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Above the Glass

From the Dub: Neutral Zone

The Portland Winterhawks are currently on a seven day break, which is virtually unheard of except for the end-of-year holiday break. That meant no games this weekend. What's a local fan to do? It's an excellent time to catch up with the competition. And maybe brush up on WHL alumni making the headlines, including Mathew Barzal and Dominic Turgeon. There was plenty of action out there in the WHL this week. Now is the perfect time to keep the enemy closer. 

Alumni report: I completely understand why Islanders fans are demanding that "Snow Must Go", because it wasn't that long ago Winterhawks fans were in a similar situation before Mike Johnston came to town. But there are small glimmers of hope for New York Islanders fans: their names are Mathew Barzal and Kieffer Bellows. Barzal is a favorite for the Calder Trophy, which does not surprise local WHL fans. We watched him ascend to this current peak  for the past four seasons. The Seattle Thunderbirds are Portland's archrival, but Barzal's dazzling talent cannot be denied. Alas, one player alone cannot save a team. But there is hope on the horizon as well. Kieffer is delivering the goods in Portland this year as the king of the two-goal game.

Meanwhile in Grand Rapids, former Winterhawk captain Dominic Turgeon led the Griffins to a 5-0 victory on Saturday with his first AHL career hat trick. For Portland fans, it was bittersweet. On the losing side of that game were the Manitoba Moose, home to former Winterhawks forward Chase De Leo. Chase's former Winterhawks and Moose teammate Nic Petan is currently playing with the Winnipeg Jets.

Keep the enemy closer:  Things just got a lot more interesting in the U.S. Division over the weekend, where the Everett Silvertips now hold the number one spot. But it ain't over 'til it's over:  

- The Everett Silvertips are seven points ahead of the second-place Winterhawks, who have two games in hand.

- The Spokane Chiefs defeated Seattle on Sunday night in a 5-1 win victory that was fueled by two goals from Kailer Yamamoto, but of course. The Chiefs are in third place in the U.S. Division, three points behind Portland with an equal number of games played (58).

- The Tri-City Americans hold the first wild card spot in the Western Conference, followed by Seattle in second place.

Once the Winterhawks emerge from their break this Wedensday, it's going to be an epic race to the finish line for all the U.S. Division teams. It's going to be especially intense for Portland, because there's no margin for error. Elsewhere in the B.C. Division, the Kelowna Rockets, the Victoria Royals and the Vancouver Giants lead the way in first, second and third place, respectively. These three teams have always been good, and this year is no exception. 

Don't we know you? Former Portland Winterhawk Colton Veloso just scored his 50th career WHL goal last week, a sign that he clearly got the better end of his trade to the Kootneay Ice. Ditto for Evan Weinger. Since being traded to the Brandon Wheat Kings, he has earned 47 points (25 G, 22A) and is now a WHL leader in shorthanded goals (5th place). Finally, former Winterhawk goalie Michael Bullion is currently fourth in the league in shutouts, with three total in 30 games played. Current Winterhawk goalie Cole Kehler also has three shutouts. He is in fifth place, having played in more games. 

Head East: The Eastern Conference is always a force to be reckoned with, but they are exceptionally dominant this year. The Moose Jaw Warriors and the Swift Current Broncos have already clinched a playoff position. The Warriors are first in the Conference and the East Division. The Broncos are second in both the Conference and East Division. Their players dominate the WHL leaderboards, notably Jayden Halbgewachs, Glenn Gawdin and Brayden Burke. To be perfectly honest, if I were to put down odds today on who would win the WHL Championship, my money would be on one of these two teams. 

Down the stretch: Most teams in the WHL have between 12 and 15 games to go this season. No teams in the Western Conference have clinched a playoff position and none have officialy clinched their respective Division titles. But you can see where it's headed. The Eastern Conference is leading the way overall, but I wouldn't overlook top Western teams like Everett, Kelowna, Victoria or the Winterhawks. They just might surprise you. 

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Comments

ilovehomers's avatar

Most teams in the WHL have between 12 and 15 games to go this season. No teams in the Western Conference have clinched a playoff position and none have officialy clinched their respective Division titles

That’s actually pretty awesome. The type of parity that most pro leagues strive for.

Have you taken any interest in the Olympics? I dont recognize but maybe 10 players total.

Posted by ilovehomers on 02/19/18 at 07:32 PM ET

Avatar

The Western Conference is going to be a thrilling ride to the finish this year. I’m excited to see who comes out on top, but the East is also crazy good. I’ll certainly have plenty of news to report as we head to the last month of the season.

With the Olympics, I’ve been paying a little more attention to Team USA women’s ice hockey team, especially now that they’ve punched their ticket to the gold medal game. It’s a little odd not recognizing all the names on the men’s roster, but I will be cheering them tonight as they look to advance out of the qualification round. 

Posted by Samantha from Portland, Oregon on 02/19/18 at 08:34 PM ET

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About Above the Glass

Welcome to Above the Glass, a definitive anti-expert’s guide to hockey. I started blogging in 2009 as part of an effort to learn all 87 rules in the NHL Rulebook in 107 days before the 2010 Olympics, 30 years after I discovered the sport. You can peruse the archival results here. Growing up in Arizona, I didn’t even know hockey existed until February 22, 1980, when the USA played Russia in the Olympics. And just like that, the game of the century changed my life. I still don’t quite understand the icing rule or which faceoff circle goes with what offense, but I do know that every aspect of hockey has something to teach us about life. That’s what you’ll find here, along with my unadulterated passion for the game.

I live in Portland, Oregon, home of the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks. I invite anyone who wants to know more about hockey in the Rose City to visit here, where I blog exclusively about the Winterhawks. I’ll post an occasional musing about the Hawks, the WHL and junior hockey here as well.

Follow me on Twitter: @AbovetheGlass

Email: samantha@kuklaskorner.com