Tuesday, February 14, 2017

2017 Scotties Tournament of Hearts Preview

After humming and hawing for  a little while I've decided to continue what I debuted last curling season, and that was previews for both  the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and the Tim Hortons's Brier. The 2017 Scotties kicks off this week in St.Catharines,Ontario. As I usually note in these previews, I most certainly encourage feedback and as has become tradition, I will rank the teams in descending order whilst creating a separate list for the four teams involved in the pre-qualifier/relegation portion. Am I crazy that next year Curling Canada is adopting a pool format? Not at all but it trumps this ridiculously conceived relegation event. Enjoy!

11.Team Nova Scotia(Mary Mattatall)

This one is a difficult prognosis for me. I was under the belief, in many aspects still am that the state of Nova Scotian women's curling was headed in a positive direction. As much as their are still some noteworthy achievements from the women in the province, particularly the run that now "retired?" Mary Fay went on last season all the way to a Canadian Junior title, the provincials taught me, and kudos to a regional network for providing a webcast that until the now led Kristin Clarke team becomes fully fledged in women's play, Nova Scotia curling is in for a bumpy ride nationally the next  couple of seasons. Not to sound too harsh but in the select webcasts I was privy to, I can difinitively say that Matatall's foursome looked to be the weakest of the bunch and am still shocked that one of Jill Brothers or Mary-Anne Arsenault didn't reign victorious. As the ranking of number eleven will clearly illustrate, I project tough sledding for the Mattatall and they should be thanking the heavens that a pouros showing at this year's event won't decimate their province into the following year's relegation.

Skip:Mary Mattatall
Third:Margaret Cutcliffe
Second:Jill Alcoe-Holland
Lead:Andrea Saulnier

10.Team Newfoundland and Labrador(Stacie Curtis)

Curtis is back at the Scotties after repeating as provincial champion.  No questioning Stacie is an unique talent,winning a Canadian Junior title but what I harped on in last year's preview remains prevalent and that is the lack of competition they receive in the province. For years, Heather Strong boasted a formidable foursome that would give Curtis fits at a provincial level and sporadically would hold her own on the national stage but with Heather's commitment and passion to the sport seemingly dwindling, the games that she probably plays with any true meaning are likely slim to none prior to provincials. Not knowing much pertaining to team third Erin Porter, I felt as if she more then held her own and was the unheralded M.V.P for a rink that compiled three wins in Grande Prairie. The ceiling here is four wins and I may be being generous but in order to slightly improve on that benchmark they will require an equal to career performance out of Porter.

Skip:Stacie Curtis
Third:Erin Porter
Second:Julie Devereaux
Lead:Erica Trickett

9.Team Quebec(Eve Belisle)

Only seven teams entered the Quebec women's playdowns. For what it's worth I find it puzzling because for years Marie-France Larouche was not only consistently representing the province of Quebec but was contending, battling her way en route to the 2004 Scotties final before bowing out to Colleen Jones From my vantage point, that should've captured the imaginations of the Quebecois female junior curlers to one day strive to reach the pinnacle of the sport but for whatever reason it hasn't happened and as we sit in 2016, the women's game in this wonderful province is becoming extinct.No slight intended towards Eve Belisle however as Marie-France slowly but surely scales back her commitment, reminiscent to that in Newfoundland and Labrador with Heather Strong, we're growing closer to a Belisle auto berth. She is entering her third Scotties appearance, last qualifying in 2010 and along the way has picked up some remnants from the now dissolved Lauren Mann rink. I will preface this synopsis by acknowledging the ranking may end up being too low but ultimately a lack of spieling on the World Curling tour combined with the fact in previous appearances Eve has failed to rise to the occasion I think can safely justify the ranking of nine.

Skip:Eve Belisle
Third:Lauren Mann
Second:Trish Hill
Lead:Brittany O'Rourke

8.Team Prince Edward Island(Robyn MacPhee)

The MacPhee/Birt/Rebecca Jean MacDonald  teams always seem to enter the national spotlight each year with small iterations. This time it's former skipper Suzanne Birt taking an unknown leave of absence from the sport thus fully fledging McPhee into the skipping position once again. Although primarily an useless tidbit, I doubt you'll find a curler in the field that throws with more rotation than robyn and coming from someone such as myself that historically throws with little handle, I'm left fascinated by the contrast. Basically here's the dilemma, it's extremely difficult to assess the plight of this team because like many other teams behind them in these rankings they're drawn the misfortune of playing in very small provincial fields. In the case of P..E.I, the real only adversarie that stood in her way was 2015 National Travellers Champion Lisa Jackson. Now, if the only real threat standing in your way is a club curler champion, either those assigned to grow the game on the Island are failing or , in an area that I feel strongly about maybe it's time to examine the eligibility for those that are allowed in a Club Curler championship. My tangent aside, the thing I appreciate with the way they've assembled this team is that they're committed to bringing on board some of the former top juniors to acquire them experience. Look no further then Sarah Fullerton,  who skipped her Prince Edward Island foursome to three Canadian junior experience and the hope is that with that national experience in her back pocket she won't falter under increased pressure.

Skip:Robyn MacPhee
Third:Sarah Fullerton
Second:Meaghan Hughes
Lead:Michelle McQuaid

7.Team Saskatchewan(Penny Barker)

The seventh seed in her provincial entering the event, Penny defied the odds and conquered a very tough Saskatchewan field and achieved a berth to her team's first ever Scotties Tournament of Hearts. The amazing thing when analyzing this squad was that the provincial bonspiel was only their third even together as a team. An anomaly it would seem from the exterior but not when you take into account unless I have my facts incorrect this is the second consecutive champion that won Saskatchewan that played less than four events together as a team before commencing play at provincials. Moral of this story you ask? In 2018, look for a team that comes in very green to represent the Prairie province. Getting back to the chances of Barker, unfortunately as a Saskatchewanian I don't consider them great as a lack of national seasoning could prove to be their demise. Also, and keep in mind that I'm aware that this applies to nearly every team is that once the upper echelon scour the tapes of Penny's provincial triumphs they'll be taken a back for how much she favours the hit game so I expect nothing less to the opposition make a concerted effort to junk it up more than usual as an effective game plan.

Skip:Penny Barker
Third:Deanna Doig
Second:Lorraine Schneider
Lead: Danielle Sicinski

6.Team Alberta(Shannon Kleibrink)

Thanks to Rogers Sportsnet, I was able to tune into the Alberta Provincial semi-final and final and as it so turned out, Shannon along with super spare Heather Nedohin who spared Shannon who sustained an injury earlier in that week went undefeated in the modified triple knockout event. When I was casually scouring linescores early on in the proceedings, I was surprised that Shannon was having so much success only to come to find out that half of it could be thanked to the 2012 Scotties champion Nedohin. As well as Shannon and her entire played throughout the week and into the final, I can't help but feel she was the benefactor of capitalizing on some of finalists Val Sweeting mistakes rather then be the aggressor and win the game on her terms. The prototypical opportunist if  there ever was one!. After careful consideration, the reason for the middle of the pack ranking is because the likes of Rachel Homan and Chelsea Carey won't settle for safe, open play and the jury is out on whether the repetition is there to put it together over an eleven game stretch.

Skip:Shannon Kleibrink
Third:Lisa Eyamie
Second:Sarah Wilkes
Lead:Allison Thiessen

5.Team Northern Ontario(Krista McCarville)

Beating Tracy Fleury at the 2016 Northern Ontario Scotties is an achievement not to be taken lightly, Fleury was surely going to get her revenge in 2017, correct? Not so fast as McCarville once slayed the proverbial giants and is headed back to another Scotties. Often times when conducting these previews  I like to point out some of the curlers who I perceive to be some of the better individual curlers in this field and I don't think anybody especially after clamouring over her 2016 Cinderella run to the final will take issue when I classify Krista as  a top five curler in the field.  I was guilty myself last year when prior to the event when I mistakenly gave her the team ranking of seven and have to continually remind myself that before her lengthy absence she was nearly our Olympic representative in Vancouver. So you're asking yourself why after hefty praise is she only ranked fifth? Well, it was a difficult decision no doubt but when I break down her comrades with her, they're a very excitable bunch, maybe not as excitable as Darren Moulding  was when he captured his elusive tankard this past weekend but concentration is something that could be a hinderance for a team that because of reaching the final in '16 will be looking to match that feat this year. Can Ashley Sippala who I thought was just so so in my viewings be a better version of herself? If not, I foresee a slight dip from this entry.

Skip:Krista McCarville
Third:Kendra Lilly
Second: Ashley Sippala
Lead:Sarah Potts

4.Team Canada(Chelsea Carey)

After reading the first seven previews of teams I've completed the essence I took out of it was that I've been largely positive however I may buck the trend with the Carey team. Something just feels off with the chemistry every time I watch this team. And if my premonition is correct can we really be surprised as remember that Heather Nedohin decided to step back from the sport prior to the 2015-2016 and the only reason why Carey was made available because she herself was booted from the now Kelsey Rocque rink. I honestly believe that had this team not beat McCarville in the final last year that it would've been a one year experiment. For a lot of the teams that frequent the Grand Slam series, winning provincial championships isn't good enough as the carat of the Olympic trials is all anyone builds towards now a days. Their season on the grand slam circuit hasn't been great in 2016-2-17 and for those astute curling fans you'll already know that the 2015-2016 campaign was a mitigated disaster  prior to getting hot at the right time. This team wreaks the smell that was all over the Pat Simmons a rink ago and would be genuinely surprised if they come up big in the biggest moments again.

Skip:Chelsea Carey
Third:Amy Nixon
Second:Jocelyn Peterman
Lead:Laine Peters

3.Team British Columbia(Marla Mallett)

Am I off base when I call Marla the Henrik Stenson of curling?. You'll understand the comparison to Henrik shortly after I finish describing Marla but with this Mallett rink as a whole, you won't find a more bland style of curling, uber defensive that will make even the  stoutest of curling fans turn away from the television when they're the featured game. Unfortunately for myself and curling fans a far, I'm predicting big things for Marla over the next week so prepare to turn off your television sets accordingly. Marla's approach to the game of curling is dangerously mundane, as when she wins a game 3-2 the storyline will be that she had too many rocks in play. And before i go any further,I'll just go on record that Henrik is the blandest gentlemen in the game of golf thus I felt the comparison was appropriate. Marla has teamed up with Shannon Aleksic who you may remember teamed up with Kelly Scott a year go and recruited the front end from the former Jill Thurston team out of Manitoba. I talked momentarily about how some of the elite skips won't settle for defensive first approaches however when it comes to Marla, frustration will set in for her opponents and impatience which will lead to strategical endeavours that are unnecessary. Marla is the master of the car and mouse game and that approach I maintain will book her a spot on Semi-final Saturday.

Skip:Marla Mallett
Third:Shannon Aleksic
Second:Brette Richards
Lead:Blaine de Jager

2.Team Manitoba(Michelle Englot)

Before I critique the chances of Englot,I'd be remiss if I, continuing on the theme of sharpshooters if I didn't chronicle third Kate Cameron.. Every Scotties and Brier possesses the quintessential breakout star with arguably it being Jocelyn Peterman last year and this year I'm confident when I say that I expect Cameron to take the crown from Jocelyn. Englot has been on national airwaves at select times this winter and every time I see them play the one recycled thought is how impressed I am towards the game of Cameron. Now this team, formerly the Kristy MacDonald skipped foursome is frantically attempting to acquire enough points to earn direct entrance into the 2017 Canadian Olympic trials and a stellar showing at the Scotties would go  a long way.  Michelle, who's making her ninth Hearts appearance is a cagey veteran of the sport and although she's achieved countless individual accolades, she's never had this kind of team that realistically is expected to be playoff bound. From my readings the majority of curling fans aren't as optimistic as I am with her chances and if I've correctly prognosticated the field we'll be seeing Michelle in her first final but with  Manitoba colors, a stark contrast from her usual green and white. We just had a Saskatchewan transplant win gold for Alberta at the Canadian juniors, so why couldn't it happen twice?

Skip:Michelle Englot
Third:Kate Cameron
Second:Leslie Wilson
Lead:Raunora  Westcott

1.Team Ontario(Rachel Homan)

The game of curling needs role models. The way the Homan rink conducts themselves on the ice encompasses everything that is right about the sport.  The men's game took notice to substantive fitness regimes probably earlier then most elite lady teams did but the Homan four revolutionized the way their gender needs to prepare both in the gym and mentality. The Olympics have altered the path of the sport, no secret being revealed there and Homan has pushed the envelope perhaps more than anyone else has ever done and results show. Devastation ensued during the 2016 provincials when they succumbed to the upset of the century when Jenn Hanna took them down. Three victories on tour, five finals appearances in total have them revved up as the hometown Ontario favourites in St.Catharines so surely we will be privy to increased motivation from Rachel and company.

Skip:Rachel Homan
Third:Emma Miskew
Second:Joanne Courtney
Lead:Lisa Weagle


4.Team Nunavut(Geneva Chislett)

If cohesion correlated to victories, this carry over from last year's pre qualification event would be in great shape.Unfortunately there surprise win last year against the British Columbians I fear was an aberration and honestly expect a leisurely 0-3 showing. Listen it's imperative for the growth of this championship that a team like Nunavut does show steady growth but the curling community has to be realists by knowing that up north they don't have access to the same resources other provinces do which is why, albeit one of a million reasons why not allowing a team like Chislett's to compete in the full week schedule will inevitably stunt their growth. They've made the trek down to St.Catharines, at least allow them to have  a fulfilling experience.

Skip:Geneva Chislett
Third:Denise Hutchings
Second:Robyn Mackey
Lead:Jenine Bodner

3.Team Northwest Territories(Kerry Galusha)

Kerry was quoted in an TSN article this week as saying that she was borderline embarrassed that they received a free path to the Scotties as no other team entered the NWT women's playdowns. As embarrassing as that conceivably is, if you're Kerry you have to know the reason the numbers have grew extinct in the territory because anybody in their right mind knows they're not beating you. And I'm not insinuating that it's a prudent excuse but the full credit goes out to Galusha because along with brother Jamie Koe an empire has been built up north so much so that in all probability you will see the Koe's represent the N.W.T for the next ten years. Regarding the plight of this year's team, it's been widely publicized that they struggle to accumulate enough coin to entertain joining the bonspiel circuit and in order to recieve tutelage from second year coach John Epping, they must do it through Skype. Disadvantages aplenty!

Skip:Kerry Galusha
Third:Meagan Koehler
Second;Danielle Derry
Lead:Sharon Cotmier

2.Team Yukon(Sarah Koltun)

Before this preview began, in my head I had the Koltun coming out of this relegation event but throughout the course of penning this piece I've had a change of opinion.For starters, they took last year off as a team so you question their readiness for an event such as this IF they're the "chosen ones" and advance to the main field. I could talk more about my thoughts regarding their chances but I won't. Instead, I'd like to raise up a pet peeve as to why Team Koltun is even eligible to represent the Yukon when reportedly three of the four team members are attending school n British Columbia.It was explained to me that being a full time student allows the option to either play for the province you're currently living in for post secondary reasons or can play out of the province that you reside in away from studies which is bogus. Curling Canada needs to do a better job of enforcing residency requirements especially when this new age of importing one player has become so prevalent.. If you're going to school somewhere and are living there during the winter, ala when curling season consummates then inmy humble opinion that's the province must declare into for playdown purposes. Given the choice between the Yukon and British Columbia, it's a no brainer where to declare.

Skip:Sarah Koltun
Third:Chelsea Duncan
Second:Patty Wallingham
Lead:Jenna Duncan

1.Team New Brunswick(Melissa Adams)

The Sylvie Robichaud-Rebecca Atkinson partnership which was quickly becoming an unstoppable powerhouse parted ways opening the door for some new blood which was welcome news for  Adams. Adams is bringing with her an extremely young front end and the one that sticks out is second Cathlia Ward who in 2013 was chosen as an alternate for the World Junior Curling Championships being selected by Corryn Brown. The team will enter the main event(according to my predictions anyway) with relative inexperience but it might be the youngest on the team in Ward that could be the calming influence for the veteran skip as she's dealt with pressure packed situations in the past. Officially they're my choice to get out of this montrosity otherwise known as relegation and for the record had I seeded them in the main field I would've sandwiched them in between Saskatchewan and P.E.I.

Skip:Melissa Adams
Third:Jennifer Armstrong
Second:Cathlia Ward
Lead:Katie Forward

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

The 2016-2017 Western Hockey League Power Rankings(Volume 8)

Keep in mind when perusing through these rankings that the objective of this  article isn't to rank the teams based off of current position which would skew the rankings, it's a ranking where enlies my thoughts on where teams currently situate when assessing the likelihood or lack thereof of said team hoisting the Ed Chynoweth Cup.

1.Seattle Thunderbirds(Last time # 1)

Remember when some(most) scoffed at the notion of labelling the Seattle Thunderbirds pre-season favourites? Perhaps I'm having a difficult time deciphering but aside from the Lethbridge Hurricanes who's the hottest team in the league and fastly nipping on the heels of the Everett Silvertips? That's right, indeed the T-Birds. Injuries have been a common denominator through the U.S divison so the excuse that Everett isn't as well oiled with Noah Juulsen is a noted one but we shouldn't discount the loss of Jarrett Tyszka. Keeping in mind that Matt Barzal has only played twenty three games to date and has accumulated thirty eight points but the narrative of this campaign has very much been scoring by committee. The current leading scorer is defenceman Ethan Bear and at last check(Feb 2), they have twelve players over twenty points. Depth is where they'll flourish come playoff time. 

2.Regina Pats(Last time # 6)

In the last volume, I was prematurely critical of the direction John Paddock and company took at the January trade deadline. Although you'll never and I don't care with what kind of approach you take will convince me that some of the trades were necessary for this season, not currently worrying about the 2018 Memorial Cup hosting potential. I frequent a lot of games and the consensus that's been slowly building is former Kamloops Blazer Dawson Davidson is failing to live up to the billing bestowed upon him prior to heading to the prairies. The thing that understandably gets on a cynic's nerve is his penchant for taking risks. The Moosomin,Saskatchewan native is a smallish defenceman who possesses Pavel Datsyuk-esque puck skill and puts it to good use 80% of the time. I fully get the undertone of the messsages most Pat fans attempt to convey when they look at the offence they've been privy so they automatically presume our defenceman should just sit back and make the "safe" play. Don't be fooled by the fact that a gargantuan reason for the success of some of the forwards such as Adam Brooks and midway M.V.P favourite Sam Steel are due to the defenceman, like Dawson pushing the pace.

3.Lethbridge Hurricanes(Last time # 8)

When you're 10-0-1 in your past eleven a spike in the rankings is inevitable. When constructing these entries I try(however difficult it is) to be impartial when seeding and discussing the respective teams but I'll be frank, as a supporter of the Regina Pats the 'Canes worry me. The big ticket items such as Tyler Wong,Giorgio  Estephan and newly acquired Zak Zborosky are the ones stirring the drink in the Windy City but  lest we not overlook the contributions of Russian nineteen year old Egor Babenko. When the Hurricanes were pitted against the aformentioned Pats in last years first round I was  left disenchanted by Babenko. Part of the problem when I now think back, and I stress only part of the problem was that Babenko and current Warrior Brayden Burke brought too much of the same repertoire to the table and their wasn't near enough versatility in the Canes lineup. With Burke a distant memory it's becoming apparent that Babenko is playing with more comfort and creativity. I suppose it doesn't hurt any getting slotted with Zborosky who is one of the more renowned snipers in the Dub. The other reason the Hurricanes will present a plethora of problems to playoff opposition is their style of play. The Pats play up tempo sure but it pales in comparison to the game plan implemented by Brent Kisio. Activating defenceman into the rush in all situations aren't doing any favours to the statistics of Stuart Skinner but if a statistic was kept tracking offensive odd man rushes then Lethbridge would be leaps and bounds above everybody else. I wasn't sold on the Hurricanes going into the season but I'm a vocal believer now I'm already preparing to view an epic conference final between Regina and Lethbridge.

4.Ptince George Cougars(Last time # 3)

Admittedly before Radovan Bondra was shipped out of Vancouver to Prince George I had only seen him play a few times. I do recall however reading reports after the Giants selected him in the import draft and everything that I read was that he projected out to be a top end European in the Canadian Hockey League and until very recently I wasn't sure I was ready to believe the hype. There's a certain calmness that he plays with, Prince George, particularly with the forward group are an eccentric group so the arrival of Bondra welcome because he's an asset in all three zones and what it does is it allows forwards like Jesse Gabrielle or Brad Morrison who crave gaining a step int he odd man rushes to take a chance or two because they know more often that not Bondra will be their to bail me out. I'm not implying that Bondra was the most important acquisition made at the trade deadline, I'm indicating that it may be the most logical transaction given what this club needed as we enter their playoff push.

5.Kamloops Blazers(Last time #5)

Ken Hitchcock's name has been in the news over the past while after having his contract terminated by the St.Louis Blues. I bring up Hitch's name because after closely examining the mid nineties dynasty that the Blazers were privy to I couldn't help but think Don Hay stepped in the first go around and put the finishing touches Hitchcock's masterpiece. No such controversy this go around as this team has Don Hay written all over it. This team's identity is a defensive first mentality  They leave no stone unturned, finish their checks and even some of their more skilled forwards have an exlempary commitment to the defensive side.  Case in point Saskatoon native Collin Shirley. the 2013 blockbuster featuring Tim Bozon being sent to the Kootenay Ice sent Shirley Kamloops' way and surely enough the twenty year old is the focal point of the attack. I'm not here suggesting that Collin possesses the teams best set of mits but it's the all around tool box that allows the likes of Devin Sideroff and newly acquired Lane Bauer to work their magic. The unsung hero generally rises come playoff time and expect nothing less out of Collin.

6.Swift Current Broncos(Last time # 4)

Despite skating to a 4-5-0-1 mark in their past ten games, I'm still willing to buy what the young lads out of Speedy Creek are trying to sell me. As touched on in the last rankings, this is a new regime and I tend to theorize that if the Broncos administration didn't believe what was in the dressing room their is no chance that they would've expended the assets to acquire netminder Jordan Papirny, just wouldn't have. Earlier in the campaign most that monitor the Western Hockey League would have unequiovcally said that the offence catalyst was Alexi Heponiemi but all of a sudden at least perceptively, the reigns have been handed over to Tyler Steenbergen  and quite frankly he's suddenly reached stardom status.  There has been an outcry from hockey loyalists to potentially raise the draft age to eighteen because I think it's becoming abundantly that their are more frequent cases of players who begin to blossom after endeavouring through leisurely seventeen year old seasons.  If his first crack at draft eligibility was 2017 I assure you at thirty nine goals currently he's a top three round pick. Whoever takes the waiver on Tyler late in the draft has themselves a keeper.

7. Tri-City Americans(Last time # 12)

I'm not one to ever avoid tooting my own horn especially when an opinion not shared by many becomes fruitul but in the pre-season I was very complimentary of Dylan Coghlan and while most perceived my admiration to be a tad premature he's lived up to the billing and them some.In fact I would go as far to say that the defensive exploits are the strength of this team when taking into account the graduation of Brandon Carlo last season. Sure Parker Wotherspoon  possesses the coveted foot speed and Juuso Valimaki has a Shea Weber-esque shot but the most complete defenceman from this bloggers vantage point has been Coghlan. I was internally brainstorming which WHL alum does Coghlan compare best to and after careful consideration that would be former Prince George Cougar and Moose jaw Warrior Ty Wishart. Lanky defenceman that are deceptively punishing but are no slouch with the puck. Already a darkhorse for 2017 defenceman of the year for an Americans team that if the cards align could enter as the pre-season favourite.

8.Everett Silvertips(Last time # 2)

Only with teenagers can somebody(Carter Hart) look like Martin Brodeur and a minute later begin to channel his inner Andrew Raycroft.  I pulled his game by game stats and since returning from the World Junior Hockey Championship on January 13th, Carter has compiled a .892 save percentage. That's very un-Carter Hart like and in order to restore the momentum that the Silvertips accumulated in the first half of the season, it's imperative that Carter re-discovers his swagger. Hart's struggles have been most noticeable but, and once again my pre-season preview is proof in the pudding but I had and still have some doubts that Everett has compiled enough goal scoring acumen to compete in the playoffs. As nice of a story that Patrick Bajkov has been, is it enough to lift Everett to a Ed Chynoweth Cup? Time will tell but another forward needed to be added at the deadline and that precisely where upper management missed the boat.

9.Moose Jaw Warriors(last time # 13)

Unless the Warriors do end up enjoying an extended playoff run which judging from the rank of #9 I don't necessarily foresee I venture to say the narrative of the campaign will be missed opportunities. I likely say this everytime with the Warriors but where was and where is the direction of this team headed? This is a good hockey club but it's almost like for every step forward they take that two steps back are taken.  I usually touch on the positives but unfortunately I have to spend  a New York minute detailing some concerns I've had and that starts and for the time being ends with defenceman Josh Brook. This defensive core is a mess, would make the Colorado Avalanche's backend look elite for someone in Brook who at seventeen was the fourth overall pick in the 2014 WHL Bantam Draft I've failed to see a lot of growth. A lot of this gets pinned on General Manager Alan Millar for not surrounding Josh with enough Western Hockey league calibre defenceman instead he's been bestowed the responsbility of mentoring sixteen year old Jet Woo which isn't healthy for all parties. At some point,especially if next year is the campaign they target to make bold and aggressive moves, a veteran defenceman is a absolute requirement. No more fillers like Matt Sozanski and Josh Thrower.

10.Victoria Royals(Last time # 9)

I have no doubt in my head that I'll look back on this in a couple weeks and accept the fact that I rated the Royals too low but part of the reason why is due to the conference imbalance that exists in today's league. If they belonged in the Eastern conference they along Regina and Lethbridge are perennial final contenders but are a victim of circumstance because they reside in the B.C division.  Matthew Phillips is a heck of a player, I don't need to blog about the obvious factoid but Dante Hannoun is fastly reaching Phillips levels and the fact that he's only eighteen and will be back in the league next year makes him a viable 2017-2018 M.V.P candidate. With Hannoun I'm going to pose why he's not receving more time on the penalty kill and you're naturally going to retort with that he's not a shot blocker but let me point out that some of the league's best penalty killers such as Austin Wagner and Jayden Halbgewachs don't get by blocking shots and Coach Dave Lowry should be looking to utilize his extreme speed and puck take away skills. Dante is a special talent so the onus is on the coaching staff to find ways to maximize the production.

11.Medicine Hat Tigers(Last time # 11)

The Tigers have dropped in these rankings for the simple, well maybe not so simple that this team has been ravaged by injuries,perhaps only the Saskatoon Blades can lay claim to the devastation of key injuries which has greatly effected the potential for a prolonged playoff run. Losing mainstays defence such as David Quenneville and Ty Schultz is crippling to the backend but in fairness the reason the Tigers have been staying afloat is on the laurels of Brad Forrest and Dylan MacPherson. IF either Quenneville or Schultz are back for the playoffs and reports indicate that the latter is expected back that will eventually diminish the role of someone like Dylan but from where we currently MacPherson is fulfilling a top four role and flourishing. The most pleasant observation  when breaking down the game of his is that he's always positionally sound.  Even backtracking statistics archiving his days in Medicine Hat'a Midget AAA program the essence I get out of it is that he's never been one to provide many points but on a run and gun style that the Tigers encourage, defenceman like this are required commodities.

12.Saskatoon Blades(Last time # 14)

The theme of the last couple synopsises has been injuries. As aforementioned in the Tigers snip it, no one has been more injury ridden then the Saskatoon Blades. From Cameron Hebig who's had hover over him conflicting reports on his actual status all season long to October/November star Mason McCarty to now Jesse Shynkaruk(not believed to be serious) and Braylon Shymr who's reportedly dealing with concussion like symptoms. With Shmyr, and as per the nature of this blog never choosing away to shy away from bold proclamations, I consider Shmyr to be a top ten, arguably top five talent in the Western Hockey League. I've been a fan of Shmyr going back to his Brandon days and I have difficulty wrapping my head around the notion that he remains undrafted/unsigned in the National Hockey League. Adam Brooks who broke out last season was drafted after his nineteen year old season and because Braylon has singledhandely carried the Blades on his back since the new year, I fully expect to hear his name called in June 2017. Prediction:5th round.

13.Kelowna Rockets(Last time # 10)

A model franchise in thanks to the sheer genius of General Manager and governor Bruce Hamilton. After battling their way to the league championshp series two years ago, Hamilton had to enlist in a retool of sorts but unlike  a lot of fellow General Managers, the retool was swift and successful. Even more amazing when fantasizing over the quick turn around was that the player who was supposed to be the foundation of this year's team in Nik Merkley has thusfar skated to a meager forty one point campaign. In the absence of Nick setting the world of fire, Jason Smith and company have relied on draft eligible Kole Lind and World Junior breakout star Dillon Dube. The thought I had here is whether the cohesion in the locker room would stay strong when you bring into the equation that you have a first rounder like Merkley who's now been cut twice by Team Canada with someone like Dube who rose to Hockey Canada prominence and as some would say, surprisingly made the squad. Whether Merkley was able to check his ego at the door at the betterment of team morale could be an interesting storyline as the season progresses. I can't imagine the frustration Nick must be feeling this year.

14.Brandon Wheat Kings(Last time # 7)

In an earlier blog posting I implied that the Brandon Wheat Kings would be a team I'd like to avoid in the first round of the playoffs. Well......I'm slowly but surely backing off that stance evidenced by the dip in my Power Rankings. I'm having trouble pin-pointing what, but something is off about this team. And in saying all of that, I've done a complete 180 on my thoughts pertaining to Kale Clague. Do I think a lack of size will make it difficult for him to adapt to them professional level, I do however I'm taken a back with the hockey I.Q he plays with and his propensity to always get pucks on net. Not meaning to clamour over his shot but if a stat was kept for players who get pucks through from the point, Clague would have to be near or at the top. Unfortunately there's nothing beyond Clague that will strike any fear into the opposition. James Shearer is playing higher in the lineup then I'm sure the Wheaties desire and when clumping together both the forward and defence group, a lack of foot speed defines Manitoba's lone team.

15.Portland Winterhawks(Last time # 16)

With all the sanctions set in place by the Western Hockey League during the tail end of the first Mike Johuston era, questions were aplenty for how long it would take to restake the legacy that they worked so hard to configure. Well, Mike Johnston is back fully entrenched in the Western Hockey League and thus expectations have been raised. I knew the Hawks had a special one on their hands with Skyler McKenzie but the rocketing development of Cody Glass has left me speechless. I fully appreciate the fact that he was a former first round Bantam pick but that's not to say  I entered this season thinking Cody was going to be the focal  point  of the attack.It's Glass along with the likes of rookie Henri Jokiharju that have instatenously allowed the city of Portland to once again view a competitve hockey game. So much so that it's kind of crept up on me that they could conceivaly earn enough points to secure the Western Conference's first wildcard berth, an insurmountable feat from a few months back.

16.Red Deer Rebels(Last time # 17)

No question that the Rebels are seizing the opportunity of residing in the league's weakest division, thath being the Central but I have to give full credit to Brent Sutter because after hosting the 2016 Memorial Cup wholesale changes were inevitable but the carryover pieces from last year have transitioned to leadership roles but by saying that the main reason they are firmly supplanted in the playoffs can be thanked to some of the unheralded stars and that begins with Austin Pratt. I remember reverting back to the January 2015 trade deadline when Red Deer began to make moves in preparation for hosting said Memorial Cup and it was the decision to trade former fifth overall pick Jake Leschyshyn to Regina because it was important to Brent pertaining to the recruting pitch to assure Austin enough allocated ice time. It was a decision that looking back upon it might be met with some regrets as Austin struggled and fought through his sixteen year old campaign however a year's maturity has paid dividends as the Lakeville, Minnesota product is now a bonafide top nine forward with the makings of a first line player. I've said on a few occasions that my "kryptonite" if you will when assessing draft eligible talent is I jump to conclusions too fast and probably rushed to judgments with Austin. Sutter's patience has noticeably paid off.

17.Calgary Hitmen(Last time # 18)

I haven't heard much in the way of the news regarding the attempted recruitment of former Saskatoon Blade pick Johnny Tychonick but let me tell you, and I fully assume the most stingent Hitmen supporter share my line of thinking when I say the hopeful arrival of Tychonick and the imminent arrival of 2016 first rounder Jackson Van De Leest can't come soon enough. This entire season and arguably last year as well has produced  a bland style of hockey, giving little reason for the residents of Calgary to justify expending their recreational  dollar on Hitmen hockey.They currently go to the rink expecting the Hitmen won't tally more then a couple a game, presumptions that they'll lose 2-1,3-2 but even that's not happening anymore as their goaltending has tanked in lieu of the Cody Porter season ending injury. Back to De Leest for a moment, fans can grab some solace that he's prospering at the Okanagan hockey academy and reports suggest he'll be able to step in immediately next year and lock down a top four assignment

18.Spokane Chiefs(Last time # 15)

Envisions of going toe to toe with the Winterhawks for the final playoff spot have begun to fade as unfortunately this proud organization has resigned themselves to a non playoff year. I started asking myself, where has it gone wrong in Chief land this year and the answer that I stumbled upon and everyone is entitled to their own opinion is that the defence constructed is too diminutive.  I've spoken glowingly of Nolan Reid and super rookie Ty Smith previously however aside from the giant himself Tyson Helgesen there's virtually no grit on the back end. I raise this up as a point of contention because it was Chief management that chose to make the controversial trade that ended  blowing back up in their face by shipping Evan Fiala off to Saskatoon for a player in Wyatt Sloboshan who had no intention of ever dawning the uniform. Frankly, I chalk this blunder up to the Chief hockey operations department not putting in their due diligence and results on the ice have suffered because of it. I feel bad for the players as I'm sure they're working hard out on the ice but those in senior positions have failed them in allowing the players to succeed.

19.Prince Albert Raiders(Last time # 21)

In November throughout December, it wasn't uncommon for the Raiders to find themselves in extreme blowouts on the losing end and General Manager Curtis Hunt knew something had to change. They needed another veteran body who could mentor some of the future core on what it takes to be consummate athlete at this level. Nineteen year old Jordy Stallard was brought in and when the acqusition took place, sixteen year old budding phenom and possible 2018 NHL first rounder Spencer Moe has blossomed to a  point where on most nights he exudes tendencies as the most dangerous Raider. Stallard had taken Moe under his wing and a more complete player was born, not just the player who would consistently cheat in the D-zone to gain a break. As good as things were going in Hockey town North, as they say all good things must come to an end as Stallard has now officially been ruled out for the season with and injury. A forgettable season can't finish soon enough for all parties.

20.Vancouver Giants(Last time # 19)

Strong suspicion that they will regret not trading Tyler Benson at a juncture when he had premium value. Apologies for essentially copying what I was implying in the last edition but the fact that this club is nowhere close to contending  makes it unforgivable that they chose to hold onto a widely sought after asset. What I was hearing was by trading Benson that it would affect ticket sales and while that holds some merit, if I've learned anything from being a longtime loyal supporter of the Regina Pats is that winning ultimately puts butts in the seats. What could've been a couple more years of painful hockey will likely amount to a 4-5 year rebuild because they elected to hang on to Benson and Ty Ronning.

21.Kootenay Ice(Last time # 20)

It may sound like I'm contradicting myself from the Giants snip-it however  full credit goes out to the Ice regime for identifying they had a couple assets in Zak Zborosky and Matt Alfaro that would bring back a monstrous package and they delivered.  Reports are out there that the WHL schedule makers have issued out two separate schedules, one involving if the Ice remain in Cranbrook, the other one involves a scenario where the Ice make the rumoured move out to Nanaimo. Either way, and I think fans out on the Island would be appreciative that they have a lot of young blood to work with going forward but my concern, and the primary reason why I chose to rank them below the Giants is just because you stockpile the farm doesn't always equate to holding on to blue chippers. I correlate the situation of the Ice to the Chicago White Sox of the MLB where they went through a overhaul trading away almost all contributing veterans and while fans in Chicago are currently pleased with the returns, prospects are often times crapshoots and the Ice better hope that the Peyton Krebs of the world materialize.

22.Edmonton Oil Kings(Last time # 22)

You lose fourteen in  a row, is there any justification needed for the basement ranking?  The team was stripped down of all capable veterans the coaching staff is grasping at straws for who can step up and save this sinking ship. Relating to the plight of first half anomaly Trey Fix-Wolansky, I don't have the answers aside from the obvious lack of relevant line mates for why his production level has bottomed out.  I was clamouring over Prince Albert Raiders Spencer Moe and I think a similar issue has stunted point production. Both due to being small in stature need linemates that can properly engage in the cycle and allow the uber talented Fix-Wolansky time to work his magic. Being as how Moe is  a year younger, his draft stock is not yet ruined, for Trey's sake let's hope Randy Hansch is committed to finding a veteran for him to play with next year.