(Photo by Manny Brizuela, WSHL)
Article written prior to Jan 4. 2020*
The Western States Hockey League is about half way through its 26th season and returned to action yesterday after enjoying a holiday break. Most recent action concluded as the Timberwolves defeated the Cold Lake Hornets 6-2, and out of Las Vegas in the 19th annual Western States Shootout, also known as, Showcase.
At the midway point of the season, several things become apparent and we’ll provide brief notes on the current state of each team.
The Barrhead Bombers have struggled mightily in their first season in Canada. Since relocating from Long Beach to Barrhead, the Bombers are enduring their worst start in team history. Off the wake of four straight Thorne Cup appearances, the new team has been vastly overwhelmed ending the 2019 year at the bottom of the Provincial Division.
Scoring Leaders: Raf Lambert Dodginghorse 13 Goals; Oleksandr Davydenko 13 Assists; Stran Backfat Redcrow 22 Points
Goalie Leaders: Brandon Lakusta 1W-8L .868 SV%; Ian Sotlar 1W-6L .880 SV%; Liam Donnelly 1W-3L .884 SV%
The Bellingham Blazers had a slow start but have since picked it up and managed a convincing win over the Oklahoma City Blazers at Showcase. Bellingham is currently four points behind third place Seattle Totems, in the Northwest Division. Despite losing an All-Time Scorer in Jamahl Eakett, and the stopping power of Kolter Pawlick to Canadian rivals, the Blazers have trekked forward with Milo Schneidmiller and Saahil Mann—along with a host of others. Bellingham will have a big test in the second half of the season as six games against Ogden and another six against Utah are on the slate. Ideally, Bellingham would like to make a second straight appearance at the Thorne Cup.
Scoring Leaders: Milo Schneidmiller 22 Goals; Daniel Hebert 17 Assists; Milo Schneidmiller 36 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Saahil Mann 5W-6L-1OTL .914 SV%; Sam Miland 3W-3L .884 SV%; Matt Lee 3W-4L .872 SV%
Cold Lake Hornets:
The Cold Lake Hornets are in their first year playing as the Hornets and have out paced the Bombers in the point race. The Hornets didn’t have the most pleasant start dropping two straight to the Bombers and conceding a slew goals in the two games. Although Cold Lake has struggled against the Edson Aeros, they forced wins against the remainder of their division since their start, including a big upset over the No. 2 Hinton Timberwolves. The Hornets Yauheni Lavrov stands out for the team as he led the WSHL in scoring in the three games at Showcase. Cold Lake is just one point from being tied for third place in the Provincial Division, behind the Meadow Lake Mustangs.
Scoring Leaders: Yauheni Lavrov 21 Goals; Anson Smith 20 Assists; Yauheni Lavrov 40 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Riley Tucker 5W-10L .893 SV%; Jakub Prokop 1W-3L .872 SV%; Jackson Seltenrich 0W-1L-1OTL; Bryton Sipp 0W-0L-1OTL .818 SV%
The Dallas Snipers have the potential to reach new heights as they find themselves 10 points from a second place position in the league’s toughest division. Currently, the Snipers are in fourth trailing the Northern Colorado Eagles by six points, or two regulation wins. Dallas started the season with one objective in mind, and that was to go from the periphery of competition to Thorne Cup contender status. They ended 2019 with a sweep of their opponents at Showcase and they will have a four game win-streak to extend going into their first clash of the New Year against the El Paso Rhinos.
Scoring Leaders: Bradley Richardson 19 Goals; Arvidas Domeika 25 Assists; Bradley Richardson 41 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Alexander Aleshkin 11W-6L-3OTL .933 SV%; Brady Weiss 2W-0L-1OTL .924 SV%; Albin Klockare 3W-4L-2OTL .889 SV%
Edson has done well in replicating their dominant inaugural season performance. The Aeros received a big boost when they returned Sebastian Heden and have been able to rely on clutch goaltending in Gregory Smith. The acquisition of Niklas Froden from the Rhinos has been fruitful as he leads the team in scoring. Edson was owner of the leagues longest win streak of 21 wins, which surpassed Ogden’s record setting 20 game win streak. However, Ogden snapped their streak by defeating them at Showcase, though Edson remains undefeated at home. The Aeros are five points ahead of second place Hinton with 66 points, are the fourth highest scoring team in the WSHL, and have the second fewest goals against. The objective for Edson is nothing short of a second straight Thorne Cup appearance, and hopefully go further than a semi-final round exit.
Scoring Leaders: Niklas Froden 21 Goals; Axel Sodergren 30 Assists; Kevin Lundin 46 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Filip Myrskog 5W-0L .946 SV%; Gregory Smith 14W-2L .935 SV%
El Paso Rhinos:
The Rhinos are looking like the Rhinos. They are sitting comfortably in first place of the Midwest-Mountain division with 84 points and are No. 1 overall based on points. The Rhinos are now holders of the longest active win streak with seven straight wins since their 5-4 overtime loss to the Pueblo Bulls. El Paso seems to be in decent shape and surely gauged where they are, at this point in the season, when they defeated the Ogden Mustangs at Showcase and never allowing them to find their game. El Paso has jumped out to 174 goals making them the second highest scoring team in the WSHL—a characteristic that will surely bolster their aspirations of a third consecutive Thorne Cup championship. The Rhinos acquired some skilled experience when they traded for Wichita’s Marcus Ohlsson-Ornelius, and Seattle’s Michele Vignoli.
Scoring Leaders: Sam Sykes 24 Goals; Sebastian Jovicic 36 Assists; Niklas Ornmarker 46 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Sawyer Schmidt 14W-2L-1OTL .930 SV%; Oliver Soovik 11W-2L .929 SV%; Cameron Cornish 1W-0L 1.000 SV%.
The Monsters are enjoying one of their more successful first halves to a season in recent memory as they are firmly in the one-spot of the Western Division. Fresno was stunned early in the year dropping four straight games to the expansion team, Las Vegas Thunderbirds, but steered their road-heavy first half to more successful results. Fresno made it clear that they weren’t going to veer away from the course that former head coach, Kevin Kaminski laid out. Under Trevor Karaseiwicz, the Monsters, so far, remain undefeated at home with eight wins between Gateway Ice Center and Selland Arena. The Monsters outscore second place, San Diego Sabers, by 58 goals while Max Karlenzig has been responsible for the bulk of their goal suppressing efforts.
Scoring Leaders: Zackory Turpin 29 Goals; Narek Aleksanyan 37 Assists; Narek Aleksanyan 60 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Jayden Pasillas 2W-0L-0OTL .935 SV%; Sebastian Nilsson 2W-0L-0OTL .930 SV%; Max Karlenzig 10W-3L-2OTL .926 SV%; Nathan Girard 5W-4L-0OTL .887 SV%
Hinton is in its first year playing as the Timberwolves and have really turned heads with a far more dominant showing this first half of the 2019-2020 campaign. Hinton was second in the division last year but did not have the same scoring potency or winning frequency as they do now. The Timberwolves have really only faced adversity when against the Edson Aeros, and a single time against the Cold Lake Hornets. Hinton is nipping at the hull of the Aeros trailing by only five points for the division’s top spot. The big key for the Timberwolves is arguably their leading scorer, Jamahl Eakett, who leads the WSHL in Goals, Assists, Power Play Goals, and PP Points. Although Kolter Pawlick showed up as a highly touted netminder, it has been the work of their goalie tandem in Adam Robertson and Carter Wickson who both have fairly high save percentages.
Scoring Leaders: Jamahl Eakett 41 Goals; 34 Assists; 75 Points
Goalie Leaders: Adam Robertson 10W-2L .935 SV%; Carter Wickson 6W-2L .937 SV%; Kolter Pawlick 3W-1L-1OTL .937 SV%
Las Vegas Thunderbirds:
The story with the Thunderbirds began with four straight wins over the Western Division’s top returning team, Fresno Monsters. Las Vegas started the season with eight consecutive wins and went through every team in the division. The turning point in the season was enduring a humbling sweep by the Ogden Mustangs, and since that series the Thunderbirds have managed an equal split with seven wins and seven losses. Currently they stand in second place, with 44 points, just ahead of the Western Division logjam as they are trailed by San Diego (42 Points) and Ontario (41 Points). Vegas has the fewest goals allowed in the division and their ability to keep teams off the board, for the most part, is keeping them in a high spot.
Scoring Leaders: Tomas Urbanec 22 Goals; 26 Assists; 48 Points
Goalie Leaders: Rhett Bruckner 8W-5L; .923 SV%; Owen Kennedy 3W-4L .875 SV%; Michael Nickolau 3W-1L .880 SV%
Meadow Lake Mustangs:
For a good portion of this first half of the season, Meadow Lake seemed like the clear-cut No. 3 team in the Provincial Division. But, with the Cold Lake Hornets trailing them by one point at the break, it’s difficult to make the assertion. The Mustangs have been able to rely on returning veterans such as Shane Hounsell and Erik Ehrmantraut, however, with those two players being the only ones to surpass the 15-point mark, the picture quickly becomes a daunting one—particularly when compared to the rest of their division. Meadow Lake has really only seen victories over the Hornets and Barrhead Bombers but will need to figure out a way to steal wins from the top two teams.
Scoring Leaders: Erik Ehrmantraut 12 Goals; 18 Assists; 30 Points
Goalie Leaders: Jacob Aellen 2W-4L .890 SV%; Zev Genereaux 2W-1L .884 SV%; Declan Treichel 3W-6L .847 SV%
Northern Colorado Eagles:
So far the Northern Colorado Eagles are doing justice to their automatic Thorne Cup bid as the host of the tournament. They are well in the hunt for a potential second place Midwest-Mountain Division finish and have achieved victories over top teams including the Utah Outliers, Oklahoma City Blazers, and El Paso Rhinos—the latter two were in the Thorne Cup last season. Although the Eagles have an automatic bid to the finals, their consistent playoff tenure indicates a strong second half of the season, as they would prefer to qualify their way in for higher seeding. Northern Colorado’s disciplined play will surely be a factor in their success. They are the fifth least penalized team in the league, and as a reference, five of the six teams in the Thorne Cup last season were the five most disciplined in the WSHL.
Scoring Leaders: Dawson Grebinski 14 Goals; Jacob Elik 29 Assists; Jacob Elik 41 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Marshall Murphy 14W-5L-1OTL .935 SV%; Tanner Ames 4W-1L-1OTL .927 SV%
Ogden Mustangs Head Coach Jake Laime said at the start of the season that the team, or at least its returning players, won’t dwell on their 2019 Thorne Cup Finals loss. Well, the Mustangs are right where they want to be in order to get a crack at the title for the third straight time. The Mustangs jumped out to a record setting season in their best start in team history with 20 consecutive wins from Oct. 4 to Nov. 17. They are still undefeated at The Ice Sheet in Ogden, with a single “Home” loss registered at Showcase where they were the designated home team. Where the Mustangs are offensively gifted they are also defensively stable, outscoring their opponents through the first half of the season 224-43. 12 Players have at least 20-points while two of their three goalies remain undefeated. Based on points, Ogden dropped to second place in the league, but remain No. 1 when calculating point-percentage.
Scoring Leaders: Lucas Vacin 28 Goals; Shane Gilbert 40 Assists; Shane Gilbert 61 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Travis Allen 8W-2L 945 SV%; Titan Anderson 6W-0L .930 SV %; Matthew Genter 9W-0L .910 SV%
Oklahoma City Blazers:
The Oklahoma City Blazers have had strong road legs through the first half of the season finishing 2019 with 11 wins and four losses on the road. The majority of their regulation wins are actually on the road but they will need to keep it going at home with nine of their first 12 games in 2020 being at home; Having said that that, the Blazers are still above .500 at home. The Blazers are a team that scores frequently and rarely held off the scoreboard being shutout on three occasions this season. Like last season with Vitalii Mikhailov, the Blazers have found their difference maker in Benjamin St-Onge who is the WSHL’s second leading scorer with 62-points.
Scoring Leaders: Benjamin St-Onge 26 Goals, 36 Assists; 62 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Joel Svensson 12W-2L-1OTL .932 SV%; Danick Francoeur 6W-6L-1OTL .905 SV%
The Ontario Avalanche are coming off an upset win over the Northern Colorado Eagles, serving as an example of what the Avalanche are capable of. Look for Ontario to fly under the radar this playoff-push; although they are in fourth place, the jump from fourth to second is only a regulation win. Prior to Showcase, the Avalanche defeated the Monsters and Thunderbirds so they are improving and defeating divisional opponents that will likely be in their way come playoff time. Ontario found a way to turn things around after starting slow, and, have since crept up to becoming the second highest scoring team in the Western Division.
Scoring Leaders: Gabel Longshore 12 Goals, Charles Riordon 21 Assists; Charles Riordon 28 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Jonathan Kornreder 5W-3L-1OTL .924 SV%; Jacob Okihara 6W-3L .901 SV%; Romi Huunonen 1W-5L-1OTL .901 SV%
The Pueblo Bulls hit the ground running in their inaugural season and gradually acclimated as the weeks rolled by. The Bulls reached 64 goals in their first nine games by Oct. 23, making the most of their road heavy schedule. Pueblo is nine points from third place in the division, or three regulation wins, and will enjoy a potential 12-game home stand in the second half of the season. We say potential due to scheduling implications following recent team developments in the league. The Bulls garnered enough points to keep them in the race and won’t face the Rhinos as they have exhausted the season series already. Pueblo is proved to be a team with pace yet physical attributes that helps them give and take in the ever-intense Midwest-Mountain Division.
Scoring Leaders: Ondrej Blaha 23 Goals; 25 Assists; 48 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Henry Denee 10W-6L-2OTL .922 SV%; Sean Meier 3W-0L .951 SV%; Lane Skon 3W-5L .900 SV%
San Diego Sabers:
The San Diego Sabers have kept themselves in the race largely due to their outstanding home play at the Escondido Iceoplex. The Sabers 10 wins at home has offset their poor road record keeping them in third place with the second fewest games played in the division. San Diego has faced purely Western Division teams and made light work of their only cross-division rival prior to Showcase, in the Southern Oregon Spartans. The real test for San Diego lies ahead as they will face two cross-division rivals on the road in Seattle and El Paso, making those 18-points (Six games) crucial for their post season aspirations. San Diego managed 13 goals and two shutouts in their last two games carrying all the momentum into their next series against the Valencia Flyers.
Scoring Leaders: Ondrej Vaculik 20 Goals; Trevor Wittkopf 17 Assists; Wittkopf/Vaculik 35 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Calijah Hunter 8W-4L .914 SV%; Mikulas Pluhacek 3W-1L .916 SV%; Ludwig Nordqvist 4W-6L-1OTL .909 SV%.
The Seattle Totems have the fewest games played in the league with 24, but had a winning frequency that helped them take ownership of the three spot in the Northwest Division. The Totems have been largely successful against Northwest Division teams. Perhaps their lows in the season can be attributed to their six losses against Provincial Division teams, though it helped that Bellingham was also winless in the CAN/U.S. Showdown. However, it allowed Utah and Ogden to build even more of a separation in the standings. Scheduling developments saw the Totems make the long trip to El Paso and they took a blow just before Showcase. The Northwest division is interesting to look at, as far as the teams, because Seattle and Bellingham are the returning post-season division titleholders, though they have yet to face Utah and Ogden who came in and took control of the division. Seattle will now get a chance in this second half with six games against Ogden and Utah each. The Totems will need a monstrous closing effort this season if they want to crack the Top-2, as they are 14-points behind second place Utah.
Scoring Leaders: Cameron Waisman 21 Goals; Ricky Bredberg 27 Assists; Bredberg 35 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Daniil Goryachev 9W-2L .902 SV%; Jan Faltus 3W-1L .916 SV%; Rustam Kulizade 1W-5L .898 SV%
Southern Oregon Spartans:
Southern Oregon has had a very difficult season to say the least but have shown flashes of brilliance against worthy adversaries. The Spartans have yet to reach five wins only achieving victories over the former West Sound Admirals and Cold Lake Hornets. Two of those wins span back to their first two games of the season where they scored eleven goals in two nights. In their third game of the season, the Spartans held a 1-0 lead for an entire period over the Ogden Mustangs who were undefeated at 8-0. It was only the second time Ogden found themselves down in the score, and nobody expected it. But the stroke of success wore away for the Spartans who were able to collect one more win over the Admirals before going on a 19 game winless streak. Southern Oregon was able to snap the losing streak with a win over the Hornets at Showcase.
Scoring Leaders: Yuval Halpert 10 Goals; Halpert/Bykov 10 Assists; Halpert 20 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Christopher O’Shaughnessy 2W-13L .880 SV%; Ethan Shute 1W-3L .857 SV%; Josh Breznik 1W-7L .840 SV%.
The state of Utah fields two of the three top scoring teams in the league. The Utah Outliers place third overall with 172 goals in favor. For the last few seasons, Utah has been one of those teams that are at the periphery of being a contender. This year could be one for the deepest of runs since they possess scoring depth, lock-down defense, and a goaltender that stands on his head consistently in Oscar Wahlgren. Looking solely at points may be devious as the Outliers are 31-points from the Ogden Mustangs, yet they are one of two teams to defeat the Mustangs this season. Utah’s Head Coach, Paul Taylor, mentioned that the Outliers have always been a team that competes by committee. Every player on the roster, except for Ryan Wirth who has one game and Randy Yeakley, has registered multiple points—which is on par with the three previous Thorne Cup winning rosters. Utah may be far from first in their division but don’t be surprised to see a shocking post-season victory to qualify them into the Thorne Cup.
Scoring Leaders: Ben Doherty 18 Goals; 40 Assists; 58 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Oscar Wahlgren 9W-8L-1OTL .932 SV%; Micah Hershey 5W-1L .904 SV%; Hunter Raye 3W-0L .828 SV%.
Valencia experienced one of the more difficult first halves of the season in the entire league having a three-game series against El Paso, Ogden, and Utah. That’s 18-points up for grabs against the two Thorne Cup finalists from the past two seasons, and another nine against the Outliers. Like the Spartans, Valencia never found their stride and their best moment came on back-to-back wins on Nov. 14 & 15 against the West Sound Admirals and Ontario Avalanche. The Flyers experienced even more struggle when Head Coach Shane McColgan stepped down from the helm mid-season. Despite the resignation of McColgan, the Flyers found their first win since the month of Oct. when they beat the Barrhead Bombers 5-0 at the Showcase. The win marked Valencia’s first shutout victory of the season. The Flyers will see one more cross-division rival in the Bellingham Blazers, but may be too far in the hole to vie for a playoff spot.
Scoring Leaders: Evgenii Semeniuk 13 Goals; 15 Goals; 28 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Brooks DiMarino 4W-16L .872 SV%; Brendan Culbertson-Bond 1W-6L .870 SV%; Patrick Villain 0W-3L .854 SV%.
Wichita Jr. Thunder:
The Jr. Thunder will not likely see a playoff round as they find themselves over 20-points from the fifth spot in the division. They are currently on a three game win streak having swept their competition at Showcase but suffered unfavorable outcomes against their immediate opponents following the break. Wichita has managed to defeat higher-seeded teams such as the Eagles and Dallas, but were never consistent enough to string together win streaks. Wichita had to deal with the trade of one of their top players in Marcus Ohlsson-Ornelius, a move that will certainly hinder them even more. Look for Wichita to steal a win or two from teams hoping to make a late-season playoff push.
Scoring Leaders: Quinn O’Reilly 14 Goals; 16 Assists; 30 Points.
Goalie Leaders: Robert Allen 3W-9L .861 SV%; Dominik Janickar 2W-1L .852 SV%; Logan Fair 2W-5L .828 SV%; Jeremy Haffner 1W-2L .813 SV%.