We’re finally up to full speed and rolling along into week five and with the Cheyenne Stampede finally making their season debut, all 22 teams are back in action. As always, keep your eye on key divisional series this weekend but don’t neglect some interesting inter-division matchups, which help give a better idea of the competition around the league.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
Tulsa Jr. Oilers (1-5-0, T-4th in Midwest Division) @ Wichita Jr. Thunder (1-5-0, T-4th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Wichita, Kansas
The two first-year franchises in the Midwest Division will clash over the weekend in Wichita, Kansas and both will be looking to collect some much-needed points.
As can be expected, neither squad is off to a great start but both were able to compete well last weekend and should be excited to see each other.
Tulsa began the year with three huge losses to the Dallas Ice Jets but picked up their level of play against the Texas Jr. Brahmas last weekend and won one of the three contests, while sticking around in the other two.
They’ve added some more forwards to their roster in the last couple of weeks and seem to be better acclimated to the junior hockey game.
Outside of the newly acquired Bobby Watson however, they lack a true offensive threat and will need to score by committee in order to win games.
Wichita was also beat-up pretty good in three games against the powerful Ice Jets but were competitive in their opening weekend against the Dallas Snipers and come into their meeting with Tulsa with the same exact record.
Rob Weingartner’s bunch might have a little more firepower on the offensive end, which is led by a couple of imports, Tomas Nemeth and Andrii Istominov, who have combined for 22 points in 12 games.
Offense hasn’t been a problem in Wichita but they’ve had some defensive breakdowns and their goaltenders have been overworked in every game.
This series should be a good one, as these two teams could very well be fighting for the last playoff spot in their division, come February.
Ontario Avalanche (4-4-0, T-3rd in Pacific Division) @ Texas Brahmas (3-5-1, 3rd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
The Ontario Avalanche haven’t struggled much in their first season of play but will have a good test this weekend, when they travel to the Lone Star State to take on the Texas Jr. Brahmas.
Under head coach Chris Shaw, the Avalanche have flourished early in the season and although their record is just 4-4-0, they’ve already beaten four of their five divisional opponents.
Shaw has put together a very deep team that competes every time they take the ice and goaltender Jesse Gordichuk has been fantastic for them, with a record of 4-1-0.
They are coming off a couple of home losses last weekend and the long trip to Texas is never an easy one, so it will be interesting to see how they respond to the challenge.
Jeremy Law and his Jr. Brahmas seemed to get back on track last weekend, while taking two of three from the Tulsa Jr. Oilers.
They’ve been plagued by inconsistency early in the season and have lost a few games they probably shouldn’t have, so they’ll need to keep the momentum going, with the Ice Jets already soaring above their heads.
Will Barber stepped up offensively in the series against Tulsa and currently leads the team with 10 points on the season. Law hopes a few more veterans will find their groove soon as well, as they some more goal scorers.
Veteran goaltender Zane Sampson seems to have taken over the top spot in the crease and they’ll need him to be good against Ontario, who like to throw a ton of rubber at the net.
It’ll be curious to see how the Pacific and Midwest Divisions match-up against each other, as both of these teams play a similar style and sit in similar positions in the standings.
Phoenix Knights (4-1-1, 1st in Mountain Division) @ Cheyenne Stampede (No Record, Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Cheyenne, Wyoming
After four weeks of waiting, the Cheyenne Stampede are finally raring and ready to make their 2012-2013 regular season debut.
As if the long wait wasn’t enough, the first team they’ll welcome in is the upstart Phoenix Knights, who currently sit atop the new Mountain Division standings.
After opening up the season by picking up five out of a possible six points against in Texas against the Jr. Brahmas, the Knights returned home last weekend to host the New Mexico Renegades.
In a tight series that exemplifies what we should expect to see all year from the Mountain Division, the Knights were able to take two of three games and continue their torrid start to the coaching tenure of Kurt Goar.
A couple of newcomers, Nick Pappas and Kyle McLean, have led the offensive charge for Goar, with each amassing 10 points in six games played.
Last season, the Knights played many nights with a short bench but so far this season, they have an abundance of not only players, but really good players.
Rookie goaltender Alex Taylor is another one of the hometown rookies that has been terrific early in the season, posting a record of 3-0-0 with a .904 save percentage.
Goar and the Knights currently reign supreme in their new division but how long will it last?
After a clean sweep by the Boulder Bison ended the Stampede’s playoff run last season, General Manager Mark Lantz completely rebuilt the program over the off-season, with a new coaching staff, players and overall mentality.
We won’t know just how far they’ve come until they take the ice on Friday night but at least on paper, they look like they’ll have the offense to compete with anyone.
With veteran head coach Marty Quarters at the helm and a good mix of returning players and talented rookies, the Stampede should rumble into the playoffs for the second-straight year.
This will be a fun, physical, weekend of hockey in Wyoming’s capital, as two new division rivals acquaint themselves with each other.
New Mexico Renegades (1-2-0, 5th in Mountain Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (1-4-1, 4th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
The other team in the Sonoran desert, the fourth-year Arizona Redhawks, will also play a divisional series this weekend, as they welcome in the New Mexico Renegades for three games.
The Renegades opened their season by losing two of three to the Knights in Phoenix and turn around to do it again this weekend, looking for a better result against a new opponent.
Co-head coaches John McCreary and Cliff Cook have to be happy with the way their team competed against the Knights, as each game came down to the wire.
A lot of new faces decorate the lineup for the Renegades this season, led by Dakota Beaulieu and Luc Fournier, who each recorded six points in the Phoenix series.
One of the top returners in the entire league, forward Kenny Orlando, notched five points against the Knights and should have a big weekend again.
They’ll need to find a way to finish against the pesky Redhawks, if they want to avoid falling in an early hole.
Arizona has started the season with a record of just 1-4-1 but it isn’t really a good indication of how well they’ve played.
They’ve faced arguably the two toughest teams in the division to start the season, in the El Paso Rhinos and Boulder Bison and were right there in every game.
They, like many other teams around the league, haven’t been able to find a whole lot of scoring depth yet and will need some of their import players to catch fire.
TJ West has been their best forward so far, notching six points in six games but after him and fellow newcomer Nathan Lee, the offense drops off dramatically.
With a great chance to get back on track this weekend, expect the Redhawks to be ready when they welcome in the Renegades on Friday night.
Ogden Mustangs (4-3-2, T-1st in Northwest Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (4-3-0, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Medford, Oregon
After clashing three times in Ogden last weekend, these two Northwest Division foes meet again for three, this time however, the Southern Oregon Spartans play host.
Ogden was the better team throughout the weekend, as they atoned for an up and down start to the season with two big wins, in a couple of rough contests.
Jake Laime’s offensive depth was on display against the Spartans, as they scored six goals on both Friday and Saturday and won both games, before being shut down on Sunday, dropping game three by a score of 7-2.
The series was filled with fast, physical play, which both teams have shown the tendency to play early in the season. Ogden will need their top forwards to stay away from it however, as guys like Christian Kraus have no business being in the penalty box.
18 different Ogden players have at least one points on the season, with Dusty Watt and Zach O’Mara leading the way with nine points each.
They’ll get a big test in hostile territory this weekend and if they can keep their composure, will have a great chance of winning another series.
Southern Oregon’s first few games against a team other than the Seattle Totems didn’t go exactly as expected.
Their physical play got them in trouble in the first two games and Ogden’s offense took advantage of it.
They were able to recover and play much better in Sunday’s game and take a big 7-2 victory and head coach Mike Stanaway has to be happy to see top returner Tim Talty heating up, the same Tim Talty that led all of the NORPAC in points last season.
The Medford Madhouse will surely be jumping this weekend, as these two teams meet for what will be six times in nine days.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads (5-0-0, T-1st in Northwest Division) @ Seattle Totems (1-2-1, 4th in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Mountlake Terrace, Washington
Another great matchup in the Northwest Division will feature the Idaho Jr. Steelheads traveling west to take on the Seattle Totems.
These two teams have been the class of their individual leagues over the past few years and now that Seattle has made the jump to the WSHL, they should both be brining their “A” games when they meet his weekend.
The Jr. Steelheads have rocketed out to their usual start, winning all five of their games over the Salt Lake City Moose and showing their depth in the process.
Stefan Brucato has been the offensive juggernaut everyone knows he can be and a handful of new import players have helped carry the load early on.
Their goaltending is as good as ever, with Blake Mendenhall returning to the team but one thing Salt Lake City did do was take the veteran netminder off his game with constant crashing of the crease.
Olver’s surgeon-like systematic approach to the game is unmatched at this level and Idaho seems to have the competitive edge coming into every game they play.
A road task will be tough and Seattle’s physicality can take them off their game but any chance Idaho gets, usually ends up in the opponents’ net.
Seattle has started their WSHL tenure slowly, albeit only four games in and all four coming against the Southern Oregon Spartans.
A few of Mike Murphy’s top forwards from last season are currently playing college hockey, leaving a void that must be filled soon.
Goaltending has been good, as Bryce Fink has stood on his head to keep his team in games but they have to find a way to give him a little more help.
Regardless of their record, the Totems are proven gamers and they always get up for big matchups, look for them to try and use the home crowd and stone the Steelies this weekend.
San Diego Gulls (2-5-0, 6th in Pacific Division) @ Bay Area Seals (3-6-0, 5th in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Oakland, California
Most of the Pacific Division has the weekend off but the two marine animals go at it this weekend in northern California, as the Gulls make the trip to meet the Seals.
San Diego was off to one of the worst starts in franchise history before turning it around last weekend with big road victories in Ontario and Valencia.
It’s still going to be a process, as Craig Carlyle’s roster is one of the youngest in the league but he should be able to have them compete all year.
Their top line of Zen Hamil, Tyler Giovannetti and Justin Lazalde can skate with anyone but they’ll need some help shouldering the load.
Goaltending is also a strength, where Brian Walters and Reed Kinsey make up one of the best tandems around but only one returning defenseman hasn’t helped the cause.
The inaugural season for the Bay Area Seals has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride so far, as they’ve shown the ability to play solid hockey but can get a little out of control at times.
They looked much more structured in a tight series with Ogden a couple of weeks ago and seem to be improving, as they have a decent amount of raw talent on the roster.
Their physical play is what will separate them in tight games but they must find a way to not cross the line, or wind up in penalty trouble as they have early in the season.
Their offense is fairly deep and led by Joshua Mikes and his 11 points and they feature a physical backend, led by import Ladislav Hruska.
Goaltending has been a carousel so far this season and someone will have to take the bull by the horns and take the top spot over.
In all, this series will be a battle between two divisional opponents, which may come down to special teams.
Dallas Ice Jets (7-0-0, 1st in Midwest Division) vs. Dallas Snipers (4-2-0, 2nd in Midwest Division)
Home-and-home series, played Friday in Plano and Saturday in Grapevine, Texas
Nobody would have guessed the premiere series of the weekend would be a matchup of the two Dallas teams but just a few weeks into the season, the Ice Jets and Snipers are one and two in the Midwest Division standings.
The Ice Jets are right where many figured they’d be but they look more dominant than anyone could have imagined.
Paul Taylor is an elite hockey mind and his deep lineup of speed and skill doesn’t have a real weakness to speak of. You can’t take penalties against them either, as they hold the best power play in the league, which is currently clicking at nearly 50%.
Last season, they didn’t have a single player in the top-40 of league scoring and albeit early, five of the top six scorers in the league so far this season are Ice Jets, led by Brandon Unser and his 16 points, which lead the league.
The Ice Jets came into the season stacked and Taylor keeps picking up players who return to the team, making them a real threat to Idaho’s recent dominance.
This weekend, they’ll play another second-year franchise that is blossoming, in the Dallas Snipers.
After an abysmal inaugural year, the Snipers tore it down and rebuilt and have come back looking better than ever.
After losing their first game of the season to Texas, they have gone on to win four of their last five and sit in second place in the division. With their next victory, they’ll already match last season’s total win total of five.
Returners like Shane Bonds have been solid but newcomers JJ Pitchley, Trey McMillen and goaltender Alex Bebriss-Fedotovs have been the real story.
They play hard every night, which is exactly what head coach Travis Clayton over his 14 years of professional hockey, while also having the skill to beat some very good hockey teams.
The real measuring stick will come this weekend, as they host the Ice Jets in Plano on Friday and make the short trek to Grapevine on Saturday.
We don’t know whether the NHL will return this season but we promise that all 23 games of Western States Hockey League action this weekend will be available live on fasthockey.com.
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League