Thursday, January 19, 2006

WHL This Week - News Edition (Issue #16)

HELM HELPING TIGERS CONTINUE WINNING WAYS

To say Darren Helm is having a good 2005-06 Western Hockey League campaign would be a bit of an understatement.

The 18-year-old product of Winnipeg, MB and his Medicine Hat Tigers are currently enjoying life looking down from the top of the WHL standings. Meanwhile, Helm is enjoying a breakout offensive campaign and currently leads the Tigers with 29 goals and 55 points in 46 games.

"We've had a pretty good first half," said Helm of the Tigers' 31-10-0-6 record. "I don't think a lot of people expected us to be as good as we have been.

"We don't really have too many outstanding player, but we have a lot of depth up front with four great lines, we have great goaltending and great defense, and we work hard every night which gives us the belief that we can win," said the second-year Tigers winger.

With the Tigers on pace for their third consecutive campaign with 40 or more victories, winning is something Helm and his Tigers teammates are accustomed to.

One of the big factors in the Tigers' success has been their outstanding play on home ice, where they've won 66 games and only lost 22 - including overtime and shoot-out defeats - since the start of the 2003-04 season. This season, team is 17-2-0-2 at the always-intimidating Medicine Hat Arena.

"We sell out every night," said Helm, whose Tigers have sold out 121 straight home games. "Our fans are great, they're always behind us, and they can really get us going on nights when we're not on.

"We feel comfortable out there when we know the fans are behind us," he said.

While he's certainly relishing the team success, Helm is also pleased with the way he's been playing and the individual success he's enjoyed this season.

"I've put up good numbers before, when I was in Bantam and Midget, so I knew I could do it here," said Helm, who currently sits tied for sixth in league scoring. "It was just a matter of me going out there and being strong around the net and getting pucks on net."

Part of Helm's success this season has come from having more confidence. Helm's confidence got a major boost in July when the Detroit Red Wings selected him in the fifth round of the 2005 NHL draft, and in September when he took in his first NHL training camp.

"It was a great learning experience, and it gave me a lot of confidence," he said about his experience at the Red Wings' camp. "Seeing how hard those guys work, and just getting the opportunity to play there showed me how much more I have work and improve."

When the Wings reassigned him to Medicine Hat, it wasn't without a dose of positive feedback.

"The told me they like the way I skate and how I worked out there, and also my desire to win," said Helm. "They said that I should benefit from more experience at the junior level, and to keep trying to improve."

While Helm is happy with the Tigers' play and his own play to date, he also knows there is still a lot of hockey left to play over the final two months of the regular season. The Tigers may be 21 games over .500 at the moment, but they still find themselves in a heated battle with the Calgary Hitmen, who sit a mere one point behind them in the race for first in the Central Division and first overall.

"We have to keep fighting for two points in every game we play," said Helm. "From here on in, every game is big - especially the games against Calgary.

"We're going to have to get pumped up for those games (against Calgary) if we want to beat them for first," he said.

Jesse Watts
whl.ca


WHL KEY PERFORMERS

Ian McDonald, Tri-City Americans - McDonald has scored seven goals and eight points in his last four games, helping the Americans to a 2-1-0-1 record in that span. Four of McDonald's seven goals this week have come shorthanded. Click here < http://whl.ca/stats/statdisplay.php?type=records&subType=4&season_id=225&&leagueId=26&lastActive=&singleSeason=> for shorthanded goal leaders.

Nicholas Drazenovic, Prince George Cougars - Drazenovic has four goals and six points in his last three outings, leading the Cougars to two wins and a shoot-out loss in that span. He scored two goals - including the game-winner - and an assist in a 3-0 win over Kamloops on January 14th. Click here < http://whl.ca/stats/statdisplay.php?type=top_scorers> for WHL scoring leaders.

Tyler Dittmer, Brandon Wheat Kings - Dittmer has recorded five assists in his last four games, helping the Wheaties to a 2-1-0-1 record in that span. He currently sits 15th in the league in rookie scoring. Click here < http://whl.ca/stats/statdisplay.php?type=top_scorers&subType=2&season_id=225&&leagueId=26&lastActive=&singleSeason=> for rookie leaders.

Brett Carson, Calgary Hitmen - Carson has scored one goal and four points in his last two outings, helping the Hitmen extend their win streak to seven games. He currently ranks ninth among all WHL defensemen in scoring. Click here < http://whl.ca/stats/statdisplay.php?type=top_scorers&subType=1&season_id=225&&leagueId=26&lastActive=&singleSeason=> for defensemen scoring leaders.

Leland Irving, Everett Silvertips - Irving is 2-0 with a 1.50 goals-against average and a .941 save percentage in his last two starts. He currently ranks in the top five among the league's goaltenders in goals-against average, save percentage, wins, and is a perfect 4-0 in shoot-outs. Click here < http://whl.ca/stats/statdisplay.php?type=top_goalies> for goaltending leaders.


THE PLAYER'S PERSPECTIVE

The Regina Pats are enjoying a solid 2005-06 Western Hockey League campaign and currently sit five games over .500 and just six points out of first place in the East Division.

What is most impressive about the Pats' campaign to date is that it marks a complete U-turn from last year's miserable season that saw them win just 12 games and finish last in the league standings.

One of the key contributors in the Pats' dramatic turnaround this season has been the strong and consistent play of veteran forward Matt Robinson.

Robinson, acquired in the off-season from the Vancouver Giants, currently ranks second on the team in goals with 19 - a career high - and third on the team in points with 33, and has also been a physical force.

The 21-year-old product of South Surrey, B.C. will play a pivotal role for the Pat's down the stretch as they battle their way toward a playoff berth.

Matt Robinson's Perspective

On the Pats' season to date...

"It's definitely a really big turnaround from last season. It's been going pretty well, we've been playing well, and we're catching up to Moose Jaw and Saskatoon. We had a good first half with our home record, but now we just have to get our road game together."

On his performance this season...

"I think it's been going pretty good, and (Curtis Hunt) has put me in a situation to be a guy that others count on. At the start of the season, I felt I wasn't really producing like I though I could. After Christmas, I've been pleased with how I've played. I just have to always keep working of my defensive game."

On the Regina-Moose Jaw rivalry...

"It's great for both cities. My brother (Garrett) plays for Moose Jaw, so as soon as I got traded to Regina, he called me up and said the rivalry just kicked up a notch. I'm good friends with (Moose Jaw's) Troy Brouwer, so that makes it even more fun."

On the Pats' young guns...

"We've got a lot of guys who you just know are going to become great players in the league over the next few years. Guys like Justin Bernhardt, Levi Lind...Linden Rowatt is going to be a great goalie in this league. The franchise is looking pretty good in the near future."

On living in Regina...

"It's been a little different...it's colder and more flat than I'm used to. The City has been great, and the fans are unbelievable. I really have enjoyed it so far."

Jesse Watts
whl.ca


WHL THIS WEEK - NEWS AND NOTES

The Lethbridge Hurricanes have added former 'Canes player Jason Ruff to their coaching staff...The University of Saskatchewan Huskies set a Canada-West record scoring five shorthanded goals in a 6-4 win over the Calgary Dinos on Friday, Jan. 13 - WHL grads Brent Twordik and Dean Beuker each had two shorthanded markers in the game...Former Kootenay Ice star Nigel Dawes was named CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week after scoring six goals and seven points in three games for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers...Peter Mueller of the Everett Silvertips tops the list of the WHL's draft-eligible skaters, having been ranked 5th among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting's Mid-Term Rankings...Tri-City Americans F Ian McDonald played his 300th career game on Tuesday, January 17th versus the Kamloops Blazers.


BURKI PACES TEAM ORR TO VICTORY IN PROSPECTS GAME

Codey Burki of the Brandon Wheat Kings scored the game-winner, set up another and earned Player of the Game honors leading Team Orr to a 7-2 win over Team Cherry at the 2006 Home Hardware CHL/NHL Top Prospects game at the Scotiabank Centre in Ottawa, Ontario on Wednesday, January 18th.

Michael Grabner of the Spokane Chiefs scored once and added two assists for Team Orr while Moose Jaw Warriors sophomore Riley Holzapfel picked up two assists playing on a high-octane line with Grabner and Burki.

Ryan White of the Calgary Hitmen and Lukas Bohunicky of Kootenay were also among the Western Hockey League contingent to score for Team Orr.

Kootenay's Ben Maxwell - with the game's opening goal - scored for Team Cherry, who allowed seven unanswered goals after staking an early 2-0 lead, while Ty Wishart of the Prince George Cougars tallied a pair of assists and was solid on the Team Cherry blue line, being named Team Cherry's Player of the Game.

Everett Silvertips netminder Leland Irving allowed two goals on 24 shots but made several incredible stops through the first half of the game for Team Orr.

Goaltender Kevin Armstrong of the Spokane Chiefs allowed one goal on 12 shots, and also made a handful of difficult stops in the final half of the game for Team Cherry.


COUGARS LEARNING LIFE SKILLS

PRINCE GEORGE, BC - Members of the Prince George Cougars are learning now that there is life after hockey. Through the club's "Cougars Life Skills" program, developed by team Educational Advisor Bud Burbee, all 18, 19, and 20-year-old players will be participants in several diverse workshops. These sessions are designed to be practical, informative, and will attempt to help build the confidence of the Cougars who are involved.

Beginning this month, players will expand their awareness of the interconnectedness of their personality and satisfactory career choices. Furthermore, information on personal income tax and time management will be presented.

"The major purpose for putting together this set of workshops was to get the players to start looking ahead to life after hockey", says Bud Burbee, Cougars Education Advisor.
"This is an extremely great opportunity for some players to acquire information and knowledge needed to better function in society", finishes Burbee.

Workshops continue in February, when the Cougars will learn about managing finances, investing, RRSP's, writing resumes, and interviewing for jobs. Once all sessions have been concluded, team members who participated will receive a certificate from the College of New Caledonia, stating their completion. Burbee, in his 4th year with the Cougars, emphasises the tremendous support he has received from the Cougars organization and CNC (Instructor Maureen Mallais) on this project.

The workshops are scheduled to conclude on March 7, when Burbee plans to host a "Panel of Pros" consisting of local ex-professional athletes. These guests will be in attendance to help answer questions from the Cougars regarding life after sports.

In addition to the team's "Cougars Life Skills" program, the Cougars, through the WHL's Players First Program, offer other valuable resources to their players including media relations training, hockey ministries with team Pastor Mel Fehr, Sports Psychology with Max Offenberger, and the Red Cross Respect Education program.


SEATTLE ANNOUNCES GAME CHANGE

The Seattle Thunderbirds announced a change in date for their home game scheduled on Sunday, January 22 against the Everett Silvertips.

The game against the Silvertips has been moved to Wednesday, February 8 at 7:05 p.m. at KeyArena.

"By changing the date of this game we can give our fans the chance to join with other sports fans in the area in supporting the Seattle Seahawks in their Super Bowl push," Colin Campbell, T-Birds Assistant General Manager said.


Remember to sign up for the WHL Fantasy Hockey League for a chance to win some great prizes. Register and select your team by visiting www.whl.ca.

The Western Hockey League has introduced Webcasting of every WHL game for the 2005-06 season. Fans can now watch their favorite teams live from their computer. Visit www.whl.ca and look for the WHL Live Stream link.