Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Hurricanes-Pats gets TV treatment ... Regina merch sales off the charts ... Home-ice advantage important?



Has Dart Guy become the new Marlboro Man? If so, you have to wonder how happy the NHL pooh-bahs are to have a guy with a dart stuck in the middle of his painted face as one of the icons for the first round of playoffs.
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 If you were wondering, Shaw TV and Access7 will show the WHL’s Eastern Conference final between the Lethbridge Hurricanes and Regina Pats. That series opens with games in Regina on Friday and Saturday nights. . . . This should be something of a grudge match, too, seeing as the Pats, a wild-card team a year ago, dumped the Central Division-champion Hurricanes in five games in a first-round series.
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 There should be some emotion in the Western Conference final, too, seeing as it’s the fourth time in five seasons that Kelowna and Seattle have clashed in the playoffs. A year ago, the Thunderbirds swept the Rockets in the conference final. . . . The most memorable series between these teams occurred in the first round in 2013 when Seattle won the first three games and Kelowna won the last four.
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 Rylan Toth of the Thunderbirds led all WHL goaltenders with 36 regular-season victories. However, he was injured late in the season and hasn’t even dressed for a game in these playoffs. In his absence, freshman Carl Stankowski has gone 8-0, 2.24, .913. . . . This being the playoffs, Toth’s mother, Marie, likely doesn’t even know if he’s healthy enough to play. But what does Seattle head coach Steve Konowalchuk do if Toth is ready?
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 I didn’t have a dog in the hunt, but it was good to see F Tyler Wong, the Hurricanes’ captain, emerge as Tuesday night’s hero with the Game 7 OT goal — shorthanded at that — against the host Medicine Hat Tigers. Wong is wrapping up his WHL career with his fifth season in Lethbridge and he’s stuck it out through thick and thin. You know that no one has enjoyed the past two seasons more than has Wong, who may be the most-loved player in franchise history.
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 Wong and Kelowna F Reid Gardiner are tied for the playoff scoring lead, each with 22 points. . . . So, yes, Regina will pay a little extra attention to Wong, and, yes, it already has started. Here’s John Paddock, Regina’s GM and head coach, in conversation with Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post: “(Wong is) a hard-working, inspirational guy who has skill. He’s physical. He jumps a couple feet in the air when he hits guys and doesn’t get called.” . . . Sheesh, John, don’t you realize that WHL officials, both on-ice and off, don’t read anything in the playoffs.
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 You may recall that it was almost two years ago — May 5, 2015 — when WHL commish Ron Robison was in Lethbridge, suggesting to the team’s board of directors that they should sell the franchise. You have to think the hockey fans of Lethbridge are rather pleased that it didn’t happen. ——
 What does it mean to a WHL team to be alive this deep into the playoffs? Well, Stacey Cattell, the Pats’ COO, told CBC News in Regina that “merchandise sales are . . . almost 50 per cent more than they were last (season) overall.” He also revealed that the Pats surpassed last season’s total merchandise sales by the fourth game of these playoffs.
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 If you haven’t yet seen Aaron Judge of the New York Yankees at the plate, well, you’re cheating yourself. The Yankees’ starting right fielder, he is 6-foot-7 and 282 pounds, and he moves like a much smaller man. Last night, Judge, who bats right, hit a 448-foot home run that landed halfway up the left-field bleachers. At the age of 24, he has two of the three longest homers to have been hit at the ‘new’ Yankee Stadium — he hit a 457-footer last season and that’s No. 1. ——
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As the WHL takes a break, Hartley Miller, the sports director at 94.3 The Goat in Prince George, points out: Home teams went 22-22 in the first round; Home teams went 13-10 in the second round. He adds that when it came to Game 7s, home teams in Round 1 were 1-1 and they were 1-1 in Round 2. The numbers would indicate that home-ice advantage, which teams supposedly play so hard for over the 72-game regular season, is vastly over-rated. The third round — aka conference finals — is scheduled to open on Friday with the Kelowna Rockets meeting the Seattle Thunderbirds in Kent, Wash., and the Lethbridge Hurricanes visiting the Regina Pats. To this point, the Rockets have played in 11 playoff games; the Thunderbirds have been in the minimum eight, having swept the Tri-City Americans and Everett Silvertips. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes, who scratched five regulars for Games 6 and 7 against the Medicine Hat Tigers, have played in 14 games; the Pats have been in 11.
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 The Lethbridge Hurricanes have signed F Brendan Stafford, 17, to a WHL contract. From Edmonton, Stafford is a list player. He also is a cousin go F Drew Stafford of the NHL’s Boston Bruins. This season, Brendan had six goals and 18 assists in 60 games with the AJHL’s Sherwood Park Crusaders. Last season, he had 17 goals and 21 assists in 52 games with the midget A team at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault, Minn.
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 D Scott Allan, who played with three WHL teams, has decided to attend Concordia University of Edmonton and play hockey for the Thunder. Allan, who is from Thornton, Colo., played most of the last two seasons with the BCHL’s West Kelowna Warriors, helping them to a national championship a year ago. In the WHL, the 6-foot-7, 225-pounder had stints (2013-15) with the Medicine Hat Tigers, Seattle Thunderbirds and Lethbridge Hurricanes.
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 The Battlefords North Stars will represent the SJHL at the Western Canada Cup in Penticton, April 29 through May 7. The North Stars beat the host Flin Flon Bombers 6-5 on Wednesday night to sweep the SJHL’s championship series and win the Canalta Cup. In fact, the North Stars went 12-0 as they ran roughshod through the playoffs. If you’re wondering, the last teams to run the SJHL playoff table were the dynastic Prince Albert Raiders, in 1976 and 1982. . . . The North Stars last were SJHL kings in 2000. . . . In the MJHL, the Portage Terriers won their third straight championship, beating the visiting OCN Blizzard, 1-0, last night behind 27 saves from G Kurtis Chapman. The Terriers, who have won seven titles in 10 seasons, won the series, and the Turnbull Cup, in six games. Portage lost the first two games of the final, then roared back with four victories. . . . In the BCHL, the host Penticton Vees erased a 3-0 deficit and beat the Chilliwack Chiefs, 4-3 in OT. The Vees now lead the series, 3-1, with the first opportunity to wrap it up on Saturday in Chilliwack. . . . F Ryley Risling got the OT winner. . . . The Vees, of course, are in the Western Canada Cup as the host team, so the Chiefs will be the BCHL representative.
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WEDNESDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

No Games Scheduled.
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THURSDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

No Games Scheduled
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FRIDAY’S GAMES (all times local):

Kelowna vs. Seattle, at Kent, Wash., 7:35 p.m. (Game 1) Lethbridge at Regina, 7 p.m. (Game 1)
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