Buzzing The Net

  • 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
  • Williamson guided Calgary to a WHL title in 2010 (Aaron Bell, CHL Images)

    In January, the Calgary Hitmen parted with their first-round pick for what could be as little as a half-season's work from New York Rangers prospect Adam Tambellini and proceeded to lose in the first round of the playoffs. In a results-based business, that is not going to pass muster, which means the law of diminishing returns has kicked in with five-year coach Mike Williamson.

    Such are the breaks of the game, even for the Western Hockey League franchise's winningest coach.

    [CHL Chatravaganza: 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT]

    From Scott Fisher:

    Hitmen GM Mike Moore said the high-powered squad just didn’t live up to expectations.

    “We had a good regular season,” Moore said. “But there were holes where we didn’t play the way we needed to and that carried over into the playoffs.

    “Mike’s a good coach. But we felt in order to get to the next level, we needed to make a move.”

    Read More »from Mike Williamson canned by Calgary Hitmen, creating third WHL coaching vacancy
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ... come for the Chatravaganza at 12 noon ET/9 a.m. PT!

    WHL

    As one of the two coaches whose higher-seeded team didn't get by Round 1, Mike Williamson is out the door in Calgary. (Calgary Herald, Taking Note)

    Trevor Cox for mayor of Medicine Hat, unless linemate Cole Sanford also files and splits the voting base. (Medicine Hat News)

    So with Kootenay eliminated, will the next jersey Sam Reinhart wears be from the Buffalo Sabres? (Buffalo News, Sportsnet)

    Talking about Portland's power play vs. Kelowna's penalty kill is a more exhaustive topic than, "Religion: what is the one true faith?" (CastanetKelowna Daily CourierPortland Tribune)

    How did Winterhawks goalie Brendan Burke come back stronger from a late-season illness? (His predecessor in Portland, Mac Carruth, is soaking up some Stanley Cup playoffs atmosphere with the Chicago Blackhawks.) (The Oregonian)

    Saskatoon Blades minority owner Colin Priestner is doing a lot of the pre-bantam draft scouting since the team has no GM in place. (Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

    OHL

    Kingston Frontenacs centre Sam Bennett will miss the world under-18 due to a groin injury; meantime, how would he look as a potential future linemate for Sean Monahan with the Calgary Flames? (Flames Nation)

    That's a jump up from coaching in Bathurst: former Titan coach Danny Dupont, who was on staff when Shawinigan had a month off before the 2012 Memorial Cup, is consulting for the London Knights now that they are in similar straits. (Le Nouvelliste)

    The respective cases for Erie and Guelph to prevail in the Western final. Can't we just bet that all the players will have a good time? (Erie Times-News, Guelph Mercury)

    Read More »from Hitmen sack Mike Williamson: the coast-to-coast
  • Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin leads all QMJHL playoff scorers with 27 points in just nine games. (Ghyslain Bergeron / CP)Halifax Mooseheads forward Jonathan Drouin leads all QMJHL playoff scorers with 27 points in just nine games. (Ghyslain Bergeron / CP)

    The 2014 QMJHL playoffs are down to the final four teams, and everyone is wondering one thing:

    Where are all the upsets?

    Usually playoffs in any junior league feature some fun upsets or storylines to keep the party going. So far, only two underdog teams, the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies over the Quebec Remparts in round 1 (10 over 7) and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada over the Rimouski Océanic in round 2 (5 over 4 with a overtime Game 7, shocker), have proven victorious over higher-seeded opponents.

    Really, Game 7 of the Océanic-Armada series is the first game of real drama that any of the victors have faced, and that was an 8-7 see-saw overtime game that had the makings of a classic no matter which teams faced off.

    That leaves us with 1-vs-5, and 2-vs-3. The best of the QMJHL are left. Let the games begin, burning questions-style!

    Read More »from Mantha vs. Drouin main storyline of final four: QMJHL semifinal preview
  • Guelph Storm star Robby Fabbri (Terry Wilson, OHL Images)

    (3) Erie Otters vs. (1) Guelph Storm

    Season series: Storm 4-1-1-0. Odds favour: Storm 54%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Storm in 7. Prediction: Storm in 7.

    The Guelph Storm revolve around a cohort of homegrown cogs, while the Erie Otters, as everyone seems to say, were built to win this spring.

    Beyond that, there very little to pick between the 108-point Storm and 106-point Otters in what seems like a better matchup than many Ontario Hockey League championship series of recent vintage. Erie has next season's surefire NHL first overall pick in Connor McDavid, but Guelph has a playmaking prodigy of its own with Robby Fabbri. The Storm go six deep across the blueline but Erie had the cleanest goals-against record. Each team did some early Christmas shopping for a big-bodied NHL first-rounder who's previously missed out on the OHL final — Vancouver Canucks pick Brendan Gaunce in the Erie tricolor and Columbus Blue Jackets prospect Kerby Rychel in Guelph crimson. Each boasts a late-blooming overage who landed a NHL deal this season — Canucks pickup Dane Fox, Minnesota Wild signing Zack Mitchell.

    All but five Storm regulars have never played for another OHL team. Could that be a tipping point?

    "Junior hockey is so much different from the National League," Storm coach Scott Walker says. "You can't expect one person to be a leader. There's just too much going on in the junior ranks to put it all on one guy. Matt would be the first to acknowledge we have no less than nine guys who are leaders. If one guy's falling offside another pulls him back. You only win if you demand it out of your teammates. The best thing is the respect they're showing each other. It's something that you don't see all the time."

    Erie is 8-1 in the playoffs, has four world junior players (although Team Sweden goalie Oscar Dansk is now the backup behind Devin Williams). It scored 310 goals in the regular season. It might still be sneaking up on people after being out of the playoffs for the previous two seasons.

    "I don't think any of our players are satisfied with what they've done so far," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch says. "They're proud but to say losing in the Western Conference finals is a successful season, that would upset some players."

    Guelph hosts Games 1-2 back-to-back on Thursday and Friday, before a QMJHL-style two-day break before the series shifts to Erie. Here's some questions to ponder.

    Read More »from Guelph Storm slight favourite over Erie Otters: OHL Western Conference final preview
  • Stolarz missed 6 weeks of the OHL season due to a severe skate cut (Aaron Bell, OHL Images)

    To the Ontario Hockey League, it's a procedural deal but to many others, it's going to come across like Anthony Stolarz is getting off lightly. The league believes it followed the rule of precedent.

    Any suspension the OHL applied during league playoffs can be removed before the Memorial Cup tournament, and often is. The end result of doing so with Stolarz is that the London Knights goalie will only end up missing 40 per cent as many games for his stick swing at Windsor's Josh Ho-Sang as Ho-Sang will miss for incidental contact that went horribly, horribly wrong.

    From Ryan Pyette (@@RyanatLFPress):

    last three games of the OHL final for spearing after racking up 35 missed regular-season games due to suspension.

    In 2000, Barrie's Ryan O'Keefe was handed an indefinite ban that lasted more than 20 games for a faceoff slewfoot of North Bay's Derrell Upton, who broke his ankle on the play.

    Those two players were granted permission to take part in the Memorial Cup that season. Their situations are a big reason why London goalie Anthony Stolarz had the final two games shaved off his eight-game penalty for a one-handed hack to the back of Windsor centre Josh Ho-Sang's head.

    “We rely on what happened in the past and the fact there was no injury on the play, fortunately,” OHL vice-president Ted Baker said. “We've addressed similar situations in the past. It was out of our control how many games London would play but we made it clear right from the start his participation in the Memorial Cup would be reviewed once the Knights' season was over.

    “It's not like something we're making up as we go along here. It was something communicated within the original suspension release.” (London Free Press)

    It is no shock, but there is an obvious difference that bears highlighting.

    Read More »from London Knights’ Anthony Stolarz has stick-swinging suspension lifted for Memorial Cup
  • D.J. Smith (left) with assistant coach Paul McFarland (OHL Images)

    For D.J. Smith, it's more fulfilling to be named OHL coach of the year with a team that feels more like his own.

    The Oshawa Generals skipper, who was named the Matt Leyden Trophy honouree Wednesday after edging Erie's Kris Knoblauch 48-47 in voting among general managers, was a finalist as a rookie. Had he won then, one would have made the case that the former pro defenceman reaped the benefit of falling heir to a collection talent. Few would say that of the current Generals, who went from contemplating a rebuild to getting Scott Laughton back from the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers and soaring to the top of the Eastern Conference. Oshawa is also 8-0 so far in the playoffs ahead of Game 1 of the Eastern final against North Bay on Friday.

    "I would say this year's team, it's our team," said Smith, who cut his coaching teeth on the staff of the Windsor Spitfires' back-to-back Memorial Cup-winning teams in 2009 and '10. "Our coaching staff and Jeff Twohey as general manager, every player here is someone we've made a conscious decision to have here. It's a great group of kids. It's great to get a honour like this with a team like this. It doesn't come around very often that you have a group of kids with very little issues.

    "We weren't sure what direction we were going in, but with the return of Scott Laughton it gave our guys a lot of confidence," the 36-year-old Smith added. "It's a great honour, but it takes special players and special people to help a team win. I'm the one being honoured, but my coaching staff, ownership, Jeff as general manager and [Oshawa owner] Rocco Tullio deserve it too."

    Read More »from Oshawa Generals’ D.J. Smith wins OHL coach of the year: ‘I hope they know I have their backs’
  • The Generals and captain Josh Brown are 8-0 in the playoffs (OHL Images)

    (2) North Bay Battalion vs. (1) Oshawa Generals

    Season series: Battalion 2-1-1-0. Odds favour: Generals 51%. Most mathematically likely outcome: Generals in 7. Prediction: Generals in 7.

    The story is going to be penalties and power plays. There is a little sense dancing around the obvious with an Eastern Conference affray directly out of the old Leyden Division, with the Oshawa Generals seeking to distance itself from a string of underachieving seasons and the North Bay Battalion looking for an OHL final berth in their first season up north.

    Oshawa, under OHL coach of the year D.J. Smith, has a chippy disposition and plenty of back-end bulk with the likes of captain Josh Brown (6-foot-4 and 215 pounds), Colin Suellentrop (6-1, 205) and Alex Lepkowski (6-4, 214), one of just two players involved who has been to the final. North Bay has a passel of power forwards, most notably in San Jose Sharks signing Barclay Goodrow and New Jersey Devils pick Ben Thomson, who can wear teams down into mistakes. There might not be a lot of space for creativity by times, so how the penalties are spread out will be a storyline.

    "You can't change the way you play — they got a lot of big bodies, we've got a lot of big bodies," Battalion coach Stan Butler says. "We want to play a physical but clean game. Sometimes officials let you play that way and sometimes you don't. You have to adjust period by period, game by game, depending on the standard and where's the game's going."

    There isn't necessarily carryover from one series to another with special teams play. North Bay's penalty killing is second-best in the second season at 91.5 per cent. The Generals' Scott Laughton and Michael Dal Colle-led power play, at 30.2%, is the best of any team which can only reach the Memorial Cup by qualifying.

    "Sometimes you have to pull it back," Smith says. "It's a fine line and sometimes it's frustrating for us as coaches and for players. You want to keep it as clean as possible but you want to make sure you finish all your checks. I think both coaches would be happy with four power plays a side each game, but we know that's not what's going to happen.

    "We both rely on our depth, we're both physical, we both are going to work and grind, try not to give up odd-man rushes and really, there's not going to be a whole lot of cheating going on," Smith adds.

    Here's some burning questions to ponder before the series begins Friday at Oshawa.

    Read More »from Rugged Battalion and Generals have to walk ‘fine line’: OHL Eastern Conference final preview
  • Brandon Magee (18 in white) received a 12-game suspension, the longest in the WHL since 2010 (photo: thezone.fm)The series between the Portland Winterhawks and Victoria Royals effectively ended when Victoria’s Brandon Magee checked Portland’s Nic Petan in the head with 4:01 left in regulation of Game 5, which Portland led 4-1 at the time and won 5-1.

    The Winterhawks are moving on to face Kelowna in the highly anticipated Western Conference final, while the Royals franchise is a bit lighter in the wallet after stiff penalties were handed down by the WHL on Tuesday.

    Magee got a 12-game suspension for his actions, while Steven Hodges got five games for his role in a similarly ugly second-period brawl. Almost as eye-popping, the Royals were fined $10,000. That’s the WHL’s largest fine for on-ice conduct going back to 2007-08 (the previous high over that span was $3,500).

    Magee’s match penalty set off the second brawl of the night, a fracas that Petan unwisely reentered after getting up from the initial hit. Looking to get back at someone, Petan, jumped on the back of Royals defenceman Ryan Gagnon, who promptly battered Petan. The combination of Magee’s stick and Gagnon’s fists left the Hawks star recovering from a head injury this week (though Petan insists he’s fine after missing one practise).

    Magee’s suspension is the longest in the league since Tri-City’s Brendan Shinnimin received 12 games for a boarding major in October 2010.

    Read More »from Victoria Royals handed heavy fine, suspensions for actions in final playoff game
  • Colts blueliner Aaron Ekblad could be Florida bound. (OHL Images)

    In a year without a consensus top prospect, the Florida Panthers will dictate how the draft floor domino effect will start as their ball was picked at the annual NHL draft lottery.

    Only behind the Buffalo Sabres (25 per cent), Florida (18.8 per cent) had the second best odds of winning the lottery. It's ultimately fitting that the Panthers jumped over the Sabres to capture the top pick because they finished 30th overall last season, but drafted second as the Colorado Avalanche won the 2013 lottery.

    This is the second time in the history of the franchise that the Panthers hold the first overall selection. In 1994, they chose Ed Jovanovski with the top pick.

    Here is a look at how the lottery affected the draft and a projection of the top 10 selections.

    1. Florida Panthers: Aaron Ekblad, defence, Barrie Colts (OHL) – Since Florida is loaded up front with Alexsander Barkov, Jonathon Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, Ekblad is a no-brainer for the Panthers hockey brass. The 6-foot-4,

    Read More »from Aaron Ekblad the perfect fit for draft lottery winning Florida Panthers
  • Brown was originally a 13th-round choice out of minor hockey (OHL Images)

    Connor Brown and Matt Finn's hockey paths, which once diverged, have crossed again to create a diversion for Leafs fans.

    Finn bounced back from a season-ending knee injury last season (OHL Images)The two captains in the Western Conference final that many believe to be the true Ontario Hockey League final had a deep bond long before both heard their names called by the Toronto Maple Leafs at the 2012 NHL draft. Brown, the Erie Otters captain who won the league scoring title, and Finn, the Guelph Storm's leader who posted the OHL's best plus-minus, also wore in blue and white throughout their formative years with the Marlboros minor hockey program. They'll likely see a lot of each other over the next two weeks, with the winner moving one step closer to the OHL title.

    "Even when we play against each other now, it's pretty cool," Brown says. "Sometimes you catch a bit of eye contact and you smile. You lose focus for a half-second there. It's awesome to see Matt have the success that he did. He didn't have many doubters. At the same time, nothing was given to him. He works hard day in, day out. It's going to be an interesting series, and who knows, we might even be matched up together.

    "Me and Matt had a conversation earlier in the week," added Brown, who had to wait until his likely final year of junior to experience the OHL playoffs. "We said that our friendship's going to be on hold while this series is going on. You get one shot at this. We're never going to hold back on each other."

    Read More »from Toronto Maple Leafs picks Connor Brown, Matt Finn rivals in Erie Otters-Guelph Storm showdown
  • A move from Kitchener to Oshawa revitalized Sterk's NHL draft prospects (OHL Images)

    Calling his coach's bluff, in a matter of speaking, led to the Oshawa Generals' Josh Sterk making the change that should lead to him landing in a NHL organization this summer.

    Aside from a select few, young players who put up points at will in minor hockey have to adapt in junior. After an up-and-down sophomore season with the Kitchener Rangers, Sterk capitalized on an opportunity to be the No. 2 centre with the Generals after coming east in a preseason trade. As the season went along, though, coach D.J. Smith, as a former pro defenceman, challenged Sterk to be more vigilant behind his own blueline. The message was received, eventually.

    "He pretty much told me that if I didn't start playing defence I wouldn't be playing," says Sterk, whose Gens begin the OHL Eastern Conference final vs. North Bay on Friday. "At first I didn't think he was serious and I saw my time going down and down with every game. When I started getting frustrated, that's when I started bearing down and now my numbers are up to 20, 25 minutes a game. I can't thank him enough for making him the player I am.

    "I wouldn't have had my breakout year if I didn't get that trade," adds Sterk, a 5-foot-11, 175-pound centre who is ranked No. 84 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting. "Obviously [Generals GM] Jeff Twohey did a good job to get me. As for the opportunity I got in Oshawa, I worked hard this summer, but the OHL is all about opportunity. D.J. Smith put me on the second line with [surefire NHL first-rounder] Michael Dal Colle and Hunter Smith at the beginning of the year and I started off hot. Then they put me in more of a shutdown role in the second half because we knew we would need that coming into playoff time. He switched me over to over to Dal Colle and Cole Cassels."

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Josh Sterk, Oshawa Generals
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    The Kootenay-Medicine Hat Game 7 will be the first the Tigers have hosted since the 2007 WHL final, and I think we all know how that turned out. (Medicine Hat News)

    Kootenay's Sam Reinhart is on top of at least one draft ranking. (Hockey's Future)

    The prospect neither Kelowna's nor Portland's scoring aces, Myles Bell and Nic Petan, will be ready for the Western final is very high. (Kelowna Capital News, Portland Tribune, The Oregonian)

    Colorado Avalanche defenceman Nick Holden is a pro without an old junior hockey haunt, since there was very little carryover from the Chilliwack Bruins to the Victoria Royals. (Vancouver Province)

    Portland rookie Tyson Predinchuk gave up being a Millionaire to join one of the Dub's mint franchises. (Regina Leader-Post)

    OHL

    Aaron Ekblad, on the possibility that Sunday was his final game in Barrie Colts navy and gold: “I hate to think about it and I love to think about it at the same time, because the future is pretty fun to look at." (Barrie Examiner)

    After falling one win shy of the 2013 final, Vancouver Canucks prospect Brendan Gaunce is a pivotal figure in the Erie-Guelph showdown. (Erie Times-News)

    Former Kitchener teammates Ben Thomson and Josh Sterk will renew acquaintances in the North Bay-Oshawa series. (Waterloo Region Record)

    Read More »from Rimouski, Medicine Hat hosting Game 7s: the coast-to-coast
  • Hawryluk is ranked 37th by NHL CSS. (WHL.ca)

    Following in the footsteps of Columbus Blue Jackets winger Matt Calvert and Dallas Stars first-rounder Scott Glennie, Jayce Hawryluk is the Brandon Wheat Kings’ latest highly-touted NHL draft prospect to hail from Manitoba.

    “I do feel fortunate (to stay in my home province),” says Hawryluk, who’s a native of Roblin, Man. “It’s nice to not have to move far away and get to be around family here. Some guys have to move far away from their homes, so I was happy when I got the chance to play in Brandon.”

    Hawryluk came into his sophomore season feeling some pressure on his shoulders. Besides the obvious pressure that comes with a draft year, the 18-year-old knew the rebuilding Wheat Kings were counting on him to help lead the offense after his 43-point rookie season.

    “I did feel a little bit of pressure,” says Hawryluk. “I knew we didn’t have a first-round pick or anything in our forward group, so guys like me would be expected to produce. But I have tried not to think about that and just

    Read More »from NHL draft tracker: Jayce Hawryluk, Brandon Wheat Kings
  • Combing all corners of the country and the blogosphere for your junior hockey headlines ...

    WHL

    Winnipeg Jets prospect Nic Petan has yet to practise for Portland since being cross-checked in the head last Thursday. (The Oregonian)

    Epic gets used way too loosely, but for a Portland-Kelowna matchup, it's permissible. (Castanet)

    A video or other embedded content has been hidden. Click here to view it.

    Amazing story if Medicine Hat comes back to beat Kootenay after losing Hunter Shinkaruk halfway through the season. (Medicine Hat News)

    Brandon's young group made huge strides over the season, and its core could still have two more seasons together. (Brandon Sun)

    Showing he could handle centre at the junior level helped Regina's Chandler Stephenson earn a contract with the Washington Capitals. (Russian Machine Never Breaks)

    OHL

    Sudbury coach Paul Fixter isn't acknowledging that the team's midseason moves altered the dressing room chemistry: "I think it's a cop out. Mathew Campagna's production went down because we added a good player? Makes no sense." (Sudbury Star)

    It was a very quiet Sunday in London on what could have been Game 6 against Guelph. (Metro London, London Free Press)

    Which forward will Toronto Maple Leafs fans imbue with completely unrealistic expectations and not pay $25 to watch in the OHL? Niagara's Brendan Perlini? Peterborough's Nick Ritchie? (Toronto Star)

    Read More »from Petan not practising for Portland: the coast-to-coast
  • Devils pick Ben Thomson scored 2 goals in North Bay's clincher (OHL Images)

    New Jersey Devils pick Ben Thomson's short-hander midway through the third created just enough separation for North Bay to exorcise the ghosts of playoffs past against Barrie. The Battalion's 3-2 win wrapped up a six-game Eastern semifinal triumph and the second round of the OHL playoffs.

    Erie-Guelph will begin Thursday and North Bay-Oshawa commences the following night, with Generals star Scott Laughton slated to miss the opener due to the final game of a butt-ending suspension. On with the post-game questions:

    Read More »from North Bay Battalion bounce Barrie, reach Eastern Conference final: OHL post-game questions
  • Medicine Hat's Cole Sanford (Marissa Baecker, Getty Images)No. 1 star: Cole Sanford, Medicine Hat Tigers (WHL)

    Now that's a reversal of future: Sanford (4G-2A, +4) pulled a Sam Reinhart, or a Jaedon Deschaneau if you need your reference to be obscure, by scoring six points during Medicine Hat's series-extending 9-2 win over the Kootenay Ice on Saturday. The 18-year-old Vernon, B.C., native who had 33 goals in the regular season had been flummoxed by Ice goalies during the Tigers' two losses in Kootenay that put it one loss from elimination. But everything Sanford and Trevor Cox (1G-3A, +4) sent toward the goal "just seemed to be going into the net" as the Tigers went from trailing 2-1 at the game's midpoint to winning by a touchdown.

    Sanford redirected a shot into the net for his second of the night to level 2-2 with 6:31 left in the second period. That caused the Ice to sag and Medicine Hat scored just 97 seconds later to take lead. In the third period, Sanford threw the floodgate open with a power-play goal 5:43 into the frame. The rest was cake.

    Game 6 of the series is on Monday, back in Cranbrook, B.C.

    Read More »from Medicine Hat’s Cole Sanford gets 6 points to force Game 6: weekend 3 Stars
  • Brett Pollock is the Oil Kings' top ranked draft prospect by Central Scouting (WHL.ca)

    Edmonton Oil Kings forward Brett Pollock wasn’t exactly on many NHL scouts’ radars at the beginning of the year. He was coming off a 44-game rookie season where he only scored two goals and four points on a limited fourth-line role.

    As his sophomore season has progressed, though, Pollock has continued to make headway in draft rankings. The proof is in the pudding in how the 18-year-old jumped to 34th among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting Service’s final ranking; he hurled over 37 prospect from his previous 71st mid-term ranking.

    The 6-foot-2, 183-pound Pollock's breakout year, which entailed notching 25 goals and 55 points in 71 contests, came together largely because his role with the Oil Kings significantly changed. He went from playing sparingly to being a key offensive contributor in their top six. This opportunity did come about for Pollock because Edmonton lost several key forwards in the offseason to the pros, but he also earned it by showing up to camp in good

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