We’re closing in on the Showcase but there are still games left to be played in the first half of the season, as teams try to situate themselves for the stretch run.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
Dallas Snipers (7-8-2, 2nd in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (2-13-0 5th in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma
The Dallas Snipers may not be able to catch the first-place Ice Jets but they can certainly solidify their spot by beating the teams below them.
This weekend, they’ll make the trip to Tulsa to play three against the Jr. Oilers, who are fresh off a rough weekend in Arizona, in which they lost all three games.
It will be the first ever meeting between the two teams and both will be looking for points, as the Snipers haven’t been victorious since October 28 and Tulsa hasn’t won since November 2, both teams wins came against the Wichita Jr. Thunder.
The Snipers have the advantage in terms of depth and forward Shane Bonds has started to play some of his best hockey of the year, now leading them in points with 19 on the season.
Goaltending continues to be a strong suit for Dallas and Alex Bebriss-Fedotovs has kept them in games and should benefit from going against a Tulsa offense that has been outshot in all but two games this season.
Give the Jr. Oilers credit, they continue to work hard but have struggled to put the puck in the net.
Bobby Watson has been the man for them all season but has had little help, although Matt Winkle put together a strong weekend in Arizona.
If Tulsa wants to pick up a few points, they’ll have to play physical and take advantage of all of their opportunities.
Saturday night’s game will be played at the BOK Center, home of the Central Hockey League’s Oilers, so maybe a bigger crowd could provide a spark for the home team.
Wichita Jr. Thunder (6-15-0, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Texas Jr. Brahmas (6-13-2, 3rd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
Another Midwest battle pits the Wichita Jr. Thunder against the Texas Jr. Brahmas, which will also be their first-ever meeting.
Texas has struggled to find consistency all season and although they likely have a playoff spot locked up, I’m sure head coach Jeremy Law would like to see his team pick up a few wins before heading to Sin City.
The Brahmas were beat up by the Dallas Ice Jets in two meetings last weekend, which came after a weekend in Cheyenne in which Texas played some of their best hockey of the year.
Will Barber has led the offense all season and guys like Landyn Howze and Cole Rose have shown flashes of brilliance, so we’ll see if they can get fat on Wichita’s defense this weekend.
The Jr. Thunder have a solid offense, despite being shutdown by San Diego last weekend, in three lopsided losses.
They will be without Ukrainian forward Andrii Istominov, who will be representing his country at the IIHF World Under-20 Championships. The Western States Hockey League wishes him the best of luck.
Filip Martinec will have to pick up the slack and he’s more than capable, currently leading the team in points with 38 but has just two over his last five games.
As good as their offense can be, their defense has struggled mightily, having given up an average of over 11 goals over their last six games.
They’ve faced some tough competition recently and the Brahmas offense isn’t as good as El Paso and San Diego’s but they’ll have to play mistake-free hockey to pick up a couple of wins.
San Diego Gulls (11-9-0, 3rd in Pacific Division) @ Arizona Redhawks (6-14-4, 6th in Mountain Division)
Three-game series in Peoria, Arizona
Two former division rivals will go at it in the desert this weekend, as the San Diego Gulls visits the Arizona Redhawks for three.
The Gulls will take to the road for the second consecutive weekend, after sweeping the Jr. Thunder the previous week in Wichita.
They have been the streakiest team in the league so far this season, having lost their first eight games out of the gate, bouncing back to win five straight, before dropping four and now three more in the win column.
Their top line continues to terrorize opponents and Justin Lazalde’s speed is something you can’t stop but rather to hope to contain.
Their goaltending is top-notch and both Reed Kinsey and Brian Walters can steal a game for them but offensive depth can be a problem.
They’ll face an Arizona team that is finally coming back to life, after starting the season poorly.
They beat-up on the Tulsa Jr. Oilers last weekend and swept the series easily, behind new-found offensive depth, led by forward Mattias Marten.
TJ West has been their go-to guy all season and should see less attention, with guys like Marten, Pontus Wikner and Oscar Hagborn-Olsson heating up.
Colton Pankiw has stepped in and been fantastic in net and picked up the first shutout in franchise history, in a 10-0 win over Tulsa last Friday.
These two teams know each other well and play similar styles, so it should make for a good weekend of hockey, with both teams looking to make a move up the standings.
Ogden Mustangs (12-7-5, 2nd in Northwest Division) @ Idaho Jr. Steelheads (19-1-0, 1st in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in McCall, Idaho
The top two teams in the Northwest Division are set to clash in the mountains of Idaho, as the Ogden Mustangs will see how they stack-up against one the league’s elite program.
Idaho dominated the season series last year but this isn’t the same Mustangs they’re used to seeing and the team that comes to town, will surely bring their “A-game.”
Ogden is one of the more physical teams in the league, which doesn’t seem to give Idaho too many problems: see series with Southern Oregon.
The Mustangs have acquired more talent, especially at the forward position, as the season has gone along and have beaten some very good hockey teams along the way.
They are still a bit inconsistent but are in just about every game they play and if they can keep their heads, they match-up well with the Jr. Steelheads.
Goaltender Tyler Fallica will have his hands full with the vaunted Idaho attack, led by the league’s leading scorer, Stefan Brucato.
Brucato plays on a line with Dominik Gabaj (fifth in league scoring) and the powerful veteran Tyler Kruenegel.
They have size, speed and skill, which makes them an opposing coach’s worst nightmare.
John Olver likes to roll four lines, each of which can put the puck in the net and they’re much more physical than they have been in years past.
Defensively they are led by veteran Jake Webber, who is second in scoring amongst defenseman in the league in scoring and Cole Larson has been a great shutdown addition to that pairing.
If Ogden gets into penalty trouble, Idaho will make them pay but if they can play at even strength, this will be a great series to watch and a true measuring stick for Jake Laime and his boys.
Seattle Totems (8-12-3, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (10-7-0, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Medford, Oregon
The Seattle Totems will take to the road yet again, as the road warriors of the WSHL will make the trip to Medford for another weekend series against the rival Southern Oregon Spartans.
So far this season, the Spartans have had the upper hand in the sereis, having won five of the six meetings but Seattle is on the rise and getting better every time out.
They always play each other tough and it makes for a fun, physical weekend for everyone involved.
The league-leaders in road games played are coming off of a series victory in Long Beach, while Southern Oregon had last weekend off to gear up for their rivals.
Petr Novak leads the Seattle offense and has really started to heat-up, the same can be said for defenseman Connor Haney, who now leads the league in defensive scoring.
Goaltender Bryce Fink continues to put together a stellar season and many of the young players on the roster are starting to find their way.
Southern Oregon is once again led by Tim Talty, who led the NORPAC in scoring last season.
Nick Stirmel has also been great for them early in the season and they have showcased a good amount of depth.
Mike Stanaway would love to see his team continue their reign over the Totems and really start to make a move in the Northwest Division.
If they give goaltender Sean Buckley the help he needs, the Spartans are a very tough team to play against and they’ve always been a team that comes on strong down the stretch.
These teams will only meet twice more after this weekend, so they’ll be both be gunning for each other.
Cheyenne Stampede (11-3-1, 3rd in Mountain Division) vs. Boulder Bison (12-4-2, 2nd in Mountain Division)
Home-and-home series, played Friday in Superior, Colorado and Saturday in Cheyenne, Wyoming
It wouldn’t be a weekend of hockey if there wasn’t a home-and-home series and the Cheyenne Stampede and Boulder Bison will take care of that for us.
Two of the top dogs in the Mountain Division will meet Friday night in Colorado, before making the short trip to Wyoming’s capital the next evening.
They play similar styles, boast similar records and the thin mountain air won’t bother either of them.
Cheyenne comes in as winners of five of their last six games and their offense has started to roll in those games.
Kevin Rosset and Ryan Demyen have been their most consistent scorers but just about everyone on their roster can put the puck in the net.
Defensively they’ve had some growing pains but goaltending has been strong, thanks to Daniel Cepila and Sam Mallory.
You better believe that Marty Quarters will have his boys ready for these two games, which will be their biggest task of the season thus far.
Boulder is coming off of a sweep of the New Mexico Renegades and have already won a series from the division’s number one team, the El Paso Rhinos.
The return of forward Taylor Porrier has boosted the play of veteran Ryan Gauthier, who had a huge weekend in New Mexico.
Their top line was good and now its great, which means good things for guys like Will Neff and Matt Hefter, who will see more open ice.
Their defense is led by veteran Patrick Grace, who may be undersized but makes up for it with his awareness and high hockey IQ.
Goaltending has been the absolutely strength of this team this season, as Collin Champine and Dax Deadrick have made fans forget about last season’s goaltending carousel.
Much like the Ogden/Idaho series, this one will be fun to watch, with two teams trying to show their dominance.
Pacific Division One-Gamers
Valencia Flyers (9-7-2, 4th in division) @ Long Beach Bombers (6-12-0, 5th in division)
Game played Friday in Lakewood, California
The Valencia Flyers will take to the road for a pair of divisional road games this weekend, the first of which will be in Long Beach on Friday night.
Although the Bombers have been struggling as of late, they have beat Valencia two out of the three times they’ve met this season.
Forward Nikita Korotkov had yet another strong weekend against Seattle but the defense struggled to help Jiri Sykora in net and they wound up dropping two of three.
They have the talent to make a run and beating the teams ahead of them would be a great start but they must find a to slow the game down and not get into a shootout.
The Flyers are coming off of a sweep at the hands of Idaho over Thanksgiving weekend but played well in that series and are starting to click.
Forward Kevin Antipov has figured out the North American game and is starting to tear it up. His combination of size and speed is rare in any league.
Their defense has gotten stronger with the addition of Tyler Lazarek from the Fresno Monsters and goaltending has never been a problem, with veteran Stephen Palmer holding down the fort.
They are trying to keep pace with the Monsters and play four divisional games before the Showcase and they’d love to start the weekend with win in Lakewood.
Valencia Flyers @ Ontario Avalanche (12-8-0, 2nd in division)
Game played Saturday in Ontario, California
The Flyers stay on the road the next night and make their final appearance of the season in Ontario.
The Avalanche have had a great start to their inaugural season and are the rare deep first-year team. All four lines can score and their goaltending is nothing short of fantastic, having already bested the Flyers two of three.
They don’t have the top end talent like Long Beach but guys like Antoine Maillard and Michael Thomas play hard every shift and they come at you in waves.
Defensively they are led by a bunch of youngsters, including Nick Trefry who plays wise beyond his years. They’ve also been active with roster moves, having picked up defenseman Brian Skillicorn out of the the AWHL a few weeks back and he’s been the offensive threat from the point they need.
If they want to stay near the top, they have to beat teams like Valencia and Long Beach and Saturday night will be another great opportunity for Chris Shaw’s crew.
As always, all games can be seen live at fasthockey.com!
Story by Brent Maranto does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Western States Hockey League