WHL in 30 Preview: Portland Winterhawks at Victoria Royals
Portland Winterhawks (35-20-1-3) at Victoria Royals (35-21-3-2)
Saturday, February 24 –Shaw TV 12 p.m. (Mountain)
Through the entirety of the 2017-18 Western Hockey League regular season, the Portland Winterhawks and Victoria Royals have been contenders in the Western Conference.
Looking to clinch their spots in the 2017 WHL playoffs, this weekend will feature the final two meetings of the regular season series with both clubs still in the hunt for the division title, sitting second in the U.S. and B.C. Divisions respectively.
While a pair of wins by either club would still require some help to clinch their playoff spot this weekend, there’s no denying how close both teams are at the moment and how far they want to play into the 2018 calendar year
A quartet of NHL draft selections in Skyler McKenzie (Winnipeg Jets), Cody Glass (Vegas Golden Knights), Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders) and Joachim Blichfeld (San Jose Sharks) have formed the nucleus of one of the best offences in the entire league.
Factor in Henri Jokiharju (Chicago Blackhawks), Dennis Cholowski (Detroit Red Wings), captain Keoni Texeira, Brendan De Jong (Carolina Hurricanes) and Matthew Quigley on the team’s backend, as well as goaltender Cole Kehler (Los Angeles Kings), and you’ll quickly realize the Winterhawks have their mind set on earning their fourth Ed Chynoweth Cup in franchise history this spring.
The Victoria Royals have championship aspirations of their own. Led by a dynamic duo of captain Matthew Phillips (Calgary Flames) and Tyler Soy (Anaheim Ducks), the team has a similar depth situation to the Winterhawks with forwards Dane Hannoun, Tanner Kaspick (St. Louis Blues), Noah Gregor (San Jose Sharks), Lane Zablocki (Detroit Red Wings) and Andrei Grishakov among others.
A defensive corps that includes the likes of Jared Freadrich, Scott Walford (Montreal Canadiens), and Chaz Reddekopp (Los Angeles Kings) to name just a few and a goaltender in Griffen Outhouse who can be one of the hardest goalies to beat in the league on any given night.
Saturday’s WHL in 30 broadcast will feature 15 players (eight for Portland, seven for Victoria) who have either been drafted or signed by an NHL club. That will be the most on any one WHL in 30 broadcast since 14 drafted or signed players suited up in last week’s battle between the Moose Jaw Warriors and Regina Pats.
McKenzie leads all Winterhawks in scoring since the WHL’s Trade Deadline on Wednesday, January 10 with 25 points (12G-13A) in 19 games. The quartet of Jokiharju, Blichfeld, Bellows, and Glass are also averaging a point-per-game or better since that date as well.
For the Royals, it’s Phillips leading the way with 34 points (14G-20A) in the 18 games since the trade deadline. For those who have played in the majority of the Royals games, Soy, Hannoun, Kaspick, and Gregor are also averaging a point-per-game or better.
Phillips is the highest scorer out of both teams with 99 points (44G-55A) in 61 games. He’s close to becoming the first Royals player to reach 50 goals since…himself during the 2016-17 campaign. Phillips has already surpassed his 90-point campaign from last season and is on the cusp of becoming the first Royals player to crack the 100-point plateau in a single season.
If you don’t follow the league outside your favourite team, it may be a bit of a surprise to see McKenzie as one of eight players to reach the 40-goal plateau this season. It would be easy to avert your gaze from his play given the top-level talent on the Winterhawks already, but he’s proving last year’s 42-goal campaign was no fluke. The Sherwood Park, Alta. native reached the 200-point threshold for his WHL career Wednesday and has plenty of scoring left in him. He’s also five goals shy of 100 for his WHL career.
Forward Cody Glass is also closing in on 200 points for his WHL career, sitting four points shy of the milestone. In his WHL career, Glass has 13 points (5G-8A) in 10 career games against the Royals.
A recent nine-game point streak saw Kieffer Bellows (New York Islanders) record 15 points (4G-11A). He has nine multi-goal games this season and 18 multi-point games, including a three-point performance against the Royals the last time the two teams met.
It may come as a surprise, but the Winterhawks are the only WHL club to have a pair of representatives ranked in the Top 10 for defensive scoring. Jokiharju is eighth with 56 points (8G-48A) in 50 games. Cholowski is 10th with 55 points (14G-41A) in 56 games.
Of the Royals’ trade deadline acquisitions, Kaspick has had the biggest impact with 19 points (10G-9A) in 15 games, including five game-winning goals. He sits one of the WHL lead in that stat with eight on the season.
Overage forward Tyler Soy has been a point-per-game player over the course of his entire WHL career with 314 points (147G-167A) in 313 games. With 11 regular season games left in his WHL career, it’ll be interesting to see how much more he can produce.
Dante Hannoun may not be one of the players drafted or signed by a NHL club, but he’s been right there in terms of production with the best of them, recently recording his 200th WHL point and his third straight 20-goal season.
Royals goaltender Griffen Outhouse is tied for second in the league with 31 wins this season. The 19-year-old, who will celebrate his 20th birthday just before playoffs begin, has now posted back-to-back 30-win seasons while his career 2.77 goals-against-average and .917 save-percenatage speak volumes to his strong play as well.
Be sure to catch all the action on Shaw TV Saturday at 12 p.m. MT followed by an encore performance on Youtube!
January 17 Victoria 4 Portland 2
February 7 Victoria 5 Portland 8
February 23 Portland at Victoria*
February 24 Portland at Victoria
*WHL in 30 broadcast
***PLEASE NOTE: WHL in 30 is a condensed format, 30-minute broadcast of the WHL Game of the Week, airing the day after the game is originally played.