When the Regina Pats rolled out of bed on Wednesday morning, they were two points away from a WHL playoff berth with three games remaining, only one of them at home.
By the time they had poured the milk on their cereal, they still were two points away from the Eastern Conference’s last playoff spot with three games remaining — but now all three of those games will be played on home ice.
Oh, they won’t be the home team for two of those games, but they’ll be playing in their home facility, meaning they won’t have to ride the bus along the wind- and snow-swept Trans-Canada Highway and they’ll spend Easter weekend sleeping in their own beds.
So . . . what happened?
Well, the Pats were to have visited the Winnipeg Ice, the WHL’s best team this regular season, for games tonight and Friday. But a blizzard has engulfed much of southern Manitoba so the WHL has moved both games to Regina’s Brandt Centre on Friday and Saturday nights.
As the Pats put it in a news release, they “stepped up to assist the Ice . . .” Some assist! They get an unexpected share of two home games, no bus rides, no hotels, no road food.
Then, on Sunday, the Moose Jaw Warriors are scheduled to visit Regina.
This all comes with the Pats (26-34-5) riding along in a 10th-place tie with the Prince Albert Raiders (26-35-5), one point behind the Calgary Hitmen (25-33-8) and two in arrears of the pace-setting Swift Current Broncos (26-34-7).
For the games against Winnipeg, the Pats will be housed in their own dressing room and use their own bench, but the Ice will have last change. The teams also have come to some kind of gate-sharing arrangement, something that the Winnipeggers likely salivated at because chances are good that each of the games in Regina will draw more fans than the often announced attendance of 1,621 at the Wayne Fleming Arena on the U of Manitoba campus.
It is unfortunate that fans in Winnipeg won’t get to see Regina’s Connor Bedard and Winnipeg’s Matt Savoie, two of the WHL’s brightest lights, go head-to-head in back-to-back games. But, if you’re a follower of the WHL, you know that disappointment is no stranger to Ice fans.
If you’re wondering what kind of chance the Pats have against the Ice in these two games, well, you should know that Winnipeg (51-10-5) leads the season series, 5-0-0, and has outscored Regina, 26-9 in the process. These teams last met on April 2 with the Ice winning, 7-0, in Regina.
In fact, Rob Vanstone of the Regina Leader-Post tells us that “the Ice has won all 14 of its games against Regina since the franchise moved to Winnipeg from Cranbrook, B.C., after the 2018-19 season.”
History suggests, then, that the Pats are beaten before they even show up. On the other hand, the Ice has nothing at stake, other than to keep its players healthy, having clinched the Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy as regular-season champions. The Pats’ coaching staff, meanwhile, will be imploring the players not to kick this gift horse in the teeth.
Still, despite the long odds faced by the Pats, you have to think the Broncos, Hitmen and Raiders can’t be too thrilled with this development. Really, could they be at all faulted if they were furious at the way this has unfolded?
There is a lot at stake here as teams, coming of a couple of seasons of COVID-related losses and no playoff games, really want those playoff gates. Only one those four teams is going to get in and the reward will be a first-round matchup with the Ice. Still, it means at least two gates, and that can’t hurt the bottom line.
Look, the Pats are likely to get their lunch handed to them as they are clearly outmatched here. But what if the Ice chooses to rest two or three of its seven 20-plus goal scorers in each game, purely in the interests of good health, you understand? How much would that shift the odds? And, of course, as football coach/philosopher Herm Edwards once explained: “You play to win the game.”
None of this has stopped the Pats’ marketing department from declaring Friday’s game to be Guaranteed Win Night. If the Pats lose, each fan in attendance will be given a voucher for a free ticket, not for Saturday’s game but for any regular-season game next season.
The WHL’s 22 teams are into the final four days of their 68-game regular seasons. Here’s a look at where things are in terms of playoff opponents (GR — games remaining) . . .
- Everett Silvertips — Hold three-point lead over Kamloops, each with two games to play. Will meet Vancouver, Spokane, Prince George or Victoria in first round. . . . Will be without Olen Zellweger, the WHL’s highest-scoring defenceman, until at least the start of the playoffs. . . . GR (2): at Portland on Friday, at Tri-City on Saturday.
- Kamloops Blazers — Three points behind Everett and tied with Portland. . . . GR (2): at home to Prince George on Friday and Vancouver on Saturday.
- Portland Winterhawks — Will finish second or third. Beat host Tri-City in OT on Tuesday night to move into tie with Kamloops. . . . GR (1): at home to Everett on Friday.
- Seattle Thunderbirds — Will finish fourth and have home-ice advantage against Kelowna in first round. . . . GR (1): at Tri-City on Friday.
- Kelowna Rockets — Will finish fifth and meet Seattle in first round. . . . GR (2): at Vancouver on Friday, at home to Prince George on Saturday.
- Vancouver Giants — Have two games remaining, after dropping a 6-0 decision to visiting Seattle last night. . . . One point ahead of Spokane and Prince George. . . . GR (2): at home to Kelowna on Friday, at Kamloops on Saturday.
- Prince George Cougars — Tied with Spokane for seventh with same records (23-28-5), one point behind Vancouver and one ahead of Victoria. . . . GR (2): at Kamloops on Friday, at Kelowna on Saturday.
- Spokane Chiefs — Tied with Prince George. . . . GR (2): at Victoria on Friday and Saturday.
- Victoria Royals — One point behind Prince George and Spokane. . . . GR (2): at home to Spokane on Friday and Saturday.
- Tri-City Americans — Not this season.
- Winnipeg Ice — Will finish atop the overall standings so is assured of home ice through the playoffs. First-round opponent will be Swift Current, Calgary, Regina or Prince Albert. . . . Two home games versus Regina now will be played in Regina on Friday and Saturday nights. . . . GR (2): Ice will be designated as home team for games in Regina on Friday and Saturday.
- Edmonton Oil Kings — Will finish second and open against Lethbridge. . . . GR (2): at Medicine Hat on Friday, at Red Deer on Saturday.
- Red Deer Rebels — Will finish third and meet Saskatoon or Brandon in the first round. . . . GR (1): at home to Edmonton on Saturday.
- Moose Jaw Warriors — Won 5-2 in Brandon on Tuesday to move two points ahead of Saskatoon. . . . GR (2): at Lethbridge on Friday, at Regina on Sunday.
- Saskatoon Blades — Two points behind Moose Jaw and each team has 37 victories. . . . Three points ahead of Brandon. . . . GR (1): at home to Brandon on Friday.
- Brandon Wheat Kings — Three points behind Saskatoon. . . . GR (2): at Saskatoon on Friday, at Prince Albert on Saturday. . . . Depending on road conditions, Wheat Kings may not leave for Saskatoon until Friday.
- Lethbridge Hurricanes — Will finish seventh and play Edmonton in the first round. . . . GR (2): at home to Moose Jaw on Friday, at Calgary on Sunday.
- Swift Current Broncos — Hold down conference’s last playoff spot but have only one game remaining. . . . One point ahead of Calgary, two ahead of Regina and Prince Albert. . . . GR (1): at home to Prince Albert on Friday.
- Calgary Hitmen — One point behind Swift Current, one in front of Regina and Prince Albert. . . . GR (1): at home to Lethbridge on Sunday.
- Regina Pats — Tied with Prince Albert, two points behind Swift Current and one behind Calgary. . . . Three games remaining, all at home after two games scheduled for Winnipeg were moved to Regina. . . . GR (3): at home to Winnipeg on Friday and Saturday, at home to Moose Jaw on Sunday.
- Prince Albert — Tied with Regina, two points behind Swift Current and one behind Calgary. . . . GR (2): at Swift Current on Friday, at home to Brandon on Saturday.
- Medicine Hat — Sorry. Not this time.
WEDNESDAY IN THE WHL:
In Calgary, F Arshdeep Bains, the WHL’s leading scorer, had two goals and two assists to lead the Red Deer Rebels to an 8-3 victory over the Hitmen. . . . He now leads the league with 110 points, seven more than linemate Ben King, who had two goals, and eight up on F Logan Stankoven of the idle Kamloops Blazers. . . . Bains also leads the WHL in assists, with 68. . . . King now has 52 goals, three more than F Connor Bedard of the idle Regina Pats. . . . This was the first time the Rebels and Hitmen have played each other since Dec. 19. . . .
In Langley, B.C., the Seattle Thunderbirds struck for five goals in the first period en route to a 6-0 victory over the Vancouver Giants. . . . G Tomas Milic earned the shutout with 25 saves. It was his third this season and the fourth of his WHL career. . . . F Jared Davidson led the offence with three goals, giving him 39.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The USHL’s Chicago Steel has landed one of hockey best young prospects in F Macklin Celebrini, 15, who will be eligible for the 2024 NHL draft. He was born in Vancouver, but moved to California after his father joined the NBA’s Golden State Warriors as their director of sports medicine and performance. Macklin played one season of minor hockey in San Jose and has spent the past two seasons at Shattuck St. Mary’s. The Seattle Thunderbirds selected Macklin with the first-overall pick in the WHL’s U.S. draft on Dec. 8. . . . The SJHL’s Nipawin Hawks have named Dana Dirks as their assistant general manager. He spent this season as an assistant coach with Tad Kozun, the general manager and head coach.
If you’re a regular in these parts, you know that we’re big on organ donation and transplantation in these parts. That’s because my wife, Dorothy, is with us today because of a kidney transplant. And now she is preparing to take part in the annual Kidney Walk for a ninth straight year. . . . The 2022 Kidney Walk will be held on June 5, but thanks to the pandemic it again will be a virtual event. . . . The Kidney Walk is a huge fund-raising venture for the Canadian Kidney Foundation and its provincial branches. By participating, Dorothy is able to give something back to an organization that has been such a big part of our lives. . . . If you would like to be on her team by making a donation you are able to do so right here.
If you are interested in being a living kidney donor, more information is available here:
Living Kidney Donor Program
St. Paul’s Hospital
6A Providence Building
1081 Burrard Street
Vancouver, BC V6Z 1Y6
Toll free: 1-877-922-9822
Vancouver General Hospital Living Donor Program – Kidney
Gordon and Leslie Diamond Health Care Centre
Level 5, 2775 Laurel Street
Vancouver, BC V5Z 1M9
604-875-5182 or 1-855-875-5182
Or, for more information, visit right here.