2012 WHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES PREVIEW

May 01, 2012 - 10:00 MDT

CALGARY, AB -- The battle for Western Hockey League glory and an opportunity to compete in the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup in Shawinigan, QC, is down to just two teams as the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Champion Edmonton Oil Kings take on the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Champion Portland Winterhawks in the 2012 WHL Championship series.

The Oil Kings and Winterhawks will square off in a best-of-seven series for the chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup and earn a berth at the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament in Shawinigan where they will join the host Shawinigan Cataractes as well as the OHL and QMJHL Champions.

Here's a look at the 2012 WHL Championship series match-up (also attached):

2012 WHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES

EDMONTON OIL KINGS vs PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS

2011-12 head-to-head regular-season record:
Portland: 0-1-0-0, 0 pts
Edmonton: 1-0-0-0, 2 pts

Dylan Wruck scored once and set up three more as the Oil Kings got goals from eight different players in an 8-4 win over the Winterhawks in the lone regular-season meeting between the teams on October 21, 2011, at Rexall Place in Edmonton, AB.

Michael St. Croix and T.J. Foster each tallied a goal and two assists while Ashton Sautner, Kristians Pelss, Martin Gernat, Stephane Legault and Ryan Dech also scored for the Oil Kings, who scored the game’s first five goals.  Curtis Lazar chipped in three assists.  Oil Kings’ netminder Laurent Brossoit made 20 saves on 24 shots to post the victory.

Troy Rutkowski and Brendan Leipsic each tallied a goal and an assist while Ty Rattie and Jason Trott also scored for the Winterhawks, who converted two of five power play chances in the contest.  Joe Morrow picked up a pair of assists in the setback.  Mac Carruth stopped 15 of 20 shots over the first two periods of play in absorbing the loss for the Hawks, while Brendan Burke stopped five of eight shots in relief.

GAME SUMMARY

EDMONTON OIL KINGS

Husky WHL Eastern Conference Champion

2012 Playoff top scorers:
Curtis Lazar                          13gp-8g-8a-16pts
Henrik Samuelsson             11gp-3g-10a-13pts
Tyler Maxwell                      13gp-3g-10a-13pts
Michael St. Croix  13gp-5g-7a-12pts

How They Got Here…
-Defeated the Kootenay Ice 4-0 in 1st round.
-Defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers 4-0 in 2nd round.
-Defeated the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-1 in Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.

The Edmonton Oil Kings are making their first appearance in the WHL Championship series in the modern history of the franchise.  The original Oil Kings won back-to-back WHL Championships in 1971 and 1972.  That franchise would eventually move, following the 1975-76 season, to Portland and become the Winterhawks.

Now in their fifth year of existence, the Oil Kings dominated the WHL Eastern Conference from wire to wire during the regular season and continued their dominance during the post-season, losing just one game en route to capturing the Husky WHL Eastern Conference title.  With tremendous strength and depth throughout their lineup, the Oil Kings have easily handled whatever has been thrown at them so far in the post-season.

Up front, the Oil Kings have shown great offensive depth throughout the playoffs.  The fact that they have been paced by two rookies, Curtis Lazar and Henrik Samuelsson, in scoring during the playoffs shows just how deep they are in their forward ranks.  Top regular-season scorers Michael St. Croix, Tyler Maxwell and T.J. Foster have all chipped in consistent offense, while depth forwards like Stephane Legault, Mitch Moroz, Klarc Wilson and Jordan Peddle have all made big contributions as well.  With so many weapons in their arsenal, it’s not hard to see why the Oil Kings managed to score over four goals per game, on average, over the first three playoff rounds.

Defensively, the Oil Kings have been airtight throughout the playoffs.  The WHL’s best defensive team during the regular season, the Oil Kings have allowed only 22 goals through 13 post-season contests and have killed off 47 of 52 opposition power plays.  Mark Pysyk, Griffin Reinhart and the rest of the Oil Kings’ defense corps have held their opposition to one or fewer goals in eight of 13 games during their run to the Eastern Conference title.  Yet, their defense has also contributed 10 goals and 31 points to the offense.  They will face their toughest challenge, yet, in stopping the Winterhawks’ star snipers like Ty Rattie, Brad Ross and Sven Bartschi.

Goaltender Laurent Brossoit has been a strong and steady presence in the Oil Kings’ net throughout the post-season.  He showed he could step up his play during the Moose Jaw series as he faced an average of over 36 shots per game while allowing just nine goals over the five-game series.  He will need to be just as sharp versus a Portland team that averaged better than 46 shots per game versus the stingy Tri-City Americans in the Western Conference final, and boasts some of the WHL’s most dangerous scorers.

Keys To Success:

-Defensive Domination: The Oil Kings’ offense has been great, yet it is the team’s defensive play and goaltending that has been the biggest difference maker on their post-season run.  A strong penalty kill and tenacious defensive play will be crucial in the Oil Kings’ ability to shut down the WHL’s best offensive team.

-Strength in Depth: Though they have top-end offensive talent, the Oil Kings’ offensive success in the playoffs has been based on their scoring depth throughout their line-up.  The team boasts 10 forwards who have scored at least three goals in the post-season, and 12 forwards with at least five points.  Their ability to role four lines that can contribute offense will make life difficult on the Hawks’ defense corps.

PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS

Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Champion

2012 Playoff top scorers:
Ty Rattie                              15gp-17g-12a-29pts
Sven Bartschi                      15gp-7g-18a-25pts
Brad Ross                            15gp-12g-8a-20pts
Marcel Noebels                    15gp-5g-12a-17pts

How They Got Here…
-Defeated the Kelowna Rockets 4-0 in 1st round.
-Defeated the Kamloops Blazers 4-3 in 2nd round.
-Defeated the Tri-City Americans 4-0 in Kal Tire Western Conference Championship series.

The Winterhawks are back in the WHL Championship series for the second consecutive season.  Last year, the Winterhawks lost in five games to the Kootenay Ice in the WHL final.  It’s the Hawks’ 10th appearance in the WHL Championship series.  They won the WHL championship in 1982 and 1998, and won the Memorial Cup as the host team in 1983 and in 1998 as WHL champions.

The Winterhawks will be looking to erase the bitter taste of last year’s defeat to the Kootenay Ice in the WHL final by earning the franchise’s third WHL Championship this year in their second straight appearance in the championship series.  A skilled, offensively-inclined club, the Winterhawks possess a feared attack that is opportunistic and exacting.  With an older, experienced roster, the Winterhawks have shown they can match up with any style of play brought by their opposition.

Led by Ty Rattie, the MVP of the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship series, the Winterhawks ice a talented offense that can strike quickly and frequently.  Rattie, a 57-goal man during the regular season, has taken his game up a notch in the playoffs, scoring a whopping 17 goals in just 15 games.  He, Sven Bartschi, Marcel Noebels and Brad Ross have generated much of the Hawks’ offense.  Shutting down Rattie has been nearly impossible for opposition defensemen throughout the playoffs.  The Winterhawks will need secondary contributions from the likes of Oliver Gabriel, Taylor Leier, and Brendan Leipsic if they want to get the better of Edmonton’s deep and talented defense corps. 

Defensively, the Winterhawks have allowed just under three goals per game, on average, through the first three rounds of the playoffs.  Though they have been able to succeed by simply outscoring their opponents, the Hawks have turned in some great defensive performances when called upon, and have successfully limited top offensive stars like Brendan Shinnimin, Adam Hughesman, Brendan Ranford and Colin Smith over the first three rounds.  Their ability to play strong defense will be key versus an Oil Kings team that boasts some offensive stars and tremendous scoring depth.  The Hawks’ penalty killing unit has been strong at home in the post-season, but has surrendered 12 goals on 38 opposition chances on the road.  They will need a strong penalty kill versus the Oil Kings, who boast a 27.6% power play success rate at home.

Mac Carruth continues to show he is a big-game performer for the Winterhawks.  The 20-year-old from Shorewood, MN, has faced an average of nearly 36 shots per game throughout the playoffs, and boasts a very solid .920 save percentage.  Carruth also has plenty of post-season experience to fall back on, having 47 career playoff games and 30 post-season wins under his belt.  A fierce competitor, Carruth will certainly be hungry for a chance at redemption after having suffered through losing to Kootenay in last year’s final.

Keys To Success:

-Road Ready: The Winterhawks will need to win at least one game in Edmonton if they want to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.  They’ve managed a 5-2 road record so far in the post-season, including winning both games versus Tri-City at the intimidating Toyota Centre in Kennewick, WA.  Now, their task is to win a game at Rexall Place, where the Oil Kings have lost just seven times during the regular season, and are undefeated in the playoffs.

-Offensive Options: The Winterhawks have gotten the majority of their scoring from their top stars like Ty Rattie, Brad Ross and Sven Bartschi.  Though it has been nearly impossible to completely shut down those top players, the Hawks will need scoring from other sources to break through Edmonton’s WHL-leading defense. 

Series Schedule

#1 – Portland @ Edmonton; Thursday, May 3 (7:00pm MT)
#2 – Portland @ Edmonton; Friday, May 4 (7:00pm MT)
#3 – Edmonton @ Portland; Sunday, May 6 (6:00pm PT), Rose Garden
#4 – Edmonton @ Portland; Tuesday, May 8 (7:00pm PT), Rose Garden
#5 – Portland @ Edmonton; Thursday, May 10 (7:00pm MT)**
#6 – Edmonton @ Portland; Saturday, May 12 (6:00pm PT), Rose Garden**
#7 – Portland @ Edmonton; Sunday, May 13 (6:00pm MT)**
** - if necessary