BY STUART KEMP
It wasn’t supposed to be this tough in the first round was it? Four of eight series ended up going the full seven game run and in the end, those that were stronger in points at the end of the season, won their respective series. Even then, those final games were anything but a lock.
In the east, the Moose Jaw Warriors finally eliminated the Prince Albert Raiders, a team that gave the Warriors the toughest test over seven games. Most had thought that the Warriors would slam the door in four, maybe five games, but taking it to seven, was a real accomplishment for the Raiders. In game seven, the Raiders scored the first two goals in just over five minutes, but the Warriors rallied with two goals just over twenty seconds apart to tie the game. The Raiders regained the lead just over four minutes later and held until late in the second period where the game became all tied up. Midway through the third period, the Warriors took their first lead. The Raiders returned the game to tied status on a shorthanded marker, but the party was short-lived as twenty seconds later, the Warriors took back the lead and the win 5-4.
The Swift Current Broncos were given quite the scare by the Regina Pats in their series as their final game played out in Speedy Creek. The Pats scored early in the first which was countered by the Broncos midway through the period. The Broncos added two more goals in the second before the Pats added their second of the game, but it wasn’t enough as the Swift Current Broncos defeated the Memorial Cup hosts Regina Pats 3-2 and will face off against the Warriors in the second round.
The other matchup has the Lethbridge Hurricanes hosting the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Wheat Kings actually had a better regular season record, but because of the WHL Playoff hybrid system, because the Wheat Kings came in as a wildcard spot and the Hurricanes were a seeded team in the division, the advantage of home ice goes to the Canes.
Winners of these two series will face each other for the Eastern Division title.
In the west, the Victoria Royals and Vancouver Giants squared off in an early afternoon battle. The Royals scored once in the first and two more in the second period before Vancouver scored their first goal. The Royals then added another to restore their two goal lead. Two more goals by the Giants late in the second period, put the game within reach, but the Royals clamped down to hang on for the 4-3 win.
The Royals will now host the Tri-City Americans who dispatched the Kelowna Rockets in four games straight during the first round.
The Us Division already had the Everett Silvertips in the second round by virtue of their five game knockoff of the Seattle Thunderbirds, but it was the final pairing that needed to settle their game seven to create the next matchup.
The Portland Winterhawks came out of Portland with a loss which put the Spokane Chiefs within a game of tying the series as the series headed north. The Chiefs seemingly had everything to gain and Portland, nothing to lose and it showed with a less than stellar 5-2 loss to the Chiefs. The score was almost flattering to Portland, whose passing, defense and all other aspects of their game, looked about as bad as it could be and only heroics at times by goaltender Cole Kehler kept the game from being laughable. Thus, the series was tied and was headed to Portland for game seven.
The Chiefs elected to travel through the night and camp out in Portland, but the Hawks only traveled just over 2 hours to Kennewick, setting up shop there and arrived in Portland a couple hours prior to the warmups. The rest may have been the difference as the two teams hit the ice at the Veterans Memorial Coliseum for game seven. The Hawks and Chiefs battled early with neither side unable to gain much of an advantage. It wasn’t until a powerplay where Cody Glass redirected a point shot by Henri Jokiharju past Dawson Weatherill, that the Portland crowd erupted. The score stayed as a one goal margin until midway through the second period when Hudson Elyniuk tied the game for the Chiefs. Late in the second period, Kieffer Bellows blasted a shot from the right point past Weatherill to restore the lead. The look and celebration by Bellows was clear that this goal was huge.
The battle continued through the third period with the game getting much more physical and with it, several questionable non calls by the officiating crew. Finally, a vicious crosscheck by the Chiefs’ overage Zach Fischer proved to be the costliest for the game. On the ensuing powerplay Skyler McKenzie capped off hard work by Kieffer Bellows and Cody Glass to score the finishing goal and a 3-1 win for the Hawks on home ice to take the series four games to three.
The Hawks will now start the next series on the road this Friday and Saturday as they take on US Division Champions Everett Silvertips in what should be a thrilling set. The Hawks will get their first taste of home ice on April 10 and 12th. The home games for Portland will take place in the Coliseum on Tuesday and the Moda Center on Thursday. The remaining games if needed will be in Everett Friday the 13th, Portland on Sunday and if needed, in Everett on Tuesday, April 17. The venues for the remaining Portland games are to be determined.
Winners of these two series will meet for the Western Conference Championship which will start on Friday, April 20.