Nick’s picks

  • Thursday, April 20, 2006 9:00pm
  • Sports

Herald writer Nick Patterson’s predictions for the Western Hockey League’s other 2006 conference final:

Eastern Conference

Medicine Hat Tigers vs. Moose Jaw Warriors

Synopsis: Medicine Hat had the best record in the Western Hockey League during the regular season, and the Tigers have been a runaway train so far in the playoffs. Medicine Hat swept both its playoff series so far, outscoring its opponents 37-13, and should be plenty rested for Moose Jaw.

In contrast, the Warriors had just one day off between beating Calgary in seven games in the second round and the start of the Eastern Conference championship series. The Warriors are an explosive offensive team, thanks to players like Troy Brouwer, Dustin Boyd, Blair Jones and Kenndal McArdle, but are more suspect on the back end.

Medicine Hat, meanwhile, excels in all areas of the game, with a top goaltender in Matt Keetley, elite defensemen in Cam Barker and Kris Russell, and a deep group of forwards who can all score.

Moose Jaw’s had a fantastic season, reaching the conference finals for the first time in franchise history, but the Warriors’ run ends here.

Prediction: Medicine Hat in six games.

Here’s a look at how the Everett Silvertips and Vancouver Giants match up going into the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference championship series:


Vancouver has perhaps the most explosive offensive player in the WHL in Gilbert Brule. Brule scored 23 goals in 27 games after returning from the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets at midseason, and he’s continued that pace in the playoffs, scoring seven times in 10 games.

Unlike Kelowna in the previous round, the Giants can match Everett’s depth with four lines of forwards capable of causing problems. Tim Kraus is back from the broken jaw that kept him out at the end of the regular season, Mitch Bartley is a proven offensive performer, and Michal Repik, Spencer Machacek and Kyle Lamb all showed this season they can put points on the board. In Paul Albers and Cody Franson the Giants have a pair of defensemen who are major offensive contributors.

However, Everett has more players capable of breaking the game open on their own. Peter Mueller was a dominant offensive force during much of the Kelowna series, John Lammers was even better in the regular-season series against Vancouver with eight goals and six assists in six games, and Zach Hamill is tied for the league lead in playoff scoring among still-active players with 14 points. With Ondrej Fiala back at full strength – he had four goals and four assists against Kelowna after missing the entire first round – the Tips appear to be a tad more dangerous.

Edge: Everett


Everett’s history is built around sound defense, and the Tips have always been good at limiting opponents’ scoring opportunities. However, even Everett is no match for what the Giants can do defensively. Vancouver has the best defensive unit in the league. The Giants allowed the fewest goals in the Western Conference during the regular season, and they were even better in the first two rounds of the playoffs, giving up just 12 goals in 10 games. Albers, Franson and captain Mark Fistric get the most attention, but Brett Festerling, Jonathan Blum and John Flatters are also capable defensemen. Vancouver’s forwards play an active role in the defense with an aggressive forecheck that causes fits when opponents try to break out of their own zone.

Everett’s defense is also effective, having allowed just two more goals than Vancouver during the regular season and just 17 in 11 playoff games so far. The Tips can also match Vancouver in terms of sending six defensmen – Shaun Heshka, Taylor Ellington, Cody Thoring, Jonathan Harty, Jason Fransoo and Graham Potuer – onto the ice on a regular basis. But Everett doesn’t do it quite as well as Vancouver.

Edge: Vancouver


Vancouver goaltender Dustin Slade has been unbelievable statistically. During the regular season he had a 1.90 goals against average, .912 save percentage, 11 shutouts and was named a first-team Western Conference all-star. His numbers are even better in the playoffs, with a microscopic 1.16 goals against average, .940 save percentage and three shutouts. However, it’s easy to put up gaudy numbers when one faces just 15 shots per game, and Slade has the reputation of being combustible.

Meanwhile, Everett’s Leland Irving has numbers just as good, despite facing approximately 50 percent more shots. Irving had nearly an identical goals against average during the regular season (1.91) and a better save percentage (.925), and his playoff numbers mirror Slade’s (1.48 goals against average, .944 save percentage). Irving’s contributions against Kelowna were far more crucial than Slade’s versus Portland.

Edge: Everett

Special teams

Talk about a wash. Both teams were excellent on both the power play (Vancouver at .196, Everett at .193) and penalty kill (Vancouver at .869, Everett at .860) during the regular season. Both teams have been even better on both the power play (Everett at .200, Vancouver at .200) and penalty kill (Everett at .957, Vancouver at .948) during the playoffs. Everett had a slight advantage during the season series, going 8-for-36 on the power play to the Giants’ 3-for-34.

While it may be impossible to separate the two, it should be entertaining watching two of the best power plays and penalty kills going head-to-head.

Edge: Even


It would be difficult to find two better coaches in the WHL. Everett’s Kevin Constantine and Vancouver’s Don Hay are both former NHL coaches. Hay’s WHL resume includes three Memorial Cup rings as a member of the Kamloops Blazers’ coaching staff in the 1990s. Constantine has guided Everett to three banners (so far) in the Tips’ first three seasons of existence. Hay was recognized as the Western Conference’s Coach of the Year for turning a Vancouver team that wasn’t that highly regarded into the conference’s best, but Constantine has taken a team thought to be a year away from contention to the league’s final four.

Edge: Even


This is a classic matchup between two teams that have talent and play hard. Vancouver has been as good as anyone over the past four months, but Everett is playing its best hockey right now. Everett held the advantage in the season series 4-2, but Prince George won six of eight during the regular season against Vancouver and was subsequently dispatched in five games in the first round. The key could be whether Everett can steal an early game on the road because the Giants have yet to face a team as strong as Everett in the playoffs. Expect a drawn-out, competitive series.

Prediction: Everett in seven games

Nick Patterson, Herald Writer

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