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  • Jaeger White (in white) squaring off against Tyler Benson (in green).There has been no shortage of 15-year-old hockey superstars turning heads in Western Canada this year.

    The 2013 Western Hockey League bantam crop, however, doesn’t have a prospect that has clearly separated himself from the rest of the pack like last year with B. C. native Mathew Barzal, who was selected first overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds.

    As it stands, it seems it is a two-horse race between Edmonton native Tyler Benson and Lloydminster native Kale Clague.

    “I think it will come down to Benson or Clague for whoever has the No. 1 pick,” says a WHL scout, who asked to remain nameless. “Benson is a power forward that a team could build around, while Clague is a franchise defenceman. It’s a win-win situation at this point in terms of their potential.”

    With Benson and Clague both being natives of Alberta, it seems the Oil-driven province has taken another step forward in separating themselves as the top spot in Western Canada for producing young hockey stars.

    “It would be difficult

    Read More »from Star-studded prospects standout in WHL bantam crop
  • Lotz set a Silvertips club record for saves in a game (Derek Leung, Getty Images)

    No. 1 star: Austin Lotz, Everett Silvertips (WHL)

    Silvertips players might be forbidden from peppering their food in Lotz's presence for the next few days for fear the goalie might start having bad flashbacks. There might not be any words for how the 17-year-old Lotz stood up to the Kamloops Blazers like that lone viking at Stamford Bridge, as he made a club-record 65 saves and withstood 12 power plays in a 4-3 overtime loss. Cole Ully's penalty-shot goal gave the 'Loops the OT win.

    Everett was vulnerable, with defencemen Austin Adam and Connor Cox out with injuries. Kamloops smelled blood and levelled 29 shots at Lotz in the first period, yet fell behind 2-0. The offensively potent Blazers didn't score until their 36th shot. The shots on goal disparity kept mounting. The Blazers had a season high for shots by the end of the second period, when the tally was 50-11.

    But Lotz kept his team in the game and flat-out stole a point. Ully had to be good to convert his backhand move on the penalty shot, which he was awarded after being pulled down on a breakaway by defenceman Ben Betker. Blazers radio voice Jon Keen described Lotz, a St. Adolphe, Man., native, as looking completely spent after allowing the winning goal. The Kamloops supporters played him off the ice with a standing ovation.

    Read More »from Everett Silvertips’ Austin Lotz makes 65 saves in overtime loss: Wednesday’s 3 Stars
  • The Brampton Battalion are moving to North Bay, Ont. (OHL Images)

    The Ontario Hockey League product never had traction in Brampton, even though major junior hockey has existed in southern Ontario for generations. Now that the Battalion are North Bay-bound, former Junior A owner Gregg Rosen is bent on filling the void with a lower-level pro league where the closest competitor team will be closer to Chicago than Toronto.

    Snarking good luck with that upon hearing that Brampton is expected to join the Central Hockey League is understandable. Selling suburbia on having its own team within Leaf Nation has never taken for three different OHL teams, potentially four depending on how owner Elliott Kerr's three-year commitment to the re-branded Mississauga Steelheads (né Majors) pans out. However, Rosen, an executive in a steel company, built a reputation as a tremendous owner with the Kingston Voyageurs of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (which he sold in 2011, one year one year after his cancer diagnosis). Rosen, who has been looking for years to own

    Read More »from Brampton getting Central Hockey League franchise in wake of Battalion move: um, okay
  • Lorne Molleken's Blades are 2-2-0-2 since the WHL trade deadline (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)

    Let's be real — it's hard to seriously accept there was a threat to remove the Saskatoon Blades as the MasterCard Memorial Cup host team.

    The situation, both in terms of the financial scope of the tournament and the host team's performance to date, is light-years from 1990, when the dismal Hamilton Dukes gracefully bowed out of the tournament. At the same time, there's no ducking that there's no wool to be pulled over anyone's eyes when the Blades are not even the best team in their province nearly two-thirds of the way through the Western Hockey League.

    It wouldn't be sporting to heap dirt on a team from two provinces away. The Memorial Cup has its random crapshoot element. In the wake of CHL president David Branch ("They’ve got all the pieces now. It’s just about bringing them together. We have every confidence they’re going to be a worthy host") and WHL commissioner Ron Robison issuing a vote of confidence on Tuesday, it's worth wondering how Saskatoon's performance rates with other Cup hosts across the past decade and a half.

    Please bear in mind Saskatoon coach-GM Lorne Molleken acted prudently at the trade deadline with his final roster tweaks. Adding the likes of erstwhile Calgary Flames farmhand Michael Ferland and forwards Erik Benoit and Collin Valcourt gives Saskatoon a better shot at being able to grind out a win against a more talented league representative on any given day. There is a lot of hockey to be played before May. There are no supposed-tos in any junior league worth following; if there were, Saskatoon would have won in the WHL. With that preamble established, how does Saskatoon's 23-20-0-3 record ahead of its Wednesday game against powerhouse Edmonton rate with other recent hosts?

    Read More »from Saskatoon Blades’ record lags behind even weaker recent Memorial Cup host teams
  • Kelowna goalie Jordon Cooke (left) and defenceman Riley Stadel (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)

    This is but a snapshot. For this week at least, the relatively unheralded Kelowna Rockets have pushed more star-studded teams out of the centre of the group photo.

    While the London Knights and Portland Winterhawks have each hit a rough patch and spun out into three-game losing streaks, the Rockets' run of 22 wins in 25 games since Grey Cup weekend has merited top spot in this week's Buzzing The Net Dynamic Dozen.

    Kelowna might not stand out as having the best of anything, but it seems to be pretty good at everything. They boast a deep defence and four players among the Western Hockey League's top-40 point-earners, even though it was only this week that undrafted 19-year-old Zach Franko joined Myles Bell in the Dub's top 20. Kelowna captain Colton Sissons would be the fifth if not for some injuries.

    It's valid that a franchise should probably not host two Memorial Cups within a decade. It's still hard to resist pointing out the new top team did bid to host this season's MasterCard Memorial Cup that was awarded to the scuffling Saskatoon Blades. Please excuse the revisionist history; hey, Red Deer seemed like a good pick for 2013 Cup host, too.

    Read More »from Kelowna Rockets blast to top of BTN Dynamic Dozen as London, Portland dip
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...


    Mark Holick, who had a solid three-year run with the Kootenay Ice, is taking over the Prince George Cougars' coaching reins after the dismissal of Dean Clark. The Cougars are five points out of a playoff berth. (Kamloops Daily News, Prince George Citizen)

    With the amount of planning that goes into a MasterCard Memorial Cup, do you really think the WHL/CHL would remove the Saskatoon Blades for less than overwhelming play? Saskatoon's .533 point percentage is fifth in the Eastern Conference. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

    Western League commissioner Ron Robison notes the league has "prioritized" placing teams in Nanaimo, B.C., and Winnipeg "in order to maintain our conferences." (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

    An extended road trip is just what coach Derek Laxdal wanted for his conference-leading Edmonton Oil Kings. (Edmonton Journal)

    Portland Winterhawks captain Troy Rutkowski will play his team record-tying 326th career game on Wednesday. (Oregon Live)

    The Everett Silvertips don't appear to a firm return date for banged-up defencemen Austin Adam, Connor Cox and Ayrton Nikkel as they embark on a B.C. road swing. (Everett Herald)

    It's been a theme of late for coach Jim Hiller's Tri-City Americans: be even or behind in the scoring chances, but convert at a greater rate. Youngster Brian Williams buried two goals Tuesday vs. Seattle. (Tri-City Herald)

    Kamloops Blazers goalie Cole Cheveldave is seeking a return to the form he showed early on this season. (Kamloops Daily News)

    Make that 10 losses in a row in Moose Jaw. (Moose Jaw Times-Herald)


    Ottawa Senators draft pick Jarrod Maidens is rejoining the Owen Sound Attack, but coach Greg Ireland cautions the centre might not play this season. (Owen Sound Sun Times)

    It's been a while since a London Knights goalie was a game's first star, notes Ryan Pyette. Philadelphia Flyers second-rounder Anthony Stolarz likely starts Thursday in London's first vs. worst matchup vs. Ottawa. (London Free Press)

    Read More »from Mark Holick new coach in Prince George: Wednesday’s coast-to-coast
  • London coach and part-owner Dale Hunter (left in photo, Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

    Follow the money, eh? It stretches suspension of disbelief to believe anything in junior hockey could be too rich for the London Knights' blood. They lead the Ontario Hockey League in attendance pretty much annually and with a strong core expected back next season, seem eminently qualified to host the MasterCard Memorial Cup in 2014 in terms of having the building, the market and oh yes, a decent hockey team presuming the OHL's selection committee will pay greater heed to that than either of their counterpart did when awarding the 2013 events (cough).

    So what could go askew before the OHL decides in April from a group of bids that is expected to include the Barrie Colts, Kingston Frontenacs and Windsor Spitfires? Well, there will be no seed money coming from local government in London, Ont., which already threw a whack of money at the world figure skating championships.

    Read More »from London Knights’ 2014 Memorial Cup bid hits small snag, not of their own making
  • Portland, Spokane brawl via Youtube

    There was a lone WHL game on the calendar Monday, a U.S. Division battle on Martin Luther King Day that saw Spokane score a rare victory at Portland's Veterans Memorial Coliseum, defeating a red-hot Winterhawks squad 5-2.

    Rarely have the Winterhawks lost this season, and rarely have they been outplayed so decisively, with Spokane holding the edge on shots on goals even through the third period when Portland's guns failed to generate any sort of pressure on Spokane goaltender Eric Williams.

    Naturally, frustrations boiled over and resulted in three separate fights with :33 seconds to go in the game after Spokane's Todd Fiddler scored an empty net goal with under a minute to go to ice it. Portland's Joe Mahon, owner of 81 penalty minutes coming into the contest, snow-showered Williams after a routine stoppage, triggering a six-man brawl:

    Read More »from Spokane Chiefs, Portland Winterhawks brawl at conclusion of WHL contest
  • Lazar hit the 20-goal mark last weekend for Edmonton (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)

    Curtis Lazar admits he got carried away with comparisons.

    In a deep draft year and with so much readily available information on every prospect, it's only inevitable that a potential first-rounder such as the Edmonton Oil Kings centre is going to be checking up on his fellow puck prodigies. Lazar came into this season hyped as a potential top 10 choice and hasn't disabused anyone from thinking he will be a solid pick at any draft slot this summer. A key difference, though, is that the Vernon, B.C., native fills a third-line role for the loaded Oil Kings, who have a 100-point man in Michael St. Croix and an older NHL first-rounder in Phoenix Coyotes pick Henrik Samuelsson as their top two centres. That meant it took Lazar some time not to obsess over his numbers, even when contemporaries such as Halifax's Nathan MacKinnon, London's Max Domi and Portland's Nic Petan are top-10 scorers in their respective leagues.

    "To be honest, it has been something that has weighed on me," says the 6-foot, 198-pound Lazar, who is NHL Central Scouting's 26th-ranked North American skater. "I got off to a slow start. I let all the little things get to me instead of just enjoying the game, having that passion for the game that I used to have. Now I play on the third line and I take pride in that. We're a checking line [he and his linemates of late, Mitch Moroz and Travis Ewanyk], but we can put up numbers too.

    "I'll do whatever it takes to help our team to win. There's guys in front of me and I understand that, but I'm happy for them. My game has a lot more to it than just putting up numbers, that's what I take pride in."

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Curtis Lazar, Edmonton Oil Kings
  • Kitchener Rangers centre Justin Bailey (OHL Images)The points are starting to come for Justin Bailey.

    The highly touted power winger was ranked 37th among North American skaters when the NHL Central Scouting midterm rankings dropped last week, but that came in the wake of a challenging first half-season with the OHL's Kitchener Rangers. The 17-year-old Bailey, who seems lighter on his feet than a 6-foot-3, 183-pound teenaged puck-chaser ought to be, has four goals and seven points in his past seven games while helping the Rangers climb back into contention. It appears as if he's made up for the development time lost when he missed three weeks with a concussion after a massive open-ice check from Calgary Flames second-rounder Pat Sieloff. The collision made it clear to Bailey just how a big step up the OHL is from what he knew in his age-16 year with the Long Island Royals.

    ""Since I've come back from the injuries, I've been playing better and better each night," Bailey says. "My welcome to the OHL was that hit from Pat Sieloff at the beginning of the year. It was a little bit of a wakeup call. Last year on a play like that, I could have got that pass or got around the D [defenceman], created a scoring chance off it.

    "This year is different. Just in practice, you learn things you can do and what you can't — what you can get away with and what you can't. That just comes with experience. For me, the adjustment has progressively become easier and easier."

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Justin Bailey, Kitchener Rangers


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