher away while Ken Appleby moved on to the New Jersey Devils organization. Hamilton almost caught them, but the Generals were able to sneak into the playoffs in the end.

What Lies Ahead: Well they have lots of draft picks now from the trades to build for the future and they apparently want to host the 2018 Memorial Cup (more on that another day) so the rebuilding process is in full swing. Anthony Cirelli and Mitchell Vande Sompel may both find themselves in new locations next year depending on where the Generals find themselves in the standings.

Alexander Nylander

Mississauga Steelheads (33-30-2-3 – 4th in Central Division/7th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Barrie Colts in seven games)

What I Predicted: This isn’t your father’s Mississauga based OHL team. With the McLeod brothers, Tippett, Nylander and Day, this is going to be a fun squad to watch.

What Actually Happened: With so many talented youngsters the Steelheads were much more aesthetically pleasing squad to watch compared to the last couple of seasons. They also came really close to pulling off a big upset of Barrie in the first round as they pushed the Central Division champions to the limit.

What Lies Ahead: All of the big guns should be back next year and that should be enough to put the Steelheads in the discussion for the Eastern Conference title, even if their goaltending remains a total mystery with the graduation of overage netminder Jack Flinn.

Hunter Garlent

Peterborough Petes (33-28-2-5 – 3rd in East Division/6th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the North Bay Battalion in seven games)

What I Predicted: While I like the defence and the goaltending, I have no idea where the goals are going to come from, which might prove costly in the battle for a playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Sudbury and (to a lesser extent) Hamilton’s struggles left the playoff battle null and void while the offence was led by 40-goal campaigns from overagers Greg Betzold and Hunter Garlent. Like the Steelheads, the Petes almost pulled off an upset of North Bay but ended up running into the Mike Amadio Goal Scoring Machine.

What Lies Ahead: With Betzold, Garlent and Eric Cornel all moving on, the offence will take a hit but they do have guys like Jonathan Ang and Adam Timleck to fill those roles. The defence will be strong though and Matthew Mancina will be a key factor to their success if he returns as an overage starter in goal.

Bryson Cianfrone

Owen Sound Attack (32-25-8-3 – 4th in Midwest Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the London Knights in six games)

What I Predicted: With Michael McNiven leading the way in goal and a strong defence, they should prove a tough task for any team to go up against even if they don’t have a high-powered offence.

What Actually Happened: McNiven was great once again and the Attack were a thorn in the sides of the London Knights in the first round. Hey, I got something right for once.

What Lies Ahead: The offence should be better (look out for Nick Suzuki to have a breakout campaign) and McNiven will be his usual self in goal, but the defence might take a bit of a hit due to graduations. Either way, the Attack should make it back to the playoffs again.

Dante Salituro

Ottawa 67’s (36-29-2-1 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Niagara IceDogs in five games)

What I Predicted: The offence will be good but I’m not sure how strong the defence will be as they had five 1995 birth year players on the back-end at the end of last season.

What Actually Happened: While the 67’s dealt away Travis Konecny they still had a pretty decent season overall, even with some early struggles that left coach Jeff Brown a tad bit frustrated.

What Lies Ahead: Ottawa’s in that future Memorial Cup host race as well so they will look to build on the assets they got in the Konecny deal. They aren’t in terrible shape at the moment but they will need to have some strong campaigns from their younger players next season to be in the mix for home ice once again.

Christian Fischer

Windsor Spitfires (40-21-6-1 – 2nd in West Division/5th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kitchener Rangers in five games)

What I Predicted: The offence looks good and the defence isn’t too bad, but I’m curious as what they end up doing in goal.

What Actually Happened: The goaltending battle ended up being won by rookie Michael DiPietro with Mario Culina coming in from the Soo Thunderbirds. Head Coach Rocky Thompson did a great job with this group and they lead the West for most of the season until Sarnia went on their late season.

What Lies Ahead: Barring something strange, Windsor will more than likely be the hosts for the 2017 Memorial Cup. Obviously they will try to upgrade through trades and maybe even bringing some players currently committed to college programs (such as Clayton Keller and Chase Pearson) for some veteran presence, but the young core the Spits have should make them one of the top teams in the West next year.

Travis Konecny

Sarnia Sting (42-19-5-2 – 1st in West Division/2nd in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in seven games)

What I Predicted: While the Sting have a pretty decent lineup, there are a few question marks that prevent me from going all in on them. How good will a very young goaltending tandem be? Will Pavel Zacha come back to the OHL or will he play in New Jersey? And lastly, how good of a head coach will Derian Hatcher be?

What Actually Happened: Zacha returned to the OHL and Hatcher was good in his first year in charge. As for the goaltending, that changed when Charlie Graham was brought in at the deadline as the Sting made a bevy of deals, which has headlined by the Travis Konecny blockbuster. A great second half run propelled them to the division title, but they ended up being knocked out by the Greyhounds in a stunner with their prized deadline pickup on the sidelines with an injury.

What Lies Ahead: If Konecny, Zacha and Jakob Chychrun all move on to the NHL next year, it’ll be really tough for the Sting to match what they pulled of this year. Personally, I think Konecny and Chychrun will both be back and Sarnia has enough solid players still around to contend for the division once again. I don’t expect them to go all-in once again like they did this season though.

Kingston Frontenacs

The long wait for Kingston Frontenacs fans is finally over. For the first time since 1998 the Frontenacs have won a playoff series as they beat the Oshawa Generals in five games and handed the playoff futility monkey to the backs of the Prince Albert Raiders, who last won a playoff round in 2005.

As Kingston looks to ride their success and try to make it into their first ever league final, let’s take a brief look at how things have gone for Kingston since their last playoff series win nearly two decades ago when they won over the Generals in seven games before being knocked out in the next round by the London Knights.

1999 – After beating the St. Michael’s Majors for the last playoff spot by two points, Kingston lost to the Barrie Colts in five games.

2000 – With OHL MVP Andrew Raycroft in goal, Kingston entered the playoffs as the fifth seed but lost in five games to the Sudbury Wolves.

2001 – This playoff run didn’t last long for Kingston as they were swept by the top ranked Belleville Bulls

2002 – The Frontenacs took part in the last OHL tiebreaker game to date for the final playoff spot but lost 6-2 to the North Bay Centennials. It was the last ever win for the Cents before they moved to Saginaw that summer.

2003 – Kingston finished four points back of the Mississauga IceDogs for the eighth and final playoff spot.

2004 – Even with the fourth highest scorer in the league in Eric Himelfarb, the fifth seeded Fronts lost to Barrie in five games.

2005 – Kingston misses the playoffs by four points and the eighth seeded Majors upset the top-ranked IceDogs in five games.

2006 – Kingston enters the post-season as the fourth seed but is upset by the Sudbury Wolves in six games.

2007 – The Frontenacs are the fifth seed this time around and lost in five games to Oshawa, with the big defeat coming in Game 2 as they coughed up 6-2 lead at home and lost in overtime.

2008 – A move from the Kingston Memorial Centre to the K-Rock Centre takes place but the Frontenacs miss the playoffs by six points to the Peterborough Petes.

2009 – Kingston ends up with the second worst record in the league and finishes last in the Eastern Conference. They end up 13 points back of Sudbury for the last playoff spot.

2010 – Kingston returns to the playoffs as the fourth seed but end up losing a seven-game battle with the defending conference champion Brampton Battalion.

2011 – The Fronts are the fifth seed yet again but lose in five games to Oshawa.

2012 – Kingston has the worst record again in the conference and are 23 points back of Oshawa for the last playoff spot in the East. They are actually 20 points better than the Erie Otters, who get rewarded for their 10-win season by drafting Connor McDavid.

2013 – After making it to the playoffs as a seven seed, Kingston is swept aside in four games by Barrie.

2014 – The Frontenacs crack the 300 goal mark for the first time since 1998 and enter the playoffs as the three seed. They hold a 3-0 lead over the Petes but the wheels fall off as Peterborough becomes the fourth team in OHL history to come back from the brink and win the series. Kingston lost Game 5 in overtime 6-5, had a 3-0 lead in Game 6 before losing 5-4 and lost the deciding contest 2-1 in overtime.

2015 – With Sam Bennett coming back late in the year, Kingston came into the playoffs on an offensive tear as the sixth seed. That success that move into the first round though as they got swept by the North Bay Battalion.

OHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Kingston NIagara

1) Kingston Frontenacs vs. 4) Niagara IceDogs

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A

Season Series: Kingston 3-1

Prediction: Kingston in six (Niagara could be a tricky matchup for Kingston, especially if Alex Nedeljkovic is on his game, but having won a playoffs series at last I think the Fronts will ride that confidence into the next round.)

Barrie North Bay

2) Barrie Colts vs. 3) North Bay Battalion

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (North Bay won 4-1 in the East Semifinal – North Bay also won 4-2 in the 2014 East Semifinal in 2014 – Barrie won over the Brampton Battalion 4-0 in the 2010 East Semifinal )

Season Series: North Bay 4-2

Prediction: North Bay in 7 (There’s a slight bit of Northern Ontario bias in this one but with the previous two playoff meetings between these two teams, I think that will be the deciding factor in this matchup)

OHL Western Conference Predictions

Erie Sault Ste. Marie

1) Erie Otters vs. 7) Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Erie won 4-2 in the West Final – Sault Ste. Marie last beat Erie 4-2 in the 2000 West Semifinal)

Season Series: Erie 2-0

Prediction: Erie in 5 (As a Greyhounds fan, I would love to see them get some revenge in their third straight playoff meeting with Erie. However, the Otters are just too strong for another upset.)

London Kitchener

3) London Knights vs. 4) Kitchener Rangers

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (London won 4-2 in West Quarter-Final – Kitchener last beat London 4-3 in the 2010 West Semifinal)

Season Series: London 4-2

Prediction: London in 6 (Granted, Owen Sound did give London quite a scare in the first round and Kitchener might pull off the upset. With that said, I don’t see London being knocked out this early as they have a stronger lineup than the Rangers.)

With the OHL out of the way, our next stop is the QMJHL where a legit contender for the Memorial Cup has been knocked out.

Michael Carcone

Drummondville Voltigeurs (27-39-2-0 – 6th in West Division/16th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies in four games)

What I Predicted: With a decent forward core, they might have enough to return to the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Thanks to the 89-point campaigns of Michael Carcone and Alex Barre-Boulet, the Voltigeurs made their way back to the post-season. Unfortunately for them, they ran right into the Rouyn-Noranda juggernaut and were outscored 33-4.

What Lies Ahead: The two top scorers can come back to the team next year and they should both have strong campaigns. With the said, the defence does leave a little bit to be desired at the moment.

Guillaume Gauthier

Sherbrooke Phoenix (24-35-7-2 – 5th in West Division/15th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Shawinigan Cataractes in five games)

What I Predicted: This is one of those teams that have a ton of talented players on offence and defence but will only go as far as their goaltending takes them

What Actually Happened: Evan Fitzpatrick wasn’t bad, and he was great in the playoffs, but the Phoenix underachieved massively and a front office change took place as they failed to build off of last year’s solid campaign.

What Lies Ahead: Fitzpatrick is going to be back for a third season but this has all the makings of a rebuilding campaign with many of the team’s top forwards set to move on. Defenceman Jeremy Roy might be one of the key names at next year’s trade deadline.

11 Christophe Boivin - Titan Acadie-Bathurst

Acadie-Bathurst Titan (27-35-3-3 – 5th in Maritimes Division/14th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Saint John Sea Dogs in five games)

What I Predicted: They’ll struggle in a tough division but they should make the playoffs.

What Actually Happened: Hey I was right on this one. They showed improvement from the last couple of years but being in a pretty good division meant that they weren’t going to have a long run in the playoffs.

What Lies Ahead: This could be a nice surprise team next year. There’s a lot of good young players in Vladimir Kuznetsov, Jordan Maher, Antoine Morand and Reilly Pickard so it wouldn’t be a total shock if they are in the mix for a home playoff seed in 2017.

Matthew Boucher

Quebec Remparts (28-33-6-1 – 5th in East Division/12th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Gatineau Olympiques in four games)

What I Predicted: As the Remparts enter the (hopefully) future home of the Quebec Nordiques they are still in okay shape after hosting the Memorial Cup.

What Actually Happened: They weren’t in too bad shape but they improved their future this season by trading many of their top assets that were still around, including a big deadline deal that saw Dymtyro Timashov head to Shawinigan.

What Lies Ahead: Well Patrick Roy’s not coming through the door which isn’t a good sign. There’s some okay pieces on the team but Quebec might find themselves scratching and clawing their way to make the playoffs next year.

Pascal Laberge

Victoriaville Tigres (33-28-3-4 – 4th in East Division/11th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Moncton Wildcats in five games)

What I Predicted: Players like Maxime Comtois and Pascal Laberge will make the Tigres a team to watch in the years to come. For now though, I expect them to be in battling just to make the playoffs yet again.

What Actually Happened: They did slightly better than that. The Tigres worked their way into the middle of the league table this season and they matched up well with Moncton in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: With two very strong forwards up front, this is a team that will be on the rise for the next couple of season. Anything less than a quarter-final appearance next year will be a disappointment.

Nicolas Roy

Chicoutimi Sagueneens (32-25-5-6 – 3rd in East Division/10th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in six games)

What I Predicted: With Nicolas Roy leading the way on offence, they might contend for a home playoff spot.

What Actually Happened: Roy had a 90-point season and Chicoutimi was just four points away from being one of the top eight teams in the league when the playoffs got underway. Not a bad prediction for once by yours truly.

What Lies Ahead: Roy will be back once again but there’s not a lot of depth around him. He might net a big return for Chicoutimi at next year’s trade deadline.

Antoine Dufort-Plante

Rimouski Oceanic (36-25-5-2 – 2nd in East Division/8th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Charlottetown Islanders in six games)

What I Predicted: They’ll be in a tight battle just to make it into the post-season which will be a quite contrast to where things were for them last year.

What Actually Happened: Well I got that wrong. Granted they were nowhere near being as strong as they were on their run to the league title a year ago, but the Oceanic were solidly in the middle of the pack before being knocked out by a resurgent Charlottetown side.

What Lies Ahead: Probably more of the same. Rimouski isn’t losing a lot of players to graduation so they should have another decent campaign and make the playoffs with ease.

Anthony Beauregard

Val-d’Or Foreurs (49-15-3-1 – 2nd in West Division/4th in QMJHL – Eliminated by the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in six games)

What I Predicted: The amount of scoring power in the top lines should make this an exciting team to watch every night.

What Actually Happened: For most of the last two months of the regular season, Val-d’Or went back-and-forth with Rouyn-Noranda for the top record in the league. Things looked to be going according to plan until they were stunned by a pesky Armada squad in the biggest upset of the first round in the country.

What Lies Ahead: Julien Gauthier will be back, but Val-d’Or is about to lose a ton of their scoring power due to graduation. After three strong seasons, the rebuild is about to begin.

Blainville Upset

I’ve touched on this already, but Blainville-Boisbriand’s six-game win over Val-d’Or was a jaw-dropper. Not only did they effectively slow down one of the best offences in the country, but the 40-point difference between the two teams was the largest upset in QMJHL history.

I’ve gone on the record in the past about how much I love the 1 vs. 16 format in the QMJHL and a lot of it has come from the big upsets you get. Last year, for example, the third ranked Armada were upset in six games by Gatineau and 12th ranked Halifax upset Shawinigan in a seven game affair.

Gatineau also had a surprising six game upset in 2013 when they defeated fourth ranked Rimouski. There was also a 4 vs. 13 upset in 2012 when Baie-Comeau swept aside Victoriaville, and there’s usually been a couple of first round stunners since this format came around in 2011.

So does that mean no one is safe? Well the top two teams seem to be okay so far as they usually win in clean sweeps. However, given the recent stunners in this league, there will be a time when a potential Memorial Cup winner is knocked out by a team that just gets into the playoffs. I for one can’t wait to see how everyone would react to it.

QMJHL Quarter-Final Predictions

Rouyn-Noranda Blainville-Boisbriand

1) Rouyn-Noranda Huskies vs. 13) Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Last Playoff Meeting: N/A (The Montreal Junior played Rouyn-Noranda in 2009 with the Huskies winning 4-2 in the first round)

Season Series: Rouyn-Noranda 6-0

Prediction: Rouyn-Noranda in five (Given the fact that the Armada just upset the Huskies closest threat, they should at least take one game from them. The entire series though? I just can’t see it.)

Shawinigan Charlottetown

2) Shawinigan Cataractes vs. 9) Charlottetown Islanders

Last Playoff Meeting: 2011 (In their only meeting to date, Shawinigan won 4-1 in the first round)

Season Series: Shawinigan 2-0

Prediction: Shawinigan in six (Shawinigan has been a fun roller-coaster ride to watch as of late with their inconstancies and Charlottetown has been a much different team with Daniel Sprong coming back. I’ve gone with the higher seed here, but an upset wouldn’t surprise me.)

Saint John vs. Cape Breton

3) Saint John Sea Dogs vs. 7) Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

Last Playoff Meeting: 2012 (Saint John won 4-0 in the first round – Cape Breton last beat Saint John 4-0 in the 2008 first round)

Season Series: Saint John 5-4

Prediction: Saint John in five (The Screaming Eagles have a very solid squad with a strong forward core but I was very impressed with how Saint John looked against Acadie-Bathurst. This will be a good series, but I think it might not be a long one.)

Gatineau Moncton

5) Gatineau Olympiques vs. 6) Moncton Wildcats

Last Playoff Meeting: 2006 (Moncton won 4-1 in the semifinals – Hull won the other meeting 4-1 in the 2004 final)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Gatineau in six (This might be a pretty good matchup. Moncton looked good in their series against Victoriaville but Gatineau just dominated Quebec with ease, and that’s the difference for me in this one.)

To round things out we now head to the WHL, which saw a number of great first round series with interesting results.

Brett Pollock

Edmonton Oil Kings (29-36-6-1 – 5th in Central Division/8th in Eastern Conference – Won 6-4 over the Medicine Hat Tigers in WHL Tiebreaker Game – Eliminated by the Brandon Wheat Kings in six games)

What I Predicted: This is a team that can go either way. By bringing in last year’s USHL goalie of the year Alec Dillon, the Oil Kings may have added a piece that can assure them of a playoff spot. However, if things go sideways, players like Brett Pollock, Aaron Irving and Dysin Mayo may get dealt in order to start a rebuild.

What Actually Happened: Well Dillon ended up getting hurt early on and the Oil Kings sputtered into the playoffs through the tiebreaker game, but they elected to hold on to their veteran players for some strange reason.

What Lies Ahead: Things might get really ugly with the Oil Kings next season if Irving, Mayo and Pollock all stick in the pro ranks and not a heck of a lot at the moment seemingly set to replace them. It’ll be interesting to see what will happen in goal as well as Dillon, Payton Lee and Patrick Dea might all be coming back.

Kailer Yamamoto

Spokane Chiefs (33-30-5-4 – 4th in US Division/8th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Victoria Royals in six games)

What I Predicted: This is a pretty solid team that should be able to get into the playoffs with relative ease and give Portland or Seattle a stiff test in the first round.

What Actually Happened: Well replace Portland or Seattle with Victoria and that prediction is pretty accurate. The Chiefs had to deal with some injury issues during the campaign but the signs of a bright future were there for all to see.

What Lies Ahead: Ty Smith, the top overall pick in the 2015 WHL Draft, will join a team that already has Kailer Yamamoto and Jaret Anderson-Dolan in it’s young core next fall.  A potential bid for the US Division title doesn’t seem to be that far-fetched.

Dominic Turgeon

Portland Winterhawks (34-31-6-1 – 3rd in US Division/7th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Everett Silvertips in four games)

What I Predicted: This is the official last stand of the Winterhawks as the depth looks pretty ugly after this season.

What Actually Happened: Injuries and inconsistent play led to the Winterhawks just getting into the playoffs this year. The four game loss to Everett also proved to be the end for Jamie Kompon, who was axed after two seasons as head coach and general manager.

What Lies Ahead: Whether or not Mike Johnston comes back to the team, whoever is in charge will find themselves with a tough task. Unless some high-end Americans end up coming to the team (hi there Kieffer Bellows) the next couple of years could be pretty rough in Portland. At least they have Cody Glass.

Chase Witala

Prince George Cougars (36-31-3-2 – 4th in BC Division/6th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Seattle Thunderbirds in four games)

What I Predicted: They aren’t quite as strong as the Rockets, but this is a team that continues to get better and better.

What Actually Happened: They had flashes in the first half, but the Cougars ended up struggling in the last couple of months and their season ended with a whimper.

What Lies Ahead: A new coach will be in charge after Mark Holick parted ways with the team and they will be inheriting a good situation. With a veteran core slated to return, the Cougars should be one of the favourites in the Western Conference next season.

Reid Gardiner

Prince Albert Raiders (38-26-7-1 – 2nd in East Division/5th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Moose Jaw Warriors in five games)

What I Predicted: The Raiders have a solid roster but they lack a true game-breaking forward that the Warriors and Pats have at their disposal.

What Actually Happened: That above statement proved to be true, especially in their loss to a Moose Jaw squad that had Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point, but a strong first half from a hard-working squad earned them home ice in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: As they now have the longest streak without a playoff win in the entire CHL (the Raiders made it to the conference final in 2005) I expect fans in Prince Albert want that bad distinction to leave there as quickly as possible. With a mix of youth and experience on the roster, a quarter-final trip seems entirely possible come next Spring.

Collin Shirley

Kamloops Blazers (38-25-5-4 – 3rd in BC Division/4th in Western Conference – Eliminated by the Kelowna Rockets in seven games)

What I Predicted: I think the Blazers are missing just that extra little bit of players that will push them into the playoffs. That might change next season, but not just yet.

What Actually Happened: The Blazers dropped their first six games of the season and things looked to be going sideways. After that, they were one of the top teams out in the West and they pushed the defending champions to the limit in the first round.

What Lies Ahead: There’s a couple of holes to fill, but the Blazers look to be on the road back after a couple of rough years. Keep an eye on impressive goaltender Connor Ingram over the next few months as well, as he may work his way into the World Junior discussion.

Radel Fazlev

Calgary Hitmen (42-26-2-2 – 3rd in Central Division/4th in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Red Deer Rebels in five games)

What I Predicted: Even if Jake Virtanen doesn’t return, the depth the Hitmen have is still good enough for them to contend for a division title.

What Actually Happened: Virtanen ended up staying around in Vancouver and the Hitmen ended up shaking things up after a slow start. Those trades (which saw Jackson Houck, Jakob Stukel and Cody Porter come in Vancouver) helped them out a ton and had them right in the mix for the division crown in the end.

What Lies Ahead: A decent forward core will allow Calgary to be in the mix for a division title once again next season. However, the defence is basically Jake Bean, Michael Zipp and a bunch of question marks, so that’s slightly concerning.

Brayden Burke

Lethbridge Hurricanes (46-24-1-1 – 1st in Central Division/2nd in Eastern Conference – Eliminated by the Regina Pats in five games)

What I Predicted: There’s a good chance that they could make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

What Actually Happened: I thought the Hurricanes could get in as a Wild Card, but no one had them being the division champions. A great start led to a dream season for long-suffering Hurricanes fans, even if it ended early in a trick matchup with Regina.

What Lies Ahead: There will be holes that have to be filled as a few veteran players move on. However, with a strong young core still around, the Hurricanes should once again be in the mix next year in the Eastern Conference. After years in the wilderness, this team is back and it’s awesome to see.

Lethbridge Regina Comp

With Lethbridge’s Cinderella run coming to an abrupt end in the first round, I can’t help but think that the situation they are currently in is pretty similar to what the Regina Pats were in a couple of years ago, and not just because they beat them this year.

Let’s go back to the 2013-14 season. Regina had just missed the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years and drafted Sam Steel with the second overall pick in the draft. Obviously, the expectations were set high for when Steel would come in a year later, but the Pats surprised many by winning the East Division.

Their post-season run ended in quick fashion though as they were swept by the Brandon Wheat Kings, but the foundation was set for what was to come. They won a playoff series for the first time since 2007 when they beat Swift Current last season and they look to be building towards a legit title threat in the next couple of seasons. If the Hurricanes want to look at the right way to go about things in the years ahead, they need to look no further than the squad that has frustrated them for years in the playoffs.

WHL Eastern Conference Predictions

Brandon Moose Jaw

East Division Final – 1) Brandon Wheat Kings vs. 3) Moose Jaw Warriors

Last Playoff Meeting: 2006 (Moose Jaw won 4-2 in the East quarter-finals – Brandon last beat Moose Jaw 4-1 in the 2005 East quarter-finals)

Season Series: Brandon 7-1

Prediction: Brandon in five (Moose Jaw does have a dynamic duo in Dryden Hunt and Brayden Point, but the amount of depth that Brandon has will be far too much for the Warriors to handle.)

Red Deer Regina

Central Division Final – 2) Red Deer Rebels vs. 4) Regina Pats

Last Playoff Meeting: 1997 (Red Deer won 4-1 in the East Quarter-Finals in their only playoff meeting to date. The two teams also met up at the 2001 Memorial Cup in Regina where the Pats won 5-2 in the final round-robin game.)

Season Series: Split 2-2

Prediction: Regina in seven (Maybe it’s foolish to pick against the Memorial Cup hosts, but the Pats are a much different team than they were in the regular season. With the Canes already out of the picture, I think they can pull off another shocker here.)

WHL Western Conference Predictions

Victoria Kelowna

BC Division Final – 1) Victoria Royals vs. 2) Kelowna Rockets

Last Playoff Meeting: 2015 (Kelowna won 4-1 in the West Semifinals in their only playoff meeting to date)

Season Series: Victoria 5-3

Prediction: Kelowna in six (This has the potential to be one of if not the best second round series in the entire country. Joe Hicketts is currently out of the lineup with an injury and that might be enough of a blow to the Royals to give the Rockets another win.)

Everett Seattle

US Division Final – 1) Seattle Thunderbirds vs. 2) Everett Silvertips

Last Playoff Meeting: 2014 (Seattle won 4-1 in the West Quarter-Finals in their only playoff meeting to date)

Season Series: Everett 6-4

Prediction: Everett in six (Seattle does have more weapons on offence but this will come down to goalie duel between Landon Bow and Carter Hart. Since Hart looks to be healthy again, Everett’s my pick here.)

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