With playoff races in full effect, it would be a team near the bottom of the standings that made the biggest headlines in the Western Hockey League this week.
Kamloops head coach Don Hay set a new mark for wins when his Blazers beat the Portland Winterhawks on Saturday. The win was Hay’s 743rd victory in the WHL which put him one ahead of Ken Hodge’s mark set with Portland in 1993.
After six years as an assistant in Kamloops, Hay took over the bench to start the 1992 season and won 42 games. He would go on to win the Memorial Cup the following two seasons in a stretch that saw the Blazers win junior hockey’s biggest trophy three times in four years. After a brief stint in the NHL, Hay returned to the WHL to coach the Tri-City Americans for two years from 1998 to 2000.
The Vancouver Giants would then bring Hay in and he would have another great WHL run of success. Hay coached Vancouver for 10 seasons, winning a WHL championship in 2006 and another Memorial Cup in 2007. He came home to Kamloops, where he had always maintained a home, before the start of the 2014 season and has been behind the Blazers’ bench since.
Kamloops is currently sitting fourth in the B.C. Division and eight points out of the Western Conference’s last playoff spot.
Here is the latest news surrounding the WHL.
Swift Current Broncos Sweep the Regina Pats
The two biggest buyers at the trade deadline hooked up for a home-and-home series this weekend and the Swift Current Broncos sent a bit of a message. Regina is looking up at the Broncos in the standings and failed to gain any ground as they dropped both games.
Saturday night Swift Current scored three unanswered markers – two off the stick of Glenn Gawdin – to take a 3-1 decision at home. The next night in Regina, Gawdin would pot number 40 as four different Broncos scored in a 4-1 win for Swift Current.
Goalie Stuart Skinner, who the Broncos picked up at the trade deadline, backstopped both wins and has won six times since the trade to go along with a .932 save-percentage. That’s one deal that is looking better and better for Swift Current.
Regina trails Brandon for third in the Eastern Division by six points and may not be too eager to catch the Wheat Kings. If the Pats stay where they are now, holding the top wild card spot, they would play in the weaker Central Division bracket of the playoffs. That would allow them to avoid Swift Current and the Moose Jaw Warriors until the Conference Finals. So, perhaps the two losses this past weekend weren’t so bad after all.
Kailer Yamamoto on Fire for Spokane
The Edmonton Oilers first-rounder has had quite a whirlwind season. He started in the show with the Oilers, playing in nine games but was limited to just three assists.
The Oilers then returned Yamamoto to the Spokane Chiefs and he started slow. He wasn’t bad, but he wasn’t the scoring machine the WHL was used to seeing. In his first 13 games back he potted just two goals to go with 10 assists.
He then left Spokane to join Team USA in the World Junior Championships, helping the United States pick up a bronze medal in Buffalo. Yamamoto rejoined the Chiefs on Jan. 12 and has been red hot.
In the eight games he’s played in since returning, he’s scored seven times while piling up 19 points. He ended his weekend with a goal and three assists in a 6-5 overtime loss to Everett. While that loss stung, the Chiefs blew a late 5-3 lead, getting Yamamoto hot is just what Spokane needs.
The Chiefs find themselves tied with Tri-City in the wild-card standings but are still in the overall U.S. Division picture. They didn’t make a splashy trade at the deadline, but the return of form for their biggest star could end up paying off bigger than any trade they may have pulled off — and it didn’t cost them anything.
Carter Hart Proves He’s Human After All
The Everett Silvertips found themselves in uncharted waters on Sunday evening. Their goalie, Carter Hart, had surrendered five goals. It was the most goals he’s allowed this year and the most he’d allowed in any regular season game since March of 2016. His teammates had his back however as Everett would get the game to overtime and then win it on a goal by Connor Dewar.
Even after allowing five goals, Hart’s numbers continue to be staggering. He still leads the WHL with a 1.51 goals-against average and an eye-popping .953 save-percentage.
Andrew writes about the WHL and NHL Draft Prospects. He also covers the Seattle Thunderbirds for 710 ESPN Seattle and spent two years with Sportsnet. Follow him on Twitter @andyeide.