BY STUART KEMP
Just when you thought three or four games wouldn’t make much of a difference at the end of the season, you haven’t taken a good look at the 2017-18 season as the final games wind down.
The Everett Silvertips opened the door for the Portland Winterhawks in the quest to be the US Division Champions with a loss to the Tri-City Americans 4-2 this week. That loss left the Silvertips with just two games remaining to Portland’s three and a schedule that may just take this down to the wire. Portland has remaining games against the Seattle Thunderbirds, a team that Portland has fared well in the season series with and the Spokane Chiefs, which the Hawks have also done well against. Everett on the other hand, has its next two games against the Victoria Royals, a team that is clinging to hope that it can catch the Kelowna Rockets for the BC Division title. Unlike the Hawks’ six point possibility, Victoria has just two games or four point possibility and gives a game in hand to the Rockets. The Royals are within a point of keeping second place all to themselves if Vancouver Giants lose another game or Victoria wins a game.
Portland added to its list of hardware in the awards department with Cole Kehler getting the nod for WHL Goaltender of the Week. Kehler, who won both games in Prince George and followed up with a shutout against the Everett Silvertips, garnered his second such award this season.
The other playoff spots in the US Division are pretty much set with Spokane unable to catch Portland following a loss to the Seattle Thunderbirds this week and the Thunderbirds are five points back of the Tri-City Americans with just three games left to attempt to make up ground, though it is highly unlikely.
The Eastern Conference finally set its eighth seed with the Prince Albert Raiders getting into the first round of the playoffs with a loss by Saskatoon Blades to the Brandon Wheat Kings. The Kings will need a miracle if they hope to catch Regina Pats for third in the Eastern Division as they sit three points back with two games each remaining.
The Moose Jaw Warriors captured their first ever Scotty Munro trophy for best overall record after a shootout win over the Prince Albert Raiders this week, the same game which gave the Raiders the single point they needed to eliminate the Saskatoon Blades from post season competition. The Warriors who joined the WHL in 1984, have only made it to the WHL Finals once and round three once, are picked to be one of the favorites to compete for the WHL title this season.
Speaking of the Blades, it’s another rough year for them. They have gone five straight years of missing the playoffs following the disastrous 2012-13 season where they hosted the Memorial Cup, lost in the first round of the playoffs and then had to wait six weeks for the Memorial Cup Tournament, a series in which they had a rough go at and also drew poorly at the gate leading to a loss of almost one million dollars.
The Winterhawks announced the playoff start dates as being Saturday, March 24 and Sunday, March 25, both games taking place at Veterans Memorial Coliseum to avoid congestion with the Trail Blazers at the Moda Center and comedian Trevor Noah. The opponent is still to be determined with two possible scenarios. Either Portland moves up to the top spot in which case they will face Seattle Thunderbirds or remain in second place and face the Spokane Chiefs.