A playoff preview?
That could be what WHL fans will see at the Sandman Centre Wednesday as the Kamloops Blazers come in off the road to entertain the Everett Silvertips.
At the moment, the Silvertips (27-12-4) hold down first-place in the U.S. Division and, were the playoffs to start tonight, would be the Western Conference’s No. 2 seed. The Blazers are in possession of the conference’s first wild-card playoff spot.
That would result in a first-round matchup under the WHL’s playoff format that takes into consideration divisional and conference standings, as well as the alignment of the planets during the Ides of March. (Ahh, just kidding about that last part.)
The Blazers are coming off a five-game road trip that began with a doubleheader sweep of the Portland Winterhawks and finished up with three games in Alberta. The Blazers finished 3-1-1 on the trek, meaning they came home with seven of a possible 10 points.
After tonight, they are back on the road for the weekend, with games against the Prince George Cougars on Friday and Saturday nights.
The Cougars hold down third place in the B.C. Division, and that’s a spot the Blazers would like to call their own. Finish third in a division and it means you avoid a first-round matchup with a division leader; instead, you go head-to-head with the second-place team. In B.C., right now, that’s the Victoria Royals, but they were only one point ahead of the Cougars going into Tuesday night’s games.
Everett is 8-0-2 in its last 10 outings. The Silvertips don’t score much — their 2.51 goals per game are more than only the Edmonton Oil Kings (2.65), Swift Current Broncos (2.42) and Kootenay Ice (2.00). But they don't give up much, either — no one else is close to their 2.12 goals-against per game. (The Blazers have the sixth-best offence — 3.43 GPG — and are ninth on defence — 2.98.)
The Silvertips, who play an amazingly structured and disciplined game under head coach Kevin Constantine, were here on Jan. 2. The Blazers led that one 3-1 early in the third period, only to have the Silvertips come back and win, 4-3, in overtime.
The Blazers have yet to visit Everett this season, but are scheduled to play there on Feb. 5 and 26 to close out the season series.
The Blazers may be getting centre Gage Quinney, 20, back from injury tonight, but it isn’t likely that defenceman Dawson Davidson, 17, will join him, at least not yet.
Quinney hasn’t played since Dec. 19, when the Blazers beat the host Swift Current Broncos 3-0 in their last game before the Christmas break. He was injured during a practice on Dec. 26 and only returned to full practice this week when the Blazers returned home. He has 39 points in 29 games this season, having missed 10 games, and that offence as well as his leadership qualities have been missed.
Davidson, who joined the Blazers halfway through last season, last played on Dec. 28 in a 3-2 loss to the host Kelowna Rockets. The 17-year-old finished that game but complained of an injury after the fact. He is back practising but wearing a non-contact sweater, so isn’t likely to return tonight.
NHL Central Scouting released its mid-term rankings on Tuesday and four of the Blazers appear on the list.
The mid-terms feature four groupings of players eligible for the NHL’s 2016 draft — North American and International skaters, and North American and International goaltenders.
Ondrej Vala, the Blazers’ Czech defenceman, is rated 70th among North Americans skaters, with centre Garrett Pilon at No. 187 and Davidson at No. 197.
Connor Ingram is No. 12 among North American goaltenders.
Vala has 11 points, including three goals, in 44 games, while Pilon, from Saskatoon, has 10 goals and 15 points in 44 games. Davidson, from Moosomin, has four goals and 18 assists in 34 games. He has missed the team’s last 10 games with an undisclosed injury.
Ingram has played in 37 of the Blazers’ games. He is 19-9-7, 2.76, .916. He was eligible for the NHL’s 2015 draft but wasn’t selected.
Carter Hart of the Silvertips is the top-ranked North American goaltender. Zach Sawchenko of the Moose Jaw Warriors, at No. 3, Evan Sarthou of the Tri-City Americans, at No. 9, and Moose Jaw’s Brody Willms, No. 11, are ahead of Ingram.
The complete Central Scouting rankings are right here.
JUST NOTES: Game time tonight (Wednesday) is 7 o’clock. . . . It is First Nations Night, meaning the always popular Sage Hill Drummers will perform during one of the intermissions. A sock drive also is being held, so fans are encouraged to donate new socks that will be passed along to those who need them. . . . After tonight’s game, the Blazers are next at home on Jan. 29 and 30 when they entertain the Vancouver Giants and Portland, respectively. . . . The Blazers have 28 games remaining in the regular season and six of them will be against Vancouver.