The Western Hockey League regular season has passed the quarter pole and we are beginning to learn some things. We know that the U.S. Division is the league’s toughest from top to bottom, we know that the East continues to be up for grabs and we know that Mitch Holmberg of the Spokane Chiefs may already have player of the year wrapped up.
Here are the WHL Power Rankings. Who rose? Who is falling? Who did we get wrong?
1. Kelowna Rockets (15-2-0-2) Previous ranking: 1
The Rockets continue to hold on to our top spot as they continue to just win. They have won eight straight games and continue to be stingy on defense. They’ve only allowed 46 goals so far and with numbers like that you would expect Jordan Cooke to be having a solid year. The 20-year-old goalie is with a .930 save percentage and a goals against a hair over two.
2. Portland Winterhawks (17-5-1-1) Previous ranking: 2
In many ways the Portland Winterhawks are the polar opposite of the Kelowna Rockets. Kelowna wins with defense and timely scoring while Portland just scores. They score a lot, they’ve scored 118 times. That is more 20 goals more than the next highest scoring team. Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand are number two and three in the league in scoring and watch out for Taylor Leier who has 31 points.
3. Swift Current Broncos (15-9-0-2) Previous ranking: 13
After struggling out West the Broncos have caught fire. They’ve ripped off eight straight wins and have only one regulation loss in their last ten. What is going on here? They’re getting scoring from up and down their lineup led by four different players with double digit goals scored. Can they keep up this pace?
4. Everett Silvertips (15-4-4-0) Previous ranking: 6
The Silvertips continue to be a good story in the WHL. They play a suffocating defense and are getting just enough scoring. Which is the real Everett club though? The one that choked Portland last week or the one that dropped a 3-1 game to Prince George the next? The answer to that may decide where they finish.
5. Medicine Hat Tigers (15-5-3-0) Previous ranking: 5
The Tigers have dropped two in a row but before that they were hot — with only an overtime loss in their last eight. They find themselves with the lead the Eastern Conference, for now. You would think that they are leaning on Hunter Shinkaruk but he has battled some injuries and the Tigers have scoring depth beyond him. The Tigers probably want Shinkaruk to avoid these kind of events in the future:
6. Edmonton Oil Kings (14-8-0-1) Previous ranking: 11
Don’t look now but the defending Eastern Conference champions are back. They have won eight of their last ten and are breathing down the necks of the conference leaders. With all the fire power they have up front their best player may be goalie Tristan Jarry who was tagged to play for the WHL in the Super Series last week.
7. Spokane Chiefs (15-7-0-1) Previous ranking: 7
The Chiefs continue to hang around at the top of the standings although they have been a bit more pedestrian of late. What has not been pedestrian is the play of Mitch Holmberg who now is up to 25 goals and 55 points in only 23 games this year. In case you didn’t know — that’s good.
8. Calgary Hitmen (12-6-1-3) Previous ranking: 4
Calgary has had an up and down couple of weeks. They caught fire, then stumbled and now have recovered to win two in a row. They’re looking up at Edmonton and Medicine Hat at the moment but the Hitmen will still be heard from before everything is over.
9. Tri City Americans (13-10-0-2) Previous ranking: 12
Remember when Tri City was struggling to score and win consistently? That seems like a lifetime ago as they’ve won seven of ten and have climbed back up the standings. The return of Parker Bowles has been huge as he has poured in 15 points in eight games.
10. Prince Albert Raiders (13-8-2-0) Previous ranking: 10
The Raiders are part of the clog at the top of the Eastern Conference standings and are still a team to be reckoned with. Leon Draisaitl has been good with 11 points in his last seven games.
11. Regina Pats (13-11-0-0) Previous ranking: 14
The Pats have done what few teams in the East have been able to do. They went into the U.S. Division and won a couple of games with wins against Seattle, Everett and Spokane. Will that propel them to greater things in the East?
12. Seattle Thunderbirds (12-8-1-2) Previous ranking: 3
Seattle is our biggest dropper as they suffered a miserable six-game losing streak over the last few weeks. That included a 10-2 drubbing at Portland before they rebounded by picking up three points over the weekend at Victoria. Have the righted the ship?
13. Victoria Royals (13-10-0-1) Previous ranking: 8
The Royals have struggled to score consistently this year with a league lowest 57 goals scored. They have suffered some injuries up and down their lineup which is affecting them. One player who has not struggled is goaltender Colman Vollrath who has taken over the number one job and launched himself to the top of the league goalie leader board.
14. Brandon Wheat Kings (12-11-0-0) Previous ranking: 19
The Wheat Kings have won three straight and this week added NHL Draft Prospect Ryan Pilon to an already stellar blue line that includes Ryan Pulock and Eric Roy. They just became tougher to play.
15. Kootenay Ice (12-10-2-0) Previous ranking: 9
The Ice have played good hockey but find themselves suddenly in a tough division as they trail Medicine Hat, Edmonton and Calgary. Do they have the fire power to overcome those three teams? So far they have not.
16. Vancouver Giants (10-11-2-0) Previous ranking: 17
The Giants have quietly been improving as this season has worn on. They have won three out of their last four while picking up points in each game. Can their goaltending hold up to get them in the playoffs?
17. Red Deer Rebels (11-11-0-1) Previous ranking: 20
The Rebels had been sinking like a rock but now have won four straight games. Leading scorer Conner Bleakley has chipped in by picking up five points over those four games. Are they back?
18. Prince George Cougars (9-13-1-3) Previous ranking: 16
The Cougars continue to give you a good game, as Everett recently found out. The problem is that they are giving up a ton of goals and that may spell doom in the tough Western Conference.
19. Saskatoon Blades (9-14-1-2) Previous ranking: 15
The Blades made a bit of noise early in the year but have recently turned into the team that we thought they would be this year. The rebuild seems to be on.
20. Moose Jaw Warriors (7-16-2-2) Previous ranking: 18
The Warriors are slipping. They enter this week losers of their last five games and only have one win in their last ten. Their struggles? Scoring and defense which makes it hard to win.
21. Kamloops Blazers (6-14-2-1) Previous ranking: 21
The Blazers have lost five games in a row as they are in the middle of a rebuilding season. Will they be sellers at the trade deadline?
22. Lethbridge Hurricanes (3-14-2-2) Previous ranking: 22
What else can be said about the Hurricanes? They did manage to win a game in the last week but their miserable season goes on. Three top players have wanted out and all three have left. Time to look to next year.