Believe it or not, a mere four points separate first place from last overall in the Western Hockey League, setting up perhaps the most exciting 70-game finish the league has ever seen.
OK, so the hyperbole above can best be categorized as ridiculous given that the Portland Winterhawks are the only team that has played more than a pair of games this season. But since perspective and rational thought have little place in the world of modern sports journalism, I’m not going to let either stop me from jumping to conclusions based on the first weekend of the regular season:
1) The Brandon Wheat Kings have the makings of a pretty good offence: Through two games, the Wheat Kings are tied for second in the Eastern Conference with 10 goals, including a seven-goal explosion against the Regina Pats on Saturday. Veterans who haven’t been big scorers in the past produced, while the rookies looked like they belonged.
Here’s where that perspective thing comes in, though. The Pats aren’t exactly booking hotel rooms in Saskatoon for the Memorial Cup, and four of Brandon’s goals came in a single period when Regina was looking particularly ramshackle in its own zone.
The truth is, there are going to be some dry spells for the Wheat Kings this season, and there won’t be a go-to line that can carry the team for games at time, but the potential is there for the offence to exceed expectations.
2) Suspensions will come fast and furious once again this season: This one already looks like a safe bet. After cracking down on dangerous hits last season, the WHL is showing no signs of letting up. Since the opening faceoff on Thursday, seven suspensions have already been handed out.
Just as notable as the number is the calibre of players being called onto the carpet. Portland 121-point-scorer Ty Rattie (cross-checking, one game), seventh-overall NHL draft pick Matt Dumba (checking to the head, two games) of Red Deer, Saskatoon 30-goal-man Josh Nicholls (charging, one game) and Moose Jaw point-a-game scorer Justin Kirsch (checking from behind, four games) are among those to feel the wrath.
The question is, why aren’t players getting the message yet?
3) The Saskatoon Blades have a lot of work to do before hosting the Memorial Cup: Granted, no one believes the Blades are finished building yet, and it may take some time for a lineup featuring off-season acquisitions like Brenden Walker and Shane McColgan to gel. Additionally, the Blades feature one of the better puck-stoppers in the WHL in Andrey Makarov.
Still, you have to think the 6,843 fans who showed up for Saskatoon’s home opener on Saturday — ready for the start of their Cup run — were hoping for better than a 5-2 loss to the Prince Albert Raiders, even with Nicholls out of the lineup.
AROUND THE WHL: A trio of Westman skaters had impressive season debuts, as Kamloops D Landon Cross of Brandon had a goal and two assists to help the Blazers beat Kelowna 6-5 in overtime on Friday, while Red Deer LW Chad Robinson of Minnedosa had a goal and a helper in the Rebels’ 6-2 loss in Edmonton on Saturday. Additionally, Spokane D Reid Gow of Killarney had an assist and was +2 in the Chiefs’ 5-2 road win over Tri-City. Former Wheat Kings LW Carter Proft had an empty-net goal and an assist in that game … Regina is down to four 20-year-olds on its roster after trading D Brandon Underwood to Red Deer on Tuesday for a fourth-round pick in next year’s bantam draft … A day earlier, Red Deer picked up RW Matt Bellerive, who turns 18 in December, from Vancouver for a third-rounder in 2014 … The Swift Current Broncos announced Tuesday that they made a little more than $4,000 last season after losing nearly $200,000 in 2010-11.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 26, 2012