With the 2019 WHL Playoffs underway, WHL.ca provides a look in at each of the conference championship matchups across the league.
With a general introduction, vital statistics and keys to the series, we’ve got everything you need to know heading into the conference championship round of the 2019 WHL Playoffs. Plus, we will kick it up a notch with a highlight reel featuring key moments from the head-to-head season series.
While the usual suspects are well known, our ‘Players to Watch’ section will take a deeper dive into some of the supporting characters set to take on a big role in the post-season.
We close each of our series previews with a quick look to the past for a brief historical take on the rivalry that exists – or stands to ignite.
In our second of two 2019 WHL Playoffs Conference Championship previews, we examine the Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs.
A fierce battle for the Western Hockey League’s Western Conference Championship will ignite between the Vancouver Giants and Spokane Chiefs.
Coming off a 4-1 series win against the Everett Silvertips in the second round, the Spokane Chiefs will be hot with momentum; a characteristic that could be dangerous for the Giants. But with Vancouver’s 3-1-0-0 record in the regular season and their four-game series sweep over the Victoria Royals, the Giants are looking pretty hot too.
During the regular season, it was a tight contest between the two teams. While Vancouver won three of the four games, Spokane wasn’t far behind, losing in a shootout, a one-goal game and a two-goal game, proving they are just as capable to compete in this series.
This will mark the fourth meeting in WHL Playoff history between the Chiefs and Giants with Spokane holding two playoff-series wins over Vancouver, the most recent win going to the Chiefs in 2012, 4-2. Both teams had star-studded rosters including NHL names like Jason Fram, Brenden Kichton, Dominik Uher and Darren Kramer for the Chiefs and Brendan Gallagher, Brett Kulak and Jordan Martinook for the Giants.
Captain Jared Dmytriw will be a dependable leader for the Giants as he recorded the most points against the Chiefs this season as well as six points in Vancouver’s second-round series against the Royals. The trio of Davis Koch, Tristen Nielsen and Dallas Hines are also promising leaders for Vancouver.
For the Chiefs, Riley Woods led all players this season with six points against the Giants. With the help of top prospects, Adam Beckman and Luke Toporowski, as well as mid-season acquisition Luc Smith, Spokane’s offence will be ready to match Vancouver’s.
There’s no shortage of flashy and talented defencemen in this series. All eyes are on what some call Vancouver’s spark: Bowen Byram. As the top-ranked CHL player ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, Byram has been pulling out all the stops, including leading all defenceman in the WHL with 13 points, ensuring a strong performance before draft day in June. On the opposing blue line, New Jersey Devils prospect and Western Conference Defenceman of the Year, Ty Smith, has also played a key role in Spokane’s success, shutting down the Portland Winterhawks and Everett Silvertips’ top offensive lines in the first and second rounds.
For goaltenders, it’s a two-on-one battle between Vancouver’s split talents of 2019 NHL Draft prospect Trent Miner and Arizona Coyotes prospect David Tendeck against Spokane’s Bailey Brkin, a standout star in the second round. After being awarded the second star of the WHL’s second round three stars with a 4-1-0-0 record, 1.81 goals-against average and .942 save percentage, Brkin looks ready to take on Miner and Tendeck in the Western Conference Championship.
The series will get underway at the Langley Events Centre on Friday, April 19 (7:30 p.m. PT) with Game 2 on the following night (7:00 p.m. PT). Games 3 and 4 will then shift to Spokane at the Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on Tuesday, April 23 (7:05 p.m. PT) and Wednesday, April 24 (7:05 p.m. PT).
Game 1 – Friday, April 19 – Langley Events Centre – Vancouver – 7:30 p.m. PT
Game 2 – Saturday, April 20 – Langley Events Centre – Vancouver – 7:00 p.m. PT Game 3 – Tuesday, April 23 – Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena – Spokane – 7:05 p.m. PT Game 4 – Wednesday, April 24 – Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena – Spokane – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 5* – Friday, April 26 – Langley Events Centre – Vancouver – 7:30 p.m. PT Game 6* – Monday, April 29 – Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena – Spokane – 7:05 p.m. PT
Game 7* – Tuesday, April 30 – Langley Events Centre – Vancouver – 7:00 p.m. PT
While playoff excitement and energy still pump strong, at this point in the season, some players may be starting to feel the grind of post-season hockey. While the Giants don’t show any signs of slowing down their momentum, they have been caught flat-footed against the Chiefs in the regular season, particularly in their only loss to the Chiefs on March 8, 2019. Ensuring both the defence and forwards are sharp on their toes is essential to their success, not only during the centre of the play but any time they are on the ice. Finishing their checks, shadowing a guy for an extra few seconds and blocking as many shots as they can are all essential items to a tough team to play.
Key to the Series – Spokane Chiefs
Not only did the Chiefs lead the league in power play success at 29.1 per cent, but they have continued to dominate the field in WHL Playoffs as well, scoring on 48 per cent of their power plays. However, the aforementioned regular season record didn’t present itself as strongly against the Giants with Spokane only scoring on four of their 19 power-play opportunities. If Spokane continues to draw penalties from the Giants, they would be wise to continue to focus on their special team units to improve their chances of scoring on the power play.
Forward to Watch – Vancouver Giants
Tristen Nielsen (14-21 – 35): Tristen Nielsen, an early-season acquisition from the Calgary Hitmen, has proven to be a vital member of the Giants’ offensive force in the 2019 WHL Playoffs. The 19-year-old sits third-overall in scoring for the Giants with 10 points (3G-7A) in 10 games, including one power-play goal and one game-winning goal. While he may not be a flashy player like Bowen Byram, Nielsen is always in the right spot at the right time and works hard every second he’s on the ice, characteristics that go a long way in playoff hockey.
Forward to Watch – Spokane Chiefs
Jaret Anderson-Dolan (20-23-43): The co-captain of the Chiefs has been a strong offensive contributor to Spokane’s success in the playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings prospect has recorded 10 points (3G-7A) in the playoffs and completes any pairing he is set with. As a multi-dimensional player, Anderson-Dolan has proven he can work with the Chiefs’ best including Riley Woods, 2019 NHL Draft prospect Adam Beckman, Ty Smith (New Jersey Devils), Filip Kral (Toronto Maple Leafs) and Luc Smith. His ability to work his magic with just about any player will be useful against Vancouver because the Giant’s won’t necessarily be able to pinpoint his line or how to shut him down.
Defenceman to Watch – Vancouver Giants
Dallas Hines (8-18 – 26): Dallas Hines is also a versatile player that fits in well with multiple lines. Particularly his work with Tristen Nielsen and Owen Hardy has been successful in the playoffs, recording four of his five points (3G-2A) in conjunction with the aforementioned players.
Recording 26 points (8G-18A) points this season between the 63 games he split between the Kootenay ICE and Vancouver Giants, Hines has stepped up his game in playoffs, increasing his point-per-game average to 50 per cent.
Filip Kral (10-26-36): Filip Kral is known as a strong neutral zone defender that specializes at even strength play. While the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect has only recorded two assists in the playoffs, he contributes much more defensively to ensure that the Chiefs don’t get scored on and his plus-two rating in nine playoff games shows it. His regular-season record also speaks for itself finishing with a plus-17 rating, the highest among Chiefs’ defencemen in the regular season. If Kral can continue to defend the blueline as he has for Spokane and shut down Vancouver’s offence, the Chief’s will be one step closer to success.
Goaltender to Watch – Vancouver Giants
David Tendeck: (38 GP, 24-10-2-1, 2.84 GAA, .911 SV%, 4 SO): Winning both games he appeared in against the Chiefs, David Tendeck (Arizona Coyotes) has a solid record against Spokane that may be daunting to go up against. Stopping an average of 84 per cent of Spokane’s shots for both games, Tendeck will look to increase his save percentage this go around to bolster his team’s success.
Goaltender to Watch – Spokane Chiefs
Bailey Brkin (45 GP, 41-15-2-2, 1.69 GAA, .936 SV%, 7 SO): Bailey Brkin stood on his head for the Chiefs in the last round and it would not come as a shock to see him continue the trend. He sported a 4-1-0-0 record, 1.81 goals-against average and stopped 145 of 154 shots for a .942 save percentage in Spokane’s series against the Silvertips, earning the second star of the WHL’s Three Stars of the Second Round.
While it may be a two-on-one battle between Vancouver’s two goaltenders versus Brkin, his recent success and .910 SV% against the Giants in two games this season may see him as the top goaltender of the series.
Vancouver will look to their history in 2009 where they won the series 4-3, for inspiration against the Chiefs. However, there is one notable difference. While the likes of now-NHL superstars Brendan Gallagher, Brett Kulak, Jordan Matinook and the legendary Don Hay as head coach were on the Giants’ roster in 2009, the team now looks a lot different and sees success from the collective efforts of all four lines instead of star-studded approach.
This could have a lasting impact on the Chiefs and potentially even the WHL playoff history score if the collective approach from the Giants is proven successful in the Western Conference Championship.
With a WHL Playoff history lead, the Chiefs will look to continue their Western Conference Championship record and advance to the WHL Championship – a success they have seen in both 1991 and 2008. The Chiefs will look to replicate their success 11 years later and get past Vancouver again.
Head-to-Head Playoff History – Vancouver Giants at Spokane Chiefs
2011-2012: Spokane Chiefs defeat Vancouver Giants 4-2 in Western Conference First Round
2008-09: Vancouver Giants defeat Spokane Chiefs 4-3 in Western Conference Second Round
2007-08: Spokane Chiefs defeat Vancouver Giants 4-2 in Western Conference Second Round