As of Thursday morining, Oct. 28, the division is lead by the Prince George Cougars with fifteen points from fourteen games followed by the Kamloops Blazers, defending division champions, and Kelowna Rockets, each with thirteen points from the same number of games as the Cougars. The Tri-City Americans sit in fourth with twelve points after only ten games, with everyones preseason pick to runaway with the division, the Seattle Thunderbirds in fifth, with eleven points from only nine games and the Spokane Chiefs in sixth with ten points from ten games. The pre season consensus for last were the Portland Winterhawks and they are living down to eveyones expectations with a mere four points from eleven games, however the Hawks have picked up points in three of the last four games and may have turned the corner to be coming more competitive more often.
With the three Canadian teams having played between three and five more games than there American counterparts, the standings could dratically change over the next couple of weeks as the stagger in the schedule is made up. The Seattle Thunderbirds with five games in hand over the leaders should make a big move up the standings in the next few weeks as new goaltender Alexandre Fomitchev, acquired by trade from the defending league champion Calgary Hitmen and Oleg Sparykin, returned from the NHL’s Calgary Flames settle in with the team and begin to contribute. Seattle will likely improve even more by the November 1 deadline for teams to declare their three overage roster players. With a few teams still carrying extra overagers, look for Seattle to try and pick up some veteran leadership for what most think will be a run at the Memorial Cup, as they currently have room for overage players.
Prince George looks to be able to give the T-Birds the most problems as they have a veteran laden roster led by World Junior Team players Tyler Bouck and Blair Betts, along with the recent return of arguably the divisions best goaltender from pro hockey, Scott Myers. A smallish defence is the biggest hole the Cougars need to fill if they are to give the Birds a challenge come playoff time. With the improved play of Travis Eagles, Trent Hunter and Josef Mrena, the Coug’s could be a real handful come playoff time should they solidify the defence.
At this point the rest of the division looks like a crap shoot, with the overage deadline looming and a raft of trades already done, the other teams could be vastly different in the next while, but it looks like the Kelowna Rockets are serious about competing this year as they have acquired Dallas Flaman from the Prince Albert Raiders and Curtis Rich of the Calgary Hitmen as overagers to go with the solid crew of youngsters they’ve assembled over the past couple of years. Kamloops appears to be going with a youthful roster and are willing to bite the bullet this year in order to be competitive next year, after having gone to the league final during the 98/99 season. Tri-City and Spokane seem to be searching for an identity after having made huge changes late last season, but it appears the Chiefs addition of some good young talent has them on the path to being comptetitive after a non-playoff year last year, while the Ams look good one night and then struggle the next could be an indication of the year they’ll have. one thing for sure about the Ams though, with the likes of Stephen Peat, K.C. Timmons, Mike Lee and Jeff Katcher, they’ll give most teams a punishing night on the ice as all four of these guys are tough, physical players but putting the puck in the net may be a big problem as Milan Bartovic, a much heralded Euro draft, has yet to show the explosiveness he was touted to possess! The Portland Winterhawks have made a few player changes lately, but even with the changes, the Hawks have only four points from eleven games and appear to have nowhere to go but up.