BY STUART KEMP
It’s a tough order to get a US Division team into the WHL Finals with only five of twenty-two possible, but the US Division was strong once again this year. They knocked out the BC teams in record fashion which led to a matchup with almost as much distance across the league as possible.
The Everett Silvertips punched their ticket with a tough 6-5 overtime win over the Tri City Americans in Kennewick, WA. The Tips held a 2-1 lead after one period with both teams scoring on the powerplay, the Tips coming late in the period. The second period was all Americans with two goals, one of which came by the way of the powerplay and followed up with two more midway through the third period to take what appeared to be a commanding 5-2 lead. However, Everett scored just over a minute later and banged home two more a minute apart with six minutes left in the game to force overtime.
The Americans took a costly tripping penalty just under five minutes into the overtime which set the stage for Kevin Davis’ second of the night just over a minute into the powerplay, to get the come from behind 6-5 overtime win and a trip for the first time ever to the WHL Finals.
The Swift Current Broncos, long thought by many to be the favorites in the WHL Finals, had an easier time with the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The Canes led the game after the first period with a goal late in the first period, but five straight by the Broncos, one on the powerplay, one short-handed and one in the empty net were all they needed to take game six by a 5-1 margin.
Thus the stage was set for two powerhouses and what should be a tight matchup with it going close to the distance. The first two games were held in the sold out Credit Union iPlex in Swift Current and game one set the tone for showing just how evenly matched the two teams were. Three goals and five penalties in the game between the two teams with one goal on the powerplay and a final of 2-1 in favor of the Everett Silvertips.
Game two in Swift Current started out very well for Everett as they piled on three goals in fourteen minutes in the first period to take a commanding lead. The Broncos started chipping away in the second with one goal and scored another midway through the third to close the gap. After pulling goaltender Stuart Skinner for the extra attacker, they completed the comeback with just over ninety seconds to play and sent the game to overtime. Close to the midway mark, Giorgio Estaphan, whom the Broncos had acquired at trade deadline from the Hurricanes, knocked off his former team with the overtime marker which sent the Bronco faithful into euphoria.
Games three and four now head to Everett and game five set for Swift Current at the end of the week. This is the only series where teams have the option of flying and with a twenty plus hour drive distance between them, it is safe to say that wasn’t even an option.
The Portland Winterhawks finished their week with the Bantam Draft for 2018. This year, the Hawks had all their draft choices in place, the first time since 2013 when they had heavy sanctions imposed.
Leading up to the draft, the Hawks made a trade. The Hawks traded a conditional pick in the 2019 WHL Bantam Draft in exchange for 1998-born defenseman Jared Freadrich. With 196 games under his belt, the overage defenseman is expected to plug a major hole in the Hawks defensive core with Keoni Texeira and potentially Henri Jokiharju gone from the Hawks for the upcoming season.
Eleven players were selected by the Hawks with four defensemen, six forwards and one goaltender who will all come to camp this year before being re-assigned to respective junior teams. Training camp for the Hawks is set for late August with the first regular season game coming up on Saturday, September 22, 2018.
The Cinderella season of the Nipawan Hawks continues down three games to two in the Avanet Cup and a spot in the RBC Cup which will have a US team in the mix with the Wenatchee Wild coming in after winning their series.