Kelly Friesen

  • WHL Eastern Conference Playoff Preview: Brandon aims to dethrone Oil Kings

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 15 hrs ago

    Like any coin, there are two sides to the WHL’s Eastern Conference playoff picture. The Brandon Wheat Kings are heavily favoured to come out of the East Division following capturing the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy. The Central Division, on the other hand, appears to be an all-out dogfight.

    Nonetheless, as every junior hockey fan knows, the post-season is very rarely as it seems. There is bound to be at least one upset every year. The third-seeded Calgary Hitmen were toppled by the Kootenay Ice last season, albeit it’s not exactly accurate to consider any team led by Buffalo Sabres prospect Sam Reinhart as an underdog. In 2012-13, the Medicine Hat Tigers swept the Saskatoon Blades, the Memorial Cup hosts, in the first round.

    East Division

    (1) Brandon Wheat Kings (53-11-4-4, 114 pts) vs. (4) Edmonton Oil Kings (34-31-4-3, 75 pts)

    Season series: Wheat Kings 3-1-0-0. Prediction: Wheat Kings in 6.

    Series in a sentence: Clash of the Eastern Conference Kings.

    (2) Regina Pats (37-24-5-6, 85 pts) vs. (3) Swift Current Broncos (34-33-1-4, 73 pts)

    Season series: Broncos 5-2-0-1. Prediction: Pats in 7.

    Series in a sentence: Overachieving Pats look to buck the Broncos.

    Central Division

  • Nikita Scherbak trade pays dividends for Everett Silvertips

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 6 days ago

    The Everett Silvertips took a bit of a gamble when they acquired Nikita Scherbak from the Saskatoon Blades at the start of the season. They gave up a handful of future assets – a 2015 first-round pick, 2016 second-round pick and 1997-born goalie Nik Amundrud – in an effort to solidify their squad as one of the top teams in the WHL’s Western Conference.

    Seventy games later, the big trade has paid dividends for the Silvertips, at least in terms of the regular-season. The Montreal Canadiens first-round pick has easily been their most dangerous scorer all year long, notching 27 goals and 79 points in 63 contests. His offensive production is a major reason why Everett has left three of its U.S. Division rivals in the dust and is in a 90-point tie with the Portland Winterhawks for second place in the Western Conference.

    “He has added a lot of offense to our group that we thought we needed,” says Silvertips general manager Garry Davidson. “He has been a big part of our group’s success and has helped us get where we are in the standings.”

    Looking ahead

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

  • Kelowna Rockets’ Leon Draisaitl aims to end WHL career on winning note

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 22 days ago

    Leon Draisaitl thought he put his junior hockey days behind him when he stayed with the Edmonton Oilers after the nine-game mark in October. He believed he traded in his $200 a month paycheck and seat on a charter bus for a six-figure salary and a first-class spot on a jet.

    But when Oilers architect Craig McTavish and Prince Albert Raiders GM Bruno Campese worked out an agreement that sent the 19-year-old centre’s WHL rights to the powerhouse Kelowna Rockets near the trade deadline, his immediate future quickly changed. His NHL dream was put on hold while his junior career picked right back up again.

    “At first it wasn’t easy; you dream of playing in the NHL and you want to stay there,” says Draisaitl, who scored two goals and nine points in 37 games with the Oilers. “But I’m not worried about the money right now. I’m only 19 and have a lot of years ahead of me. This is a good opportunity here and this is where they want me to be right now.”

    “He’s an elite player and adds a lot to our team,” says Rockets head coach Dan Lambert. “He’s a game-changer. He’s good on the forecheck, good in faceoffs and is a good influence in our room. He was a big addition to our team.”

  • Spokane Chiefs’ Kailer Yamamoto becoming late round steal in stacked WHL bantam draft class

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    Kailer Yamamoto has stolen some of the spotlight away from his peers in the highly regarded 2013 WHL bantam draft class. The Spokane Chiefs winger has asserted himself as one of the top rookies in the league even though 104 players were selected ahead of him in his draft year.

    Yamamoto didn't take long to find his offensive grove following an adjustment period at the start of the season. Largely because of a hot streak around Christmas, when he racked up nine goals and 20 points in just 11 games, he now sits fourth in rookie points with 17 goals and 43 points in 52 games. Top 2013 bantam pick Tyler Benson and fifth overall selection Brett Howden are among those in his rear-view mirror on the stats sheet.

    “It wasn’t easy at first this season,” says Yamamoto. “I had a rough start to the season, but I’ve gotten more confident and comfortable. The more I’ve played the more confident I’ve gotten and I’ve adjusted to everything.”

    Yamamoto credits his speed for a major reason why he has had success against his older, bigger opponents.

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen

  • Brandon Wheat Kings rookie Nolan Patrick on path to stardom

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    Brandon Wheat Kings centre Nolan Patrick is anything but a typical 16-year-old rookie trying to learn the ropes in the Western Hockey League. Just 52 games into his freshman season, he has already asserted himself as one of the top forwards in the league. He has racked up 26 goals and 49 points while using his smooth skating ability, superb vision and imposing 6-foot-3, 192-pound frame to his advantage.

    “I didn’t really set any big goals for this year,” says Patrick, who shares the rookie spotlight in Brandon with blueliners Ivan Provorov and Kale Clague. “I knew what to expect because of the games I played last year (as an underage call-up) and wanted to get better and better this year. I started off a bit slow, but my confidence went up around Christmas and that’s when I started playing better (11G-19P-17GP in 2015).”

    Patrick isn’t the first Wheat King to quickly develop into one of the team’s best forwards as a rookie. In 2007-08 alone, Brayden Schenn, Scott Glennie and Matt Calvert were three of Brandon’s top scorers in their freshman seasons. Among that trio and other recent big rookie seasons, McCrimmon feels Schenn is the closest comparable to Patrick.

  • NHL draft tracker: Ethan Bear, Seattle Thunderbirds

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    With Anaheim Ducks first-rounder Shea Theodore poised to take off to the pros next year, Ethan Bear has relished the opportunity to show the Seattle Thunderbirds that he should be the club’s next offensive quarterback on the back end. His superb hockey sense and quality shot has led to him blossoming into a steady offensive contributor in his sophomore season.

    “I think my confidence is the biggest difference this year (compared to his rookie season),” says Bear, who has scored nine goals and 30 points in 49 games. “I’m more confident this year and am making smarter decisions with the puck. It is also from the hard work I put in last off-season. I worked hard at getting stronger and faster in the summer.”

    Bear’s strong commitment to the game is a major reason why he has thrived in the WHL. A case in point: He moved two provinces over from Sask. to B.C. when he was just 14-years-old to play in the esteemed Pursuit of Excellent Bantam Program in Kelowna. This shows how focused he, along with his family, was at such a young age to better his development.

    1. What part of your game do you feel that you have evolved the most since joining the Thunderbirds last year?

  • Regina Pats give province hope to break WHL championship drought

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    The only WHL fans in Saskatchewan that know what a homegrown winner looks like were alive before the Internet even existed. The last time the province produced a winner was when the Swift Current Broncos beat the Portland Winterhawks in 1993 to win its second WHL championship.

    Why the Land of Living Skies’ five Dub clubs have struggled to produce high-end teams isn’t that cut and dried. Most of the onus is on owners and their boards, but there needs to be some slack cut because of a couple disadvantages.

    There have been mismanagement issues for some teams. Former Regina Pats majority owner Russ Parker let his son, Brent Parker, sit in the GM chair for 15 years despite a lack of on-ice success. Somewhat aligned with that, ex-Saskatoon Blades owner Jack Brodsky seemed to give Lorne Molleken nine lives as he didn’t leave his role behind the bench until he went through three straight playoff sweeps and a last-place finish in the 2013 Memorial Cup. The Prince Albert Raiders took a page out of Brodsky’s playbook by letting Bruno Campese enter into his eighth year as the team’s architect this season even though a playoff series win was nowhere to be found in his first seven years.

  • NHL draft tracker: Austin Wagner, Regina Pats

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    Regina Pats wing Austin Wagner has become one of the biggest climbers in the 2015 NHL draft class. He has steadily drove his draft stock in the right direction this season despite entering his sophomore year relatively unknown as he only notched two points in 42 games in 2013-14. The proof is in how NHL Central Scouting Service ranked him the 43 rd best North American skater in its midterm ranking following pegging him as a C-list prospect in November.

    Wagner, 17, credits increased ice time for his success this season. He has played 15-plus minutes a night in an offensive role under new Pats head coach John Paddock this year. Whereas last season, he played sparingly in a fourth-line energy role under former bench boss Malcolm Cameron.

    Inevitably, the Calgary, Alta., native has noticed a confidence spike in his new offensive role under Paddock.

    “My confidence is way higher this year,” he says. “My confidence just wasn’t there last year. This year I feel more comfortable and much more confident. I know he (Paddock) has confidence in me, so that has helped.”

    1. Do you have a favourite NHL player?

    2. Do you have a favourite NHL team?

  • Shutouts becoming Tri-City Americans goalie Evan Sarthou’s claim to fame

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 1 mth ago

    Tri-City Americans goalie Evan Sarthou has defied the odds as a sophomore this season. He not only recorded four shutouts in five games, accumulating 108 saves, in between Jan. 16-24, but he has also tied Swift Current goalie Landon Bow for the WHL lead in shutouts (six) despite having played 21 fewer games.

    Sarthou’s showing would be impressive on any netminder’s resume, but even more so on his own since he’s Tri-City’s backup behind Winnipeg Jets pick Eric Comrie, who is currently out with an injury.

    “I didn’t want to see Eric get hurt, but the opportunity was good for me and I’ve been trying to learn from it and do my part behind my team,” said Sarthou, who isn’t draft eligible until 2016 because he turned 17 on Sept. 24. “I had playing time when Eric was at the world juniors, so I have been trying to build off that and continue to improve.”

    How six of Sarthou’s 10 wins on the year are shutouts make his string of perfect efforts even more noteworthy. In addition, he said this is all new to him as he doesn't have a history of hot streaks.

    “We don’t talk about stuff like that (shutout streaks),” he said. “We support each other and don’t really talk about individual stuff.”

  • WHL trade deadline winners, and others who weren’t so lucky

    Kelly Friesen at Buzzing The Net 2 mths ago

    The week leading up to the WHL’s 2015 trade deadline entailed its fair share of roster moves. It included a wide range of different trades involving high-end rental players, disgruntled NHL draft prospects and first-round bantam picks.

    All in all, 47 players were traded between New Year’s day and the Jan. 10 trade deadline. The rich got richer as the Kelowna Rockets, Brandon Wheat Kings and Medicine Hat Tigers improved their rosters with key additions. Meanwhile, a trio of clubs in the East Division, the Regina Pats, Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders, took significant steps forward in rebuilding for the future.

    Here is a look at the teams who were heavily involved in the trade deadline. The winners are those who clearly improved their teams while not completely emptying their cupboard. The jury is still out on those who possibly didn’t do enough or made long-term moves.

    Winners

    The jury is out on the ...

    Kelly Friesen is a Buzzing the Net columnist for Yahoo! Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KellyFriesen