Many teams are back in action this week and should be fresh after having the holiday weekend off and in some cases, a lot more than that. As we ease toward the midpoint of the season, things should continue to heat-up around the league, leading up to the Western States Shootout in Las Vegas, which officially concludes the first half of the season.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
San Diego Gulls (8-9-0, 4th in Pacific Division) @ Wichita Jr. Thunder (6-12-0 4th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Wichita, Kansas
The San Diego Gulls have been a team of streaks in their second season under head coach Craig Carlyle and they’ll look to start a new one this weekend when they head to Kansas for their first-ever look at the Wichita Jr. Thunder.
San Diego began the year with five straight losses but rebounded nicely, behind their powerful top offensive line, to win their next eight straight and rise to the top of the Pacific Division.
After dropping a game in Valencia, the Gulls then ran into the buzz saw that is the Idaho Jr. Steelheads and have now lost four straight.
They’ll make the long trip to Wichita for their first big road trip of the season and Carlyle will surely have his boys ready to go, as they try to keep pace with the perfect Fresno Monsters.
They had last weekend off to regroup and their top line of Justin Lazalde, Tyler Giovannetti and Zen Hamil will be happy to go up against a defense that allowed over 40 goals in three games in El Paso last weekend.
After getting blown out three times by the Rhinos, the Jr. Thunder will be happy to return home and attempt to get back on track by getting their star import players back up to full speed.
Andrii Istominov and Jan Jindra were held in check all weekend by the Rhinos and without a ton of offensive depth to help carry the load, Wichita quickly fell behind in each game.
The Jr. Thunder have shown some resiliency early in the season and have the talent to bounce back and if the Gulls sleep on them, even a little bit, they could easily take a couple of games.
Both teams are in need of some wins and will be ready to go this weekend when they meet for the first time.
Boulder Bison (9-4-2, 3rd in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (9-8-1, 4th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico
Your weekly dose of Mountain Division hockey will come in the form of Boulder and New Mexico, as the two new division rivals meet for three in Rio Rancho.
The Renegades struggled to find the back of the net in Cheyenne last weekend but returning home will only help, as they’ve won their last five games on home ice.
They’ll have to find a way to match the speed of the Bison, who will be well rested, having not played a game since November 11.
The Bison don’t have the high-powered offense we’re used to seeing out of them but guys like veteran forward Ryan Gauthier has been quietly going about their business and helping Paul DePuydt’s crew win games.
They’ll have to deal with some rust but goaltenders Collin Champine and Dax Deadrick have been fantastic for Boulder so far this season, helping the Bison stay in games early on, so the forwards can find their stride and pull away late.
The Renegades have proven they can battle and Boulder won’t back down from the physical game, so this should be another great Mountain Division matchup.
Tulsa Jr. Oilers (2-10-0, 5th in Midwest Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (3-14-4, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
Two teams much in-need of some victories will meet over the weekend in Arizona, as the Redhawks play host to the first-year Tulsa Jr. Oilers.
Both teams currently sit at the bottom of their respective divisions but have shown the ability to compete with the teams around them.
Tulsa hasn’t played since November 4, so they’ll be happy to get back on the ice and try to catch up to Wichita for the fourth and final playoff spot in the Midwest Division.
The Jr. Oilers are led in scoring by veteran forward Bobby Watson but outside of him, nobody else on the roster has reached double digits in points yet.
They have better defensive depth than Wichita but just like the other first-year team in their division, they’ve struggled to score goals.
They’ll have to be ready to go this week, as their schedule really picks up before the showcase.
If they can come out and battle in Arizona, they can also find a way to pull out a couple of wins and get their season turned around.
Arizona is at the bottom of the Mountain Division, due in large part to injuries but regardless of who is on the ice, they’re going to need to start grinding out wins.
TJ West has been their go-to guy all season on offense and just recently a couple of Swedish forwards, Mattias Marten and Pontus Wikner, have began to help carry the scoring load.
They are also going to be rusty, having last played on November 18, so much like Tulsa, Arizona will have to stick to the basics early on.
Arizona was much more competitive in their last series in Cheyenne and finally received great goaltending, in the form of Colton Pankiw, who has seemingly taken over the top spot in net.
If they can find some offensive depth and Pankiw can make some saves, Arizona will be well on their way to a great weekend.
Seattle Totems (6-11-3, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (5-10-0, 5th in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Lakewood, California
The Seattle Totems have been the road warriors of the league so far this season and it will continue this weekend, as they’ll make the long trip to So-Cal for three with the Long Beach Bombers.
Seattle leads the league in away games played and has already made one trip out to California already, when they swept the Ontario Avalanche over three games.
The Totems will be hunting for wins after losing their last four meetings to the rival Southern Oregon Spartans but played well in all four of those games.
The team is much younger than they have been in recent years and they’ve fought through some growing pains but Mike Murphy has them hitting their stride at the right time.
Petr Novak has picked up his offensive play, while the goaltending of Bryce Fink keeps Seattle in a lot of games.
They have started to find the right balance of physicality and it’s helped them cut down on some penalty problems.
They have got to be tired of playing on the road but three wins in Long Beach would be huge for them, especially with a ton of home games in the second half of the season.
The Bombers were beat up in Fresno last weekend and return home looking for answers.
After starting the season on a tear, they’ve slowly begun to descend the Pacific Division standings, due mainly to a rash of injuries.
Leading scorer Nikita Korotkov has been quiet as of late, as has Johnny Linehan, who has been going back and forth between playing for the Bombers and attending school at UC Berkeley.
They have one of the best goaltenders in the league, in Jiri Sykora but their defense has failed to give him any semblance of help during the recent spiral.
If they can find a way to put it all together again, they can be lethal offensively and Sykora can routinely bail them out at the other end.
Another series and two more teams in need of victories, makes for a great weekend of hockey in Lakewood.
Texas Jr. Brahmas (6-11-2, 3rd in Midwest Division) @ Dallas Ice Jets (17-1-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Two-game series in Grapevine, Texas
The Texas Jr. Brahmas have been trying to turn their season around and winning two of three in Cheyenne a few weeks back was a start but two against the division leading Dallas Ice Jets this weekend could bode huge for their confidence moving forward.
The Ice Jets were taken to overtime last weekend by the Dallas Snipers but completed a great comeback to get the win in extra time but they know they can’t take anyone lightly, especially with a target on their backs.
They have been breezing through the Midwest Division and if their momentum isn’t slowed soon, they’ll run away with it.
The Ice Jets are now at the point where we no longer call them the “Idaho Jr. Steelheads” of the Midwest Division, as they may be even better than the team they’ve been compared to since entering the league, at least this season (we’ll find out for sure in Las Vegas.)
They haven’t had many real challenges however and with Texas clawing for points, it could make for a great couple of games in Grapevine.
The Brahmas have been idle since winning a big series in Cheyenne, back on November 11.
They picked up a couple of solid wins in hostile territory during that series and seemed to play more inspired hockey.
Jeremy Law will have his boys ready for the weekend and odds are they come out and try to dictate play behind their physicality, as they don’t have the guns to get into a shootout with the Ice Jets.
In their only meeting this season, the Brahmas were embarrassed 9-0 by the Ice Jets back on October 30 and you can bet there won’t be a repeat of that score.
Salt Lake City Moose (4-7-1, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Ogden Mustangs (11-7-4, 2nd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Ogden, Utah
The battle of Utah has been dominated by the Ogden Mustangs over the first 10 all-time meetings but the Salt Lake City Moose won the last time out and will be looking for more this weekend.
The two teams will meet for two games in Ogden, where special teams will likely decide the victor, as penalties are abound when these two clash.
The Mustangs had won nine in a row over the Moose until Salt Lake City squeaked out a 3-1 win back on November 17.
The Moose are much deeper than they were last season but still can’t put the puck in the net and have nobody with more than six points on the season.
Their defense has gotten better and their goaltending is still held down by Alex Burdekin, who was one of the few bright spots in year one.
If they want to beat Ogden and start battling for a playoff spot, they’ll need to put the puck in the net and convert on their power play opportunities.
Ogden has slowly moved their way up the standings and currently sit second to only Idaho.
They have great depth at the forward position, led by Slovakian forward Christian Kraus and also have the grit to bang it out with teams, showcased by the play of veteran Kody Rodriguez.
Tyler Fallica has come in and taken over the top spot in their goal crease and has been great but their defense has the tendency to make him work more than he should.
If they can stay out of the box, they win both games but if they give up power play goals and let Salt Lake stick around, the Moose are now a team that can beat you.
I hope the scorekeeper is ready because this will be a fast, physical series in Utah, with two teams that don’t like each other one bit.
As always, all games can be seen on fasthockey.com!
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League