Friday, April 5, 2013

Edmonton vs Medicine Hat Offers Storylines Galore

The second round of the WHL playoffs will be a treat for hockey fans. The top 4 regular season teams in the West all advanced through round one and in the East, the top three are joined by a perennial threat thus setting up four outstanding series. 

On paper, #1 Edmonton against #7 Medicine Hat might not appear to be that intriguing. However, the sidebar storylines in this series provide plenty or reasons why fans should be paying attention. 

Top Storylines between Edmonton and Medicine Hat

1) Cam Lanigan

Photo: Associated Press
The Tigers picked up the overage netminder from Portland for a song; a 7th round pick in next month's draft. The Calgary native lost his first start with his new team, against Edmonton, then rattled off 4 consecutive wins and 6 in the next 7 games. 

Medicine Hat is Lanigan's fourth WHL team. His career began with the Oil Kings who drafted him in the 6th round way back in 2007. At that time, many expected that he would eventually become Edmonton's starter. That changed in 2010-11 when a sluggish start led to a trade to Kamloops for veteran Jon Groenheyde. 

This year has been Lanigan's best, by far. His .910 sv% is a career high be a longshot and he's also set personal bests with a 3.00 GAA and 23 regular season wins.

Dean Millard commented in the weeks leading up to the playoffs that with Lanigan in net, the Tigers would not be a team the Oil Kings would want to see in round one. After 4 straight wins over Memorial Cup host Saskatoon which saw Lanigan allow just 4 goals (.976 sv%), they might not want to see them in round two either. 

2)  Greener Pastures

Photo: WHL
Bob Green, the General Manager of the Edmonton Oil Kings, came to the organization from Medicine Hat. While with the Tigers, Green's team captured the 2003-04 WHL title which boasted star players like Kris Russell, Kevin Nastiuk, Cam Barker, Clarke MacArthur, Stefan Meyer and Chris St. Jacques.

The team went on to win in 2006-07 with a roster mostly assembled by Green but he'd left the GM position to Willie Desjardins by then to prepare the Oil Kings and their debut the following year. Darren Helm, Kris Russell, Derek Dorsett, Matt Keetley and Tyler Ennis were just some of the players on that squad who were there in part because of Green.

While its been 6 years since he left the organization, this is the first time the Oil Kings will meet the Tigers in the postseason.    

3) Slaying the Demon

Photo: Andy Devlin
Since their return to the WHL, Edmonton's toughest opponent had been Medicine Hat. Let's be honest, for the first 4 years (2007-08 to 2001-11) the Tigers absolutely owned the Oil Kings. It took Edmonton 14 games to finally get a win over the Tigers, a narrow 3-2 decision. 

Medicine Hat's domination over Edmonton, especially at home, is quite impressive. It wasn't until January of 2012 that the Oil Kings managed to capture a victory down south; a 6-2 win that seemed to really turn the tide in between the two teams. 

From 2007-08 to 2010-11, the Tigers held a 23-3 record over the Oil Kings. In the past two seasons that has completely turned around in that Edmonton has held a 9-3 advantage. This year, the Oil Kings went 5-1 against the Tigers and have won the last 5 games in Medicine Hat.   

4) Friendships on Hold

Photo: WHL
Off the ice, Edmonton forward Henrik Samuelsson and Medicine Hat rookie Miles Koules are longtime friends but they'll shelve that bond for the next couple of weeks. 

The two Americans played together on the U17 team run by the US-NTDP in Ann Arbor Michigan during the 2010-11 season.  The linemates were outstanding together at the World U17 collecting 18 points between them in just 5 games (Koules 8, Samuelsson 10).

The following season, Koules returned to the US program while Samuelsson went to Sweden to play professionally for his father before eventually joining the Oil Kings midway through the year. 

Koules followed his friend north electing not to go to North Dakota and instead chose Medicine Hat in the WHL. Both players told The Pipeline Show that they had discussed the league and Samuelsson's experience in it before Koules made the move. 

Both players were in camp for the Phoenix Coyotes last summer, Samuelsson because they had drafted him in the 1st round and Koules as a free agent.

Samuelsson was one of Edmonton's top offensive players this year finishing with 80 points. Koules found himself moved around and up and down the depth chart but still managed to contribute 19 goals and 40 points in 69 games as a rookie. The Tiger added 3 more points in the 4-game sweep over Saskatoon. 

On a side note, Koules also played with another Oil Kings in defenceman Keegan Lowe. The two were teammates while both played midget hockey at Shattuck-St.Mary's during the 2009-10 season. 

5) Shinkaruk VS Lazar

Photo: Andy Devlin
NHL Scouts will take special interest in the head-to-head match up between two of the top WHL forwards available for this June's draft. Hunter Shinkaruk, the #5 ranked skater in North America, according to NHL Central Scouting's mid-term release, is wrapping up his third season in the WHL. After a 91-point campaign a year ago, Shinkaruk followed it up with 86 points this year. A drop off but on a less potent team and in two fewer games. Make no mistake, Shinkaruk is an offensive force that Edmonton will have to key on. 

Curtis Lazar meanwhile, is the #26 ranked forward in North America (Central Scouting) although Internal Scouting Services has had him inside the top 15 all season long. The BC native had 31 points as a rookie last season and upped that to 38 goals and 61 points this year. Compared to Shinkaruk, the offensive weight of the Oil Kings does not rest nearly as heavy on Lazar and at times this year he's played further down the depth chart than his Medicine Hat rival has. 

The regular season meetings between the two teams saw Lazar outscore Shinkaruk by a landslide although it would be unfair not to mention that the Tiger missed half of those games. Lazar scored 6 goals, including a hat trick, and added an assist while Shinkaruk managed just 2 assists against Edmonton in three games.

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