As the nine-day break drags into day four for the Kootenay Ice as they await their opponent in the WHL Finals, here's a look at who they might want as their foe.
Portland edged the Chiefs in Stumptown last night 3-2 to take a similar lead in the best-of-seven series. Game six goes Monday night in Spokane and Game Seven, if necessary, goes the next night back in Portland. Highlites are here.
Safe to say the Ice would like the series to go seven, overtime, too. Some asked the question whether or not the break would harm or help the Ice in the finals. If history serves - they had a similar break between Saskatoon and Medicine Hat - it'll help. All three of Drew Czerwonka (neck), Steele Boomer (concussion) and Brock Montogomery (mono) will be available for the Ed Chynoweth Cup series.
Pick your poison - So who would you like? Most fans, I would assume, want Spokane.
They're a natural rival, only three hours down the road and the two have a history in what would be a rematch of the 2000 WHL Finals. The two cities have a deep history and tradition in hockey going back to the 1950's and the senior Cranbrook Royals and Kimberley Dynamiter and the Spokane Flyers, Jets(1960's) and then Flyers again in the 70's.
In the five game regular season series the Ice dumped the Chiefs 6-2 and 6-3 in the first two match-ups. Most remember what happened next in the outdoor game January 15, an 11-2 romp by the Chiefs. Spokane grabbed the last two games with a 5-2 win and a 4-3 shootout win to end the match-up. They sport a line-up that doesn't look deep on paper but get's the job done. Tyler Johnson, Levko Koper, Brenden Kichton leading the team in scoring and NHL first-rounder (Ottawa) Jared Cowan. James Reid in the nets isn't bad either.
The Winterhawks and Ice only met once this season - as they have for the last five seasons - a 5-3 win for the Ice in Portland in December. Match-up wise the Winterhawks are deep, deep up front. Ryan Johansen, Craig Cunningham, Sven Bartschi, Ty Rattie and Nino Niederreiter along with super-pest Brad Ross as the Hawks top-six.
On the blueline they're lead by Joe Morrow, Taylor Aronson, Troy Rutkowski, Brett Ponich and 2009 Top Bantam Draft pick D Derrick Pouliot. He was selected just ahead of Moose Jaw's Morgan Reilly who the Ice saw in the first round.
All-told the Hawks have a number one overall pick, a number two, a number five and two stellar import draft picks in Niederreiter and Bartschi.
With the Hawks an anticipated match-up of pests would be in order as Brad Ross, a Maple Leaf prospect, and Ice forward Jesse Ismond would be trying to one-up each other each shift.
Lots of talk of Hawks goaltender Mac Carruth and how he matches up. I think Nathan Lieuwen's play of late dicates an advantage but Carruth's got the job done for the Hawks so far.
The Winterhawks also had a tradition of holding the beginning of their annual training camp in Kimberley for a number of seasons in the late 80's and early 90's with the Junior A version of the Kimberley Dynamiters (RMJHL) an affiliate of the Winterhawks when Major Junior teams had such things.
On that note the return of Steele Boomer presents somewhat of a quandary for Ice head coach Kris Knoblauch. Does he interrupt the chemistry of the King-Eakin-Ismond line that formed after Boomer's injury in game one of the Tigers series? Moving Eakin to centre energized the line on the score-sheet with Ismond disturbing things enough to give both King and Eakin time and space. The Fraser-Reinhart-Antilla trio are going to stay intact but with Boomer back, along with Czerwonka, a third unit of Boomer centering Czerwonka and Pearce on the wings. Pearce is a natural centre but could easily play the wing on that line. The fourth unit becomes a lot deeper with the choice of Montgomery, Hurley or Benoit on the wings and Rossignol or Sam Reinhart at centre. The time-honoured tradition of an injury not claiming your spot in the line-up might not apply here. Boomer's great on faceoffs and a better overall defensive player but there's no denying the offensive wake-up of both Eakin and King during the Tiger series. It's a good problem to have...
As per Jeff Hollick's blog, the buildings in Spokane and Portland are open for the weekend to start the finals on both Friday and Saturday so games three and four will most certainly be back at the Plex Tuesday, Wednesday May 10,11.