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  • Nick Merkley scores to give Kelowna a 1-0 lead over Portland in the first period of Game 2 of the WHL's Western Conference final (Doyle Potenteau/The Daily Courier)KELOWNA — First-period leads seem to be the kiss of death in the WHL’s Western Conference final. On Friday, Portland led 3-0 before Kelowna rallied for a 5-4 Game 1 win.

    In Game 2, the Rockets jumped out to a 2-0 lead through one period on two power-play goals, but the Winterhawks took control from there, earning a 5-3 victory to even the series as the teams head south of the border for Games 3 and 4.

    Portland only got 26 shots on Rockets goalie Jordon Cooke in Game 1, but threw 53 shots his way in Game 2, including 24 in a decisive second period in which the Hawks scored four times.

    “They were the better hockey club tonight,” said Kelowna coach Ryan Huska. “They were skating and they made us defend a lot.

    “When you get into the situation and stand around against a good team, they’ll do that to you.”

    The three-goal lead the Hawks built in Game 1 was a bit of a mirage, as they weren’t completely sharp from the start. Turnovers mounted, and the Rockets eventually made Portland pay for its sloppiness.

    Game 2 provided a dramatic shift in the Hawks’ fortunes, especially for defenceman Derrick Pouliot, who was on the ice for four of Kelowna’s five goals in Game 1 but turned things around with three assists on Saturday.

    “We were playing our game tonight, when we weren’t right on it last night,” Portland coach Mike Johnston said. “When we’re on, our puck movement is really crisp and really sharp.

    “When we’re not on, we’re sloppy with the puck. We’re trying to make plays, and if we’re off we look sloppy and don’t create as much. We were snapping it around pretty good tonight.”

    Read More »from Portland scores four unanswered goals against Kelowna to even WHL Western Conference final
  • Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

    Erie took the first seven shots, then Guelph commenced to score seven goals to maintain its eerie mastery of the Otters on home ice. Meantime, Oshawa allowed an opponent to hit half-a-hundred on the shot counter — say shot clock, and it's fine — for the first time all year as North Bay was full value for the effort in its Game 1 road win in the Eastern final. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from Storm take 2-0 lead into Erie, Battalion nab opener ahead of Scott Laughton’s return: OHL post-game questions
  • Kosmachuk's 17 points is 2nd in OHL playoff scoring (John Woods, The Canadian Press)

    No. 1 star: Scott Kosmachuk, Guelph Storm (OHL)

    Kosmachuk (2G-2A, +3), Columbus Blue Jackets first-rounder Kerby Rychel (2G-1A, +3) and Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell (2G-1A, +3, including an unassisted shorty) each had a double during the 7-2 blowout of Erie that opened a 2-0 lead in the OHL semifinal. The former was given first-star honours at the Sleeman Centre. Kosmachuk, a Winnipeg Jets signing, manoeuvred into the slot to snap in the opening goal 9:33 into the contest, then made a slick entry past to set up Rychel for the 2-0 goal three minutes later.

    Erie made a half-push to pare Guelph's edge to 4-2 late in the second. Kosmachuk promptly finished off a give-and-go with Tyler Bertuzzi to reopen a three-goal lead, then broke away 2-on-1 to set up Mitchell's second of the night early in the third.

    Read More »from Kosmachuk’s 4 points helps Storm Jet out to 2-0 lead over Erie: Friday’s 3 Stars
  • Tyson Baillie had three points in Friday's Game 1 win (Getty Images)
    KELOWNA — Oliver Bjorkstrand scored 33 seconds into the game. Then, Bjorkstrand struck again just over five minutes later. When Chase De Leo made it 3-0 with 7:41 left in the first period, the Portland Winterhawks looked ready to run away from the Kelowna Rockets.

    The overflow crowd of 6,218 at Prospera Place looked dazed and deflated. Then, out of nowhere, Tyson Baillie scored on a knuckleball that floated over Brendan Burke's blocker, and the fans had a reason to cheer. They had few reasons to stop after that.

    The Rockets slowly worked their way back into the game, then seized control in a dominant third period, scoring twice to earn a 5-4 come-from-behind win.

    “It was the best crowd since maybe ’09, honestly,” said Rockets coach Ryan Huska, referring to the last time his team won the WHL title. “They had a lot of energy. Even though we were down early we felt we were still in it. They weren’t quiet tonight, which was nice to see.”

    The most highly anticipated series in the CHL so far this season didn’t disappoint in Game 1, and after a back-and-forth affair that was played a breakneck pace, one wonders what the teams will have left in the tank for Game 2.

    Read More »from Kelowna’s “best crowd since ’09″ helps Rockets erase three-goal deficit and earn 5-4 Game 1 victory over Portland
  • Bertuzzi scored twice on Thursday, including third-period equalizer (OHL Images)

    For weeks that became months, Tyler Bertuzzi was a power winger rendered powerless.

    As late as Feb. 24, it appeared the Guelph Storm would have to forge a run for the Ontario Hockey League championship without the rugged forward who worked his way up into being a Detroit Red Wings late second-round choice in 2013. A lingering head/neck issue stemming from a fight in early December — never diagnosed as a brain injury — turned one of the Storm's vital cogs into an ethereal presence around the Sleeman Centre, one of the names listed among the scratches night after night when the lineups are posted in the media room before the game. Since coming back for the second playoff game, though, Bertuzzi has fortified the Storm forward corps with seven goals and 11 points over nine contests, including a two-goal effort in Thursday's 5-4 win over Erie in the opener of the Western Conference final. That makes him a minor medical marvel.

    "I've been out four months or so, when I was coming back, I was just working out every day, skating," Bertuzzi told a post-game press conference following Guelph's win. "Just being able to be back with the guys and have that positivity... it's good to be back and working hard."

    Read More »from Red Wings pick Tyler Bertuzzi’s ‘one last shot’ at comeback pays off for Guelph Storm
  • Horvat had the game-winner and big penalty-kill shot block in the third period (OHL Images)

    Ryan Horvat, Guelph's glue guy, got the decider after all six current or future NHL first-round picks — Guelph's Jason Dickinson, Robby Fabbri and Kerby Rychel and Erie's André Burakovsky, Brendan Gaunce and Connor McDavid — recorded at least one point in an Erie-Guelph opener that lived up to its billing. Perhaps Horvat seems like an unlikely game-winning goal scorer, but do recall the series winner gets the Wayne Gretzky Trophy and the Simcoe, Ont., native's minor midget team was the Brantford 99ers, so there is that totally cherry-picked coincidence.

    Tyler Bertuzzi's second of the night 25 seconds after the Erie Otters took its third lead of the night gave Guelph a much-needed boost. Erie's comeback hope shrank considerably with 2:37 to go when Vancouver Canucks signing Dane Fox got an offensive zone tripping penalty and a misconduct, leaving the Otters to kill off penalty and try to tie the game without the OHL's top goal scorer. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from Guelph Storm grab Game 1 win ahead of Brock McGinn’s return: OHL post-game questions
  • Colorado Avalanche bench boss Patrick Roy blasted his former Remparts goaltender Louis Domingue in comments in a scrum this week. (Larry MacDougal / CP)Colorado Avalanche bench boss Patrick Roy blasted his former Remparts goaltender Louis Domingue in comments in a scrum this week. (Larry MacDougal / CP)

    Patrick Roy has had, by all accounts, an outstanding debut season with the Colorado Avalanche. He became the fifth rookie coach in NHL history to win 50 games in a season, and the Avs matched their franchise records in wins (52) and points (112).

    He also has the uncanny ability to provide the media a great story just by opening his mouth, and he can’t leave the QMJHL behind. Patrick coached, ran and owned the Remparts for eight seasons from 2005 to last year.

    Wednesday, in a scrum a day before his Colorado Avalanche were about to open their first round matchup against the Minnesota Wild, Roy was asked about what the Halifax Mooseheads were able to do to defeat Roy’s Remparts in 2012 after falling to Quebec 3-0 in games.

    Roy simply said, “Bad goaltending!”

    The Remparts took the first three games of the second round series against the Halifax Mooseheads in 2012, before they dropped the next four games 2-1, 3-2, 5-2, and 5-4 in overtime in Game 7 to lose the series. Cam Critchlow scored four goals in game seven to eliminate the Remparts.

    That prompted a response on twitter from Louis Domingue, Roy's netminder in that 2012 series.

    Read More »from Patrick Roy called out by ex-Quebec Remparts goalie: ‘I didn’t get any of the help I needed’
  • Madison Bowey is key to the Kelowna defence (Marissa Baecker:Getty)

    —BY CAM CHARRON AND SCOTT SEPICH

    Back in February, it was theorized that the NFC title game between West Coast rivals Seattle and San Francisco was the real Super Bowl, that it was the game played by the two top teams in the league. By that point in the season, was there any doubt that the Kelowna Rockets and the Portland Winterhawks were the top two teams in the Western Hockey League, if not all of major junior?

    This has been a matchup circled on calendars for months. Kelowna were tops in the BMO CHL Top 10 Rankings at the conclusion of the season, with Portland placing third. The Winterhawks led major junior hockey in RPI to top Buzzing the Net's Dynamic Dozen, with the Rockets placing second.

    The 4-0 mark in the season series by Kelowna is somewhat deceiving — Portland couldn't buy a save in their first two meetings with one another, and iced something well short of a full roster when Kelowna visited the Rose City back during world junior season.

    Still, our mathematical odds are surprisingly slanted in favour of Portland. Who really knows what to expect out of this matchup? When the teams first played each other in late November, the Rockets were short overage Marek Tvrdon and the Winterhawks had yet to make a move for Mat Dumba. Since those additions, both teams have cleared through the rest of the Western Conference like a warm knife through lactose-free butter. The series prediction may have come down to a coin flip. — Charron

    Read More »from Portland-Kelowna series too close to call: WHL Western Conference final preview
  • Reinhart's Oil Kings are up against the Tigers. (Getty Images)

    (1) Edmonton Oil Kings vs. (4) Medicine Hat Tigers

    Season series: Oil Kings 5-0-1-0. Odds favour: Oil Kings 72 per cent. Most mathematically likely outcome: Oil Kings in 5. Prediction: Oil Kings in 6.

    Edmonton only suffered one loss throughout the first two rounds while the Tigers found a way to come out on top of two close series.

    Even though GM Randy Hansch didn’t add to his group at the trade deadline, the Oil Kings ultimately came into the second season as the favourite to represent the Eastern Conference in the final. They have both top-notch talent and depth at every position as well as a core that knows what it takes to win it all.

    In the Oil Kings’ first two playoff rounds, they had no problem controlling the play against the Prince Albert Raiders and Brandon Wheat Kings. They outscored the two clubs 38-17 and had six players (Mitchell Moroz, Curtis Lazar, Brett Pollock, Edgars Kulda, Cody Corbett and Henrik Samuelsson) score at a point-per-game pace or better. One should take into account they squared off against their conference’s seventh and eighth-seeded clubs, though. So it’s not as if their dominance caught anyone off guard because it followed up on how they stood against those respective teams in the regular-season.

    The Tigers have to some degree exceeded expectations. For a team that lost their cornerstone stone player – Vancouver Canucks first-rounder Hunter Shinkaruk – to a season-ending hip injury in January, they weren’t expected to win two playoff rounds. Not to mention, they defied the odds again by coming back from a 3-1 deficit to knock off the Kootenay Ice in the second round.

    Against the Swift Current Broncos and the Ice, the Tigers showed dynamite does indeed come in small packages. Team captain Curtis Valk, Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford, who average out at just under 5-foot-9, combined for 21 goals and 56 points throughout 13 contests. Their opponents couldn't contain them because of their speed, hunger for the puck and elusiveness.

    In addition, the Tigers proved they have a lot more going for them than just their top offensive trio. Blueliners Dylan Bredo, Tyler Lewington and St. Louis Blues second-rounder Tommy Vannelli stood out for their strong play on the back end while Phoenix Coyotes prospect Marek Langhamer was exceptional in the blue paint.

    Edmonton hosts Games 1-2 on Friday and Sunday. Here are some questions to ponder about the series.

    Read More »from Edmonton Oil Kings with the edge over Medicine Hat Tigers: WHL Eastern Conference final preview
  • Williams recovered from a summer layoff to have a solid season for Erie (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)With an arsenal of attackers that goes far beyond phenom Connor McDavid, the Erie Otters seldom have to resort to rope-a-dope tactics.

    Conversely, Otters goalie Devin Williams has found succor from both his faith and his admiration of The Greatest. The 18-year-old who has shepherded Erie to the OHL Western Conference final vs. the Guelph Storm wears a mask adorned with a cross and a depiction of Muhummad Ali.

    "My dad [Clarence Williams] is assistant pastor at our church so I have the cross to symbolize my love for Christ," says Williams, a lithe 5-foot-11¾ 'tender who earned the nod as Erie's No. 1 over Oscar Dansk, a Columbus Blue Jackets high second-round pick who started the world junior gold-medal game for Sweden in January. "I got Muhummad Ali after watching his videos. My dad, being a big boxer when he was young, he showed me a lot of Ali videos. I like to see the cockiness and the arrogance from Muhummad Ali.

    "He was a huge competitor. I like his quickness too. So I try to symbolize that with my quickness on the ice."

    The Saginaw, Mich., native is second in the OHL with a 1.88 average and .934 save percentage across nine playoff appearances (including eight starts). Williams' season started inauspiciously after July groin surgery truncated his summer training — "you'd think that would put a damper on your development but when I got here the coaches worked with me," he says" — but he steadily improved while sharing the net with Dansk.

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Devin Williams, Erie Otters

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