WHL Roundup: Rockets soar as WHL Playoffs loom

With only a handful of games left to go in the 2016-17 WHL regular season for most clubs the playoff picture should be nearly set.

Not so fast. Friday’s action proved to only muddy the waters, particularly in the Western Conference.

If there’s one thing we do know, the final week of WHL regular season action will not be short of excitement and intrigue.

Here we go…

Brandon Wheat Kings (1) at Prince Albert Raiders (3)
Brandon (29-27-7-3) // Prince Albert (18-42-5-2)

Ian Scott’s 29-save effort propelled the Raiders to a 3-1 victory over the Wheat Kings on Friday night.

The two sides headed to the third period deadlocked at 1-1 after a first period goal from Prince Albert’s Zack Hayes and Brandon’s Tanner Kaspick tally late in the second frame.

The game-winning goal came by way of Cole Fonstad’s 10th of the year with just 2:42 remaining in regulation before Curtis Miske sealed the deal with an empty-netter.

Cavin Leth picked up a pair of helpers for the Raiders in the win.

Travis Child made 30 saves for the Wheaties and was named the game’s second star.

Despite the loss, Brandon remains securely in the first wild card slot in the Eastern Conference (68 points) as the Saskatoon Blades (63 points) also fell on Friday.

Moose Jaw Warriors (0) at Regina Pats (5)
Moose Jaw (41-18-7-1) // Regina (47-12-7-1)

The WHL’s leading scorer was at it again on Friday.

Sam Steel added four points (2g-2a) to get the Pats back on track. The Anaheim Ducks prospect now boasts a league-leading season total of 123 points (48g-75a) through 61 games played.

Tyler Brown was steady when called upon, turning aside all 26 shots sent his way for the shutout.

The Pats’ win give the club a total of 102 points on the season which also secured the East Division title as the second-place Warriors fell 12 points back with five games remaining.

Swift Current Broncos (5) at Saskatoon Blades (3)
Swift Current (36-21-4-6) // Saskatoon (27-32-7-2)

In a WHL on Shaw dandy, the Broncos fought back to earn a hard-fought win over the Blades who are in a dog fight for the final wild card slot in the Eastern Conference.

Two Braylon Shmyr goals, his 33rd and 34th of the season, pushed the Blades to a 2-0 lead after the first frame.

The Broncos regrouped in the intermission and rattled off four goals by the 12:13 mark of the third period to take a 4-2 lead.

Tyler Steenbergen had two of those for the Broncos to give him 49 markers on the season.

The Blades got within a goal, but Lane Pederson’s powerplay goal sealed the win for the Broncos.

The loss was costly for the Blades as the Calgary Hitmen won on Friday to draw within a single point of Saskatoon for the final wild card position in the Eastern Conference.

Lethbridge Hurricanes (3) at Calgary Hitmen (4)
Lethbridge (43-18-4-3) // Calgary (26-31-8-2)

As mentioned, the Calgary Hitmen picked up a huge two points on Friday and now sit just one point back of Saskatoon for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Jaydan Gordon scored his second goal of the season 5:10 into the final period and the Hitmen hung on to edge the ‘Canes in Calgary.

Mark Kastelic, Jake Bean and Vladislav Yeryomenko each picked up a pair of assists for Calgary in a winning cause.

Tyler Wong had a pair of assists for Lethbridge on Friday and now has 104 points on the season, but remained at 49 goals as the WHL looks for its first 50-goal scorer this season.

Buffalo Sabres prospect Giorgio Estephan had a pair of goals for the Hurricanes in the loss.

Red Deer Rebels (4) at Kootenay ICE (1)
Red Deer (27-28-8-4) // Kootenay (14-42-9-2)

The Rebels scored an important win on Friday. While they currently sit as the third seed in the Central Division, Calgary is just four points back.

Brandon Hagel picked up a pair of goals on Friday including the game-winner. Hagel now has 24 on the year.

Vince Loschiavo notched his 27th of the year to get the ICE on the board first, but four second period goals from the Rebels proved to be Kootenay’s undoing.

Michael Spacek had a goal and two assists for the Rebs in the win.

Lasse Petersen stopped 32 of 33 to post the win.

Edmonton Oil Kings (3) at Medicine Hat Tigers (9)
Edmonton (20-41-5-1) // Medicine Hat (48-19-1-0)

The WHL’s highest-scoring offence was on display on Friday as the Tigers rattled off nine to down the Oil Kings.

Both Matt Bradley and Zach Fischer registered hat tricks on the evening and are each up to 33 goals on the season.

In total, six Medicine Hat players notched three-point nights on Friday. Steven Owre, Mason Shaw, David Quenneville and Chad Butcher also picked up three points apiece.

Edmonton got down 9-1 before Brayden Gorda and Kobe Mohr notched third period goals.

The Tigers sit five points back of the Regina Pats for the Eastern Conference title, while the Pats have a game in hand.

Victoria Royals (2) at Kamloops Blazers (6)
Victoria (37-26-4-1) // Kamloops (40-23-2-4)

The Blazers scored the game’s first four goals and never looked back on Friday.

Six different players registered markers for Kamloops on the night while Rudolfs Balcers, Quinn Benjafield and Nick Chyzowski each notched a goal and assist to be the named the game’s three stars, respectively.

Matthew Phillips picked up his 48th goal of the year for the Royals in the loss.

The win constituted a four-point swing in a tough B.C. Division, although both clubs are guaranteed a playoff berth.

Vancouver Giants (1) at Kelowna Rockets (8)
Vancouver (19-42-3-3) // Kelowna (42-21-5-0)

The Kelowna Rockets are heating up at the end of the regular season. Sound familiar?

The Rockets scored eight straight before James Malm negated Brodan Salmond’s shutout midway through the third period.

Dillon Dube (2g-1a) and Calvin Thurkauf (0g-3a) led the way for Kelowna while 14 different Rockets’ skaters hit the scoresheet on Friday.=

Giants’ goaltender David Tendeck was peppered with 47 shots.

Kelowna is now three points clear of Kamloops and two points back of Prince George in the B.C. Division with a game in hand on both clubs.

Portland Winterhawks (4) at Spokane Chiefs (2)
Portland (37-26-1-3) // Spokane (26-31-7-3)

Having already cemented their position in the WHL Playoffs, the Winterhawks downed the eliminated Chiefs on Friday to further muddy the matchup waters.

The Hawks are now just one point back of the Victoria Royals for the first wild card spot as well as one point back of the Tri-City Americans for the third spot in the U.S. Division. Playoff matchups in the Western Conference are anything but settled.

The stars were on display in this game. Draft-eligibles Cody Glass (Portland) and Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane) exchanged goals before Oilers prospect Caleb Jones struck and Glass added another to make it 3-1 ‘Hawks.

Taylor Ross made it a 3-2 game with a shorthanded marker with 3:27 to go in the third, but Portland’s Skyler McKenzie potted his 39th of the season into an empty net to seal the victory.

Jayden Sittler stopped 45 shots for the Chiefs in a losing cause.

Prince George Cougars (6) at Tri-City Americans (1)
Prince George (43-21-3-2) // Tri-City (38-26-3-0)

The Cougars kept pace near the top of both the B.C. Division and Western Conference with a 6-1 win on Friday.

Jesse Gabrielle picked up his 32nd and 33rd goals of the year to lead the way for the Cougars while Radovan Bondra picked up a goal and an assist.

In total, 12 Cougars hit the scoresheet on Friday while Ty Edmonds stopped 29 of 30 in goal.

Kyle Olson’s 19th was the Ams’ lone marker. Rylan Parenteau and Evan Sarthou split the load in net for Tri-City and weathered a barrage of 48 shots from the Cougars.

Everett Silvertips (2) at Seattle Thunderbirds (3)
Everett (40-14-8-3) // Seattle (42-19-4-2)

The final game of the evening on Friday was a heavyweight tilt that saw the Thunderbirds leapfrog Everett and move one point ahead in the U.S. Division and Western Conference standings.

Sean Richards jumped the ‘Tips out to a 1-0 lead before Turner Ottenbreit and Alexander True gave the T-Birds a 2-1 lead.

With just 49 seconds left in the second period, Connor Dewar levelled the score for Everett.

Edmonton Oilers prospect Ethan Bear picked up his 27th goal of the year from the backend 7:45 into the third period which stood as the game-winner.

While the T-Birds sit one point up on the ‘Tips, Everett retains two games in hand on Seattle and three on Prince George.

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