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Western States Hockey League Weekend Preview (November 2-4) Junior Hockey News

Published: Thursday, 1 Nov 2012  
By: Brent Maranto


We're steaming through the season now, as we've already made our way into the month of November. Historically, this is the month where teams really start to make their move, whether it's up or down. Another great weekend of hockey is ahead of us, so sit back and enjoy.

Below is a preview of each weekend series/game:

Wichita Jr. Thunder (4-8-0, 4th in Midwest Division) @ Tulsa Jr. Oilers (1-8-0, 5th in Midwest Division)

Three-game series in Tulsa, Oklahoma

The two first-year franchises in the Midwest Division clashed just a couple of weekends ago in Kansas and will turn around this week and conclude their season series against each other, this time in Oklahoma.

The previous series between the two was close but in each of the three games, the Jr. Thunder had just enough firepower to pull out a victory, behind their top line of Andrii IstominovFilip Martinec and Tomas Nemeth, who is no longer with the team.

After the three defeats, Tulsa had last weekend off to try and regroup, while Wichita traveled to Dallas, only to be swept by the upstart Snipers.

Without Nemeth completing the top line, Wichita struggled to find depth against the Snipers, as Dallas keyed in on Martinec and Istominov, who were still able to pick up some points but had little help.

Tulsa will be fresh and playing at home never hurts but they have also struggled to find much depth early in the season. The Jr. Oilers do play a more physical style than the Jr. Thunder but will have to start putting the puck in the net. Bobby Watson was acquired a few weeks back and has been good for them so far but finding guys to play on his line hasn't been easy.

One thing that both teams have done, is grow considerably, in just their first few weeks in the league. Rob Weingartner and Zac Desjardins have done a terrific job of keeping their players confidence up, despite a bevvy of losses that could work against them.

Both coaches will have their team ready to play this weekend, where points will be at a premium, as these two teams should fight all season for one of the four playoff spots in their division.

Bay Area Seals (3-12-0, 6th in Pacific Division) @ Fresno Monsters (9-0-0, 1st in Pacific Division)

Three-game series in Fresno, California

Just over a month ago, these two teams met in Daly City for three games and combined for 307 penalty minutes in a series that saw a number of suspensions handed down. After the dust had settled, the Monsters had already left town with three lopsided victories and were off to a fast start, as usual.

The Monsters have proven there will be no rebuild in Fresno this season, as they've gone on to win their last six games since their series with the Seals and currently sit atop the division, with a perfect record through nine games.

They've been led offensively by veteran forwards Nick McKee and Justin Plate and with the return of Gunnar Dircks to their blueline, it leaves goaltending as the only real question.

So far, Brenden Manquen and Justin Hubert have hushed the doubters there as well, as both have been solid between the pipes, albeit having few challenges early in the season.

The Seals have continued to falter after a hot start to their first season in the league and after beating Ontario two of three times to begin the season, have now lost 11 of their last 12 and eight straight.

A lot of that has to do with the rash of both injuries and suspensions the team has incurred, as they've skated with far less than the maximum the last few weeks.

They recently got goaltender Ethan Loo back from a suspension he earned in the Fresno series and if he can keep his head, much like the rest of the team, they will be able to put forth a far better effort.

I got a chance to see them play in Valencia last weekend and they weren't a "dirty" team, as their league-leading 614 penalty minutes might indicate. They did take far too many untimely penalties however and many resulted in power play goals for Valencia, who swept them with relative ease.

Bad penalties or not, the Seals are on pace for nearly 1,900 penalty minutes this season. To put it in perspective, the Texas Jr. Brahmas led the league with 1,287 penalty minutes in 46 games last season.

As is the case with many teams struggling, they'll need to help leading scorer Josh Mikes carry the load and will need guys like Wes Starr, who had a solid weekend in Valencia, to continue to chip in offensively.

These teams don't like each other one bit, so put on your seat belts and sit back for what should be an intense weekend of hockey.

Arizona Redhawks (1-9-2, 6th in Mountain Division) @ Dallas Ice Jets (9-0-0, 1st in Midwest Division)

Three-game series in Grapevine, Texas

The Dallas Ice Jets are another one of the three perfect teams left this season but should see a good test with the Arizona Redhawks rolling into town this weekend.

It will be no easy task for an Arizona team decimated by injuries early in the season, as the Ice Jets have had a week off to rest and prepare and always seem to play well at home.

Dallas has been running through teams early in the season and are deeper than ever, as Paul Taylor has them looking like a true contender for the Thorne Cup once again, in only their second year in the league.

He showed why he's one of the best coaches in the league two weekends ago in a home-and-home series with the Dallas Snipers. After winning in a close game in the opener, Taylor made some needed adjustments and had his team flying the next night, in a 7-0 crushing of the Snipers.

They have some of the better offensive depth you'll see and can score with any line. Their defense is just as good and displays both size and speed, which only got stronger with the return of Austin Rehwinkel.

If opponents can find a way to muster any offense, they'll run into Michael Baldwin in net, who recently received a call-up to the North American Hockey League but has since returned.

After the best season in franchise history and first-ever playoff appearence last year, the Arizona Redhawks have struggled in their first year in the Mountain Division.

After a solid opening weekend against Boulder, they haven't been able to pick up a win in their last 10 outings.

I got a chance to talk to head coach Rob Powell earlier this week and he told me that depth has been an issue, especially with so many injuries early in the season.

Only forward TJ West has reached double digits in points and their goaltending has struggled as well.

This is still a team that can steal a game or two on a weekend, even in Grapevine but like Powell said, they'll have to put it together sooner, rather than later.

Ogden Mustangs (7-5-2, 2nd in Mountain Division) @ Boulder Bison (6-3-0, 3rd in Mountain Division)

Three-game series in Superior, Colorado

In another interesting inter-division series, the Ogden Mustangs travel north to Colorado to take on the Boulder Bison for three games.

The two played in the same division last season and Boulder won all six meetings with ease but these aren't the same Mustangs they're used to seeing and should put up much more of a fight this weekend.

In their first season under head coach Jake Laime, the Mustangs have played a physical, in-your-face style that has benefitted them early on.

They have the scoring depth, led by the Slovakian Christian Kraus, as well as the physical play, led by rough-and-tumble forward Kody Rodriguez.

Defensively they've had some breakdowns but more often that not, their goaltending has been there to bail them out.

After an auspicious start to the season, they've found their groove recently and beat-up on the Salt Lake City Moose last weekend.

They'll head into Colorado as a much more confident bunch, who will have to keep winning in order to keep pace with Idaho.

Boulder has been just as good while playing under another new bench boss, as Paul DePuydt has led them to victories in all three of their series this season, including taking two of three from El Paso and Phoenix in consecutive weekends.

They're led by veteran forward Ryan Gauthier but they haven't had to rely on him as much as they have in years past, as they've displayed tremendous depth early in the season.

The biggest change however comes between the pipes, an area in which they struggled all of last year. Dax Deadrick and rookie Colin Champine have been fantastic, keeping the Bison in every game, as all three of their losses have come by just a goal.

Each guy has also picked up three victories and has a save percentage over .900.

They are another team that always seems to play better at home, where the black and white are always flying.

It will be interesting to see how these two match-up against one another, as the Mountain and Northwest Divisions meet in Colorado.

Cheyenne Stampede (2-0-1, 5th in Mountain Division) @ New Mexico Renegades (4-2-0, 4th in Mountain Division)

Three-game series in Rio Rancho, New Mexico

The two teams that got the latest start to the season will meet this weekend in New Mexico, as the "only game in town" is now the Renegades, with the departure of the NAHL's Mustangs.

This is also yet another series with two new head coaches competing against one another (Or three, with New Mexico's co-head coaching situation.)

Marty Quarters had his boys looking solid in their only weekend of play so far this season, where they took five of a possible six points from the Phoenix Knights.

It was a gritty series in which Cheyenne showed the kind of fight they were missing last season, as well as the discipline to not cross the line.

Ryan Demyen had a solid opening weekend for them, notching six points, as did imports Kevin Rosset and Dario Trupina, who collected five each.

We'll see how they respond to the long bus ride south this weekend, as it will be the first junior hockey road trip for many of their players.

The Renegades have been led early on by a handful of junior hockey veterans, including their leading scorer from last season, Kenny Orlando.

Joining Orlando atop the scoring leaders are Luc Fournier and Dakota Beaulieu, who both played junior hockey last season and know what it takes to get the job done.

The Renegades went on the road in their previous two weekends of play this season and both times made the trip to the Sonoran desert, beating both the Redhawks and Knights two out of three times each.

Playing at home, in front of what should be a larger crowd than they're used to, the Renegades will have their hands full with the Stampede, as these two new division foes get acquainted.

Seattle Totems (4-5-1, 4th in Northwest Division) @ Salt Lake City Moose (0-6-1, 5th in Northwest Division)

Three-game series in Salt Lake City, Utah

After a slow start to their first season of WSHL play, the Seattle Totems showed what made them a power in the NORPAC for so many years, with a clean sweep of the Ontario Avalanche last weekend.

This weekend, they'll be back on the road, as they head to Utah for three games against a pesky Moose squad.

Seattle began their WSHL tenure with a few tough games against the long time rival Southern Oregon and then had to make the trip to Idaho for three games, where nobody ever seems to win.

They got back on the right track last weekend however, as they swept the Ontario Avalanche, despite being outshot in every game of the series.

Goaltender Bryce Fink has been fantastic for them early on and has kept them in games they shouldn't be close in and just recently, forwards Brandon Gregoire and Petr Novak have started to heat up.

Seattle benefits from being one of the teams that doesn't lose their heads, as head coach Mike Murphy's squad is one of the more disciplined teams around and makes opponents pay for their mistakes.

This weekend, they'll make their first trip to Salt Lake City and although they are still winless, the Moose are a much improved hockey team.

A record of 0-6-1 doesn't seem that much different from last season's struggles but when you look closely and see that the Moose have already played Idaho five times and came close in a couple of those games, it's easier to understand the early season struggles.

Last weekend, they played a tough series against the nearby Ogden Mustangs and were competitive again, despite losing both games.

They have a decent amount of depth at all positions but don't have a real game changer, as their leading scorer through seven games is defenseman Eli Bowman, with four.

They are a young team however and rookies will grow as the year progresses but they have the ability to steal some games and will need guys to step up. They'll also need to give a little help to their goaltenders, who have been hung out to dry consistently.

They like playing at home on the big ice surface and will be ready to go when Seattle strolls into town on Friday.

El Paso Rhinos (7-2-0, 1st in Mountain Division) @ Phoenix Knights (6-5-1, 2nd in Mountain Division)

Three-game series in Chandler, Arizona

The El Paso Rhinos are hitting their stride and that spells trouble for the Phoenix Knights, who play host to Cory Herman and his boys this weekend.

After a series loss to the Boulder Bison, the Rhinos came back hard last weekend and picked up their second sweep of the Arizona Redhawks this season.

Goaltending has been shaky but the offense has really started to pick up behind rookies Tommy Malkmus and Tyler Brady. Combine their solid start to junior hockey with the consistent play of veterans Mikey RiveraJohn Morales and Chris Wilhite and the Rhinos are their usual nightmarish selves.

They're not the same team on the road however and the upstart Knights will have a chance to get to them early.

After a horrendous 2011-2012, first-year head coach Kurt Goar has turned around the ship in Phoenix and has his Knights right near the top of the Mountain Division.

Defenseman Nick Kujawa, who is one of the few Polar Bears still hanging around, leads the team with 15 points and has been solid at both ends of the ice.

Also having great rookie campaigns are Kyle McClean and Nick Pappas, who are second and third in team scoring, respectively.

They are solid in all areas and play a team-oriented style game that goes through all four of their lines.

The top two teams in the airtight Mountain Division are sure to put on a show, so be sure to check-out this battle in the desert.

Pacific Division Single Games

Long Beach Bombers (4-3-0, 5th in division) @ San Diego Gulls (6-5-0, 4th in division)

Game played Friday in Escondido, California

Valencia Flyers (7-3-1, 2nd in division) @ Ontario Avalanche (7-7-0, 3rd in division)

Game played Friday in Ontario, California

Valencia Flyers @ San Diego Gulls

Game played Saturday in Escondido, California

Long Beach Bombers @ Ontario Avalanche

Game played Saturday in Ontario, California

The entire Pacific Division is in action this weekend, as along with the Fresno/Bay Area series, the four southern California teams will each play two games.

The Ontario Avalanche will look to get back on the winning track after being swept by Seattle last weekend, as they host Valencia on Friday, who they beat 6-5 in a shootout in their lone meeting this season and Long Beach on Saturday, who they are 1-1 against. Goaltender Jesse Gordichuk has been great but needs a little help, as they head into the meat of their schedule.

The Valencia Flyers have now won four straight and will head to Ontario on Saturday, where they'll look to avenge a loss in which they led 3-0 after the first period and lost in their only previous meeting. Their big guns are heating up, as Eddie Keshishian and Austin Ehrlich are tough to slow down and goaltending has been solid as well.  They'll head further south on Saturday, when they take on San Diego.

The Gulls are the hottest of the bunch, having now won six in a row after starting the season 0-5-0. Their top line, led by Justin Lazalde has been fantastic and their goaltending has kept them in games. They're tough to play at home, where they'll host Long Beach and Valencia.

Lastly, the Long Beach Bombers got off to the best start of all but have since cooled off and have struggled without forward Jakub Sramek, who returned home to the Czech Republic. They'll need to find some depth this weekend and help out goaltender Jiri Sykora in games at San Diego and Ontario.


A weekend full of hockey is just what the doctor ordered, so head over to fasthockey.com and catch some WSHL action!


Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League





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