Plenty of playoff implications beginning to creep into contests as we work into the second half of the season, and that was certainly true with five games spread across the WHL on Tuesday.
In Brandon, the Saskatoon Blades stole two points from the Wheat Kings and clawed a step closer to an Eastern Conference wild card position, while the Kamloops Blazers defeated the Tri-City Americans to keep pace in the busy BC Division.
In Medicine Hat, the tale of the Eastern Conference’s two teams ended decisively in favour of the Regina Pats.
In other action featuring East Division teams, the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos remain neck-and-neck at 51 points apiece after collecting wins in each of their respective outings.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty…
Saskatoon Blades (4) at Brandon Wheat Kings (2)
Saskatoon (15-20-5-1) // Brandon (18-16-4-0)
The Saskatoon Blades scored a critical victory as they look to make up ground in the WHL’s Eastern Conference Wild Card race, cutting down the Brandon Wheat Kings by a 4-2 final Tuesday night.
In a key four-point divisional game, the Blades received two goals from import defenceman Libor Hajek as they pulled to within four points of both the Wheat Kings and Red Deer Rebels for an
Eastern Conference wild card. One catch is both the Wheat Kings and Rebels have games in hand on the Blades – three and two, respectively – but the fact of the matter is Saskatoon is proving it’s ready for a strong push in the second half of the campaign.
Jesse Shynkaruk opened the scoring with his 13th of the season 31 seconds into the middle period, only to see Connor Gutenberg and Jordan Wharrie notched back-to-back markers to give the Wheat Kings a 2-1 lead after 40 minutes of play.
The Blades took control early in the third period as Hajek sent his second of the season to the back of the net, tying the game 2-2 only 2:31 in. Not finished yet, the Czech defender secured his second of the evening 1:40 later to give his club a 3-2 lead that eventually held up.
Braylon Shmyr added empty-net insurance – his 21st goal of the season – to seal the victory.
Brock Hamm turned aside 25 shots for his fifth win of the season, while Jordan Papirny made 38 saves in defeat.
Libor Hájek scores twice 1:40 apart giving the Blades a 3-2 lead 4:11 into the 3rd period!! ? pic.twitter.com/5aEzmSx9A7
— Saskatoon Blades (@BladesHockey) January 4, 2017
Tri-City Americans (2) at Kamloops Blazers (5)
Tri-City (22-17-3-0) // Kamloops (24-15-1-1)
Dylan Ferguson celebrated his WHL Player of the Month honours with another sterling performance, kicking out 36 shots to backstop the Kamloops Blazers to a 5-2 win over the Tri-City Americans on Tuesday.
The 18-year-old product of Lantzville, B.C., was named WHL Player of the Month for December earlier in the day after going 6-3-0-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .933 SV% after taking over crease duties from the departed Connor Ingram, who is with Team Canada at the 2017 IIHF World Junior Championship.
Ferguson’s teammates gave him the required run support, as Travis Walton, Collin Shirley and Jermaine Loewen scored before the midpoint of the first period to stake out a 3-0 lead before Michael Rasmussen registered his 28th goal of the season to get Tri-City on the board.
Nick Chyzowski restored the three-goal lead early in the second period, only to see Jordan Topping get the visitors back within two once again.
Deven Sideroff iced the win, depositing his 24th of the season into an empty-net in the final minute.
Ferguson’s 36 saves were good enough for his 10th win of the season, while Evan Sarthou made 19 stops in defeat.
Shirley finished the night with three points (1G-2A, while Chyzowski (1G-1A) and Sideroff (1G-1A) also had multipoint efforts for the Blazers. Topping collected one goal and one assist on behalf of the Americans.
— Tri-City Americans (@TCAmericans) January 4, 2017
Regina Pats (6) at Medicine Hat Tigers (2)
Regina (26-3-6-1) // Medicine Hat (27-12-1-0)
The Regina Pats scored early and often en route to a 6-2 win over the Medicine Hat Tigers on Tuesday.
Sam Steel, Jake Leschyshyn and Austin Wagner all scored consecutively before the game was seven minutes old, giving Regina a 3-0 lead by the 6:18 mark of the first period.
Steven Owre managed to get the Tigers on the board midway through the second period, but shortly thereafter Dawson Leedahl, Connor Hobbs and Steel replied with another trio of strikes to give the Pats a sizeable 6-1 advantage after 40 minutes.
Ryan Jevne rounded out the scoring in the third period, notching his fifth of the season for Medicine Hat.
Tyler Brown turned aside 36 shots for his 18th win of the season, while Nick Schneider was chasesd from the Tigers crease after surrendering three goals on five shots. Newcomer Michael Bullion made 25 saves in relief.
Garnering multipoint nights for the Pats were Nick Henry (3A), Steel (2G-1A), Hobbs (1G-1A), Leedahl (1G-2A) and Adam Brooks (2A). Owre managed two points (1G-1A) in defeat for the Tigers.
— Regina Pats (@WHLPats) January 4, 2017
Moose Jaw Warriors (6) at Prince Albert Raiders (5) – SO
Moose Jaw (22-9-6-1) // Prince Albert (8-29-1-2)
Brayden Burke registered a hat trick and Nikita Popugaev scored the deciding goal in the shootout as the Moose Jaw Warriors edged the Prince Albert Raiders on Tuesday.
The two teams went back-and-forth after Burke opened the scoring with his eighth of the season only 36 seconds into regulation. From there, Parker Kelly responded, tying the game 1-1 only 2:57 later. Unsatisfied with that result, Burke struck for an unassisted power-play goal 5:13 later to restore Moose Jaw’s one-goal advantage.
Sean Montgomery and Luke Coleman managed two tallies a matter of 28 seconds apart as the Raiders took a 3-2 lead midway through the opening period.
After a relatively quiet stretch, Brett Howden and Tanner Jeannot scored back-to-back over the course of 3:50 midway through the second period, and the Warriors reclaimed the lead, making it a 4-3 game after 40 minutes of play.
Newly acquire forward Curtis Miske – who came to Prince Albert via Spokane on Monday – scored his sixth of the season to knot the game 4-4. But it was Burke finding the back of the net for the third time on the night – and 10th time this season – giving Moose Jaw a 5-4 edge moments later.
Carson Miller made sure the Raiders got at least a point out of the wild affair, evening the see-saw contest with 1:50 to play in regulation.
From there, Jayden Halbgewachs and Popugaev found pay dirt while Zach Sawchenko was perfect in the skills competition, giving Moose Jaw the 6-5 triumph.
Sawchenko made 31 saves, plus two more in the shootout, to claim his 15th win of the season. Nicholas Sanders made 32 saves in defeat.
Lethbridge Hurricanes (4) at Swift Current Broncos (5)
Lethbridge (20-14-3-2) // Swift Current (22-11-3-4)
The Swift Current Broncos won their third consecutive game, sneaking past the Lethbridge Hurricanes by a 5-4 margin Tuesday night.
The game wasn’t without its drama.
Calvin Spencer opened the scoring three minutes in, giving the Broncos a 1-0 edge. But the wheels fell off the Speedy Creek wagon shortly after as Giorgio Estephan scored twice to end the first period before Igor Merezhko and Tyler Wong tallied in the second period to give Lethbridge a 4-1 advantage.
Tyler Steenbergen struck for his 27th goal of the season only 19 seconds after Wong had given the Hurricanes a 4-1 lead, sparking a colossal comeback for the hosts. Max Lajoie made it a 4-3 game 6:10 later and Colby Sissons deadlocked the affair 32 seconds after that.
Bookending the scoring, Spencer secured his ninth of the campaign 3:34 into the third period, giving the Broncos a 5-4 lead that stood the test of regulation.
Travis Child endured, making 29 saves for his 13th win of the season, while Stuart Skinner stopped 38 shots in defeat.
Recording multipoint nights for the Broncos were Steenbergen (1G-1A), Spencer (2G) and Lajoie (1G-1A). The Hurricanes received multipoint performances from Wong (1G-1A), Estephan (2G-1A), Colton Kroeker (2A) and Brennan Menell (2A).
— SC Broncos (@SCBroncos) January 4, 2017