Sound Of Hockey is proud to present new coverage of the Western Hockey League. Most weeks, we will discuss the teams based locally around Seattle, but to get things rolling this week, let’s do a quick check-in on all the U.S. Division teams, the Everett Silvertips, Portland Winterhawks, Seattle Thunderbirds, Spokane Chiefs, Tri-City Americans, and Wenatchee Wild. In this space, we will also talk about what’s happening with Kraken prospects playing elsewhere in the WHL.
As the temperatures in the Pacific Northwest are cooling down, things are beginning to heat up for teams in the U.S. Division, and only nine points separate the first- and last-place teams. We look back at some of their recent performances and ahead to what’s on the docket in the upcoming week.
The Silvertips came back from their road trip with a vengeance. Winners of five in a row, including wins this week over Kelowna, Vancouver, and Prince Albert, Everett remains toward the top of the U.S. standings. The Tips have a busy weekend with a home-and-home against the Seattle Thunderbirds before jogging down to Portland on Sunday, then back in time for Saskatoon on Wednesday.
The Portland Winterhawks have been dishing teams L’s left and right so far this season. This is no different from years prior, but Portland, currently ranked third in the entire CHL, has secured points in each of its last five games including this week’s lone game in Vancouver. The Hawks outshot the Giants 34-10 through two periods on Friday, including a pair of goals and a primary assist from team point leader Gabe Klassen, who helped take down Vancouver, 5-1.
Portland had a hiatus this past week but is back on home ice to start the weekend, beginning with Prince Albert making its lone appearance in the Rose City this season. The Winterhawks will follow that up with a Sunday showdown with the Silvertips, then round out their homestand playing host to the Victoria Royals on Wednesday.
Despite a strong start to the season at 7-1-0, the defending champions have cooled off significantly, dropping six of their last seven games and falling near the bottom of the U.S. Division standings. The T-Birds split a Friday and Saturday home-and-home with the Victoria Royals, losing 3-2 in Victoria, but then bouncing back the following night with a 5-4 win in Kent.
They tried stringing together two in a row, but Prince Albert had other plans on Tuesday, as three first-period goals from the Raiders were all they needed for a 3-2 final.
Defenseman Jeremy Hanzel provided an offensive boost for the T-Birds this week, accounting for three goals, including a pair in Saturday’s game against Victoria.
It will be an action-packed week ahead for the Thunderbirds, as they go back-to-back with the Silvertips, Friday in Everett and Saturday in Kent. They will have a quick Tuesday night jaunt to Tri-City, then head back home the following night to host the Kelowna Rockets.
Did you know it’s been over two decades since the Spokane Chiefs last won the U.S. Division? Seriously. Not once since 1999-00 have the Chiefs been in the top spot of the U.S. on the last day of the season, and that includes their 2007-08 Memorial Cup. And so far this season, this will likely not change. Spokane, despite early explosions from Connor Roulette and top prospect Berkly Catton, currently sits in last place in the U.S. This week, despite a mundane 3-2 loss to Prince Albert on Friday, Spokane eventually put together a better performance offensively on Saturday, taking out Kamloops, 6-3.
The homestand continues for the Chiefs this week, with Wenatchee making its first ever appearance at Spokane Arena on Saturday night and then hosting Kamloops once more Sunday and wrapping it up with the Vancouver Giants on Wednesday.
The Americans knew they needed to make a change in goal after a lackluster finish in October, a stretch from Oct. 15-28 that saw them go 2-3-2 with a correlating -14 goal differential. They decided they needed to make a splash by acquiring goaltender Kyle Kelsey from the Red Deer Rebels, a move they hoped would bolster their early puck-stopping struggles.
The Americans are 4-2-0 since the acquisition of Kelsey, though this week halted their momentum just a bit, starting with a 3-0 loss to Kamloops on Friday. Tri-City found better momentum on Saturday, as Kelsey stopped 31 of 35 shots in his second start with the Americans, who bounced back to beat Prince Albert, 5-4. Despite this performance, the success wouldn’t carry over to Wednesday, and the Americans were taken down by Wenatchee, 5-2.
This week is a light one in the Tri-Cities. The Americans will rematch with Wenatchee in Kennewick Friday night, then welcome in the T-Birds on Tuesday.
Though this new edition of the Wenatchee Wild is off to a fast start in their inaugural WHL season, it hasn’t come without its growing pains. Wenatchee made its first Alberta trip since its reincarnation from Winnipeg, and despite the strong effort to start the trip in Swift Current, the Wild dropped their following two games on the trip, losing handedly to Lethbridge on Friday, 5-1, and Medicine Hat on Saturday, 4-1.
The offense was given a boost thanks to the Buffalo Sabres sending down top prospect Matthew Savoie, reuniting him with Arizona Coyotes prospect Conor Geekie. Savoie and Geekie led the charge on Wednesday, combining for six points (Geekie: 2-2—4) en route to a 5-2 victory over the Americans.
It will be a busy week ahead for the Wild, who will play four games in five days, beginning with a visit to Tri-City for a Friday night rematch with the Americans and following that with a Saturday night date in Spokane. The Wild travel back home Sunday to face Prince Albert, then welcome in Saskatoon on Tuesday.
Kraken WHL prospects
Jagger Firkus continues to impress in Moose Jaw, as the Kraken’s second-round pick in 2022 leads the league with 40 points in just 19 games played. Meanwhile, defensive prospects Caden Price and Lukas Dragicevic started to contribute on offense for their respective teams recently. Price has nearly a point per game with Kelowna, while Dragicevic is at half a point per game for Tri-City. Dragicevic is finding his offense with his impressive one-time shot, a shot he showed off on Saturday against Prince Albert.
What to watch
Everett traveling to Portland on Sunday is sure to be a doozy, as both teams vie for the top spot in the U.S. division. With the chance of seeing two of the league’s top goalies in Tyler Palmer and Jan Spunar, this match could be an early decider of who takes control in the division going forward.