The WHL is about one-third into its regular season schedule.
There is still a big discrepancy in games played between some of the teams.
For example, Wenatchee has already played 25 of its 68 games while Seattle and Spokane have only played 19.
Arena availability comes into play, but it is strange to see a six-game difference between U.S. Division teams with a week left in November.
With this in mind, here are some Western Conference thoughts to date.
Best team: Prince George Cougars. At 16-6, the Cougars have the best record in addition to the best power play at 31.2 % and the second-best penalty kill at 86.6 % (behind Seattle). What is most impressive about Prince George is that they have not lost two games in a row.
Team to watch: Wenatchee Wild. Wenatchee started with just three wins in its first 10 games (3-6-1) but has since gone 12-2-1 to get to 15-8-2. The Wild recently got Matthew Savoie back from the Buffalo Sabres and it did not take long for him to make an impact with 3 goals and 1 assist in an 8-6 victory in Spokane on Saturday (Nov 18th). Savoie was the 9th overall pick in 2022 NHL Draft. When based out of Winnipeg, the Wild came first in the Eastern Conference in 2023 and reached the Eastern Conference final in 2022. Wenatchee struggled out of the gate following a coaching change and not having all of its players back from the NHL, but the Wild have a roster, including goalie Daniel Hauser, that is more than capable of not only winning the West but the entire WHL.
The most disappointing team: Kamloops Blazers. We all knew the Blazers would take a tumble in 2023-24 after hosting the Memorial Cup last season, but I did not expect them to go from first (in the B.C. Division) to worst. The (5-13-2-2) Blazers have not only the worst record in the division but in the entire Western Conference and they sit 21st out of 22 teams in the league, only one point ahead of the Edmonton Oil Kings.
The team sinking quickly: Kelowna Rockets. The (8-13-2) Rockets had lost nine straight before scoring a 4-1 victory on Tuesday over the Lethbridge Hurricanes. Overall, they have dropped 10 of their last 11 to sink to second last in the Western Conference. During the losing streak, they found different ways to tumble and it hit rock bottom Saturday against Prince George. The Rockets led 4-1 with a minute left in the second period but lost 5-4 to the Cougars before 5,000 fans in Kelowna. The Rockets are last in the 22-team league on the penalty kill and while they are 8th on the power play, they have surrendered a league-high 10 short-handed goals against.
Best Division: U.S. Division. There are six teams, none of them bad. Spokane is last but the Chiefs are 8-9-2 and have only been blown out once, a 6-2 loss to Everett on Oct 28th. Five of the six teams have a winning record and four of them have a winning percentage of over .600. All six could make the 8-team Western Conference playoffs, although that is doubtful because the three weak B.C. Division teams will get points by playing each other so often.
The most surprising team: Victoria Royals. The Royals started 0-4 including back-to-back home losses to Prince George by scores of 11-2 and 5-3. Shortly after they traded two of their top players to the Moose Jaw Warriors on October 5th and fired head coach Dan Price, a month later on Nov. 6th replacing him with former Winnipeg Ice coach James Patrick. The 12-9-0-2 Royals are a solid second in the B.C. Division and in the middle of the Western Conference standings.
Most surprising skater: Terik Parascak, Prince George Cougars. The 17-year-old 4th-round Prospects pick has a whopping 21 goals (three of them shorthanded), 34 points and is plus 17. He is seventh in league scoring and second in goals. He is one of two super rookies with the Cougars. Wow!
Most surprising goalie: Josh Ravensbergen, Prince George Cougars. He is the other Prince George super rookie. In just eight starts, he has four shutouts. Ravensbergen, who turns 17 on Monday, is first among WHL goalies in save percentage (0.931) and second in goals-against-average (1.97). He has a 7-1 record in 10 appearances. Wow!
Conclusion: The three best teams are Prince George, Wenatchee and Portland while the three worst teams are Vancouver, Kelowna and Kamloops. The sleeper team is Everett. The (14-9-1) Silvertips never miss the playoffs and are always competitive. They quietly have three players averaging a point per game and starting goalie Tyler Palmer has a 2.31 GAA which is 4th best in the league to go along with a .914 save percentage. The Western Conference is wide open with no superpower teams like last season (Seattle and Kamloops were head and shoulders the best in 2022-23). What teams do between now and the January 10th trade deadline, could be the tipping point as to which team may have the inside track to being on top come playoffs.
Cat Scan podcast:
This is season six of Hartley’s Cat Scan, a weekly podcast show that predominately features the PG Cougars.
This week my guest is Jim Playfair, Cougars Associate Coach.
The pride of FS James Jim Playfair, @PGCougars Associate Coach, is this week’s guest on the Cat Scan #podcast. He talks about his 2-year contract, breaking down the team’s 16-6 start, coaching responsibilities, not losing back-to-back games, strong goaltending & penalty kill. https://t.co/0xJ5BO6O8J
— Hartley Miller (@Hartley_Miller) November 21, 2023
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
Nothing is certain but death, taxes, and the Detroit Lions, even in their best year, playing a turkey game on Thanksgiving.
After Pittsburgh’s 13-10 loss to Cleveland, The Denver Broncos have taken over the title of sloppiest victors in the league. If this winning ugly trend continues, there’s talk of bringing Tim Tebow back as an honorary captain.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
CNBC recently reported Cirque du Soleil wanted to hire about 450 new performers. That may include over 75 tightrope walkers, although that’s still up in the air.
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. After growing up in Winnipeg, he has lived in Prince George for the last 44 years and is in his 11th season as the radio colour commentator on the Prince George Cougars home games. Hartley is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).