With the Rogers WHL Championship Series set to begin Friday, May 4, WHL.ca provides a look in at both sides of the main event.
With a general introduction, vital statistics and keys to the series, we’ve got everything you need to know heading into the 2018 WHL Playoffs. While the usual suspects are known, our ‘Players to Watch’ section will take a deeper dive into some of the supporting characters set to take on a big role in the post-season.
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 ignite.
In our Rogers WHL Championship Series preview, we’ll examine two teams intent on gaining admission to the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity at junior hockey glory!
Two incredible teams on two incredible runs have reached a meeting point in the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
Claiming the Eastern Conference Championship for the first time since 1993, the Swift Current Broncos enter this series in pursuit of their fourth Ed Chynoweth Cup in franchise history. It’s been a wild run for the Broncos, who have played 20 games to date in the 2018 WHL Playoffs, seven to down the Regina Pats, seven more to best the Moose Jaw Warriors and six to snuff out the Lethbridge Hurricanes.
For the Everett Silvertips, their run in the 2018 WHL Playoffs has been one of redemption for previous years, defeating the Seattle Thunderbirds in five games, doing the same to the Portland Winterhawks and edging the always-dangerous Tri-City Americans in the Western Conference Championship. Though they made it to this point in their inaugural season, they still have yet to taste their first-ever victory in WHL Championship play.
Vaughn WHL Goaltender of the Month Stuart Skinner (Edmonton Oilers) was the best among his peers during the month of April and the current leader in goals-against-average, save percentage, and shutouts (he’s also tied for first in victories naturally), so beating him will be a definite challenge. Opposing him is none other than the best goaltender in the entire Canadian Hockey League for the past few seasons and fellow Edmonton, Alta. area product Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers). The two were briefly teammates at the 2017 CIBC Canada-Russia Series and how close the fraternity of junior hockey goaltending is, the two aren’t separated by much.
For the offensive talents that will line up against each other from both sides, this series could easily dissolve into a goaltending duo, but it’d be rare to hear anyone complaining about that.
Interestingly enough, the conference championship round eliminated four of the top five point producers in WHL Playoffs scoring, a pair of Lethbridge Hurricanes and a pair of Tri-City Americans. That leaves Broncos captain Glenn Gawdin (Calgary Flames) and his 25 points (9G-16A) in 20 games to lead the charge. Opposition from the Silvertips isn’t far behind though, with Silvertips leading scorer and WHL Player of the Month for April Garrett Pilon (Washington Capitals) sitting at 24 points (11G-13A) to lead the visitors.
Blue lines alike are stacked from 2018 NHL Draft prospects Wyatte Wylie for the Silvertips and Artyom Minulin for the Broncos bound to clash. Colby Sissons (New Jersey Devils) has been worked through plenty of minutes through the first 20 games and will log more against the Silvertips’ best come Game One. Opposing him will be the likes of Game Six overtime hero Kevin Davis and Ondrej Vala (Dallas Stars) who have been well-known to offensively contribute in bunches for Everett when required.
Game One of the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series goes Friday, May 4 (7:00 p.m. MT) at Innovation Credit Union i-Plex in Swift Current, Sask. with Game Two to follow the very next night. the series will shift south of the 49th parallel and more specifically to Angel of the Winds Arena for Games Three and Four and a fifth if necessary. Game Three will take place Tuesday, May 8 (7:05 p.m. PT) while Game Four on Wednesday, May 9 (7:05 p.m. PT).
Game 1 – Friday, May 4 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current, Sask. – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 2 – Saturday, May 5 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current, Sask. – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 3 – Tuesday, May 8 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 4 – Wednesday, May 9 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 5* – Friday, May 11 – Angel of the Winds Arena – Everett, Wash. – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 6* – Sunday, May 13 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current, Sask. – 7:00 p.m. MT
Game 7* – Monday, May 14 – Innovation Credit Union i-Plex – Swift Current, Sask. – 7:00 p.m. MT *if necessary
Season Series Jan. 21 – Swift Current (1) at Everett (4)
Swift Current Broncos
47-20-2-3 (99 points)
48-17-5-2 (103 points)
First – U.S.
Second Place – East
Lost Round 2
Lost Round 2
Patrick Bajkov – 33-67—100
Glenn Gawdin – 56-69–125
Matt Fonteyne – 35-53—88
Second Leading Scorer
Aleksi Heponiemi – 28-90–118
Garrett Pilon – 34-46—80
Third Leading Scorer
Tyler Steenbergen – 47-55–102
Connor Dewar – 38 goals
Top Goal Scorer
Glenn Gawdin – 56 goals
Kevin Davis – 10-55—65
Top Scoring Defenceman
Colby Sissons – 13-58–71
Carter Hart (31-6-1-3, 1.60, .947, 7 SO)
Stuart Skinner (30-21-3-1, 3.07, .905, 6 SO)
Key to the Series – Swift Current Broncos Strike at the Hart: The Everett Silvertips are much more than just one all-world goaltender that has patrolled their crease for the past few seasons, but that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t be a significant loss to the team’s lineup. If the Tri-City Americans proved anything in the series, it’s that they’d be able to get Mr. Hart off his game and things were tense with a cautious optimism until that overtime-winner in Game Six.
Hart allowed 20 goals in six games against the Americans, one more than he had previously allowed over the previous two series combined. If the Broncos can expose Hart’s (few) weaknesses, it could very well end with them lifting the Ed Chynoweth Cup and heading down to the Trans-Canada Highway for a shot at the 2018 Mastercard Memorial Cup. That has to be more than enough motivation for them to continually press this agenda throughout the series.
Key to the Series – Everett Silvertips Mind the extra man: By virtue of reaching the WHL Championship, the Swift Current Broncos rank high in most offensive categories, but there’s one statistic that hung over their head in the 2018 WHL Playoffs: Taking penalties. Being short-handed 80 times (compared to 39 for the Silvertips) during the 2018 WHL Playoffs is a problem the Broncos are going to need to figure out how to control.
Now, the Silvertips power play wasn’t always a guarantee during the regular season (ranked ninth at 23.5 per cent) and that’s become more evident during the 2018 WHL Playoffs (tied for 12th at 20.0 per cent), but given enough chances, the Silvertips will find ways to make their opponents pay on the scoreboard. Not that it’s something new to opposing teams either, but the aforementioned Hart guy knows how to play with a lead and can handle the duties at one end if his skaters take care of business at the other.
Forward to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
C Glenn Gawdin (9-16-25): That he missed time during the Eastern Conference Championship was enough to send rumours swirling about his health. Now, it didn’t seem to matter too much as he came back in Games Five and Six against the Hurricanes, adding three assists in those two games. A few days to heal up will only serve to help the Calgary Flames prospect.
There is the matter of what Gawdin means to the organization and Swift Current, Sask. at a whole. Drafted fifth overall back in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, this is Gawdin’s last chance to do something previous Broncos captains haven’t accomplished since 1993. With all due respect to a professional hockey career that awaits in the fall, raising that trophy in front of the fans in Speedy Creek would easily be a career highlight that would stick with him and the town forever. No one will want to win more than him.
C Connor Dewar (9-12-21): It’s easy to think about the pieces the Everett Silvertips will be without once this year’s run in the WHL Playoffs ends, whether it’s in jubilation or defeat. It’s even crazier to think about a player like Connor Dewar (a 2018 NHL Draft prospect if you’re an NHL scout/GM and reading this preview) who has up to two more years left with the Silvertips.
Dewar led the Silvertips in goals throughout the 2017-18 regular season, just one of four 1999-born players to lead their team in goals (Lethbridge, Edmonton, and Spokane are the others). Sitting third in goal scoring on his team entering the WHL Championship, Dewar will be an offensive threat for his club the Broncos will need to take note of. How effective either is in accomplishing their task will go a long way in determining the outcome of the series.
Defenceman to Watch – Swift Current Broncos D Artyom Minulin (1-6-7): Like Gawdin, Minulin missed Games Three and Four of the Eastern Conference Championship, but came back and was an effective presence in Games Five and Six, adding a similar three assists for the Broncos as they took charge against the Hurricanes. He’s match his point total
from the 2017 WHL Playoffs, meaning whatever the Broncos get from here on out by their import defenceman will be appreciated.
With Colby Sissons taking hold on the offensive end of things for Broncos blue liners and the series not expected to be an offensive showcase, that may allow Minulin to play more effective minutes in a defensive role. How Manny Viveiros divides the time for his defenders in this series will be especially telling for how things play out overall.
D Kevin Davis (3-11-14): Through six editions of the WHL Playoffs, Kevin Davis has had plenty of time to soak in the experience and grow wise along the way. Perhaps that’s what’s partially leading to an increase in offensive support for the Silvertips from the overage defenceman in the 2018 WHL Playoffs. His two-goal performance capped off the Western Conference Championship in style and he’ll no doubt be looking to contribute more come Game One Friday.
He’s also been able to be effective due to his play that has seen him take just one minor penalty in the 2018 WHL Playoffs, a surprisingly common trait among Silvertips defenders. Jake Christiansen, Davis, Ian Walker and Wyatte Wylie have combined for 12 combined penalty minutes and part of that disciplined play will involve them staying out on the ice like they’ve done through the first three rounds.
Goaltender to Watch – Swift Current Broncos
Stuart Skinner (20 GP, 12-8, 2.32 GAA, .927 SV%, 4 SO): For the offensive race among Eastern Conference teams leading up to and during the 2018 WHL Playoffs, the one certainty is that it’s more important to have superior goaltending. That was true for the Broncos and Hurricanes and will be true once again for the 2018 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
Skinner has been tested through his first 20 games and he will face his greatest challenge yet in a skilled offensive team like the Silvertips. We’ve seen the good and bad of Skinner in the 2018 WHL Playoffs, but this is a guy who has also risen his game to a high level when required. Whether that’s for the entire series or a certain block of games, being good may not turn out to be good enough in this series.
Goaltender to Watch – Everett Silvertips
Carter Hart (16 GP, 12-4, 2.44 GAA, .922 SV%, 2 SO): Like Skinner, we’ve seen some ups and downs with Hart, but there’s no denying both are high-caliber goaltenders. Through all the monthly and weekly awards, league trophies, gold medals, victories and records, the one thing missing from Hart’s resume is an Ed Chynoweth Cup. Now that he’s this close, you can expect him to bring his highest-level of play possible to the upcoming series.
There are also high expectations for Hart, which hopefully won’t weigh on him too much as this has the potential for a goaltending matchup for the ages. Still, after the Western Conference Championship, it feels like he’s fallen back down to earth a bit and has something more to prove to use. That is of course acknowledging that any team in most leagues would gladly take a 2.44 GAA and .922 SV% from their starting goaltender. Hart has been on his game ever since he held Canada win gold at the 2018 IIHF World Junior Championship. Can he lead his team to another championship moment?
Playoff History – Swift Current Broncos
To make it to the Eastern Conference Championship was a feat in itself for the Broncos, who have bounced around around from exits in Round One or Two to completely missing the playoffs. Even when they did make it to Eastern Conference Championship in 2001, they won two games against the Red Deer Rebels. Playoff fortune hasn’t smile upon the Broncos over the past decade until recently, with last year’s run to a seventh-and-deciding game against the Regina Pats being the furthest they had played into April since that 2001 WHL Playoffs run.
This year has the aura of feeling different with a team as equally gritty as they are skilled. Can that physical intimidation work against the Everett Silvertips? Time will tell.
Playoff History – Everett Silvertips
This is a historic breakthrough at a historic time for the Everett Silvertips. With the core of players like captain Matt Fonteyne, Patrick Bajkov (Florida Panthers), Garret Pilon (Washington Capitals), Dewar, Davis, Vala and of course Carter Hart, all in their peak, this is a perfect storm headed the Broncos’ way. It’s considered good for some teams to get 3-5 players producing at their strongest levels in one playoff run. To have the players up and down the lineup (the previous list is by no means exclusive) represents the franchise’s best chance to capture their first Ed Chynoweth Cup. They won’t want to let this opportunity pass them up easily either.
The time is now for the Silvertips. It doesn’t have to be a sweep, it could even be an 8-7 score-fest in Game Seven that pushes both teams to their limits. What matters is hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup for a franchise in the prime moment of their on-ice product.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Swift Current Broncos and Everett Silvertips
This year marks the first-ever meeting in the WHL Playoffs between the Swift Current Broncos and Everett Silvertips.