With the second round of the 2017 Western Hockey League Playoffs set to begin Thursday, April 6, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the four head-to-head matchups across the league.
What fans can expect is a general introduction to the two teams, coupled with vital statistics and keys to the series. In our player-specific sections, we will highlight Players to Watch that do not serve as the usual suspects – the best of the supporting cast or perhaps the darkhorse playoff warrior.
Finally, we close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to develop.
In our third of four second-round playoff previews, we examine a renewal of the Highway 3 rivalry between the Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
The Lethbridge Hurricanes barely made it past the Red Deer Rebels in the opening round of the 2017 WHL Playoffs, but when they finally got their act together, they ended the seven-game thriller in dramatic fashion.
As for the Medicine Hat Tigers, they were happy to sit around after sweeping the Brandon Wheat Kings in four games, and watch the Hurricanes and Rebels beat one another black and blue.
The potential for a Highway 3 rivalry matchup has been a hot topic of conversation since before the playoffs began, and though it almost didn’t come to fruition, the Hurricanes finally took care of their end of the deal and here we are.
As heated as this rivalry is, almost all the bad blood comes from regular-season clashes. Believe it or not, these two teams have only met once in the post-season – way back in 1991. Fans on both sides have been awaiting this matchup for quite some time and it promises to excite.
— #WHLPlayoffs (@TheWHL) April 6, 2017
Game 1 – Friday, April 7 – Canalta Centre, Medicine Hat – 7:30 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 8 – Canalta Centre, Medicine Hat – 7:30 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Tuesday, April 11 – Enmax Centre, Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
Game 4 – Wednesday, April 12 – Enmax Centre, Lethbridge – 7 p.m. MT
*Game 5 – Friday, April 14 – Canalta Centre, Medicine Hat – 7:30 p.m. MT
*Game 6 – Sunday, April 16 – Enmax Centre, Lethbridge – 6 p.m. MT
*Game 7 – Tuesday, April 18 – Canalta Centre, Medicine Hat – 7 p.m. MT
* = if necessary
Sept. 23 – Medicine Hat (2) at Lethbridge (4)
Sept. 24 – Lethbridge (3) at Medicine Hat (9)
Dec. 9 – Medicine Hat (2) at Lethbridge (3)
Dec. 30 – Lethbridge (9) at Medicine Hat (7)
Feb. 11 – Lethbridge (0) at Medicine Hat (5)
March 17 – Medicine Hat (5) at Lethbridge (1)
March 18 – Lethbridge (7) at Medicine Hat (8)
|Medicine Hat Tigers||vs.||Lethbridge Hurricanes|
|51-20-1-0 (103 points)||Record||44-21-4-3 (95 points)|
|Second Place||WHL Standing||Seventh Place|
|Second Place||Conference Standing||Third Place|
|First Place – Central Division||Division Standing||Second Place – Central Division|
|350 (Second)||Goals For||280 (Fourth)|
|248 (T-11th)||Goals Against||253 (14th)|
|29.4% (Second)||Power Play||23.9% (Sixth)|
|81.6% (Sixth)||Penalty Kill||78.6% (11th)|
|Did not qualify||2015-16 Playoffs||Eliminated in First Round|
|Chad Butcher – 27-76—103||Leading Scorer||Tyler Wong – 51-58—109|
|Mason Shaw – 27-67—94||Second Leading Scorer||Giorgio Estephan – 35-43—89|
|Steven Owre – 26-62—88||Third Leading Scorer||Zak Zborosky – 41-33—74|
|Mark Rassell – 36 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Tyler Wong – 51 goals|
|Clayton Kirichenko – 12-52—64||Top Scoring Defenceman||Brennan Menell – 12-59—71|
(32-11-1-0, 3.43, .886)
|Top Goaltender||Stuart Skinner
(34-18-3-2, 3.26, .905, 2 SO)
|2-0||Playoffs – Home Record||3-1|
|2-0||Playoffs – Road Record||1-2|
|21 (5.25/game)||Playoffs – Goals For||28 (4.00/game)|
|9 (2.25/game)||Playoffs – Goals Against||21 (3.00/game)|
|28.0% (Sixth)||Playoffs – Power Play||22.2% (10th)|
|76.5% (Eighth)||Playoffs – Penalty Kill||66.7% (14th)|
|David Quenneville – 3-6—9||Playoffs – Leading Scorer||Tyler Wong – 5-5—10|
(4-0, 2.25, .914)
|Playoffs – Top Goaltender||Stuart Skinner
(4-3, 2.60, .926)
Key to the Series – Medicine Hat Tigers
Special teams: Boasting enviable speed and skill, the Tigers own one of the best power plays in the entire WHL. While the Hurricanes penalty kill did a better job, particularly in Game 7 against the Red Deer Rebels, it still wasn’t at its best for the bulk of the series. If the Tigers can victimize the Hurricanes with the man advantage, they could run away with the series in a hurry.
Key to the Series – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Giorgio Estephan: The veteran centre missed two games due to injury in the first round and during that time his team fell behind 3-1 in the series. Estephan returns to the lineup and, magically, the Hurricanes rattled off three consecutive victories to complete a miraculous come-from-behind series triumph. There’s no questioning the leadership the 20-year-old Edmonton product provides, but perhaps a quality easy to overlook is the reliability he brings in the faceoff circle. With Matt Alfaro having left Game 7 against the Rebels due to injury and his status up in the air, Estephan’s faceoff prowess becomes all the more important.
Forward to Watch – Medicine Hat Tigers
John Dahlstrom (3-2—5): The 20-year-old product of Kungsbacka, Sweden, has enjoyed a successful first season in North America after coming to the Tigers via the 2016 CHL Import Draft (second round, 76th). After hitting the 30-goal plateau during the regular season, he has helped pace a balanced Tigers attack that saw seven players produce at a rate of at least a point per game during the first round against Brandon.
Forward to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Ryan Vandervlis (4-3—7): The 18-year-old product of Red Deer stepped up in a big way during the Hurricanes seven-game slog against the Rebels, including a stellar four-point performance in the deciding contest. He has earned himself opportunity to contribute on both special teams and provides grit whenever he hits the ice. At 6-foot-3 and 212 pounds, he is no fun for defenders to deal with and his recent efforts seem to have him playing with unprecedented confidence.
Defenceman to Watch – Medicine Hat Tigers
Ty Schultz (0-3—3): The 20-year-old product of New Westminster, B.C., returned to the lineup for Game 2 against Brandon after having missed extended time due to a broken leg. It was his first action since Jan. 13 and if the numbers say anything, it’s safe to say Schultz hasn’t missed a beat. At 6-foot-1 and 196 pounds, the former first-round bantam draft pick provided 21 points (3G-18A) in 44 regular season contests and his return to the lineup brings a great veteran presence the Tigers didn’t have the good fortune of utilizing down the stretch.
Defenceman to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Brennan Riddle (0-3—3): The 19-year-old product of Balgonie, Sask., has taken on a reliable role on the Hurricanes backend, at times partnering up with Brennan Menell, who leads all Lethbridge defenders with eight points (3-5—8) through seven post-season contests. Riddle’s no-nonsense approach allows Menell to jump up and get involved with the offense, something that paid particularly big dividends in Game 7 against Red Deer as the veteran posted two goals and an assist.
Goaltender to Watch – Medicine Hat Tigers
Nick Schneider (47 GP, 32-11-1-0, 3.43 GAA, .886 SV%): Once upon a time, the 19-year-old product of Leduc, Alta., was the go-to guy in Medicine Hat. Now, he can’t buy an opportunity with the emergence of Michael Bullion. Still, the Hurricanes stand to test Bullion a little more than the Nolan Patrick-less Brandon Wheat Kings did in the first round and if the Alaskan’s fortunes go south, don’t be surprised if Schneider gets a shot at redemption.
Goaltender to Watch – Lethbridge Hurricanes
Stuart Skinner (7 GP, 4-3, 2.60 GAA, .926 SV%): The 18-year-old product of Edmonton was lights out in his team’s first-round series against the Red Deer Rebels. On three occasions, he was tasked with making 38 saves or more, including a whopping 45 in a double-OT loss in Game 3. During the second period of Game 7, he faced 19 shots and stopped them all as the Rebels pressed. The 6-foot-4, 195-pound netminder showed his big-game ability in round one and he will need to build upon it against a much more skilled Tigers squad.
Playoff History – Medicine Hat Tigers
Winners of five WHL Championships and two Memorial Cup titles, the Tigers are back in the big dance after missing the show in 2015-16. It’s been 10 years since the team’s last WHL Championship back in 2007 when goaltender Matt Keetley backstopped Medicine Hat to a seven-game victory over the Vancouver Giants. Expectations are high once again in 2017. The Tigers last trip to the Eastern Conference final came in 2013-14, where they lost in five games to the eventual Ed Chynoweth Cup-champion Edmonton Oil Kings.
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 – Medicine Hat Tigers and Lethbridge Hurricanes
1990-91: Lethbridge Hurricanes defeat Medicine Hat Tigers 4-3 in Eastern Conference final