And the Portland Winterhawks firmly announced themselves as the frontrunners.
The U.S. Division-leading Winterhawks squared off against the B.C. Division-leading Kelowna Rockets in back-to-back games last weekend, and a Portland sweep confirmed the Winterhawks' position as the team to beat.
The games, both played in Kelowna, pitted the two teams that came into the week with the best records in the WHL. Portland was the top-ranked team in the entire Canadian Hockey League, while Kelowna was No. 4. The Rockets were also sporting a 23-game home winning streak. Five points separated the teams in the standings going into the games, meaning Kelowna could have pulled within one with a sweep.
But Portland built an early lead and held on in the first game, prevailing 5-3. Then the Winterhawks routed the Rockets 5-1 the following night. The trio of Nicolas Petan, Brendan Leipsic and Ty Rattie combined for seven goals and eight assists in the two games.
"They are a good team, no doubt about it," Kelowna coach Ryan Huska told the Kelowna Daily Courier following the second game. "They were the better team by far. We stood around and watched them skate. They were full credit for their win."
Acting Portland head coach Travis Green was very happy with the way his team played.
"It was (the best we've played)," Green told the Courier. "We've had some games this season where we've played OK and still won. We've been looking forward to this matchup for a while because we knew the compete level was going to have to be real high, or we weren't going to get the result we needed. We talked about it (Saturday), that we knew they were going to come out and try to establish a strong game right from the get-go. Our compete level was high, and that was good to see. It was as close to a playoff-compete level that you're going to see. I was real happy with our team's effort, from top to bottom."
And now the rest of the Western Conference is left chasing the Winterhawks.
Around the WHL
The Saskatoon Blades set a new franchise record for attendance when 12,588 watched Saskatoon beat Lethbridge 5-2 Saturday. The previous record was 12,341 in 1990. Saturday was the 25th anniversary of the Credit Union Centre. Saskatoon's Brenden Walker was named the WHL Player of the Week. The 20-year-old forward had four goals and five assists as the Blades went 4-0. Portland's Nicolas Petan was named the WHL Player of the Month for January. The 17-year-old forward had nine goals and 17 assists in 13 games. Edmonton's Laurent Brossoit was named the WHL Goaltender of the Month for January. The 19-year-old went 7-2-0-0 with a 1.35 goals against average, .957 save percentage and two shutouts.
Points -- Nicolas Petan (Portland) 98; goals -- Petan 40; assists -- Petan, Brendan Leipsic (Portland) 58; penalty minutes -- Carter Proft (Spokane) 167; wins -- Jordon Cooke (Kelowna), Luke Siemens (Prince Albert) 29; goals against average -- Tristan Jarry (Edmonton) 1.56; save percentage -- Jarry .938.
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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