After taking a microscope to the Midwest and Mountain
Divisions of the Western States Hockey League, we now will turn our attention
to the only entirely new division in the league, the Northwest Division.
The division that gives the league four for the first-time
ever, will be made up of five teams, spanning four states, with travel being
one of the better situations in the entire league.
The division is made up of three teams that come over from
the Mountain Division and two completely new teams to the league, who made the
move from the Northern Pacific Hockey League.
Despite 2012-2013 being it's first season, the Northwest
Division is expected to be one of the most competitive in the WSHL.
Idaho Jr. Steelheads (McCall, ID)
Ogden Mustangs (Ogden, UT)
Salt Lake City Moose (Salt Lake City, UT)
Seattle Totems (Seattle, WA)
Southern Oregon Spartans (Medford, OR)
The Northwest Division is headlined by the back-to-back
Thorne Cup Champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads, who have dominated the league since
their inception in 2009.
General Manager/Head Coach John Olver is already hot on the
recruiting trail, looking to make it a third title in just four seasons in the
league and I wouldn't bet against it.
Joining the Steelies in their move out of the Mountain
Division are the two Utah-based franchises, the Ogden Mustangs and the Salt
Lake City Moose (formerly the Park City Moose.)
Ogden made the playoffs in their first year in Utah, after a
couple of below average seasons in Bakersfield, California but were still far
from being considered one of the top teams in the division.
They play in a beautiful arena, with dedicated owners and
are backed by some of the best fans in the league as well, so it's really only
a matter of time before they become a force.
The nearby Moose struggled mightily in their first season in
the league, finishing dead-last in the Mountain Division. They picked up their
play toward the end of the season however and with a full season under their
belt, should come back strong in the fall.
Joining the three existing teams are two completely new
franchises to the league, the Seattle Totems and Southern Oregon Spartans, both
coming from the Northern Pacific Hockey League.
The Spartans and Totems know the WSHL well, having
participated in the Western States Shootout All-League Showcase in Las Vegas
this past season, where each team more than held their own.
They both play a very physical brand of hockey and are
coached exceptionally well, making them an absolute nightmare for opposing
The two squads were the NORPAC's elite and are expected to
compete for the Northwest Division crown immediately.
The divisional travel in the Northwest will be some of the
best in the entire league, second only to the Pacific Division, which is made
up completely of California-based teams.
The Jr. Steelheads call McCall, Idaho home; a small resort
town a couple hours north of Boise. It's a heck of a haul from just about anywhere,
especially when you add snow into the equation.
The two Utah teams are about a six-hour ride from McCall (again,
weather permitting), which isn't a problem at all, in fact, they usually do
single games when playing one another, rather than a three-game weekend set.
The Spartans of Southern Oregon will have the hardest travel
of anyone in the division but even they don't have a bus ride much over twelve-hours,
which is about the trip to play in Utah.
Seattle isn't too far from their former NORPAC rival and is
actually a pretty ride up the coast of Oregon and into Washington. Utah is
around ten hours for the Totems, as well.
The division will have to deal with weather in the winter
but it isn't expected to be a major problem.
In total, intra-division travel will not play much of an
effect on the Northwest Division but outside of the division could be rough,
with each team playing three inter-division away series, due to the fact that
the division only has a total of five teams.
Between travel and competition, this division will be one I
will keep an eye on, as surprises may be in store. Everyone will be gunning for
the champions, the Utah teams should be vastly improved and the two new squads
(to the league, anyway) are already proven winners.
Playoff style hockey all season long is what I expect out of
this division and I can't wait to see it!
Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League