Thursday, March 13, 2008

Playoff outlook for Thrashers prospects (NCAA, CHL, Europe)

I'll start with the CHL since it's more straightforward.

The WHL regular season ends this Sunday. Riley Holzapfel's Moose Jaw Warriors are 8th in the WHL's Eastern Conference, and will likely match up against Paul Postma's 1st place Calgary Hitmen in a seven-game playoff series. So one of the two of them would be done early, and I'd have to guess Holzapfel based on the standings. Joining the Chicago Wolves would give him a nice taste of pro hockey as he heads into next year though.

Spencer Machacek's Vancouver Giants are 2nd in the WHL's Western Conference. They of course went on to win the Memorial Cup last year. Angelo Esposito's Quebec Remparts are 4th in the QMJHL's Telus Division. Arturs Kulda's Peterborough Petes are 8th in the OHL's Eastern Conference. An early exit by them could have Kulda joining the Wolves. It's not unheard of for a player with junior eligibility remaining to play a few AHL games in the spring either (and then return to junior the next year), so Esposito could conceivably do that, but it's unlikely given Chicago's depth.

The NCAA is more of a mess. The regular season is done and we're now in conference championships. But what teams really want to do is be invited to the national tournament, a la basketball's March Madness. These invites are based on rankings -- strength of schedule and the like. Here's a link to's PairWise rankings and latest bracketology where they guess the match-ups. It gives you a good idea of who will be invited. The league champions each get an automatic bid, even the struggling CHA. The writer predicts that 7 WCHA teams -- generally agreed to be the strongest conference and the one where more NHL prospects play -- will make the tournament.

The WCHA's Univ. of North Dakota is tied for fourth in the pairwise rankings. UND is the team of three Thrashers prospects -- Rylan Kaip, Andrew Kozek and Michael Forney. They are a talented and gritty team -- the stuff that could take them all the way. They do indeed, as they say, put the fight in Fighting Sioux. Denver, ranked 6th, is home to freshman Jesse Martin. By the way, if anyone can explain to me why Denver goes by "DU," yet the official name of the school is University of Denver, do tell. Seems to me like it ought to be UD. And finally, for all its struggles, the Univ. of Minnesota is ranked 12th and will probably just make the tourney. Goaltender Alex Kangas is their starting goaltender as a freshman.

In the CCHA, John Albert and Ohio State finished next to last in the regular season standings and have already been put out of their misery. Last place was Western Michigan, a school you almost never hear about anymore. Matt Siddall is at Northern Michigan and they finished 6th in the CCHA.

In Europe, Jonas Enlund had a great start to his playoff career with Tappara Tampere in the Finnish league the other night -- he turned game 1 around and scored both goals in a 2-1 win vs. JypHT in the quarterfinals. Also in Finland, Miikka Tuomainen's team Lukko Rauma is out, losing in the "pre-playoffs." Andrei Zubarev is not playing at the moment but his Russian Super League team Kazan Ak Bars won the first round and is now playing CSKA in the quarterfinals. Kazan is one of the favorites for the league title.

Finally, I have to share something funny I read today:

. Vancouver comic Torben Rolfsen, on University of Moncton hockey player Josianne Bisaillon being suspended for an entire year after she punched a female linesman three times in the face: "Great; this totally screws up my Atlantic University Sports women's hockey fantasy league team.''

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