With the Western Hockey League taking a mini-break this week to play host to a pair of CIBC Canada/Russia Series contests against Team WHL, we update happenings in the B.C Division.
Three of the five teams have arrived at the quarter-pole in this, the first season since the powers that be reduced the regular season schedule from 72 to 68 games.
Vancouver Giants (12-3-2-0…26 points)
True to form, the Giants have held fast since opening night and lead the division standings. The depth up front and on the back end is tops in the division and the goaltending tandem has been solid. Indeed, the Giants are the team to beat so far.
Vancouver appears to have a good opportunity to stock up on points in the standings this season against the lesser lights in the B.C. Division. For years, the Kelowna Rockets have been the beneficiaries of a schedule loaded with games against weak teams in the division. Looks like it’s Vancouver’s turn now. The Giants are 7-1 against division rivals so far.
David Tendeck, 18, was a western conference second team all-star last season behind Everett Silvertips phenom Carter Hart. So far, at 8-3-1-0 with a 2.32 GAA and .907 SV%, Tendeck has given the Giants exactly what they expected between the pipes. He was selected by the Arizona Coyotes in the sixth round at the 2018 NHL Draft and will play for Team WHL in the 2018 CIBC Canada/Russia Series games in Kamloops and Langley.
And how about Trent Miner? The 17-year-old currently leads the WHL with a 1.41 goals against average and .953 save percentage while compiling a 4-0-1-0 record. Miner has posted two shutouts and twice has earned WHL Goaltender of the Week honours.
Milos Roman continues to impress as one of the top import forwards in the entire WHL.
Initially, the trade of leading-scorer James Malm on October 31 was perhaps a bit of a scalp scratcher, as the Giants acquired Tristen Nielsen from the Calgary Hitmen in return. However, reports confirm that Malm requested a trade and Vancouver general manager Barclay Parneta quickly pulled the trigger.
With veteran defencemen Matt Barberis and Dylan Plouffe sidelined, Bowen Byram is being leaned on immensely to provide support at both ends of the ice. Alex Kannok Leipert has also been solid.
Vancouver is the only team in the WHL with a winning record in games where it has trailed after two periods, going 3-2-1 so far.
|Power Play:||13-for-63 (20.6%)||19th|
|SH Goals For:||0|
|Penalty Killing:||11-for-69 (84.1%)||3rd|
|SH Goals Against:||1|
|Brayden Watts||4G, 10A||+9|
|Milos Roman||8G, 7A||+5|
|Bowen Byram||5G, 9A||+3|
|Langley Events Centre: 31,105 in 10 games (3,110)|
Victoria Royals (9-5-0-0…18 points)
The Royals won seven straight games to begin the season before its bubble was burst by the Giants. The following weekend, Victoria dropped a pair of home games to the then lowly Kelowna Rockets. Within the division so far, Victoria is 7-3.
It is evident the Royals are formidable with Griffen Outhouse between the pipes. The Prince George product has proven to be tremendously durable during his junior career, all of which has been spent with the Royals. He did not play in either game against Kelowna, sidelined by a “tweak” of some sort.
Outhouse is 8-3 this season, with a 2.29 goals against average and a .930 save percentage. He started each of the Royals first 8 games.
The emergence of third-year forward Kaid Oliver is intriguing. The 18-year-old has demonstrated grit and determination since arriving in the WHL. Now riding a five-game point scoring streak, Oliver is adding another valuable dimension to his game.
Also of some interest to Royals supporters are the exploits of forwards Matt Phillips and Tanner Kaspick.
Both are playing professionally for now, but there could be some interest in returning one or both to junior. This could become a wealth of riches for the Royals during a season where there has been some question about the overall talent and depth in the WHL among 20-year-olds. Providing general manager Cam Hope with some extra trade-able assets would surely help building for both the short- and long-term.
The Royals are the only team in the WHL that has gone undefeated (3-0) when outshooting its opponent.
|Power Play:||14-for-67 (20.9%)||18th|
|SH Goals For:||4|
|Penalty Killing:||13-for-60 (78.3%)||9th|
|SH Goals Against:||0|
|Kaid Oliver||11G, 7A||+6|
|Dante Hannoun||6G, 7A||+1|
|D-Jay Jerome||8G, 5A||+3|
|Save On Foods Memorial Arena: 45,096 in 10 games (4,510)|
Prince George Cougars (7-7-1-2…17 points)
The Cougars are a heavy group that continues to play physical hockey. While somewhat lean on the offensive side, goaltender Taylor Gauthier is a reliable backstopper. The 17-year-old picked up his first career shutout on Saturday, a 2-0 decision against the Seattle Thunderbirds.
Coming off a big weekend at home where the Cats swept a pair of games from the Thunderbirds, Prince George has created a three-point gap ahead of Kamloops and Kelowna in the division standings. The Cougars currently occupy a wild card spot in the conference standings.
Second-year import forward Vlad Mikhalchuk from Belarus leads the team in scoring with 13 points and appears to be well on his way to surpassing last season’s total of 33 points. Scoring by committee will be the order of the day for the Cougars this season.
Prince George is 5-3-1-1 in its last ten games and will need to play .500 in every 10-game segment the rest of the way. To do so, the league’s 20th ranked power play has to improve. The Cougars have yet to nail down a comeback win this season, going 0-3 when trailing after 20 minutes and 0-6 after two periods.
|Prince George Cougars|
|Power Play:||11-for-74 (14.7%)||20th|
|SH Goals For:||1|
|Penalty Killing:||15-for-76 (80.3%)||6th|
|SH Goals Against:||3|
|Vlad Mikhalchuk||3G, 10A||+1|
|Cole Moberg||5G, 7A||-3|
|Josh Curtis||5G, 5A||-2|
|CN Centre: 25,531 in 10 games (2,553)|
Kamloops Blazers (6-7-1-1…14 points)
Coming off a run of four straight victories, Kamloops has collected only one point from its last two starts. The decent run as a group coincides in part with the return of team captain Jermaine Loewen from a four-game suspension.
A successful road trip that saw the Blazers win convincingly in Seattle (7-2), then sweep in Portland (6-2; 5-2) provides good reason for the entire B.C. Division to pay attention. However, a loss at home in extra time to Brandon and a road loss in Vancouver has the 6-7-1-1 Blazers tied with the surging Kelowna Rockets. Against division rivals this season, the Blazers have won only twice in six outings, both wins coming against Kelowna on the opening weekend of the campaign.
On the trade front, the Blazers sent goaltender Max Palaga to the Everett Silvertips for a 6th round pick at the 2020 WHL Bantam Draft.
Behind its top three scorers, Kamloops is getting decent depth production from Connor Zary, Brodi Stuart and Josh Pillar, players who stand to be important core personnel in the future. On defence, there is size and grit with Nolan Kneen, Luke Zazula and Montana Onyebuchi. Rookies Quinn Schmeimann and Joonas Sillanpaa are beginning to find their way.
In off-ice news, the Blazers promoted Director of Hockey / Media Administration Tim O’Donovan to the position of Director of Hockey Operations. He has been with the organization on a full-time basis since August 2009 working in the hockey operations department as well as the media and communications part of the organization. O’Donovan was part of the Team Canada contingent that won the gold medal at the 2018 World Junior Championship.
|Power Play:||16-for-70 (22.9%)||10th|
|SH Goals For:||1|
|Penalty Killing:||21-for-71 (70.4%)||19th|
|SH Goals Against:||2|
|Zane Franklin||12G, 5A||0|
|Orin Centazzo||2G, 13A||+1|
|Nolan Kneen||2G, 10A||+10|
|Sandman Centre: 26,187 in 6 games (4,365)|
Kelowna Rockets (7-10-0-0…14 points)
While the Rockets got of to a horrid start, a recent run of three straight wins and five victories in its last six starts has resulted in renewed optimism in the central Okanagan Valley.
Off the ice, the big news was the firing of head coach Jason Smith, who was replaced by former NHL defenceman Adam Foote after 14 games. The Rockets have a history of stability behind the bench over the years, but that has been challenged of late. Smith’s departure marked the first in-season coaching change in Kelowna since the 1999-2000 campaign and the first in-season change league-wide since the Vancouver Giants fired Lorne Molleken during 2015-16.
Shortly before the coaching change, the city of Kelowna was awarded the 2020 Memorial Cup, which briefly deflected focus on the Rockets early season troubles. There is plenty of work to do to ensure the Rockets build a competitive host team for 2019-20 and qualifying for the playoffs is crucial this season.
Kyle Topping has been the most productive forward to date, leading the team in scoring. His attacking zone faceoff proficiency with the man advantage has led to puck possession, enabling the Rockets to create a potent power play. Leif Mattson, who hasn’t scored in eight games after potting eight tallies in the first nine games, continues to contribute offensively. Nolan Foote has caught fire of late with seven goals in his last five games.
The acquisition of Dalton Gally, a hulking 20-year-old rearguard has created stability on the back end. Lassi Thomson has emerged as a game-breaking defenceman. Kaedan Korczak contnues to log big minutes against the opponents top lines.
Kelowna looks like a good front-runner, 5-0 when leading after two periods. However, when trailing after 20 minutes, the Rockets have produced a paltry 2-10 record; 1-8 when trailing after two periods.
A six-game road trip across two states and two provinces from Nov. 9-17 will go a long way towards clarifying the Rockets fortunes this season.
|Power Play:||18-for-69 (26.1%)||4th|
|SH Goals For:||0|
|Penalty Killing:||23-for-80 (71.3%)||18th|
|SH Goals Against:||0|
|Kylel Topping||7G, 16A||+5|
|Leif Mattson||8G, 12A||+5|
|Nolan Foote||10G, 5A||+1|
|Prospera Place: 40,320 in 9 games (4,480)|