Back from Calgary today after a WHL on Shaw broadcast last night which saw the host Hitmen defeat Swift Current 5-4. That’s wins in six of the last seven games for the Hitmen, who move three points ahead of Kootenay for fourth in the Eastern Conference and stay four behind Medicine Hat for third. Give the Broncos credit, though. They are a team that know they won’t make the playoffs and fought back from two one-goal deficits in the first and early in the second, and nearly erased a three-goal third period Calgary lead.
Had a chance to talk with WHL Commissioner Ron Robison in the first intermission and the first thing we discussed was the debate on fighting, which grabbed headlines earlier this week. The New York Times reported Monday that Hockey Canada and USA Hockey are seriously considering rules to end fighting in non-professional leagues as soon as next season. Canadian Hockey League President David Branch is also on board with that course of action. We asked Mr. Robison for his take on the issue and it’s clear the WHL is not in favour of the idea. Firstly, the Commissioner said the WHL is preparing kids for the NHL and as long as fighting is allowed in the pro game, it will be a part of the WHL game as well. I quoted Branch’s statement in the story that “an appetite is there” to eliminate fighting, or severely crack down on it, and asked Robison if he has noticed that appetite in Western Canada. His response was that he has not had that impression among WHL fans and the league is not on side with the notion to remove fighting from the junior game.
Earlier today, The Province newspaper reported that Boston Bruins’ forward, and former Vancouver Giant star, Milan Lucic is “totally against it,” and that he thinks more injuries will occur because there would be no fear of fighting. That story is here.
Gregg Drinnan, Sports Editor for the Daily News in Kamloops, has a number of different articles on a few sides of the debate posted on his blog.
And Chris Epp reports on the story for CTV Calgary, which you can see here.
Well, the bad news for the Victoria Royals is they got swept in a mid-week double-header with the Spokane Chiefs. The good news is they’re essentially closer to clinching a playoff spot thanks to no movement in the hunt for the seventh and eighth positions in the Western Conference and the season a little closer to being over. The Royals were dumped 6-1 last night by the Chiefs, after a 4-2 setback on Tuesday night. Jared Rathjen made his fifth consecutive start in goal for the Royals last night, but I would think the reigns will be handed back to Keith Hamilton between the pipes for Vancouver this weekend. But while the Royals fell to the Chiefs, Everett couldn’t recover from a 3-0 deficit at home to the Kamloops Blazers and lost 3-2 and the Prince George Cougars dropped a 4-1 decision to Medicine Hat. The Tigers took two from PG. That loss to Kamloops by the Silvertips was their first game with 20-year-old Brennan Yadlowski back in the line-up after he served a 10-game suspension for unacceptable off-ice actions in a game that he was ejected from in Portland on February 3.
So the Royals still sit in seventh in the West with 46 points, two ahead of Seattle and three clear of Everett. The Cougars, who are 0-and-4 on their eight-game home stand, remain four points behind the Thunderbirds. Seattle has a game in hand on PG and Everett and two on the Royals. Seattle is at Everett tomorrow while the Cougars will host the Chiefs, in what must be quite a road trip for Spokane. Four games in five nights between the two furthest teams away from each other in the BC division.
One thing is for certain, the Giants bring out the best of the Royals at home. The Royals’ have won two of their three meetings with the Giants in Victoria and very easily could be 3-for-3. The Royals won their home opener on September 24, 5-3, and then got by the Giants 2-1 on November 4. The next night, it was 3-2 Victoria headed for the third, but the Giants cashed in with three goals for a 5-3 victory. Hard to believe these teams haven’t squared off since November 18, but they played seven games within the first two months of the year.
As much as the Royals need these four points up for grabs, this weekend is big for the Giants, considering they lead Spokane by a point for fourth in the West and both teams have nine games to go. The Giants are better at home than they are on the road, but not to the severity of the Chiefs in that regard. Spokane is 21-8-1-1 on home ice this season for a .710 win percentage, ahead of Vancouver’s .694 mark at the Pacific Coliseum. But while the Giants are a game over .500 on the road, Spokane is a game below the .500 mark away from home. Getting home-ice in that first round series, which looks like it’s inevitable that they will meet in the opening best-of-7, will be huge.
The Royals host the Giants Saturday, starting at 7:05pm, and then they have a 1:05pm showdown at the Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Sunday.
It was pretty easy to predict the winner of the WHL’s Player of the Month award. 20-year-old Brendan Shinnimin of the Tri-City Americans was the easy choice after a month of pure offensive dominance. A month ago, or even three weeks ago, I don’t think Shinnimin would have been considered a serious threat to win the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s leading point producer. It was, for the most part, between Brandon’s Mark Stone, Medicine Hat’s Emerson Etem, Edmonton’s Michael St. Croix and Portland’s Ty Rattie. But now, Shinnimin is running away with the league scoring title. During a 14-game point streak, which started February 3 at home to Seattle, Shinnimin has posted 23 goals and 43 points over that span. I was looking up how other top scorers have produced over the last 14-game stretch, and the closest that I came across was 30 points by Ams’ teammate Patrick Holland and Sven Bartschi of Portland. Stone has 29 points, Rattie has had 23 and Etem with 20. Shinnimin, who had 96 points last year and 82 in 2009-10, has 117 on the season, with 52 goals, 11 points ahead of Stone and all of a sudden he’s tied with Rattie, one behind Etem, in goals scored. In fact his last game was an off night, and he still had two assists against Seattle on Tuesday. In the previous four games, Shinnimin had at least four points, including a six point game on February 21 against Everett.
Shinnimin and Adam Hughesman are already past 100 points for the Americans and Holland is on the verge of hitting that mark as well with 97. The last time a team had three players to hit the century mark in points was back in 1995-96, when Saskatoon (Mark Deyell 159, Frank Banham 152 & Clarke Wilm 110) and Kamloops (Hnat Domenichelli 148, Jarome Iginla 136 & Bob Maudie 101) could boast that. A total of 15 players hit 100 points that season. Should Holland get to 100, which seems ridiculous to question after his terrific month of February, it would be on the 20th anniversary of the last time three Ams’ players pulled off the feat: Terry Degner 139, Brian Sakic 128 and Vladimir Vujtek 102 in 1991-92.