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2009 WHL Playoffs First Round Preview

March 18, 2009 - Western Hockey League (WHL) News Release

CALGARY, AB -- The quest for Western Hockey League glory, and a chance to compete in the 2009 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Rimouski, QC, begins as the 2009 WHL Playoffs kick off on Thursday, March 19th.

Here's a look at the first-round Conference Quarter-Final match-ups (Also find attached).

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Calgary Hitmen vs (8) Edmonton Oil Kings

2008-09 regular-season record: (W-L-OTL-SOL, PTS)

Calgary: 59-9-3-1, 122pts

Edmonton: 29-34-4-5, 67pts

2008-09 head-to-head record:

Calgary: 5-1-0-0, 10pts

Edmonton: 1-5-0-0, 2pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Calgary:

Brett Sonne 5gp-6g-4a-10pts

Paul Postma 5gp-3g-7a-10pts

Edmonton:

Brett Breitkreuz 6gp-3g-2a-5pts

Brenden Dowd 6gp-2g-3a-5pts

The Calgary Hitmen the Edmonton Oil Kings meet up for their first playoff series. The last time the two cities met up in a WHL playoff series, Mike Rodgers' Calgary Centennials defeated Mike Will and the original Edmonton Oil Kings four games to one in the first round of the 1974 Playoffs.

The Hitmen are making their 12th consecutive playoff appearance, and enter the post-season having enjoyed one of the most successful regular-season campaigns in WHL history. The Hitmen won an astounding 59 games, posted 122 points, and scored 330 goals. Their outstanding season was due in large part to their powerful and dynamic offense. The Hitmen boasted three players who scored 40 or more goals and nine players with 50 or more points. In addition, their power play clicked at over 30 percent efficiency. Calgary's defense corps, led by Paul Postma, allowed the third-fewest number of goals in the League, and also produced a whopping 72 goals. Goaltender Martin Jones won 45 games in 55 appearances this season.

The Oil Kings booked their ticket to the post-season with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over the Prince Albert Raiders in a rare tiebreaker game after the teams finished tied on points for the final playoff berth in the Conference. Of all 16 playoff teams, the Oil Kings scored the second-fewest number of goals during the regular season. Only two players topped the 20-goal mark while only six Oil Kings managed to hit double digits in goals. Edmonton's penalty killing unit ranked 15th in the WHL this season. They will need to be stronger on the PK to limit Calgary's lethal power play. Goaltender Torrie Jung has the ability to be a game breaker, and usually plays his best in big games.

Series Schedule

#1 - Edmonton @ Calgary; Thursday, March 19 (7:00pm MST)

#2 - Edmonton @ Calgary; Sunday, March 22 (2:00pm MST)

#3 - Calgary @ Edmonton; Monday, March 23 (7:00pm MST)

#4 - Calgary @ Edmonton; Wednesday, March 25 (7:00pm MST)

#5 - Calgary @ Edmonton; Friday, March 27 (7:00pm MST)**

#6 - Edmonton @ Calgary; Sunday, March 29 (2:00pm MST)**

#7 - Edmonton @ Calgary; Tuesday, March 31 (7:00pm MST)**

**If Necessary

(2) Saskatoon Blades vs (7) Lethbridge Hurricanes

2008-09 regular-season record:

Saskatoon: 49-18-3-2, 103pts

Lethbridge: 35-32-3-2, 75pts

2008-09 head-to-head record:

Saskatoon 3-1-0-0, 6pts

Lethbridge 1-2-1-0, 3pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Saskatoon:

Derek Hulak 4gp-4g-0a-4pts

Curtis Hamilton 3gp-1g-2a-3pts

Lethbridge:

Kyle Beach 3gp-2g-1a-3pts

Dwight King 4gp-2g-1a-3pts

The Saskatoon Blades and Lethbridge Hurricanes meet up in the playoffs for the first time since the 1991-92 season. Jeff Buchanan and the Blades defeated Kevin St. Jacques and the Hurricanes four games to one in the first round of the 1992 playoffs.

After missing the post-season the last two years, the Blades come into the 2009 WHL playoffs as East Division champions for the first time since the 1993-94 campaign. A balanced attack, solid defending and excellent goaltending has been the Blades' recipe for success this season. Up front, the team boasts seven players with 20 or more goals and 10 players with 15 or more tallies. The Blades scored the fourth-most goals of any WHL team this season, but did not have a single player among the League's top 20 scorers. Braden Holtby posted 40 wins this season in the Blades' cage, placing him second among all WHL netminders.

The Hurricanes finished the 08-09 season in seventh place in the Conference, but will look to rediscover the playoff magic that saw them go all the way to the WHL Championship series last year. Up front, the Hurricanes boast tremendous offensive talent with names like Zach Boychuk, Colton Sceviour, Carter Ashton, Dwight King and Kyle Beach. They'll need to be consistently strong to penetrate a sturdy Blades defense. The Hurricanes will need goaltender Juha Metsola, if healthy, to be on top of his game to shut down the Blades' offense.

Series Schedule

#1 - Lethbridge @ Saskatoon; Friday, March 20 (7:05pm MST)

#2 - Lethbridge @ Saskatoon; Saturday, March 21 (7:05pm MST)

#3 - Saskatoon @ Lethbridge: Tuesday, March 24 (7:00 pm MST)

#4 - Saskatoon @ Lethbridge: Wednesday, March 25 (7:00 pm MST)

#5 - Lethbridge @ Saskatoon; Saturday, March 28 (7:05pm MST)**

#6 - Saskatoon @ Lethbridge: Monday, March 30 (7:00 pm MST)**

#7 - Lethbridge @ Saskatoon; Wednesday, April 1 (7:05pm MST)**

(3) Brandon Wheat Kings vs (6) Kootenay Ice

2008-09 regular-season record:

Brandon: 48-19-3-2, 101pts

Kootenay: 35-29-2-6, 78pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Brandon: 2-1-0-1, 5pts

Kootenay: 2-1-0-1, 5pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Brandon:

Andrew Clark 4gp-7g-3a-10pts

Matt Lowry 4gp-0g-8a-8pts

Kootenay:

Tylan Stephens 4gp-2g-4a-6pts

Andrew Bailey 4gp-4g-1a-5pts

The Brandon Wheat Kings meet up with the Kootenay Ice for their first ever playoff series.

The Wheat Kings finished the season in third place in the Eastern Conference, and as one of only five teams to top the 100-point plateau. A high-octane offense and a lethal power play have helped the Wheaties to their third straight season with 40 or more wins. Brandon boasts six forwards with 24 or more goals and eight forwards with 45 or more points. In addition, their power play operated at 25.9 per cent efficiency at home and 21.4 per cent on the road. Goaltender Andrew Hayes posted a 9-3-1 record with three shutouts and a .923 save percentage in 13 games since the start of February.

The Ice are coming off their 10th consecutive season with a record above .500 and have qualified for the post-season for the 11th straight season. A gritty, young team, the Ice have played an energetic and up-tempo game this season, relying on hard work, high intensity and strong team play. The Ice owned the WHL's seventh-ranked penalty killing unit this season. They will need their PK to remain strong if they are to stop the Wheat Kings' highly-regarded power play. Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen has recovered from a head injury that kept him out of the lineup for nearly seven weeks.

Series Schedule

#1 - Kootenay @ Brandon; Friday, March 20 (7:30pm CT)

#2 - Kootenay @ Brandon; Saturday, March 21 (7:30pm CT)

#3 - Brandon @ Kootenay; Tuesday, March 24 (7:00pm MST)

#4 - Brandon @ Kootenay; Wednesday, March 25 (7:00pm MST)

#5 - Kootenay @ Brandon; Friday, March 27 (7:30pm CT)**

#6 - Brandon @ Kootenay; Sunday, March 29 (6:00pm MST)**

#7 - Kootenay @ Brandon (Winnipeg); Tuesday, March 31 (7:00pm CT)**

(4) Swift Current Broncos vs (5) Medicine Hat Tigers

2008-09 regular-season record:

Swift Current: 42-28-1-1, 86pts

Medicine Hat: 36-29-4-3, 79pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Swift Current: 2-2-0-0, 4pts

Medicine Hat: 2-2-0-0, 4pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Swift Current:

Keegan Dansereau 4gp-3g-1a-4pts

Matt Tassone 4gp-3g-1a-4pts

Medicine Hat:

Brennan Bosch 4gp-0g-5a-5pts

Bretton Cameron 3gp-3g-0a-3pts

The Swift Current Broncos meet up with the Medicine Hat Tigers in the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Kris Russell and the Tigers swept Ned Lukacevic and the Broncos 4-0 in the first round of the 2006 WHL playoffs.

The Broncos are making their fourth straight playoff appearance on the back of their second straight season with 40 or more wins. Once again, the Broncos' strength has been a potent offense. The Broncos boast six players with 20 or more goals, and nine players, including three defensemen, with 40 or more points. Keegan Dansereau ranked second among all WHL players with 20 power play goals this season. The Broncos were one of three East Division teams to post 20 or more road wins this season. Travis Yonkman posted a 6-1 record with a .935 save percentage over his last seven games.

The Tigers are making their seventh straight post-season appearance despite seeing their streak of five straight seasons with 40 or more wins come to an end. The Tigers were strong at home, as usual, posting 23 victories, but struggled to just 13 road wins this season. Tyler Ennis tallied 28 of his team-leading 43 goals in his last 30 games since returning from Canada's National Junior team. The Tigers are 3-0 in their last three playoff series' versus the Broncos, posting a 12-1 combined record in those three series.

Series Schedule

#1 - Medicine Hat @ Swift Current; Friday, March 20 (7:30pm MST)

#2 - Medicine Hat @ Swift Current; Saturday, March 21 (7:30pm MST)

#3 - Swift Current @ Medicine Hat: Tuesday, March 24 (7:00pm MST)

#4 - Swift Current @ Medicine Hat: Wednesday, March 25 (7:00pm MST)

#5 - Medicine Hat @ Swift Current; Friday, March 27 (7:30pm MST)**

#6 - Swift Current @ Medicine Hat: Sunday, March 29 (6:00pm MST)**

#7 - Medicine Hat @ Swift Current; Tuesday, March 31 (7:30pm MST)**

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Vancouver Giants vs (8) Prince George Cougars

2008-09 regular-season record:

Vancouver: 57-10-2-3, 119pts

Prince George: 25-44-0-3, 53pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Vancouver: 8-0-0-0, 16pts

Prince George: 0-8-0-0, 0pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Vancouver:

Jonathon Blum 6gp-1g-11a-12pts

Casey Pierro-Zabotel 8gp-5g-5a-10pts

Prince George:

Brett Connolly 6gp-2g-3a-5pts

Dallas Jackson 8gp-2g-2a-4pts

The Vancouver Giants meet up with the Prince George Cougars in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006-07 season. Milan Lucic and the Giants defeated Devin Setoguchi and the Cougars four games to one in the 2007 Western Conference Championship series.

The Giants are making their seventh consecutive playoff appearance after winning their fourth straight B.C. Division crown. The Giants enter the post-season having enjoyed their finest regular-season campaign in franchise history, posting 57 wins, 119 points and scoring 319 goals. Offensively, the Giants are well balanced with 16 players who scored 10 or more goals this season, including Evander Kane who set a new franchise record with 48 goals. Defensively, the Giants allowed the second-fewest number of goals in the WHL. Vancouver's top four D-men - Jon Blum, Brent Regner, Craig Schira and Nick Ross - combined for 58 goals, 235 points and a +173 rating. Goaltender Tyson Sexsmith has been one of the WHL's best netminders over the last few years, but struggled down the stretch, losing his final four starts.

The Cougars are back in the post-season after failing to qualify for the playoffs last season. The Cougars finished the regular season on a five-game losing skid, including a 6-0 defeat to the Giants on the final weekend of the season. Offensively, the Cougars have relied on rookie Brett Connolly, who became the first 16-year-old to score 30 goals since Patrick Marleau did it in 1995-96 for Seattle. Defensively, the Cougars struggled to keep pucks out of their net this season, allowing the second-most goals of any WHL team. The Cougars lost all eight meetings versus the Giants this season, and were outscored 40-11 in the process.

Series Schedule

#1 - Prince George @ Vancouver; Friday, March 20 (7:30pm PST)

#2 - Prince George @ Vancouver; Saturday, March 21 (7:00pm PST)

#3 - Vancouver @ Prince George; Tuesday, March 24 (7:00pm PST)

#4 - Vancouver @ Prince George; Wednesday, March 25 (7:00pm PST)

#5 - Prince George @ Vancouver; Friday, March 27 (7:30pm PST) **

#6 - Vancouver @ Prince George; Sunday, March 29 (2:00pm PST) **

#7 - Prince George @ Vancouver; Tuesday, March 31 (7:00pm PST) **

(2) Tri-City Americans vs (7) Everett Silvertips

2008-09 regular-season record:

Tri-Cities: 49-20-0-3, 101pts

Everett: 27-36-7-2, 63pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Tri-Cities: 8-1-0-1, 17pts

Everett: 2-7-1-0, 5pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Tri-Cities:

Taylor Procyshen 10gp-8g-3a-11pts

Mitch Fadden 8gp-7g-4a-11pts

Everett:

Shane Harper 10gp-7g-5a-12pts

Zack Dailey 10gp-1g-8a-9pts

The Tri-City Americans and Everett Silvertips meet up in the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season. Zach Hamill and the Silvertips defeated Ian McDonald and the Americans four games to one in the first round of the 2006 WHL playoffs.

The Americans are making their sixth straight playoff appearance and second consecutive appearance as U.S. Division champions. The Ams are coming off their third straight season with 47 or more victories, and look to make another lengthy post-season run after bowing out to Spokane in a hard-fought Western Conference championship series last year. The Ams have plenty of offensive weapons at their disposal, including Mitch Fadden, Jason Reese and Taylor Procyshen, who all topped the 30-goal mark this season. Defensively, the Ams allowed the fifth-fewest number of goals in the WHL, and own the League's fifth-best penalty killing unit. Goaltender Chet Pickard was outstanding in the 2008 WHL playoffs and among the WHL's top netminders again this season.

The Silvertips are making their sixth straight playoff appearance since joining the WHL as an expansion team in 2003-04. However, the 2008-09 season marked the first time the 'Tips finished with a record below the .500 mark. Up front, the 'Tips have relied on youth to score goals. Veteran Shane Harper led the team with 32 goals, but rookies Kellan Tochkin, Tyler Maxwell and Byron Froese provided a majority of the 'Tips' offense. On the back end, the 'Tips traditionally strong defense surrendered 259 goals this season - by far the most given up by any edition of the Silvertips. Young netminders Thomas Heemskerk and Kent Simpson will need to step up in a big way to stop the Ams' high-octane offense.

Series Schedule

#1 - Everett @ Tri-City; Friday, March 20 (7:05pm PST)

#2 - Everett @ Tri-City; Saturday, March 21 (7:05pm PST)

#3 - Tri-City @ Everett; Wednesday, March 25 (7:05pm PST)

#4 - Tri-City @ Everett; Friday, March 27 (7:35pm PST)

#5 - Everett @ Tri-City; Saturday, March 28 (7:05pm PST)**

#6 - Tri-City @ Everett; Monday, March 30 (7:05pm PST)**

#7 - Everett @ Tri-City; Wednesday, April 1 (7:05pm PST)**

(3) Kelowna Rockets vs (6) Kamloops Blazers

2008-09 regular-season record:

Kelowna: 47-21-1-3, 98pts

Kamloops: 33-33-2-4, 72pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Kelowna: 9-0-0-0, 18pts

Kamloops: 0-8-0-1, 1pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Spokane:

Colin Long 9gp-9g-7a-16pts

Brandon McMillan 9gp-4g-10a-14pts

Kamloops:

Jimmy Bubnick 9gp-3g-4a-7pts

Shayne Wiebe 9gp-3g-3a-6pts

The Kelowna Rockets and Kamloops Blazers meet up in the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Chuck Kobasew and the Rockets swept Scottie Upshall and the Blazers four games to none in the first round of the 2002 post-season.

The Rockets are in the playoffs for the second straight year, and on the back of their best regular season since 2004-05. On top of that, the Rockets head into the post-season as the hottest team in the WHL, having won their last eight regular-season contests. The Rockets have shown they are among the WHL's elite teams, having swept their season series versus Spokane, winning two of four versus the Tri-Cities, winning their last three versus Vancouver, and beating the Hitmen in Calgary. Kelowna ranked fourth in both goals-for and goals-against this season, indicating their strength at both ends of the ice. Goaltender Mark Guggenberger went 17-3-3 in 25 appearances since coming to the Rockets from Swift Current in January.

The Blazers are in the post-season for the third straight year and for the 26th time in the last 27 years. The Blazers' top five forwards - C.J. Stretch, Shayne Wiebe, Kenton Dulle, Jimmy Bubnick and Tyler Shattock - combined for 140 of the team's 242 goals this season. Aside from the aforementioned five players, no Blazer scored more than 13 goals. Defensively, only Portland, Prince George and Moose Jaw gave up more goals than the Blazers' 277. Goaltender Justin Leclerc has the ability to steal a win, as he showed in a recent 58-save performance in a win over the Giants. Kamloops lost all nine meetings with Kelowna this season, and was outscored 48-18.

Series Schedule

#1 - Kamloops @ Kelowna; Friday, March 20 (7:00pm PST)

#2 - Kamloops @ Kelowna; Saturday, March 21 (7:00pm PST)

#3 - Kelowna @ Kamloops; Tuesday, March 24 (7:00pm PST)

#4 - Kelowna @ Kamloops; Wednesday, March 25 (7:00pm PST)

#5 - Kamloops @ Kelowna; Friday, March 27 (7:00pm PST)**

#6 - Kelowna @ Kamloops; Saturday, March 28 (7:00pm PST)**

#7 - Kamloops @ Kelowna; Tuesday, March 31 (7:00pm PST)**

(4) Spokane Chiefs vs (5) Seattle Thunderbirds

2008-09 regular-season record:

Spokane: 46-23-0-3, 95pts

Seattle: 35-32-1-4, 75pts

2008-09 Head-to-head record:

Spokane: 5-3-0-1, 11pts

Seattle: 4-5-0-0, 8pts

2008-09 head-to-head top scorers:

Spokane:

Drayson Bowman 8gp-9g-1a-10pts

Levko Koper 9gp-1g-7a-8pts

Seattle:

Jeremy Boyer 9gp-3g-4a-7pts

Jim O'Brien 8gp-3g-4a-7pts

The Spokane Chiefs meet up with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the playoffs for the first time since 2000-01. Lynn Loyns and the Chiefs swept Jamie Lundmark and the Thunderbirds three games to none in the 2001 Western Conference semi-final.

The Chiefs are in the post-season for the third straight year. They also happen to be the defending WHL and Memorial Cup Champions. Although they may not be quite the juggernaut the 2008 team was, this year's Chiefs still have as good a chance as any team to go all the way. Top sniper Drayson Bowman comes into the playoffs playing some of his best hockey of the season. Bowman has piled up 31 goals and 59 points in 31 games since the calendar flipped to 2009. Defensively, the Chiefs have missed 17-year-old Jared Cowen and veteran Trevor Glass, yet have remained the WHL's top defensive team. However, with Dustin Tokarski manning the crease, the Chiefs still boast one of the best Junior-aged goaltenders in the world.

The Thunderbirds weathered a difficult start to the season and find themselves in the post-season for the fifth straight year. While the T-Birds were a solid 24-10-0-2 at home, including a 17-6-2 mark at the ShoWare Center, they struggled to just 11 road wins this season. The T-Birds did, however, win two of four visits to Spokane. The Thunderbirds' power play ranked 18th among the League's 22 teams this season. They will need to step up their play on the man advantage to break down Spokane's top-ranked penalty killing unit. 16-year-old rookie goaltender Calvin Pickard performed admirably since taking over the starting role near the end of January.

Series Schedule

#1 - Seattle @ Spokane; Friday, March 20 (7:00pm PST)

#2 - Seattle @ Spokane; Saturday, March 21 (7:00pm PST)

#3 - Spokane @ Seattle; Tuesday, March 24 (7:05pm PST)

#4 - Spokane @ Seattle; Wednesday, March 25 (7:05pm PST)

#5 - Seattle @ Spokane; Friday, March 27 (7:00pm PST)**

#6 - Spokane @ Seattle; Sunday, March 29 (5:05pm PST)**

#7 - Seattle @ Spokane; Tuesday, March 31 (7:00pm PST)**


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Western Hockey League Stories from March 18, 2009


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