May 4, 2017
by Taylor Rocca
The stage is set. The 2017 WHL Championship Series – presented by Rogers – features the Regina Pats and Seattle Thunderbirds. It gets underway Friday, May 5 at 7 p.m. MT.
Here’s a preview of the contest for the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
For the first time in WHL history, the Regina Pats and Seattle Thunderbirds meet in the WHL Championship Series.
The Pats last appeared in the WHL Championship in 1984, falling to the Kamloops Jr. Oilers in seven games. The Thunderbirds’ last appearance in the WHL Championship came in 2016 in which Seattle fell to the Brandon Wheat Kings in five games.
The Pats advanced to the 2017 WHL Championship Series after working past the heart-and-soul Lethbridge Hurricanes in a hard-fought six-game Eastern Conference Championship. On the other side of the bracket, the Seattle Thunderbirds met the Kelowna Rockets for the second consecutive season in the Western Conference Championship, using six games to defeat their rivals.
Pitted against one another within the WHL Championship are two of the WHL’s most exciting stars – Sam Steel and Mathew Barzal – both of whom were finalists for the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy for WHL Player of the Year. Steel took that title home at the 2017 WHL Awards on Wednesday, but a this point, both players will quickly tell you the team hardware is much higher on the priority list.
Outside of the aforementioned stars, the 2017 WHL Championship Series presented by Rogers is brimming with talent – both of the draft and draft-eligible variety.
The Pats boast seven players already tabbed by NHL teams, including Steel (Anaheim Ducks), captain Adam Brooks (Toronto Maple Leafs), Filip Ahl (Ottawa Senators), Austin Wagner (Los Angeles Kings), Connor Hobbs (Washington Capitals), Josh Mahura (Anaheim Ducks) and Sergey Zborovskiy (New York Rangers).
On the Thunderbirds bench, Barzal (New York Islanders) is joined by Ryan Gropp (New York Rangers), Keegan Kolesar (Columbus Blue Jackets) and recently-honoured WHL Defenceman of the Year, Ethan Bear (Edmonton Oilers).
In terms of players eligible for the upcoming 2017 NHL Draft, there is no shortage on that front. Regina carries Nick Henry (25th, N.A. skaters), Jonathan Smart (149th, N.A. skaters) and Jordan Hollett (15th, N.A. goaltenders).
Also expected to go in the early rounds of the 2017 NHL Entry Draft is centre Jake Leschyshyn (42nd, N.A. skaters), though he has missed lengthy time due to a lower-body injury and has yet to suit up in the post-season. For Seattle, Jarret Tyszka (41st, N.A. skaters) leads the way and is joined by Finnish import Sami Moilanen (110th, N.A. skaters) and centre Matthew Wedman (210th, N.A. skaters).
There’s no questioning these two teams have advanced because of enviable depth throughout the lineup. Friday night, the real test begins.
WHL Championship Series presented by Rogers – Game Schedule
|Friday, May 5||1||Seattle||at||Regina||7 p.m. MT|
|Saturday, May 6||2||Seattle||at||Regina||7 p.m. MT|
|Tuesday, May 9||3||Regina||at||Seattle||7:05 p.m. PT|
|Wednesday, May 10||4||Regina||at||Seattle||7:05 p.m. PT|
|Friday, May 12||5*||Regina||at||Seattle||7:35 p.m. PT|
|Sunday, May 14||6*||Seattle||at||Regina||6 p.m. MT|
|Monday, May 15||7*||Seattle||at||Regina||7 p.m. MT|
*= if necessary
Oct. 30 – Seattle (3) at Regina (6)
|Regina Pats||vs.||Seattle Thunderbirds|
|52-12-7-1 (112 points)||Record||46-20-4-2 (98 points)|
|First||WHL Standing||Fourth Place|
|First||Conference Standing||Second Place|
|First – East||Division Standing||Second Place – U.S. Division|
|353 (First)||Goals For||253 (T-8th)|
|211 (Sixth)||Goals Against||206 (T-4th)|
|31.5% (First)||Power Play||22.2% (Eighth)|
|81.4% (Seventh)||Penalty Kill||83.3% (Third)|
|Eliminated in Second Round||2015-16 Playoffs||Lost WHL Championship|
|Sam Steel – 50-81—131||Leading Scorer||Ryan Gropp – 35-49—84|
|Adam Brooks – 43-87—130||Second Leading Scorer||Mathew Barzal – 10-69—79|
|Dawson Leedahl – 35-54—89||Third Leading Scorer||Ethan Bear – 28-42—70|
|Sam Steel – 50 goals||Top Goal Scorer||Ryan Gropp – 35 goals|
|Connor Hobbs – 31-54—85||Top Scoring Defenceman||Ethan Bear – 28-42—70|
(33-8-5-1, 2.64, .911, 5 SO)
|Top Goaltender||Rylan Toth
(36-18-2-1, 2.75, .902, SO)
|7-2||Playoffs – Home Record||6-1|
|5-3||Playoffs – Road Record||6-1|
|68 (4.00/game)||Playoffs – Goals For||59 (4.21/game)|
|40 (2.35/game)||Playoffs – Goals Against||35 (2.50/game)|
|25.4% (Eighth)||Playoffs – Power Play||35.8% (First)|
|78.3% (Sixth)||Playoffs – Penalty Kill||81.4% (Third)|
|Sam Steel – 8-16—24||Playoffs – Leading Scorer||Keegan Kolesar – 9-13—22|
(12-5, 2.31, .926)
|Playoffs – Top Goaltender||Carl Stankowski
(12-2, 2.48, .913)
Key to the Series – Regina Pats
Rejuvenation of Adam Brooks: After being knocked out of his team’s second round series with an undisclosed injury, captain Adam Brooks looked to be back in fine form late in the Pats’ six-game triumph over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. The most recent WHL Player of the Week recognition suggests the Toronto Maple Leafs prospects is back to doing what he does best – serve as a catalyst for an ever-dangerous Regina Pats offense.
Key to the Series – Seattle Thunderbirds
Health of Ethan Bear: Recently crowned WHL Defenceman of the Year, Ethan Bear was also knocked out of playoff action, but much more recently as he missed the final three games of his team’s Western Conference Championship triumph over the Kelowna Rockets. The two-way acumen of the Edmonton Oilers’ prospect is undeniably vital to the success of the Thunderbirds and if he can make a return to the lineup, the storyline changes dramatically.
Forward to Watch – Regina Pats
C Jeff de Wit (16 GP, 4-1—5): The gritty two-way forward, acquired from the Red Deer Rebels along with defenceman Josh Mahura at the WHL Trade Deadline, de Wit’s playoff point totals might not scream major impact, but the 6-foot-3, 197-pound pivot turned things up a notch during the Eastern Conference Championship, where he collected three goals and an assist over six games. Renewed confidence and a never-say-die approach is the kind of thing that can take someone a long way when a big game is on the line and de Wit has played on arguably the biggest stage, having suited up with Red Deer at the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup. There’s no denying the value in that experience.
Forward to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
RW Sami Moilanen (14 GP, 4-8—12): The Finnish rookie rolled out a highlight-reel effort during Game 5 of the WHL’s Western Conference Championship, putting on display the reason why some scouts have taken note of his play this season, ranking him 110th among North American skaters ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft. The 5-foot-8, 182-pound speedster has quietly contributed on the right wing and will need to maintain that, particularly in Game 1 with leading scorer Keegan Kolesar in the press box serving a one-game suspension.
Defenceman to Watch – Regina Pats
Jonathan Smart (17 GP, 1-0—1): At one point converted to a forward earlier in the WHL post-season, an injury to veteran Dawson Davidson saw Smart shift back to the blueline where he has provided a steady presence within a deep group. Ranked 149th among North American skaters ahead of the 2017 NHL Draft, Smart is versatile and seems to have settled in nicely after coming to the Queen City following a mid-season deal from the Kelowna Rockets.
Defenceman to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
Turner Ottenbreit (14 GP, 1-6—7): The 6-foot-3, 192-pound product of Yorkton, Sask., isn’t much fun to play against if you’re an opposing forward. A total of 92 penalty minutes in 71 regular season contests provide ample evidence of the edge Ottenbreit brings to his end of the rink. His plus-14 rating through 14 post-season outings leads all Thunderbirds and proves just how responsible he is when on the ice. It isn’t an anomaly either – Ottenbreit went plus-45 through 71 regular season games.
Goaltender to Watch – Regina Pats
Tyler Brown (17 GP, 12-5, 2.13 GAA, .926 SV%):Honoured as WHL Goaltender of the Month for April, Tyler Brown has stepped up in a big way to this point in the 2017 WHL Playoffs. On multiple occasions he has provided big saves in big moments and played a particularly significant role during the second round as the Pats erased a 3-1 series deficit to defeat the Swift Current Broncos in seven games. Confidence has to be at an all-time high for the 20-year-old product of Winnipeg and there’s nothing more frustrating for an opponent than a hot goaltender who believes he can stop everything sent his way.
Goaltender to Watch – Seattle Thunderbirds
Carl Stankowski (14 GP, 12-2, 2.48 GAA, .913 SV%): A 17-year-old rookie, there is perhaps no better story to this point in the WHL Playoffs than the young Carl Stankowski. Forced into the spotlight late in the regular season following an injury to overage starter Rylan Toth, the 2000-born Stankowski grabbed the reigns and has run with them in the post-season. If the Western Conference Championship is any indication, Stankowski doesn’t blink or stumble when faced with the likes of veteran snipers either. Just ask the Kelowna Rockets.
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. They last appeared in the WHL Championship in 1984.
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? The Seattle Thunderbirds are the only team left standing in the way.
Playoff History – Seattle Thunderbirds
The Seattle Thunderbirds suffered bitter defeat at the hands of the Brandon Wheat Kings in the 2016 WHL Championship, rendering the franchise still in search of its first Ed Chynoweth Cup. Prior to 2016, the Thunderbirds hadn’t seen a Western Conference Championship since being on the wrong end of a five-game set with the Kelowna Rockets back in 2003. The last WHL Championship appearance prior to 2016? It came back in 1997 when Patrick Marleau was a member of the Thunderbirds. Could Mathew Barzal be the man to help bring the Ed Chynoweth Cup to the Emerald City for the first time?