The WHL’s best regular-season team in 2021-22 looks to move on to the Eastern Conference final when it plays host to a Friday night playoff game. Yes, the No. 1 Winnipeg Ice take a 3-1 series lead into Game 5 against the visiting No. 4 Moose Jaw Warriors. . . . The Warriors will be without F Robert Baco, whose suspension for a charging major in Game 3 had been set at two games. . . . A Winnipeg victory would send the Ice into a series against the No. 2 Edmonton Oil Kings, who are 8-0 in these playoffs, having swept the No. 7 Lethbridge Hurricanes and No. 3 Red Deer Rebels. . . .
Meanwhile, in the Western Conference, the Kamloops Blazers hold a 3-1 lead over the Vancouver Giants and they’ll play Game 5 in Kamloops tonight. . . . At the same time, the No. 3 Portland Winterhawks have a 2-1 edge on the Seattle Thunderbirds as they meet in Kent, Wash. The Thunderbirds are coming off a 5-0 victory in Game 3 in Portland on Wednesday night.
THURSDAY IN THE WHL:
In Langley, B.C., F Logan Stankoven broke a 2-2 tie on a late third-period PP as the No. 2 Kamloops Blazers skated to a 4-2 victory over the No. 8 Vancouver Giants. . . . The Blazers hold a 3-1 lead in the series, and they’re right back at it tonight as they meet in Game 5, this time in Kamloops. . . . The teams exchanged goals in this one, with F Luke Toporowski (6) giving Kamloops a 1-0 lead at 13:54 of the third period. . . . F Zack Ostapchuk (4) got the Giants even at 17:42. . . . The Blazers went back in front at 12:59 of the second period on a goal by F Caedan Bankier (4). . . . Ostapchuk (5) tied it again, this time at 6:21 of the third. . . . Stankoven’s eighth goal, at 17:23, was the game-winner. . . . The Giants were hit with a minor for too many men just 46 seconds after Stankoven’s goal. . . . Stankoven followed that with his ninth goal in eight games into an empty net with 7.9 seconds remaining. . . . Ostapchuk and linemate Fabian Lysell, who had two assists, lead the WHL playoff scoring race, each with 19 points, one more than Stankoven. . . . Kamloops was 2-for-3 on the PP; Vancouver was 0-for-1. . . . The Blazers got 18 stops from G Dylan Garand, while G Jesper Vikman blocked 34 for the Giants. . . . F Cole Shephard, who last played on March 16, was back in Vancouver’s lineup.
In all my years of covering junior hockey, I don’t know that I encountered a player with a bigger personality than Brandon Underwood. . . . He played five seasons (Kamloops Blazers, Regina Pats, Red Deer Rebels, 2008-13) in the WHL before going on to spend four seasons with the UBC Thunderbirds. . . . He now is a Vancouver firefighter. . . . On Thursday night, after former Moose Jaw Warriors F Brayden Point scored in OT to give the host Tampa Bay Lightning a 4-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, Underwood won Twitter . . .
We had a goalie goal on Thursday night. . . . Former WHLer Joel Hofer, now with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, lit the lamp in a 6-2 victory over the visiting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. . . . In his Calder Cup playoffs debut, he made 34 stops as the Thunderbirds took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five Atlantic Division semifinal. . . . Hofer, 21, is from Winnipeg. He played three seasons (2017-20) in the WHL, making stops with the Swift Current Broncos and Portland Winterhawks.
Julie Stewart-Binks had to cancel out of being part of ESPN’s coverage of Game 6 of the NHL playoffs series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the host Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday night because she tested positive for COVID-19. “Thankfully through contract tracing everyone else is negative,” she wrote on Twitter. “I have been extremely diligent with safety protocols the entire pandemic. I am devastated not to work this game.” . . .
The Cleveland Guardians have at least seven members of their coaching staff in COVID-19 protocol after they tested positive — manager Terry Francona, bench coach DeMarlo Hale, hitting coach Chris Valaika, assistant pitching coach Joe Torres, first-base coach Sandy Alomar, third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh and hitting analyst Justin Toole.
JUNIOR JOTTINGS: The Saint John Sea Dogs, the host team for the 2022 Memorial Cup tournament, were eliminated from the QMJHL playoffs on Thursday night when they lost, 4-3 in OT, to the visiting Rimouski Oceanic. F Alexander Gaudio scored 30 seconds into extra time to give the Oceanic the series victory. The QMJHL is playing best-of-fives this time around and this was Game 5. . . . The Sea Dogs are next scheduled to play on June 20 when they get the Memorial Cup started with a game against the OHL champions. . . .
Three of the last four Memorial Cup host teams have lost out in the first round of playoffs — in 2017, the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires lost in seven games to the London Knights; in 2018, the Regina Pats were ousted by the Swift Current Broncos in seven games; and now the Sea Dogs are gone. . . . Windsor went on to win the Memorial Cup at home, while Regina lost out in the tournament final. . . . The Halifax Mooseheads were the host team in 2019; they reached the QMJHL final where they were swept by the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. . . .
The QMJHL’s Acadie-Bathurst Titan and Halifax Mooseheads were to have played the fifth game in their best-of-five series on Thursday night. But, with Wednesday’s fourth game having gone into the third OT period, the league chose to move Game 5 to Friday night. Because of the length of Game 4 in Halifax and the fact the teams would have had to travel about five hours to Bathurst, N.B., for Game 5 “the league judged it prudent for the well-being and security of the players to postpone the game to Friday.” A tip of the fedora to the QMJHL for making such a decision. . . .
The AJHL’s Camrose Kodiaks have signed Nick Prkusic as the organization’s first full-time assistant coach. He will be working alongside head coach Clayton Jardine. . . . Prkusic, who played in the AJHL with the Brooks Bandits, has been working as the head coach of the Caronport, Sask.-based Prairie Academy’s U-17 team.
Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle, after the Golden State Warriors were whipped, 134-95, by the host Memphis Grizzlies in an NBA playoff game: “If Wednesday’s Game 5 box score was a report card, the Warriors would be grounded for a year. If the Warriors don’t respond in Game 6 Friday, that box score will become an autopsy report.”
My wife, Dorothy, is preparing to take part in her ninth Kamloops Kidney Walk. . . . It will be held on June 5, but thanks to the pandemic it again will be a virtual event. . . . If you would like to sponsor her, 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.