With the Conference Championship series of the 2017 Western Hockey League Playoffs set to begin Friday, April 21, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the two head-to-head matchups on either side of the league.
In our second of two Conference Championship series playoff previews, we examine the CHL’s top-ranked Regina Pats and the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
After cruising through the Calgary Hitmen in a four-game sweep to open the 2017 WHL Playoffs, the Regina Pats were faced with a much stiffer test in the second round, requiring seven games to corral the Swift Current Broncos. In fact, the Broncos actually kicked up a 3-1 series lead, forcing the Pats to stave off elimination in three consecutive games in order to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship.
Though they lost the services of captain Adam Brooks to injury in the second round, the Pats survived arguably their toughest challenge of the season and should be all the better as a result. After all, success is built on overcoming adversity.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes haven’t had an easy run either. In fact, they’ve had the toughest road, arguably, of the four teams appearing in the WHL Championship series.
In the opening round, the Hurricanes fell behind the Red Deer Rebels before erasing 3-1 series deficit to advance in seven games, much like the Pats did in the second round. Taking on the Central Division-champion Medicine Hat Tigers in the second round, the Hurricanes went punch for punch with their Highway 3 rivals before captain Tyler Wong propelled his team into the Eastern Conference Championship with an electrifying shorthanded effort in overtime of Game 7.
Having played the maximum number of possible games to this point in the post-season, it stands to reason there might be some casualties along the way and the Hurricanes somehow managed to overcome an overflowing injury ward to advance. Down due to injury are overage forwards and WHL Trade Deadline acquisitions Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky. Ryan Vandervlis, who provided the Game 7 heroics in the first round against Red Deer, has also been felled. Gritty Zane Franklin hasn’t been able to suit up and 17-year-old stud defenceman Calen Addison didn’t finish the second round against Medicine Hat.
Not only are the Hurricanes beaten black and blue, they’re missing a litany of key players. Most other teams would have folded under similar circumstance. But boosted by the leadership of Wong and receiving strong support in those thrown into the fire – particularly 16-year-old rookie Dylan Cozens – the Hurricanes have soldiered on.
— #WHLPlayoffs (@TheWHL) April 19, 2017
Game 1 – Friday, April 21 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 22 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 25 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 26 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 5 – Friday, April 28 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 6 – Sunday, April 30 – Enmax Centre – Lethbridge – 6 p.m. MT
*Game 7 – Tuesday, May 2 – Brandt Centre – Regina – 7 p.m. MT
Oct. 10 – Regina (7) at Lethbridge (2)
Oct. 18 – Lethbridge (1) at Regina (6)
Dec. 7 – Regina (4) at Lethbridge (5) – OT
Feb. 28 – Lethbridge (4) at Regina (1)
|Regina Pats||vs.||Lethbridge Hurricanes|
|52-12-7-1 (112 points)||Record||44-21-4-3 (95 points)|
|First||WHL Standing||Seventh Place|
|First||Conference Standing||Third Place|
|First – East||Division Standing||Second Place – Central Division|
|353 (First)||Goals For||280 (Fourth)|
|211 (Sixth)||Goals Against||253 (14th)|
|31.5% (First)||Power Play||23.9% (Sixth)|
|81.4% (Seventh)||Penalty Kill||78.6% (11th)|
|Eliminated in Second Round||2015-16 Playoffs||Eliminated in First Round|
|Sam Steel – 50-81—131||Leading Scorer||Tyler Wong – 51-58—109|
|Adam Brooks – 43-87—130||Second Leading Scorer||Giorgio Estephan – 35-43—89|
|Dawson Leedahl – 35-54—89||Third Leading Scorer||Zak Zborosky – 41-33—74|
|Sam Steel – 50 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Tyler Wong – 51 goals|
|Connor Hobbs – 31-54—85||Top Scoring Defenceman||Brennan Menell – 12-59—71|
(33-8-5-1, 2.64, .911, 5 SO)
|Top Goaltender||Stuart Skinner
(34-18-3-2, 3.26, .905, 2 SO)
|5-1||Playoffs – Home Record||4-3|
|3-2||Playoffs – Road Record||4-3|
|45 (4.09/game)||Playoffs – Goals For||54 (3.86/game)|
|23 (2.09/game)||Playoffs – Goals Against||47 (3.36/game)|
|29.3% (Fourth)||Playoffs – Power Play||23.3% (10th)|
|80.0% (T-5th)||Playoffs – Penalty Kill||71.4% (11th)|
|Sam Steel – 7-12—19||Playoffs – Leading Scorer||Tyler Wong – 11-11—22|
(8-3, 1.90, .936)
|Playoffs – Top Goaltender||Stuart Skinner
(8-6, 3.03, .918)
Key to the Series – Regina Pats
Goaltending: In the second round, Tyler Brown went head-to-head with veteran Swift Current Broncos goaltender Jordan Papirny. Through the first four games of that best-of-seven, Papirny managed to outduel Brown as the Broncos pushed the Pats up against the ropes. The final three games of the series belonged to Brown, who took his game to another level, serving as one of the best and most reliable players on the ice for the Pats. In the Eastern Conference Championship series, Brown will be tasked with outperforming the likes of Stuart Skinner, who was recently ranked fifth among North American goaltenders by NHL Central Scouting in anticipation of the 2017 NHL Draft.
Key to the Series – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Healthy bodies: The Lethbridge Hurricanes can’t afford to lose another body to the infirmary. It really can’t be any more simple than that. Finishing off the Medicine Hat Tigers in seven games, the ‘Cane Train rolled without the services of overage forward Matt Alfaro and Zak Zborosky, emerging centre Ryan Vandervlis, pitbull Zane Franklin and rookie star defenceman Calen Addison. That mean four affiliate players were forced into action to fill the void while the likes of Tyler Wong, Giorgio Estephan and Egor Babenko handled much heavier workloads. The Hurricanes, at the very least, need to hope and pray they can keep this lineup intact, save for the return of any of the aforementioned.
Forward to Watch – Regina Pats
C Wyatt Sloboshan (2-4—6): After captain Adam Brooks went down with an injury, Sloboshan was called upon to provide a little bit more and the 20-year-old product of Vanscoy, Sask., delivered. Having never seen the light of the WHL Playoffs until 2017, the former captain of the Saskatoon Blades has 183 games of regular season experience and served in a variety of roles over his three years in the league. A career-high 44 points (19G-25A) through 66 games in 2015-16 proves the pivot can product offensively. Registering one goal in his first nine games of the 2017 WHL Playoffs, Sloboshan stepped up with a goal and four assists in the final outings against the Swift Current Broncos in the second round.
Forward to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
C Dylan Cozens (2-3—5): With all the aforementioned injuries, the 16-year-old Cozens has been thrust into the fire of the 2017 WHL Playoffs and responded in admirable fashion. The first Yukon-born player selected in the first round (19th overall, 2016) of the WHL Bantam Draft, the 6-foot-2, 184-pound product of Whitehorse emerged during the second round. Not only did he provide a healthy body for head coach Brent Kisio, he provided quality minutes in big moments, none of which were bigger than in the final few minutes of regulation in Game 7. It was Cozens put out with the Hurricanes trailing in the contest 4-3 and it was Cozens who registered the game-tying goal with only 2:43 remaining. If the battered Hurricanes hope to solve the Pats, Cozens will need to provide some secondary offense once again.
Defenceman to Watch – Regina Pats
Dawson Davidson (1-2—3): There’s no doubt the Pats boast enviable depth throughout the lineup, and while their forward group gets most recognition for this, there’s no shortage of depth on the blueline. Dawson Davidson was logging quality minutes and was a focal piece of the Kamloops Blazers blueline before being moved to Regina prior to the WHL Trade Deadline. With the Pats, Davidson falls behind the likes of Connor Hobbs, Josh Mahura and Sergey Zborovskiy in the pecking order, but it doesn’t mean he is any less valuable. The 5-foot-11, 181-pound product of Moosomin, Sask., has contributed at both ends of the rink and will need to do so again in the Conference Championship.
Defenceman to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Brady Pouteau (0-3—3): With the aforementioned Addison down and out, the 19-year-old Pouteau was called upon to provide a bigger presence on the Hurricanes blueline during the second round. At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, the product of Oak Bluff, Man., brings a nasty streak to his own end of the rink and will be relied upon to make life miserable for the Pats. Having been dealt to Lethbridge from Regina earlier in the season, what better opportunity for Pouteau to prove his ability and effectiveness?
Goaltender to Watch – Regina Pats
Tyler Brown (11 GP, 8-3, 1.90 GAA, .936 SV%): The 20-year-old product came to play in the second round against the Swift Current Broncos, silencing any doubters as to whether or not he was capable of getting the job done. The 6-foot-1, 178-pound netminder not only provided a consistent presence in the blue paint, he came up with big saves in big moments to help Regina turn the tide on Swift Current.
Goaltender to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Stuart Skinner (14 GP, 8-6, 3.03 GAA, .918 SV%): The 18-year-old product of Edmonton proved his big-game ability with an outstanding performance during a Game 7 victory over the Red Deer Rebels in the opening round of the 2017 WHL Playoffs. Now he is tasked with taking on a Pats squad that victimized him in the opening round of the 2016 WHL Playoffs. In four appearances back in 2016, Skinner surrendered a total of 12 goals on 87 shots as the Pats upset the Hurricanes in five games.
Playoff History – Regina Pats
In the 2016 WHL Playoffs, the upstart Pats shocked the Central Division-champion Lethbridge Hurricanes, skating to a five-game series win in the first round before eventually bowing out in a seven-game loss to the Red Deer Rebels in the second round. It was a simple sign of what head coach John Paddock was building in the Queen City and his master plan has come to fruition in fiery fashion this season.
Canada’s oldest major junior hockey team owns two WHL Championship titles – 1974 and 1980. Regina also won the Memorial Cup in 1974.
Set to host the CHL’s 100th Memorial Cup festivities in 2018, will the Pats provide themselves an opportunity to defend on home ice by winning it all in 2017?
This is Regina’s first appearance in the Eastern Conference Championship since they fell in four games to the Swift Current Broncos back in 1993.
Playoff History – Lethbridge Hurricanes
It has been 20 years since the Lethbridge Hurricanes won their last WHL Championship. In this, their 30th anniversary in Lethbridge, can they bring home the franchise’s second title? The 2016 Central Division-winning Hurricanes suffered a five-game upset to the Regina Pats in round one of the WHL Playoffs and the 2017 edition of the ‘Canes has already gone further than that. The last time the Hurricanes escaped the first round of the WHL Playoffs was back in 2009 when they edged the Saskatoon Blades in a seven-game series before being swept by the Calgary Hitmen in the conference semifinal. In 2008, the Hurricanes advanced all the way to the Ed Chynoweth Cup, eventually losing to the Spokane Chiefs in a four-game series.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Regina Pats and Lethbridge Hurricanes/Calgary Wranglers
2015-16: Regina Pats defeat Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-1 in Eastern Conference first round
1995-96: Regina Pats defeat Lethbridge Hurricanes 4-0 in Eastern Division first round
1992-93: Regina Pats defeat Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-1 in Eastern Division first round
1983-84: Regina Pats defeat Calgary Wranglers 4-0 in Eastern Division first round
1982-83: Calgary Wranglers defeat Regina Pats 4-1 in Eastern Division semifinal
1981-82: Regina Pats defeat Calgary Wranglers 3-1 in Eastern Division semifinal
1980-81: Calgary Wranglers defeat Regina Pats 4-2 in Eastern Conference Championship