WHL Season Rewind: East Division
As the Western Hockey League’s 22 member clubs prepare for the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season, there’s renewed hopes of hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup at the conclusion of the 2019 WHL Playoffs. Before the season gets underway, it’s time to take a look back at the individual and team performances that made the 2017-18 season one to remember. Today, the WHL is taking a look back at the East Division, which produced the 2018 WHL Champions, 2018 Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy Champions, and five selections at the 2018 NHL Draft. This is the WHL Season Rewind.
Moose Jaw Warriors – 52-15-2-3 – 1st in East
The Moose Jaw Warriors were the team to beat during the 2017-18 Western Hockey League regular season. With a record of 52-15-2-3 and 109 points, the Warriors won the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as the WHL Regular Season Champions.
Leading the way for the Warriors were a plethora of offensive stars. Jayden Halbgewachs recorded 129 points (70G-59A), earning the Bob Clarke Trophy as the WHL’s Top Scorer and the CCM Top Scorer Award, leading all players from across the Canadian Hockey League. Halbgewach’s accomplishments didn’t stop there as his 70-goal campaign made him the first WHL player to reach that mark since Pavel Brendl did so in the 1998-99 season.
Following close behind were the likes of Brayden Burke, who posted 113 points (31G-82A), and Justin Almeida, who had a breakout season with 98 points (43G-55A).
Acquired mid-season by the Warriors, Los Angeles Kings prospect Kale Clague helped provide an offensive option from the team’s blue line, finishing with 71 points (11G-60A). Clague’s defensive skills were recognized at the 2018 WHL Awards as he earned the Bill Hunter Trophy as the WHL Defencemen of the Year, the first member of the Warriors franchise to capture the honour.
These performances, matched with spectacular goaltending from goaltender Brody Willms, led the Warriors to a franchise-best season. The season started with the team on a mission, winning their first five games. This continued throughout the season as they recorded four different winning streaks of five games or more, including a run from December 28th to January 26th where they won 12 of 13 games.
After the trade deadline acquisition of Clague, the Warriors were all in. Posting a 19-9-1-1 record after the WHL Trade Deadline, the Warriors continued to pull away from all contenders on their way to their first 100-point season in franchise history and the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy.
The 2018 WHL Playoffs started with adversity when they were taken to seven games against the Prince Albert Raiders. The Warriors would go on to win that series but faced another tough opponent in the Swift Current Broncos. With the series going to seven games as well, the Warriors ultimately bowed out of the 2018 WHL Playoffs in Round Two.
Though the season’s success did not ultimately produce a championship, it did lead to a trio of players earning contracts with National Hockey League clubs. Halbgewachs was rewarded for a productive first half with an entry-level contract from the San Jose Sharks in December. At the beginning of March, the Arizona Coyotes signed Burke to an entry-level contract as well. A month later, Jeannot was signed to an entry-level contract by the Nashville Predators near the conclusion of his junior hockey career.
The honours didn’t stop at the club or player level as the operations staff also found themselves a part of success at the international level. Tim Hunter, Head Coach of the Warriors, served on Canada’s coaching staff at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship in Buffalo, N.Y. as Canada won gold with captain Brett Howden and soon-to-be Warriors defenceman Clague a part of the championship squad. In early July, Hunter was named as the Head Coach of Canada’s National Junior Team, tasked with guiding Canada back to the top of the podium as the World Juniors come to Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. in 2019.
In the team’s front office, General Manager Alan Millar was named to Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence management group where he advised Canada’s under-18 program, helping them to a golden performance at the 2018 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Concluding a strong season on the ice, the Warriors also made good at the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas, Texas. First, defenceman Jett Woo was selected in the second round, 37th overall, by the Vancouver Canucks. The Pittsburgh Penguins were the other team to select a player from the Warriors talent pool, taking Justin Almeida in the fifth round, 129th overall.
Swift Current Broncos – 48-17-5-2 – 2nd in East
The Swift Current Broncos won the Ed Chynoweth Cup for the third time in franchise history and for the first time in 25 years. Their grueling path through the WHL playoffs saw them play a record 26 post-season games. This was a memorable season that brought many great storylines that will be remembered for years to come.
The Broncos were led by a trio of offensive talent in Glenn Gawdin, who scored 125 points (56G-69A), Aleksi Heponiemi, who lead the league in assists and scored 118 points (28G-90A), and Tyler Steenbergen, who added 102 points (47G-55A). These three combined for a whopping 345 points, while appearing in a combined 180 games. All three also finished top six in league scoring.
The Broncos could not have started the season any better as the months of September and October brought many highlights. The team started their season on an eight-game winning streak. By the end of October they were 10-2-1-0. During that time, Broncos netminder Logan Flodell was named the Vaughn WHL Goaltender of Month and their top forwards were off to a fast pace. Gawdin had 30 points (11G-19A), Heponiemi had 34 points (10G-24A), and Steenbergen had 35 points (21G-14A) each playing only 13 games. With 21 goals in 13 games, Steenbergen was named WHL Player of the Month.
The Broncos continued their dominance, posting four winning streaks of six games or more over the season. Heading into the Christmas break, the club had a record of 25-7-2.
Throughout the season, moves were made to provided depth and scoring beyond the first line. Mid–season trades saw the acquisitions of Giorgio Estephan, who recorded 28 points (12G-16A) in 30 games, Matteo Gennaro, who scored 54 points (28G-26A) in 45 games and goaltender Stuart Skinner who posted a 2.68 GAA and a record of 16-6-2 after joining the Broncos.
This team was crafted by an incredible head coach in Manny Viveiros, who won the Dunc McCallum Memorial Trophy as Coach of the Year and joined the Edmonton Oilers coaching staff after the season. Viveiros, in his second season as coach in the WHL, maintained a career record of 87-30-17, with a win percentage of 0.713.
This season was historic for the Broncos, whose 103 points were the highest total they have had since they were awarded 111 three decades ago. They had a win percentage of 0.715 which was the first time they have had been on the north side of .700 since the 1999-2000 season when Todd McLellan was behind the bench. Heponiemi also took home some hardware at the 2018 WHL Awards when he received the Brad Hornung Trophy as the league’s Most Sportsmanlike Player, an honour his teammate Tyler Steenbergen received the previous year.
As playoffs rolled around the story was no different. The top line continued to dominate as Gawdin put up 32 points (14G-18A), Heponiemi recorded 30 points (5G-25A) and Steenbergen added 27 points (12G-15A).
The first round of the playoffs saw a rematch of the Round Two of the 2017 WHL Playoffs when the Broncos faced the Regina Pats. In 2017, the Broncos fell just short, losing in seven games and were determined not to let it happen again. This year, they bested the Pats in as many games to advance to Round Two.
The second round also saw a rematch of 2017’s Round One where the Broncos beat the Moose Jaw Warriors in seven games. As history tends to repeat itself, the Broncos again prevailed over the Warriors advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship.
The Eastern Conference Championship saw the return of goaltender Logan Flodell to Swift Current, going against Skinner. In a hard-fought battle, the Broncos prevailed in six games to reach the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
Throughout the playoffs and heading into the WHL Championship, the City of Swift Current was electric. Everywhere you looked, the slogan “Our Team Our Town” was posted. They headed into the series having already played 20 playoff games, compared to Everett’s 16 games. The Broncos rallied as they have done all season and were backstopped by Skinner who posted a playoff 2.20 GAA and .932 SVS%, leading themselves to the Ed Chynoweth cup and being named WHL Champions.
The players of this team were rewarded in many different ways, with captain Glenn Gawdin earning a contract with the Calgary Flames only 18 games into his season, already having posted 40 points (14G-26A). Some others earning contracts include Giorgio Estephan signing with the Toronto Marlies, Matteo Gennaro with the Tuscon Road Runners. Stuart Skinner, Tyler Steenbergen, and Josh Anderson would also ink deals with the Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, and Colorado Avalanche respectively.
This incredible season that saw a community find a common goal, and a record for season ticket sales, was capped off at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft when the Broncos backup goaltender Joel Hofer was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the fourth-round.
Regina Pats – 40-25-6-1 – 3rd in East
The 100th season of the Regina Pats was a momentous one for the franchise. Coming off a trip to the 2017 Rogers WHL Championship Series that ended in heartbreak, the Pats were looking to quickly adjust as they prepared to host the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup.
Receiving an early boost in late September with the return of captain Sam Steel and leading defenceman Josh Mahura from camp with the Anaheim Ducks, the two provided hope for a strong performance at the 100th edition of the Mastercard Memorial Cup in May.
Steel’s 83 points (33G-50A) had him in the team scoring lead for most of the year, while Mahura’s production of 69 points (22G-47A) ranked him seventh in scoring among defencemen in the WHL.
Acquired during the off-season from the Medicine Hat Tigers, Matt Bradley fit right in with the Pats, tallying 79 points (37G-42A) in his final year in the WHL. The team took time to gel as head coach and general manager John Paddock worked to build a roster ready to compete at the Memorial Cup in May, but found success along the way.
Pieces like Cameron Hebig, Cale Fleury, Jared Legien, Libor Hajek all played a strong part in leading the way as the team grew together.
As the years changed, things stayed the same in some sense. The team’s domination of the Prince Albert Raiders continued as they swept the season series against the northern-most Saskatchewan-based team, extending their winning streak to 15 games.
For the majority of the year, the Pats placed third in the competitive East Division behind the Moose Jaw Warriors and Swift Current Broncos. Over an 11-day stretch in February, the Warriors and Pats battled four times, with the Pats claiming two of the victories in the contest.
A late-season run saw the Pats’ odds improve after an undefeated in regulation run through the regular season portion of March with a 7-0-1-0 record. Helping them through that stretch was rookie goaltender Max Paddock, who emerged to play 33 games with the team, winning 19 of them.
Against their other Trans-Canada Highway rival, the Swift Current Broncos, the Pats ended up winning a key battle late in the season that would help set a matchup in Round One of the 2018 WHL Playoffs. The Pats battled throughout the seven-game series, winning once on the road and twice at home, but ultimately had their playoff run terminated in Game Seven by the eventual Ed Chynoweth Cup Champions.
The Pats had plenty of time to prepare for the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup and were ready to go from the opening whistle. A 3-2 victory over the Ontario Hockey League champion Hamilton Bulldogs gave them the first victory of the tournament. In a wild 8-6 game against the Acadie-Bathurst Titan two days later, the Pats took their first loss of the tournament, but rebounded on Wednesday, May 23, downing the Swift Current Broncos by a 6-5 score. This helped the Pats completes a measure of revenge on their Trans-Canada rivals, ending the Broncos season and progressing to the semi-final themselves.
Friday’s semi-final saw the Pats and Bulldogs clash once again, with the Pats emerging victorious by a 4-2 score. Though they fell short in the championship game that Sunday, the Pats persevered throughout the season and came together at the right moment to put themselves in a position for the championship victory. At the tournament, Steel led the tournament in scoring with 13 points (2G-11A), earning tournament Most Valuable Player honours. Nick Henry finished tied for the tournament lead in goals with five, marking a productive tournament for him.
The Pats also saw forward Jake Leschyshyn sign a three-year, entry level contract with the Vegas Golden Knights as he intends to be a strong component of next year’s squad in Regina as the Pats work to start the next century of the team’s existence with more success.
Brandon Wheat Kings – 40-27-3-2 – 4th in East
The Brandon Wheat Kings have found success recently, winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup in the 2015-16 season. The Wheat Kings remained competitive and followed suit this season, finishing fourth in the strong East division. A main component of the Wheat Kings success was their start, which saw them win nine of their first 13 games. They bettered their record with winning streaks that saw them win five or more games on three different occasions, including a 10-game winning streak from November 25th to December 15th. By Christmas time, the Wheat Kings were boasting an impressive 24-8-0-1 record.
The Wheat Kings were led by a career point-per-game player in Ty Lewis, who recorded 100 points (44G-56A) in 70 games. Stelio Mattheos, a third round Carolina Hurricanes draft pick in 2017 , had 90 points (43G-47A) in 68 games enjoying a breakout season. Capping off the top three offensive performers, overage forward Evan Weinger scored 57 points (31G-26A) and five short handed goals after being acquired from the Portland Winterhawks.
Following close behind were forwards Connor Gutenberg, who posted 53 points (18G-35A) and Linden McCorrister with 43 points (20G-23A).
The Wheat Kings season was an interesting one to follow. As the rest of the Eastern Division stacked up for deep playoff runs, the Wheat Kings looked to acquire young talent to help them now, and in the future. In doing so, they acquired 2000-born (forward) Luka Burzan who impressed after joining the Wheat Kings, posting 21 points (9G-12A) in 30 games. They also added rookie defenceman Chase Hartje, who put up 8 points (3G-5A) in 27 games. Both acquisitions were listed on the NHL Central Scouting list for the 2018 NHL Draft throughout the season. Burzan was listed 91st amongst North American Skaters, while Hartje was ranked 202nd.
In addition to some young roster players, the Wheat Kings also acquired four first-round draft selections and some top end prospects. Jonathon Lambos and Ty Thorpe, (Rink Hockey Academy) both Manitoba natives and third-round picks by the Victoria Royals were sent close to home with the Wheat Kings. These moves bolstered the Wheat Kings going forward, as they build a team to continue to compete at a high level while develop NHL talent for years to come.
With a record of 40-27-3-2, a fourth-place finish was earned, and a first wild card spot in the playoffs moved the Wheat Kings to compete with the Central Division. This was the fifth playoff appearance in as many years for the Wheat Kings, who were crowned WHL Champions in 2016. As the first wild card, the Wheat Kings shifted took on the Central Division Champion Medicine Hat Tigers.
After tasting defeat in the first two games, the Wheat Kings rallied to win four straight. The final game of the series was a nail-biter as the teams went into overtime. A 3-3 tie was soon over when McCorrister hit the twine, ending Medicine Hat’s season. A win over the Tigers saw the Wheat Kings face off against the Lethbridge Hurricanes. who they were eventually eliminated by in five games.
Impressive performances throughout the season saw Ty Lewis sign a contract with the Colorado Avalanche after posting 10 points (2G-8A) in his first four games of the season, and Evan Weinger signed with the San Jose Barracuda, the San Jose Sharks affiliate in the American Hockey League.
While the season ended in Round Two of the 2018 WHL Playoffs, the Wheat Kings were able to bolster their future with trade deadline acquisitions. The Wheat Kings will be well-positioned to make their sixth trip to the WHL Playoffs next spring and enjoy success for many years to come.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) April 2, 2018
Prince Albert Raiders – 32-27-9-4 – 5th in East
The 2017-18 WHL Regular Season brought more hope and prosperity for the Prince Albert Raiders.
A roster laden with established and rising talent made for a 28-point improvement as the Raiders clawed their way back into the 2018 WHL Playoffs, surviving the intense daily battle that was the East Division. Though it may have been easy for the Raiders to become an after-thought when the storylines of the previous four teams took hold, the Raiders refused to relent for the entire season.
Starting the season with a 3-4-3-0 record, the Raiders fought through the early competition as their divisional rivals bolted out of the gates.
Jordy Stallard led the club with 91 points (44G-47A), leading them in goals as well. Second-year forward Cole Fonstad had a breakout offensive season, helping aid the Raiders forward group as he tallied 73 points (21G-52A) in 72 games. Rounding out the top three in team scoring was mid-season acquisition Kody McDonald, who compiled 66 points (34G-32A).
On top of those impressive performances, the likes of Curtis Miske, Parker Kelly, and Regan Nagy, another mid-season acquisition, played a role in a Raiders club that scored 245 this season, the most since they tallied 247 in the 2010-11 season.
Limited to 50 games due to an early-season injury, goaltender Ian Scott kept the Raiders solid between the pipes, posting 24 wins, which included three separate four-game winning streaks by the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect.
The Raiders even got an eight-game glimpse of the future of their blue line as Kaiden Guhle, the younger brother of former Raider Brendan Guhle and the first overall selection from the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft, made his debut. With a plethora of other prospects waiting to fill bigger roles for the coming season, Guhle provided some hope that the good times for the Raiders are here to stay.
Coming down the final stretch of the season, the Raiders were performing well, but needed to find another level to earn their ticket to the 2018 WHL Playoffs. They did that and more, going on a nine-game winning streak between late February and early March 2018 that made their playoff dreams a reality.
Embroiled in a Round One matchup against the Moose Jaw Warriors, the Prince Albert Raiders held their own against the best team from the regular season, taking the East Division Champions to seven games. Even in the dying moments of the seventh and deciding game, the Raiders were locked in a tie game with the Warriors as only a timely goal from Moose Jaw provided the difference.
A remarkable feat from the series was how close the goal splits were, with the Raiders actually outscoring the Warriors 25-23 in the series.
The season also brought individual success for players on the roster. After being passed over at the 2017 NHL Draft, Kelly was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract by the Ottawa Senators days before the start of the season.
The 2018 NHL Draft also brought jubilation for the club as Fonstad was selected by the Montreal Canadiens in the fifth round, 128th overall, marking the eighth-straight year a member of the Raiders had been selected at the NHL Draft.
Saskatoon Blades – 35-33-3-1 – 6th in East
The Saskatoon Blades fell three points short of making the playoffs despite finishing their season on a three-game win streak and having a 0.514-win percentage. This last place finish does not signify much as the East had arguably the strongest teams it has seen over the past few decades, with two teams in the East finishing ranked first and second in the league, both with over 100 points.
The season came down to the last two weeks as the Raiders and the Blades battled it out for the final wildcard spot. An ill-timed losing streak was the undoing and a late three game winning streak, two over the Raiders in four-point games, put the Blades on the doorstep with no one answering the door. While the season ended in heartbreak, the Blades have many things to look forward to in the coming season and beyond.
Coming into this season the Blades were hoping to be a playoff team. With the exceptional play of several teams within the division, the idea of playoffs remained, but the rosters of the opposition began looking daunting.
The trade deadline was a busy day for the Blades, who had a record of 22-19-2-1 at the time. The day was headlined with the departures of leading scorer Cameron Hebig and top pairing defenceman Libor Hajek. In exchange the Blades stocked the cupboards, acquiring several first round selections, a perennial 30-goal-scorer in Max Gerlach, and long-time teammate and friend of Dach and center Chase Wouters, Eric Florchuk. These moves give the Blades the opportunity to contend next year and give them an excellent shot at being contenders for several years to come.
This season, the team was led by overage forward Braylon Shmyr, who scored 88 points (37G-51A), Max Gerlach who scored over 30 goals for the third straight season, and Josh Paterson, who had 53 points (31G-22A).
Following close behind were some young players who are starting to prove themselves in the league. The 17-year-old Chase Wouters recorded 51 points (18G-33A), Eric Florchuk put up 21 points (9G-12A) in 28 games, and 16-year-old Kirby Dach had 46 points (7G-39A) in 52 games. As this group matures, the team will improve around them.
In addition to some budding-young forwards, the Blades also played the majority of last season with a rookie goaltender in Nolan Maier. Maier was impressive as a rookie, winning 23 games. He is the first 16-year-old to win over 20 games since Calvin Pickard did with the Seattle Thunderbirds in 2008-09.
The team did end the season on a high note, being named WHL Scholastic Team of the Year for their outstanding achievements in the classroom. One player in particular, Chase Wouters, was the runner up for Daryl (Doc) K. Seaman Memorial Trophy as the WHL Scholastic Player of Year.
The team also did well against some tough opponents. The split the season series with the Broncos, finishing 4-3-0-1 in their eight matches. They also had a 6-1-1-0 record against their rivals the Prince Albert Raiders. If this is any indication, this team is ready to compete, and will look to do so next season.
The Blades also saw one of their young stars drafted into the WHL this season when Eric Florchuk was selected by the Washington Capitals in the seventh round. Next season, Saskatoon is hoping to see more of their players selected, with Kirby Dach expected to be selected within the top 10.
While this season fell short of a desire post-season run, the Saskatoon Blades have a solid young core and have a lot of up-and-coming talent that fans should be excited to watch in the coming years.
— The WHL (@TheWHL) May 2, 2018