MIDWEST TRADE DEADLINE
The seedings for the Midwest Division became finalized this past weekend, as the El Paso Rhinos locked up the regular season title with their sweep of Wichita, and currently sit with 87 points on the season. Oklahoma City, in second, is only able to reach a maximum of 86 should they win out. As the trade deadline has come and passed, we’ll take a look at where each team sits, as they move into the final stretch to the Thorne Cup Playoffs and Finals.
The Rhinos made a big splash before the trade deadline, picking up the WSHL all-time points leader in Jakob Kranabetter, plus fellow Valencia Flyers Christopher Westover and Nikita Pintusov. With three of the top-six in Midwest Division scoring in Kranabetter, Chaseton Sare, and Austin Simpson, the offensive power is readily available for the Rhinos. Adding in the stellar goaltending of Filip Krasanovsky, and the Thorne Cup Finals host is poised for a deep run.
As Ivan Bondarenko continues to chase the Oklahoma City Blazers all-time records, his line with Joshua Chamberlain and Griffin Wiencek have been the driving force for the Blazers this season. At the deadline, coach Gary Gill made some moves with Valencia as well, picking up 50-point scorers Joseph Hebert and Jason Hickman at the deadline. Debuting with OKC this past weekend, Hebert and Hickman made a big splash, and have definitely put the Blazers offense on a new level. The addition of defenseman Adam Cech at the deadline from Ontario helps shore up the blueline as the Blazers look to take the second Midwest Division bid to the Finals, and hope take out the Rhinos on the way.
The Express remain the dark horse in the Midwest Division as we look ahead into the playoffs. Coach John Ambrefe looks to be happy with his current group of players, as no additions were made at the deadline. The top line of Nikita Sokov, along with Filimon and Arkhip Ledenkov are right up in the thick of the Midwest Division scoring race, and picked up some very big goals during their series against the Oklahoma City Blazers. After picking up three wins in their seven-straight game stretch a few weeks ago, the Express certainly can’t be counted out from the postseason.
The Snipers have been one of those teams this season that while the results haven’t been there on paper, they have caused the top-three teams in the division some strife at various times, and fell just short on the attempts. Picking up some new signings at the deadline, the Snipers added defenseman Mikhail Romanov, and forwards Todd Thompson and Salomon Aberg. The Snipers have the potential to disrupt the playoffs, but will have a lot of pieces heading into next season that will be sure to push them up the standings a bit.
The defending Thorne Cup champions have had a full rebuilding season this year. Losing nearly 1600 games of WSHL experience from last season to this season, the Jr. Thunder have been working on developing and getting ready for next year. As the roster sits right now, Wichita only stands to lose two players to aging out this year, and will have a very cohesive bunch heading into next.
By Eric Rogers