WHL Round 2 Preview And Picks!

After correctly picking six of the eight first round WHL play-off match-ups. Here is a preview of round two complete with my prognostications.

Round 2 of the 2015 WHL Playoffs opens on Friday as eight WHL Clubs continue their quest to become the 49th WHL Champions and earn a spot at the 2015 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Quebec City, QC.

In the WHL’s Eastern Conference, the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy-winning Brandon Wheat Kings are in Round 2 after defeating the defending MasterCard Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings in five games. The Eastern Conference champions will now face the Regina Pats who are coming off a four-game sweep of the Swift Current Broncos

The Calgary Hitmen edged out the Kootenay ICE in a competitive seven-game series and now match-up with the Medicine Hat Tigers, who eliminated the Red Deer Rebels in five games.

In the WHL’s Western Conference, the Western Conference Champion Kelowna Rockets eliminated the Tri-City Americans in four straight games. The Rockets will now meet a familiar B.C. Division rival in the Victoria Royals, who handed the Prince George Cougars a series defeat in five games.

Meanwhile, the Portland Winterhawks defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds in six games to advance to Round 2. The Winterhawks now face an Everett Silvertips squad whose stingy defensive game saw them win the U.S. Division title and beat the Spokane Chiefs in a six-game Round 1 series.

All four Round 2 WHL Playoff series will be divisional contests.

2015 WHL Playoffs, Eastern Conference – Round 2

BRANDON WHEAT KINGS vs REGINA PATS

2014-15 regular season record
Brandon:                                   53-11-4-4, 114pts
Regina:                                      37-24-5-6, 85pts

2014-15 head-to-head record
Brandon:                                    5-2-1-0, 11pts
Regina:                                      3-5-0-0, 6pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers
Tim McGauley (BDN)                8gp-3g-8a-11pts
Peter Quenneville (BDN)           8gp-4g-6a-10pts
Braden Christoffer (REG)          8gp-4g-7a-11pts
Sam Steel (REG)                      7gp-3g-5a-8pts

The Brandon Wheat Kings advanced to Round 2 of the 2015 WHL Playoffs after knocking out the defending MasterCard Memorial Cup Champion Edmonton Oil Kings in five games. After dropping Game 1, the Wheat Kings rallied to win four straight contests which included three straight wins in Edmonton all by an identical 3-2 margin. Special teams played a key role for the Wheat Kings as they executed on 35.3% of their power play opportunities in the series. Tim McGauley, Jayce Hawryluk and John Quenneville head up a balanced Brandon offense that saw eight players record three points or more against the Oil Kings in Round 1. Goaltender Jordan Papirny has been solid for the Wheat Kings and posted a 2.01 goals against average with a .942 save percentage while starting all five post-season contests so far.

The Regina Pats enter Round 2 on the heels of a series sweep of the Swift Current Broncos. Goaltender Daniel Wapple posted a 1.96 goals against average, a .933 save percentage and one shutout as he started all four games last round. The Pats were disciplined in Round 1 and were only shorthanded nine times and allowed just one power play goal against (88.9%). The Pats’ defensive group will have to focus on Wheat Kings’ top scorer Tim McGauley, who totaled 11 points in eight head-to-head regular season meetings.

MY PICK: Brandon is no Swift Current and their depth and health are going to overcome a young Regina team. I take the Wheat Kings in 4.

CALGARY HITMEN vs MEDICINE HAT TIGERS

2014-15 regular season record
Calgary:                                    45-22-1-4, 95pts 
Medicine Hat:                            44-23-2-2, 94pts

2014-15 head-to-head record
Calgary:                                     3-3-0-0, 6pts
Medicine Hat:                             3-2-1-0, 7pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers
Adam Tambellini (CGY)            6gp-4g-1a-5pts
Chase Lang (CGY)                   6gp-2g-3a-5pts
Trevor Cox (MH)                       5gp-1g-7a-8pts
Cole Sanford (MH)                    6gp-4g-3a-7pts

The Calgary Hitmen prevailed in a hard-fought seven-game series against the Kootenay ICE to advance to Round 2 of the 2015 WHL Playoffs. The Hitmen exploded for 33 goals in Round 1 which led all playoff Clubs and included seven goals each from forwards Adam Tambellini and Connor Rankin. Tambellini also registered eight assists in the series which placed him atop all WHL players in playoff scoring. Offensive depth helps the Hitmen with players such as Kenton Helgesen, Radel Fazleev and Travis Sanheim, each of whom posted at least eight points last round. The Hitmen have scored a League-high nine power play goals in the post-season and rank third-best in power play efficiency at 34.6%.

The Medicine Hat Tigers defeated the Red Deer Rebels in five games last round to earn a date with yet another Central Division rival in the Hitmen. The series with the Rebels was a tight-checking affair as the two Clubs combined for just 22 goals, of which the Tigers had 13. Goaltender Marek Langhamer has been terrific for the Tigers as he enters Round 2 with a .945 save percentage and a 1.75 goals against average. Trevor Cox scored eight points (1g-7a) in five head-to-head meetings against the Hitmen throughout the season which led all skaters. The Hitmen and Tigers both won three games apiece in their 2014-15 regular season series and finished within one point of each other in the race for the Central Division title.

While the Hitmen hold home-ice advantage, the series begins in Medicine Hat before shifting back to Calgary due to building availabilities. Remaining games will be announced at a later date.

MY PICK: Yes I predicted an upset by Red Deer over Medicine Hat in the opening round. The Tigers played a solid team game in that opening series, however, their depth will be challenged by the extremely deep Hitmen. That’s why I see Calgary taking the series in six games.

2015 WHL Playoffs, Western Conference – Round 2

KELOWNA ROCKETS vs VICTORIA ROYALS

*Series to be broadcast on Shaw TV*

2014-15 regular season record
Kelowna:                                   53-13-5-1, 112pts 
Victoria:                                     39-29-3-1, 82pts

2014-15 head-to-head record
Kelowna:                                    5-2-1-0, 11pts
Victoria:                                       3-5-0-0, 6pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers 
Nick Merkley (KEL)                    8gp-4g-6a-10pts
Madison Bowey (KEL)               8gp-2g-8a-10pts
Brandon Magee (VIC)               8gp-5g-5a-10pts
Joe Hicketts (VIC)                      8gp-1g-8a-9pts

The Western Conference Champion Kelowna Rockets head into Round 2 after a sweep of the Tri-City Americans where they outscored the Americans 19-7 in the process. A balanced attack was a big factor for the Rockets as they saw 12 players score at least a goal and five players record four points or more in the series. Defensively, Kelowna allowed the fewest goals against of all playoff teams in Round 1. The Rockets enjoyed success from the play of their penalty kill as they only allowed one power play goal against and killed off 95.5% of their penalties, a League best. Rockets’ goaltender Jackson Whistle has been outstanding as he posted a 1.93 goals against average, a .921 save percentage and two shutouts to earn three of Kelowna’s wins.

The Victoria Royals advanced to Round 2 of the 2015 WHL Playoffs after they defeated the Prince George Cougars in five games. The Royals scored 20 goals in the series and had five players record at least six points. Brandon Magee led the Royals in scoring with nine points (6g-3a) which included three game-winners. Magee also recorded 10 points (5g-5a) in eight regular season games against the Rockets this year. Goaltender Coleman Vollrath will be relied on by the Royals against the Rockets after he started all five Round 1 games and posted a .911 save percentage with one shutout.

MY PICK: For the first time in a long time the Rockets are healthy and it comes not a moment too soon. The Royals will look to get physical while the Rockets will look to push the pace. I like the skill set of the Rockets to overcome that physicality and that’s why I will go with Kelowna in 5 games.

EVERETT SILVERTIPS vs PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS

2014-15 regular season record 
Everett:                                     43-20-3-6, 95pts
Portland:                                   43-23-2-4, 92pts

2014-15 head-to-head record
Everett:                                     5-4-1-0, 11pts
Portland:                                    5-3-1-1, 12pts

2014-15 head-to-head top scorers 
Carson Stadnyk (EVT)              10gp-6g-10a-16pts
Ivan Nikolishin (EVT)                10gp-3g-10a-13pts
Oliver Bjorkstrand (POR)           8gp-9g-9a-18pts
Nicolas Petan (POR)                 7gp-5g-9a-14pts

The Everett Silvertips came out victorious in their first round match-up against the Spokane Chiefs after a tight, six-game series. The Silvertips won a marathon Game 6 in triple overtime to advance in what was the longest game of the 2015 WHL Playoffs so far. Defensively, the Silvertips allowed the third-fewest goals against in Round 1, due in part to the play of their team defence and goaltending. Silvertips’ rookie goaltender Carter Hart has been a highlight of the Tips’ success. After a successful 16-year-old regular season, Hart started all six Round 1 games and posted a playoff-leading 1.65 goals against average and .947 save percentage. The Tips’ have a tough test ahead of them as WHL regular season scoring champion Oliver Bjorkstrand netted 18 points (9g-9a) in eight head-to-head meetings this year.

The Portland Winterhawks defeated the Seattle Thunderbirds in a heated six-game U.S. Division battle to advance to Round 2. Forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Nic Petan each netted five goals while newly-acquired defenceman Adam Henry chipped in five points (2g-3a). The Winterhawks and the Silvertips met 10 times in the regular season as each team earned five wins. However, Portland posted a record of 4-0-1-0 in the two sides’ last five meetings and outscored the ‘Tips by a 27-12 margin. Look for the ‘Hawks to continue to rely on rookie goaltender Adin Hill, who posted a .900 save percentage and four wins in his first taste of post-season hockey.

MY PICK: This appears to be the best series of the second round that could literally go either way. That being said the deciding factor may very well be the experience of the Winterhawks. That’s why I can see Portland surviving the series and moving on in 6 games.