With the first half of the season officially in the books, we move now into the new year, with all 22 teams still holding hopes of post-season hockey. There have been a few changes around the league and there are surely more still to come, so sit tight and watch closely as this race comes down to the wire.
Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:
Ontario Avalanche (15-13-0, T-3rd in Pacific Division) @ Bay Area Seals (9-15-1, 6th in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Daly City, California
The two first-year teams in the Pacific Division will open 2013 against one another and both are looking like they're just starting to hit their stride.
The Ontario Avalanche looked solid at the Showcase, where they went 2-2-0 but beat two good hockey teams in the Boulder Bison and Southern Oregon Spartans and also took Idaho to the edge, before falling by a score of 2-1.
Prior to their success in Las Vegas, they took one of three games in Fresno from the Monsters and at the time, were the only team to defeat the top team in the Pacific Division.
Head Coach Chris Shaw has his team playing hungry hockey and they don't take a shift off. The best example of this is assistant captain Sean Carpenter, who is a workhorse that was rewarded for his efforts with the first hat-trick in Avalanche history, coming in a 4-1 over Boulder.
They will also be seeking revenge against the team that beat them two out of three to open the inaugural season for both teams.
The Bay Area Seals were the surprise of the Showcase and one of only three teams to go undefeated, a perfect 4-0-0 in Las Vegas.
They didn't play the stiffest of competition but they played the most complete hockey we've seen out of them and looked like a formidable opponent.
The biggest key to their success was the acquisition of three Slovakian players, who jumped right into the lineup and immediately helped the team win games.
Goaltender Filip Orcik won all three games he started and looked very good in doing so, while fellow countrymen Kristian Kucera and Filip Ondracek each played on the top forward line and sparked the offense from the start.
Defenseman Ladislav Hruska is also back and looking like his old self, after sitting out a handful of games for a suspension early in the season.
Combine everything with a pinch of confidence and the Seals can very easily climb the standings and snag a playoff spot but they have to continue their momentum and that begins with three games against one of the most disciplined teams in the league this weekend.
Tulsa Jr. Oilers (6-19-0, 5th in Midwest Division) @ Texas Jr. Brahmas (13-14-2, 2nd in Midwest Division)
Three-game series in North Richland Hills, Texas
Another surprise in Las Vegas, was the play of the Texas Jr. Brahmas, who also went undefeated while playing some of their best hockey of the season.
Jeremy Law and company began the week with a surprise victory over Southern Oregon, before taking down Arizona in overtime and then dispatching Seattle and New Mexico.
They did it through depth and got everyone in on the action, while also getting timely saves from their goaltenders.
The talent has been there all season, they just hadn't been able to put it all together for a full weekend but they did that and then some at the Showcase.
They've now won seven of their last eight and are in for a battle the rest of the way with the Dallas Snipers for the second playoff spot, behind the Dallas Ice Jets.
This weekend, they'll look to keep the momentum alive with three games against the Tulsa Jr. Oilers, who had an up and down Showcase.
With Wichita going winless over their four Showcase contests, Tulsa had a great chance to gain some ground and did but probably not as much as they would have liked.
They beat New Mexico to open things up but then lost in close games to Phoenix and Salt Lake City, before getting blown out by Bay Area.
Their offense is still led by Bobby Watson but he now has a trusty sidekick in similar forward David Morong, who was very good in Vegas.
They're still in search of some more offensive depth but that wasn't the problem in Las Vegas, where their defense struggled mightily to help out their goaltenders, who were hung out to dry far too often.
Head Coach Zach Desjardins has been working hard to make some changes and he hopes the second half begins with a couple of big divisional wins to get things going in the right direction.
Valencia Flyers (14-10-2, T-3rd in Pacific Division) @ Southern Oregon Spartans (13-10-0, 3rd in Northwest Division)
Three-game series in Medford, Oregon
If you want some changes, look no further than the Southern Oregon Renegades, I mean, the Southern Oregon Spartans.
After a rough Showcase capped off a sub-par first half, the Spartans decided to let Head Coach Mike Stanaway go, which drew the ire of a handful of their top veteran players.
Just minutes after being let go, Stanaway hooked on with the New Mexico Renegades and then helped work out a deal with his former team and put together a league-record 14-player trade that brought Tim Talty, Nick Stirmel, Robby Gervino, Nick DeSimone, Scott Dunham, Tyler Dunn and Lane King to New Mexico.
The Spartans quickly named Joe Grimaldi their new head coach and will welcome in the following seven players from the Renegades this weekend, when they play host to the Valencia Flyers: Dan Doyle, Mike Martelli, Wilhelm Brodin, Jordan Smith, Wyatt Watkins, Max Rasmussen and Zach Lovelace.
Many believe New Mexico got the better end of the deal but Southern Oregon needed a change in culture and with a new coach and seven new faces in the lineup, they got just that.
They'll have to find some chemistry right away, as Valencia is no slouch and the Northwest Division is really starting to pack up.
The fans in Medford will hardly recognize their team but that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
The Valencia Flyers don't have any recent changes to report but are coming off a tough Showcase as well, in which they went 1-3-0.
They play in the tightest division in the league and with Ontario and San Diego heating up, they'll need some points to keep pace.
Look for veteran forward Austin Ehrlich to get hot down the stretch and if they can add one or two pieces to the lineup like they did last season, they can easily challenge Fresno for the division.
Nobody knows what to expect this weekend in Medford but six points are on the line and both teams will be working hard to earn them.
Fresno Monsters (19-3-0, 1st in Pacific Division) @ Long Beach Bombers (11-14-1, 5th in Pacific Division)
Three-game series in Lakewood, California
The top dog in the Pacific Division is also in action this weekend, as the Fresno Monsters head south to Lakewood for three with the Long Beach Bombers.
Fresno looked good at the Showcase, while going 2-2-0 and nearly upending the Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
Fresno has been battling some injuries as of late but sit well atop the division but they do play a ton of divisional games down the stretch.
They are led by veteran forward Nick McKee, who was very good in Las Vegas and their goaltending, which was thought to be a weakness, has really come on as of late.
They are still one of the league's elite but will have to play hard all the way through the second half and into the playoffs, where they seemed to falter late last year.
Long Beach began the season hot and tailed off considerably, before a 2-2-0 showing at the Showcase.
They have battled injuries all season and have lost a few key players but still have one of the best goaltenders in the entire league, in Jiri Sykora and a top forward in Nikita Korotkov.
Bay Area is right on their heels and the Bombers have a ways to go if they want to jump into the playoff picture but a couple of wins against Fresno could go along way for their confidence to begin the new year.
Salt Lake City Moose (7-11-1, 5th in Northwest Division) @ Ogden Mustangs (14-13-5, 2nd in Northwest Division)
Two-game series in Ogden, Utah
The battle of Utah rages on in 2013, as the Salt Lake City Moose head to Ogden for two Northwest Division games against the Mustangs.
Both teams are much improved in their second seasons in the league but Ogden has dominated the rivalry, going 5-1-1 against their in-state rival this season.
Ogden looked good aesthetically at the Showcase, rocking some nice new uniforms but struggled to find their groove on the ice.
They opened the event with a great showing in a loss to El Paso but then lost to the Dallas Snipers, a team many thought they should have beat.
Ogden than pulled it together and took down New Mexico, before falling to San Diego to conclude their Showcase.
In all, they showed flashes of brilliance but Head Coach Jake Laime didn't look very happy with the way his team played overall.
They have immense talent, as much as any other team in the league but they have the tendency to get into penalty trouble and then take shifts off.
Christian Kraus is one of the most skilled players in the league when he wants to be and they've continued to acquire players throughout the season to help him out.
Their goaltending is solid with Tyler Fallica in net and their defense has really started to come around, led by Aaron Peters.
They should be one of the league's elite but haven't shown the consistency to be considered that just yet. This weekend, they'll have a chance to start the year right by concluding their season series with Salt Lake City, with two games at home.
The Moose have a chance to make a run in the second half and push for the playoffs, despite currently sitting dead last in the division.
They went 2-2-0 at the showcase and were in every game, a big change from last season.
Patrick Dwyer continues to lead the way offensively but will need some help if they want to really make a move.
Goaltending continues to be a strong suit, with both Talon Miller and Alex Burdekin able to steal games when they need to.
They haven't been a pushover against Ogden but have been outplayed for most of the season series but can end well with two big wins to start 2013.
Dallas Snipers (10-12-3, 3rd in Midwest Division) vs. Dallas Ice Jets (24-2-0, 1st in Midwest Division)
Home-and-home series, played Friday in Grapevine and Saturday in Plano, Texas
The other in-state rivalry of the weekend features a home-and-home series between the Dallas Snipers and Dallas Ice Jets.
The Ice Jets put together a strong showcase, going 3-1-0, with their only loss coming to the Idaho Jr. Steelheads but I still feel like they didn't play as well as they can.
Conner Enciso and Brandon Unser were solid all week and goaltenders Brody Sharp and Michael Baldwin were their usual steady selves.
There's little doubt this team will win the division but it will be interesting to see how they play down the stretch, with little to play for.
They don't play down to the competition and take care of business when they have to and that's what they'll look to do in two games against a pesky Dallas Snipers squad.
The Snipers went 2-2-0 at the showcase, including an impressive 3-1 win over the Ogden Mustangs.
They've been up and down a bit but when they're on their game, they are a very tough opponent.
Goaltending has been solid, led by Alex Bebriss-Fedotovs, their forwards, led by Shane Bonds and JJ Pitchley, can score with anyone but defense has been questionable some nights.
They are almost guaranteed of their first-ever playoff appearance but it will be interesting to see where they finish, as a strong second half would be huge for their confidence.
We'll be back to wrap things up on Sunday, so be sure to check back then for what should be an interesting weekend of hockey.
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League