Kelowna Rockets (1 seed) vs. Tri-City Americans (8)
Synopsis: Kelowna may have won the Scotty Munro Trophy for compiling the league’s best record, but the Rockets didn’t exactly sprint to the finish line as they had a handful of lackluster performances during the run-in. However, Kelowna is as complete a team as there is in the league, and Tri-City just doesn’t have the guns to break down a nearly impenetrable Rockets defense.
Prediction: Kelowna in four games.
Portland Winterhawks (2) vs. Vancouver Giants (7)
Synopsis: Portland may have finished with the second-best record in the conference, but the Winterhawks have to be considered the heavy favorite to reach the WHL finals for the fourth straight year. They finished the regular season winning 28 of their final 29 games, and their roster is littered with elite talent. Vancouver would have been hard-pressed to win a game at full strength, and the Giants will be without their captain, defenseman Dalton Thrower, because of injury.
Prediction: Portland in four games.
Victoria Royals (3) vs. Spokane Chiefs (6)
Synopsis: Victoria was one of the success stories of the season, reaching the 100-point plateau. The Royals achieved that by putting together arguably the best defensive team in the league, including two goaltenders who finished in the top five in the league in goals against average. Spokane boasts a dynamic one-two punch in scoring champion Mitch Holmberg and sidekick Mike Aviani, but the Royals specialize in tightening things up defensively.
Prediction: Victoria in six games.
Edmonton Oil Kings (1) vs. Prince Albert Raiders (8)
Synopsis: Prince Albert is a wild card of a eighth seed if ever there was one. The Raiders loaded up this season, but underachieved and needed to win a one-game playoff against Red Deer just to get into the playoffs. Prince Albert will be highly motivated, too, after the Oil Kings sat their stars on the final day of the regular season, allowing Red Deer to win and force the one-game playoff. But Edmonton is equally talented, and the Oil Kings also performed.
Prediction: Edmonton in five games.
Regina Pats (2) vs. Brandon Wheat Kings (7)
Synopsis: Regina and Brandon may be five seeds apart, but they finished separated by just eight points in the standings as the Pats leapt to the No. 2 seed by finishing first in the weaker East Division. Regina is top heavy in veteran high-end talent, while Brandon is younger and deeper. But though the Wheat Kings are young, Brandon has a much better pedigree of success in the playoffs in recent years than the Pats.
Prediction: Brandon in seven games.
Calgary Hitmen (3) vs. Kootenay Ice (6)
Synopsis: These two teams finished further apart in the standings than one might realize. Calgary tied Edmonton for the most points in the conference (103), but lost out on the tiebreaker and slipped to the No. 3 seed. Kootenay has the series’ most dynamic player in Sam Reinhart, but Calgary is deep and defensively sound. The Ice will also miss the high-scoring Tim Bozon, who remains in the hospital with meningitis.
Prediction: Calgary in six games.
Medicine Hat Tigers (4) vs. Swift Current Broncos (5)
Synopsis: This series may be the pick of the first round, as both teams have good talent bases, both have solid depth, and both have quality European goaltenders. But Medicine Hat had to contend with the more difficult Central Division during the regular season, and the Tigers’ may be just a little deeper than the Broncos.
Prediction: Medicine Hat in the six games.
— Nick Patterson, Herald writer