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Sunday, December 12, 2004

Eye on the WHL: Tidbits from the junior league

The playoff race in the BC Division of the Western Hockey League is beginning to become clear already. To clarify, the four teams that will most likely make it to the post season are becoming evident. Not even three months into the season, it looks as if the Kamloops Blazers will miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history – a distinction that does not sit well with the organization, or the fans. Heading into action on December 12, the Blazers sit six points behind their fierce rivals to the north, the Prince George Cougars.

What makes things worse for the Blazers is that their number one goaltender, Devan Dubnyk, who has started all but three of the first thirty-three games of the year, is headed to the national junior selection camp. Should he make the team, rookie goaltender Michael Maniago will hold the fort for the Blazers’ next six or seven games. Maniago has plenty of talent, but that’s a great deal of pressure to heave onto a sixteen year old rookie.

What may make things even more grim for Kamloops is the fact that the Cougars will play twelve of their next fourteen games at home, a string that includes the next eight straight on friendly territory. It may sound funny this early in the season, but it’s make-or-break it time for the Blazers. They need a solid effort to grab that last playoff spot in the division, and the next week or two could be incredibly decisive.

In the Central Division, what’s going on with the Medicine Hat Tigers? The Hat has won only one of its last ten games, and has not only fallen from the second spot in the CHL rankings; they have fallen 6 points behind division leading Lethbridge and are now only two points ahead of the fourth place Red Deer Rebels.

The Tigers boast a line-up that is riddled with all-star talent that includes forwards Stefan Meyer and Clarke MacArthur, defenseman Cam Barker, and national junior attendee, goalie Kevin Nastiuk. With a line-up like that, they can’t possibly continue down the road to mediocrity….can they?

Stay tuned for further junior jottings.

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