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WHL Western Conference Mid-Season Review

December 23, 2009 - Western Hockey League (WHL) News Release

Calgary, AB -- The 2009-10 Western Hockey League season is at the midway point with teams having played roughly half of their regular season schedules, and it's time to take a look at how the season has shaped up so far.

In the Western Conference, the usual suspects - the Tri-City Americans, Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs - all find themselves in the running for the title of 'Best in the West'. However, joining them at the top of the Conference ladder are the Portland Winterhawks, who have rebounded from three difficult years to emerge as one of the better teams in the League this season.

Here's a look at the WHL's Western Conference teams through the 2009-10 season's first half:

WHL WESTERN CONFERENCE

B.C. Division

Chilliwack Bruins

2009-10 record: 38gp 15-17-1-5, 36pts (3rd in Div., 7th in Conf.) GF: 116 GA: 139

Top Scorers:

Ryan Howse 38gp-28g-14a-42pts

Kevin Sundher 38gp-15g-17a-32pts

Roman Horak 36gp-13g-16a-29pts

The Bruins have had their ups and downs through the first half of the 2009-10 season, but currently find themselves in the playoff mix after missing the post-season last year for the first time in the franchise's three-year existence. Offensively, the Bruins have relied on scoring from a relative few. 18-year-old Ryan Howse ranks second among all WHL players with 28 goals this season, and has accounted for nearly 25 percent of the team's entire offensive output. Sophomores Kevin Sundher and Dylen McKinlay, and Czech rookie Roman Horak have all topped the 10-goal mark. After those four players, the Bruins' scoring depth thins out. Improving their 15th-ranked power play would help the Bruins' offensive output. On the back end, Brandon Manning has been a solid two-way presence. Manning and veteran Jeff Einhorn are the only two Bruins defensemen with positive +/- figures on a team that has allowed 23 more goals than they've scored. Goaltender Braden Gamble has been solid in eight games since joining the team at the beginning of December. 19-year-old starter Lucas Gore missed a large chunk of time due to injury. He'll need to improve upon his.881 save percentage for the Bruins to move up the Western Conference standings.

Kamloops Blazers

2009-10 record: 36gp 14-17-2-3, 33pts (4th in Div., 8th in Conf.) GF: 115 GA: 156

Top Scorers:

Tyler Shattock 34gp-16g-24a-40pts

C.J. Stretch 32pg-14g-23a-37pts

Jimmy Bubnick 36gp-12g-15a-27pts

The Blazers enjoyed a terrific start to the 2009-10 season, posting an 8-2-2-0 record over their first 12 games. However, the team has struggled to a 6-15-0-3 record since October 17th, and has been outscored 108-66 in that span. Offensively, Tyler Shattock leads the team in goals, assists and points, and is the only player with a positive +/- rating. Jimmy Bubnick, Brendan Ranford and C.J. Stretch have also contributed consistent scoring. 16-year-old rookie Colin Smith has shown plenty of offensive talent, although he missed the first 19 games of the season due to injury. Defensively, only the Prince George Cougars have allowed more goals than the Blazers' 156 goals-against. The Blazers are the most penalized team in the WHL, and own the 21st-ranked penalty killing unit, which has not helped their goals-against. Defenseman Bronson Maschmeyer has been strong in providing good puck movement and offense from the blue line. Goaltenders Kurtis Mucha and Jon Groenheyde will have plenty of work over the second half of the season, as the Blazers have given up the most shots on goal of any WHL team. If the Blazers are to make a push up the Western Conference ladder, they will need a commitment to improving their defensive play and discipline.

Kelowna Rockets

2009-10 record: 37gp 18-18-1-0, 37pts (2nd in Div., 6th in Conf.) GF: 119 GA: 118

Top Scorers:

Shane McColgan 36gp-15g-21a-36pts

Tyson Barrie 28gp-6g-30a-36pts

Brandon McMillan 27gp-9g-21a-30pts

The defending WHL Champion Rockets may not be the superstar-laiden powerhouse they were last season, but they have enjoyed a decent first half to the 2009-10 season and currently find themselves in a playoff position in the Western Conference. Up front, the Rockets have relied on the scoring of 16-year-old rookie sensation Shane McColgan, who is one of two rookies currently leading their team in scoring. Brandon McMillan has emerged as a top two-way player for the Rockets, providing scoring and strong defensive play. Injuries have played a major role in slowing down the Rockets' offense, with both Bloodoff brothers sidelined. McMillan and Kyle St. Denis have also missed time due to injury. Defensively, the Rockets have been steady, and currently rank fifth in the conference in goals-against. Tyson Barrie has been excellent in generating offense while helping the Rockets to the WHL's fifth-best power play. Barrie has been the anchor of what is a largely inexperienced defense corps that includes four rookies. In goal, Adam Brown has been good, although a bit inconsistent, in taking the bulk of the workload. Last year's starter, Mark Guggenberger, has recovered from an injury that kept him out since the start of the season.

Prince George Cougars

2009-10 record: 35gp 7-26-1-1, 16pts (5th in Div., 10th in Conf.) GF: 81 GA: 159

Top Scorers:

Marek Viedensky 28gp-4g-20a-24pts

Dallas Jackson 21gp-9g-13a-22pts

Alex Rodgers 31gp-8g-12a-20pts

It's been a difficult first half to the 2009-10 season for the Prince George Cougars. The Cougars have managed just seven wins in 35 games, and currently sit 17 points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Offensively, the Cougars have scored a League-low 81 goals and own the WHL's 21st-ranked power play. Missing their best offensive player, Brett Connolly, for most of the season has not helped the Cougars. Slovakian sophomore Marek Viedensky leads the team in scoring and boasts a respectable +1 rating, considering the team has allowed nearly twice as many goals as they've scored. Defenseman Dallas Jackson and veteran forward James Dobrowolski lead the team with nine goals apiece. On the back end, no team has surrendered more goals than the Cougars. They have also struggled on the penalty kill with a 68.4 per cent efficiency rate. Jackson has provided solid two-way play and good leadership. 16-year-old rookie Jesse Forsberg has been impressive, and is showing the future of the Cougars' blue line is in very good hands. In goal, rookies Alex Wright and Hudson Stremmel have been the go-to guys since the departure of veteran James Priestner in late October. Stremmel has a decent.903 save percentage in 15 games since coming to the team just before Halloween.

Vancouver Giants

2009-10 record: 37gp 22-12-1-2, 47pts (1st in Div., 2nd in Conf.) GF: 134 GA: 110

Top Scorers:

Craig Cunningham 37gp-19g-36a-55pts

Brendan Gallagher 37gp-23g-22a-45pts

Kevin Connauton 35gp-15g-20a-35pts

The Giants may not be the dominant force they were last season, but they have still enjoyed a solid first half to the season and, with a 10-point lead over their nearest division rival, Kelowna, are in prime position to capture their fifth consecutive B.C. Division title. Up front, the Giants have gotten consistent production from Craig Cunningham and Brendan Gallagher, and 19-year-old rookie defenseman Kevin Connauton has also scored at a point-per-game pace. Veterans Lance Bouma and James Henry have also provided offense while JT Barnett has tallied 14 goals this season, but only three since the start of November. Getting a healthy Garry Nunn back in the lineup should help the Giants' attack. Defensively, the Giants aren't as air-tight as they have been in the past. Connauton and Neil Manning have been good at providing offense, propelling Vancouver's fourth-ranked power play, but are a combined -18. 16-year-old rookie David Musil has been very impressive, posting 11 points, a team-leading +15 rating, and helping the Giants to the League's third-best penalty killing success rate. In goal, Jamie Tucker has posted 15 wins and ranks sixth among WHL goalies with a 2.63 goals-against average. However, he'd like to improve upon his.897 save percentage. The Giants will need to be road warriors over the second half of the season, with 23 of their remaining 35 games on enemy ice.

U.S. Division

Everett Silvertips

2009-10 record: 35gp 19-13-2-1, 41pts (4th in Div., 5th in Conf.) GF: 107 GA: 99

Top Scorers:

Shane Harper 35gp-21g-19a-40pts

Tyler Maxwell 35gp-20g-14a-34pts

Kellan Tochkin 35gp-12g-20a-32pts

The Silvertips have enjoyed a solid first half to the 2009-10 season while competing in the toughest division in the WHL, and currently sit comfortably in a playoff spot in the Western Conference. Offensively, the 'Tips have gotten almost all of their scoring from Shane Harper, Tyler Maxwell, Kellan Tochkin, Byron Froese and Chris Langkow, who have accounted for 74 of the team's 107 goals. Aside from defenseman Radko Gudas, no other 'Tips player has more than five goals. The 'Tips will need more secondary scoring and an improvement on their 20th-ranked power play if they are to compete with U.S. Division rivals Portland, Spokane and Tri-Cities. Defensively, the Silvertips have been strong, allowing fourth-lowest number of goals of any WHL team. Czech rookie Gudas has provided an offensive spark from the point while sharing the WHL lead with a +27 rating. 16-year-old rookie Ryan Murray has been excellent, boasting 15 points and a +17 rating, but has missed time due to injury. Goaltending has been a strength for the 'Tips this season, with both Thomas Heemskerk and Kent Simpson among the WHL's leaders in GAA and save percentage.

Portland Winterhawks

2009-10 record: 38gp 22-15-0-1, 45pts (3rd in Div., 4th in Conf.) GF: 139 GA: 137

Top Scorers:

Nino Niederreiter 37gp-23g-18a-41pts

Chris Francis 38gp-15g-25a-40pts

Brad Ross 38gp-16g-21a-37pts

The Winterhawks have enjoyed a successful first half to the 2009-10 season, and look to have taken huge steps forward after struggling at the bottom of the standings for the past three years. Currently sitting 14 points clear for a playoff spot, it appears the Hawks are on their way to ending their three-year playoff absence. Offensively, the Hawks have gotten scoring from many different sources this season. The team boasts seven players with 10 or more goals, including rookies Nino Niederreiter, Ryan Johansen and Spencer Bennett, who all rank among the top 10 rookies in goals. With 137 goals already, the Hawks have scored more goals than they did during the entire 2007-08 season. Defensively, the Hawks have improved greatly from last season, but still have allowed the most goals of any team in the U.S. Division. The fourth most-penalized team in the WHL, the Hawks own the League's 16th-ranked penalty killing unit. Improving their discipline and sharpening up their penalty killing would go a long way to helping the Hawks reduce their goals-against. In goal, Ian Curtis has been solid, for the most part, in taking the majority of the workload.

Seattle Thunderbirds

2009-10 record: 37gp 13-19-1-4, 31pts (5th in Div., 9th in Conf.) GF: 95 GA: 124

Top Scorers:

Prab Rai 34gp-21g-18a-39pts

Charles Wells 35gp-9g-20a-29pts

Jeremy Schappert 37gp-8g-19a-27pts

The Thunderbirds currently find themselves six games under the.500 mark and in fifth place in the highly competitive U.S. Division. However, their playoff aspirations remain alive and well as the T-Birds currently trail Kamloops by just two points for eighth place in the Conference. Offensively, the T-Birds have struggled to score consistently. Prab Rai, Jonathan Parker and Sena Acolatse have combined for 46 goals, and are the only three T-Birds' players with 10 or more goals. In fact, after Jeremy Schappert, Lindsay Nielsen and Charles Wells, no T-Bird has more than four goals. More scoring depth will be needed for the T-Birds to compete for a playoff spot in the second half. Defensively, the Thunderbirds have been in the middle of the pack, in terms of goals-against. The T-Birds own the WHL's second-best penalty killing unit, but have allowed the second-most number of even strength goals. Veteran Jeremy Schappert has enjoyed a breakout season, offensively, and has more than doubled his season-high goal and point totals in just 37 games. Perhaps the T-Birds' biggest strength has been the play of goaltender Calvin Pickard. The 17-year-old has faced more shots than any other WHL netminder, but still ranks third among all WHL goalies with an outstanding.924 save percentage.

Spokane Chiefs

2009-10 record: 34gp 21-10-3-0, 45pts (2nd in Div., 3rd in Conf.) GF: 111 GA: 76

Top Scorers:

Mitch Wahl 34gp-14g-25a-39pts

Kyle Beach 31gp-24g-14a-38pts

Tyler Johnson 32gp-18g-12a-30pts

The Chiefs may not have gotten out of the gate quickly to start the 2009-10 season, but they've been one of the best teams in the WHL since the start of November, and now find themselves among the Western Conference's leaders. Up front, the Chiefs have relied heavily on forwards Mitch Wahl, Kyle Beach, Tyler Johnson and Levko Koper for scoring. Those four have combined for 71 of the team's 111 goals this season. Meantime, no other Chiefs player has more than five goals. Offensive defenseman Jared Spurgeon's recovery from injury has helped the team's attack, particularly the power play. While they may not be offensively dominant, the Chiefs have been, by far, the best defensive team in the WHL this season. The team has allowed a WHL-low 76 goals and owns the top-ranked penalty killing unit. The defense corps, led by the dominant Jared Cowen, has a combined +51 rating. Goaltending has been a huge factor in the Chiefs' defensive success. Sophomore James Reid has been one of the best goaltenders in the WHL this season, posting a League-leading 2.06 GAA and a stellar.927 save percentage. Reid has followed Dustin Tokarski's footsteps in providing the Chiefs with top-notch goaltending.

Tri-City Americans

2009-10 record: 35gp 26-9-0-0, 52pts (1st in Div., 1st in Conf.) GF: 141 GA: 90

Top Scorers:

Brendan Shinnimin 34gp-20g-28a-48pts

Brooks Macek 35gp-10g-31a-41pts

Johnny Lazo 35gp-21g-16a-37pts

Halfway through the 2009-10 season, the Americans find themselves in familiar territory at the top of the U.S. Division and Western Conference standings. Currently seven points clear of Spokane for top spot in the highly competitive U.S. Division, the Ams are in good shape to make a push for their third consecutive division title. The Ams have boasted one of the top offensive units in the League this season, and currently rank third in the WHL with 141 goals. Brendan Shinnimin and Johnny Lazo have both topped the 20-goal mark already while five other Ams forwards have at least 10 goals. In addition, the Ams own the League's sixth-best power play, and draw the most penalties, on average, of any team per game, which helps the offensive output. As good as they've been, offensively, the Ams also own one of the League's stingiest defenses, having allowed the second-fewest number of goals of any team. Jarrett Toll, Brett Plouffe and the rest of the Ams' defense corps are a combined +56, and have helped the team maintain the WHL's seventh-ranked penalty killing unit. Goaltending may have been a question mark at the season's outset, with the graduation of two-time WHL Goaltender of the Year Chet Pickard. However, Drew Owsley has eased those concerns, emerging as an elite netminder through the first half of the season. The 18-year-old has appeared in a League-high 34 games, leads all WHL netminders with 25 wins and four shutouts, and ranks fourth in the League in GAA and save percentage.


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