The Second Season Begins – Playoff Time

By Jeff Bromley
1296 games, 3888 periods, 233,280 minutes of play (not counting overtime), over two million fans and now the fun begins. With the second season upon us, it just wouldn’t be the playoffs if we didn’t have predictions. So without further adieu, I submit for your perusal a glimpse of the first round match-ups of the 2001 edition of the WHL Playoffs. Of course as always, these predictions are solely for the purpose of entertainment and in no way are they to be taken seriously. Unless, of course, I get them right.

Western Conference –
In the wacky West, where the difference from first to worst was only a handful of points all season long, the clubs’ position in the standings was as volatile as the stock market. You never knew which one was going to go up or go down. Take into consideration that at Press time, the match-ups for the Western Division clubs could still change. With two or three games left to played for most of the clubs in the West, it accentuates how close the teams really are.

Kelowna/Prince George –
It would be easy to pick the top-seeded Rockets in this clash if only because of the Cougars being something of an enigma this season. Starting out the season with four wins in their first twenty games and then picking it up to go on a seventeen-game undefeated streak only to slump in the last quarter of the season. The Rockets have been steady all season long and even if the Cougars get hot. the only thing they’ll do is prolong the series. Rockets get their first-ever franchise playoff series win in six games.

Portland/Seattle –
This match-up will be a treat not only because of the intense rivalry between the two clubs, but also because the Hawks and T-Birds match up well. If Seattle can get together and play as good as they are on paper, this one will go the distance. If not, it could be over quickly. At any rate, Seattle G.M. Russ Farwell is not going to the result – Edge in Goal-tending gives the WinterHawks the advantage in seven.

Kamloops/Spokane –
Two clubs supposedly in the rebuilding phase that have faired quite well. The Blazers however are farther along in the process and, in a precursor to next season when once again they will be a force to be reckoned with, the Blazers will send the Chiefs packing in six.

Look for the Rockets to come out of the Western Conference if only because of the dreaded bye will have them well-rested to tangle with the winner of a five-game Portland-Kamloops war that will see the Winterhawks come out on top, only to lose to the Rockets in a grueling seven game series.

Eastern Conference

Red Deer/Lethbridge –
If you’re looking for an upset, better keep looking. At times during the season the Hurricanes have looked like giant-beaters, now they just look beat. Goalie Joel Martin going to have to stand on his head just to make it close. Rebels are just too strong – Red Deer in four.

Swift Current/Brandon –
This could be upset territory. The Wheat Kings are finally healthy and if they get strong play between the pipes by Jamie Hodgson, play physical without going to the box, they will come out on top. The Broncos can be had. My only upset of the first round – Wheat Kings in six.

Regina/Calgary –
An interesting first round match-up of two strong clubs that have had their share of adversity over the course of the regular season. Regina being considered a weak Memorial Cup host club at the beginning of the season and then selling the farm to become a contender. The Hitmen being strong near the beginning and at the midpoint of the season and then falling into a tailspin to finish. Cowtown will get their number one sniper back in Kris Beech and Brendl will be a force if he feels like it. Questions lie in the net with Brady Block. With number one man Brent Krahn gone for the season, Block’s play could be the difference in this series. That being said, if the Pats stay out of penalty trouble, they will come out on top. – Pats in seven

Kootenay/Moose Jaw –
If the last meeting of the season is any indication, a 10-2 drubbing of the Warriors by the ICE, this one could be over quickly. The Warriors are better than that but it still won’t be a long series. The firing of Coach Les Nielson with three games to go in the season is a curious move by Warrior G.M. Ralph Schmidt. Don’t think that it will have the same effect as when New Jersey G.M. Lou Lamoriello did it last year to Rob Ftorek which saw his replacement, Larry Robinson take the Devils to the Stanley Cup. Philosophical differences maybe but not this late in the season. Moose Jaw will be a force to be reckoned with next season but not this year. New coach or old coach, ICE in five.

Quick Hits –
In the last game of the regular season against the Wheat Kings the ICE had two impact players leave the game in the third period. Jarret Stoll on a hit from behind in which his head hit the glass and Zdenek Blatny on a slash to the shoulder. Both are reportedly fine and expected to start game one of the playoffs against Moose Jaw….ICE fans who are going to games one and two on the weekend are asked to come wearing white – creating an ‘Avalanche of White’ for the playoffs. Tickets for both games are available all week long at the Rec/Plex Box office.