2011 WHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES PREVIEW
Calgary, AB — The quest for Western Hockey League supremacy is down to two teams as the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Champion Kootenay Ice meet the Kal Tire Western Conference Champion Portland Winterhawks in the 2011 WHL Championship series.
The Ice and Winterhawks will now face off in a best-of-seven series for the chance to hoist the Ed Chynoweth Cup and earn a berth at the 2011 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament in Mississauga, ON, where they will join the host Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors as well as the OHL and QMJHL Champions.
Here’s a look at the 2011 WHL Championship series match-up:
2011 WHL CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES
PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS vs KOOTENAY ICE
2010-11 head-to-head regular-season record:
Portland: 0-1-0-0, 0pts
Kootenay: 1-0-0-0, 2pts
Kevin King scored twice as the visiting Kootenay Ice topped the Portland Winterhawks 5-3 in the only regular-season meeting between the teams on December 1, 2010, at Memorial Coliseum in Portland, OR.
Brendan Hurley, Max Reinhart and Joe Antilla also scored while Brayden McNabb and Matt Fraser each picked up two assists for the Ice in the victory.
Ryan Johansen – with a goal and an assist – Brad Ross and Riley Boychuk scored for the Winterhawks, who went 2-for-5 on the power play in the game.
Ice netminder Nathan Lieuwen stopped 24 of 27 shots, including a penalty shot by Oliver Gabriel in the second period, to earn the win. Mac Carruth made 29 saves in the loss for the Hawks.
KOOTENAY ICE, Husky WHL Eastern Conference Champion
2011 Playoff top scorers:
Max Reinhart 14gp-14g-8a-22pts
Matt Fraser 14gp-12g-9a-21pts
Brayden McNabb 14gp-3g-17a-20pts
Cody Eakin 14gp-8g-10a-18pts
How They Got Here…
-Defeated the Moose Jaw Warriors 4-2 in 1st round.
-Defeated the Saskatoon Blades 4-0 in 2nd round.
-Defeated the Medicine Hat Tigers 4-0 in Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series.
The Ice are making their third trip to the WHL Championship series in franchise history as general manager Jeff Chynoweth’s team now gets the chance to battle for the trophy that bears his father’s namesake. Kootenay is a perfect 2-0 in WHL Championship series appearances, having defeated the Spokane Chiefs in 2000 and the Red Deer Rebels en route to winning the Memorial Cup in 2002.
The Ice may not have dominated the headlines during the regular season, but they have been a terrific story in the post-season. Though they boast plenty of individual talent, it’s been Kootenay’s commitment to playing a strong team-oriented game that has been their hallmark in the 2011 playoffs. Terrific defensive play, relentless work ethic, solid goaltending and timely offense have played equal parts in the Ice’s post-season run. They take a remarkable 11-game winning streak into Portland for the start of the series.
Up front, the Ice boast four lines that all play with the same determination and commitment to their system. Offense has come consistently from the likes of Cody Eakin, the Husky WHL Eastern Conference Championship series MVP, Matt Fraser, Joe Antilla and Max Reinhart. Reinhart leads all players with 14 post-season goals while Fraser is tied for second with 12 tallies. Yet, beyond Fraser and Reinhart, only Eakin and Antilla have scored more than three goals. More will be needed from the likes of Kevin King and Steele Boomer if the Ice are to match the offensive depth of the Winterhawks.
Defensively, the Ice have been outstanding. Buffalo Sabres’ prospect Brayden McNabb has been a dominating force on the blue line, scoring at a 1.43 points-per-game clip while shutting down top stars like Brayden Schenn and Linden Vey. His +20 rating is a testament to his defensive play in the playoffs. McNabb, James Martin and the rest of Kootenay’s defense corps have helped the team to an 89.2% penalty killing success rate in the post-season. They will need to be sharp to stop an effective Portland power play.
Goaltender Nathan Lieuwen has been stellar in the 2011 playoffs. The 19-year-old from Abbotsford, B.C., has posted a 12-2 record with three shutouts, a League-leading 1.96 GAA and an impressive .929 save percentage in 14 playoff contests, and has held the fort against some of the sharpest snipers in the WHL through three rounds. If Lieuwen can maintain his current level of play, he’ll give the Ice a good shot at capturing their third WHL Championship.
Keys To Success:
–Penalty Killing Perfection The Ice have allowed only seven power play goals through 14 post-season games, and have also scored a WHL-leading seven shorthanded markers. They will have to keep up their stifling penalty killing if they are to shut down Portland’s potent power play.
–Team-First Approach: Their commitment to playing their hard-forechecking and smothering defensive style has led the Ice past three tough opponents already. If they stay the course and stick to their system, their chances for success will increase.
PORTLAND WINTERHAWKS – Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Champion
2011 Playoff top scorers:
Nino Niederreiter 16gp-8g-15a-23pts
Ryan Johansen 16gp-11g-11a-22pts
Sven Bartschi 16gp-5g-16a-21pts
Craig Cunningham 16gp-7g-9a-16pts
How They Got Here…
-Defeated the Everett Silvertips 4-0 in 1st round.
-Defeated the Kelowna Rockets 4-2 in 2nd round.
-Defeated the Spokane Chiefs 4-2 in Kal Tire Western Conference Championship series.
The Winterhawks are back in the WHL Championship series for the first time since the 2000-01 season, when they lost in five games to the eventual Memorial Cup Champion Red Deer Rebels. It’s the ninth time the Winterhawks have advanced to the WHL Championship series since coming to Portland. They won the WHL Championship in 1983 and 1998.
The Hawks have lived up to their expectations this season, winning the Western Conference regular-season title and capturing the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship in the post-season. With plenty of star power up front, a skilled and mobile defense corps, and solid goaltending, the Winterhawks are a force to be reckoned with.
Led by Ryan Johansen, the MVP of the Kal Tire WHL Western Conference Championship series, the Winterhawks boast a formidable offensive unit. Johansen, Swiss stars Nino Niederreiter and Sven Bartschi, and seasoned playoff veteran Craig Cunningham have provided consistent scoring throughout the season. Add in talented sophomore Ty Rattie, sparkplug Brad Ross and towering forwards Riley Boychuk and Taylor Peters, and the Hawks possess as much depth at forward as any team in the WHL. Portland’s offensive talent has helped their power play operate at a 24.2% clip in the post-season.
Defensively, the Hawks may give up more goals than the stingy Kootenay Ice, but they have managed to adequately shut down several of the Western Conference’s top offensive stars through the first three rounds of the playoffs. Joe Morrow has been a factor at both ends of the rink, providing strong puck movement and offense while helping the Hawks to a solid 86.4% penalty kill success rate. It will be up to Morrow, William Wrenn and the rest of the Hawks’ blue line crew to find a way to stop the red-hot Max Reinhart and Cody Eakin.
Mac Carruth has provided a steady presence in the Winterhawks’ net. The 19-year-old Shorewood, MN, product has posted an impressive .927 save percentage in 16 post-season games while having faced an average of 36 shots per game. The confident Carruth has shown he can come up with big saves when called upon. He’ll face another tough task in shutting the door on Kootenay’s offensive stars.
Keys To Success:
–Offensive Flair: The Winterhawks boast one of the deepest and most dangerous offensive units in the WHL. They will have to find a way to produce versus a Kootenay team that has already neutralized the high-octane Saskatoon Blades and Medicine Hat Tigers.
–Bring the Lunch Pail The Winterhawks found a way to outplay a hard-working Spokane team in the Western Conference final. Now, they will have to match the relentless work ethic and determination of a Kootenay team that has smothered the opposition through three playoff rounds.
#1 – Kootenay @ Portland; Friday, May 6 (7:30pm PST)
#2 – Kootenay @ Portland; Saturday, May 7 (7:00pm PST)
#3 – Portland @ Kootenay; Tuesday, May 10 (7:00pm MST)
#4 – Portland @ Kootenay; Wednesday, May 11 (7:00pm MST)
#5 – Kootenay @ Portland; Friday, May 13 (7:30pm PST)**
#6 – Portland @ Kootenay; Sunday, May 15 (6:00pm MST)**
#7 – Kootenay @ Portland; Monday, May 16 (7:00pm PST)**
** – if necessary