The WHL Western Conference Final is now over. Last night the Regina Pats edefeated the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the sixth and final game, and will now rest until Friday night, when they begin their series vs the Seattle Thunderbirds for the Ed Chynoweth Cup, and the right to represent the WHL in the 99th Memorial Cup Tournament in Windsor.
Adam Brooks missed almost all of the second round series vs the Swift Current Broncos, dressing in the final few games to support his team from the bench. He worked his way back to being healthy and in the final three games of the ECF, he scored eight points.
The Seattle Thunderbirds have been speeding their way through the playoffs this year. They swept the Tri-City Americans and Everett Silvertips on their way to the Western Conference Final. The Kelowna Rockets put up more of a fight, but the Thunderbirds won the series in six games. An opponent with a 12-2 record in the games leading up to the finals is not one to take lightly.
The schedule for the finals is below:
April 21st: Home
L 3-1 - No Points
Brooks has returned to playing full shifts since his injury in game two of the second round against the Swift Current Broncos. From the Regina Leader-Post:
From Regina’s perspective, it was a relatively one-sided effort.
“We got off our plan,” explained defenceman Josh Mahura. “We started not getting pucks deep — kind of what we talked about coming into this series and what worked well last series. We got off to a good start and just got away from it.”
The Pats did get an initial jolt from the return of captain Adam Brooks (knee), who saw his first action since Game 2 of the previous series against Swift Current. The 20-year-old centre was questionable heading into the conference final, but he officially got the green light after pre-game warmups.
“I thought he played fine,” said Paddock, who monitored Brooks’ ice-time before turning him loose midway through the third period. “He’s not at the level that he normally would be, but that’s all right.”
Brooks started the game on Regina’s so-called fourth line between Bryan Lockner and Wagner, who saw double duty on the second and fourth units.
April 22nd: Home
W 3-2 OT - 1G, 0A
Scoring his first goal since injury, Adam Brooks won the Pats first game of the series in overtime to tie the series. From the Regina Post-Leader:
Captain Adam Brooks was there when the Regina Pats needed him most.
The 20-year-old centre scored with 2:55 left in overtime Saturday night as Regina beat the Lethbridge Hurricanes 3-2 in a WHL playoff barnburner at the Brandt Centre.
“This was a must-win game for sure,” said Brooks, whose team outshot the Hurricanes 51-31. “There’s a big difference between 1-1 in the series and making it best-of-five (compared to) 0-2 and having to claw our way back like we did last series.”
“The guys have done an amazing job allowing me to get back into the playoffs,” said Brooks. “It means a lot to come back and be able to help the team on the ice rather than just sit on the bench and kind of cheer them on.”
April 25th: Away
L 3-1 - 0G, 0A, -1
The Pats go down 3-1 in the series, but they’ve been down in these playoffs before. From the Regina Leader-Post:
We obviously weren’t good enough,” said head coach/GM John Paddock. “In saying that, once we tied it up we had like four or five good chances on that power play. It was like a two-goal swing when the guy comes out of the box and scores. The first goal and that goal were obviously key turning points. We should have scored on the power play and the first goal shouldn’t happen.”
But it did.
Fans were just settling into their seats when Giorgio Estephan took off down the left side with all kinds of open ice in front of him. The slick centreman crossed Regina’s blue-line and cut to the middle before putting on the brakes. Estephan then dished off to a trailing Menell, who maneuvered into point-blank range and drilled a shot past Brown.
April 26th: Away
W 6-2 - 1G, 2A, +2
When you win, win big. Adam Brooks had his best night since coming back from injury earlier in the playoffs and scored three points as the Pats tripled up on the Hurricanes 6-2. From the Regina Post-Leader:
“We got a couple of good bounces,” said Filip Ahl, who set up Brooks on the play. “That’s the kind of goal we need. We’ve been playing good. Sometimes the puck is going to bounce your way.”
In this case, the Pats felt they had earned it.
“If you play in the other team’s end enough and you put pucks to the net sometimes they go in,” said Paddock, whose team outshot Lethbridge 34-26, including 17-7 in the second period. “We had the urgency to play in their end and deserved (the bounces) a little bit.”
Lucky or not, Brooks’ marker opened the flood gates, leading to four unanswered goals by the Pats.
April 28th: Home
W 5-3 - 0G, 4A, +3
Brooks put up his best game in a long time, assisting almost every goals scored by the Pats in this game. From the Regina Leader-Post:
Asked for his analysis on what went wrong during that pivotal two-man advantage, Hurricanes head coach Brent Kisio redirected the question: “How do YOU analyze it?” he said, before ignoring the query for a second time.
The Pats were more forthcoming.
“It might have been our best minute and a half of the game,” said Paddock. “Guys held their ground, blocked shots, gave (the Hurricanes) as little as you could give on a five on three.”
Lethbridge eventually pulled goalie Stuart Skinner for an extra attacker. Steel fired a shot off the crossbar with 53.5 seconds left to give the ‘Canes one last life, but Brooks snuffed it out when he threw himself in front of a subsequent shot from Tyler Wong.
Brooks then raced down the ice to retrieve his team’s clearing effort. He got to the puck first and fired a no-look pass in front to Austin Wagner, who deposited it into the empty net with three seconds left.
“It’s part of playoffs; you have to bear down and you have to get in the shot lanes,” said Brooks, who had four assists in a first-star effort. “I think everyone in our dressing room wants to win very badly. Guys are selling out.”
April 30th: Away
W 7-4 - 0G, 1A, +3
The Pats put away the Hurricanes after game six, and it wasn’t close. With the top players healthy again for the first time in weeks, Regina marched into Lethbridge and showed them what they should have had to face since game one. From the Regina Leader-Post:
The Hurricanes tried to mount a last-ditch comeback with their net empty, leading to a penalty shot for captain Tyler Wong with 1:09 left. The 20-year-old sniper failed to score but was awarded a re-do after Brown inadvertently knocked the net loose.
“The first one, I was just thinking, ‘I gotta stop it.’ Then they got the second one and I was like, ‘Why? Just why?’ ” Brown said with a laugh. “(The refs) told me because he didn’t get a shot off before the net was off you have to re-do it.”
Wong fired over the net on his second attempt, sealing the Hurricanes’ fate. Wyatt Sloboshan added an empty netter a few seconds later, giving Regina five unanswered goals.
“We had to chip away,” Brooks said. “Robbie’s line went out and got us a big goal to get the tires rolling again. It just seemed to keep going from there. It was a complete team effort tonight — all four lines, all the defence and Brownie was outstanding, especially stopping two penalty shots late. That is exactly what we need at this time of year.”
The WHL Finals begins Friday May 5th in Regina. The series is a 2-3-2 format due to travel, so winning the first two games at home will be huge for the Pats.
Adam Brooks is out last hope for a Leafs prospect to win their way into the Memorial Cup tournament. Hopefully we’ll be able to watch Brooks vs Bracco before they both become team mates on the Marlies next season.