WHL: Outdoor hockey, more outdoor hockey & some blockbuster trades

The WHL will make history tomorrow when it stages the league's first-ever outdoor game and some are already calling the matchup between the Kootenay Ice and Spokane Chiefs a "Canada versus the US" event. And just like the NHL's Winter Classic match between the Capitals and Penguins, Mother Nature may play some tricks on The RockStar Outdoor Hockey Classic in Spokane. No matter. The fans I've spoken with are ready for whatever conditions arise with the sun tomorrow and both teams are eager and excited to help inaugurate what could become a yearly tradition. As of this writing, the temperature in Spokane is a balmy 49 degrees. Tomorrow's forecast includes temps in the high 40's - low 50's and... rain. Similar conditions in Pittsburgh pushed the Winter Classic to 8pm Eastern, to take advantage of cooling temperatures, and even though it still rained, no one seemed to pay any attention. The WHL laid out a list of contingency plans, none of which include pushing the game back to a later puck drop, but focus on what should happen if weather conditions deteriorate after the game has begun. You can check out the contingency plans by reading this post at the website for KREM-TV in Spokane.

Players are obviously thrilled to be part of this historic event. Chiefs Captain Tyler Johnson told WHL.com writer Jesse Watts, "Watching (the rink) get built at the stadium, you get the jitters thinking about getting out there on Saturday. Our whole team is pretty excited." Kootenay players are excited to play outside, but they're also looking forward to facing a surging Spokane team. Defenseman Brayden McNabb told Watts, "Spokane has a really good team this season, and we are looking forward to seeing how we stack up against them. At this point in the season, points matter a lot in the standings, and there are two points available from this game, too." (Note: you can see what else the two teams had to say about the game by reading  Watts' full story at the WHL.com website. Just click here.) Want to see time lapse of the outdoor rink being built? Click here.

We know that players would be up for the challenge. We also know that fans are lining up to watch history be made. Avista Stadium is filling up quickly, with roughly a couple hundred tickets left at last check. I'm not sure about the hotel situation, though, so you'd better call now if you're planning to hit the road at the last minute.

I put out several calls to Spokane and Kootenay fans to weigh in on the game. A grand total of TWO PEOPLE responded to my call - both of them Chiefs fans. Well, maybe more like one and a half Chiefs fans. 

Longtime fan Rhaen is excited about the novelty of the game, but a little perturbed about the "US vs. Canada" angle. Hannah, who's an Everett Silvertips fan at heart, but cheers for the Chiefs since she's attending school in Eastern Washington, thinks the Outdoor Classic is a great way to showcase the league. "I think it's great to generate any positive buzz about hockey and the WHL and I think this does just that," Hannah told me. "Plus, I imagine it must be great for players to get the chance to play outside, something I'm sure a lot of them did as kids but might not get to do as much now."

Hannah also thinks that the home team will have the upper hand tomorrow afternoon. "Maybe the Chiefs for getting a practice in on the ice surface, since ice conditions don't seem like they'll be ideal with the warmer temperatures." Hannah adds, "The Chiefs have been surging to the top of the Western Conference & can certainly score in bunches. Though I haven't been able to watch Kootenay this season yet but with the acquisition of Eakin and them already being in 2nd in the East should make it a good game especially since they play in Kootenay the day before the Outdoor Classic. It should be a great game though between two of the WHL's best."

She also expects a lot from Chiefs' Captain Tyler Johnson, saying, "I'm sure Johnson will be a bit more motivated to impress the hometown crowd playing outside."

In addition to the game, the Chiefs are hosting two public skates tonight at at the outdoor rink. As I write this, Hannah is skating her heart out at the later public session. I expect her to blog and tweet about her experiences tonight, and at tomorrow's game. Her blog is: Defense, Dangles & Dagger (Just click on the name for the link). Her Twitter handle is: Palindrome713 (again, click on the name for the link).

The puck drops tomorrow at 4pm Eastern, 1pm Pacific. You can watch the game live on Shaw TV, Shaw Direct and SWX (Spokane). FSN Northwest will air the game at 10pm Pacific. The game will also be streamed online and live on the radio. For full details of broadcast plans, just click here.

Another outdoor game!

Fans who live too far away to enjoy tomorrow's RockStar Outdoor Hockey Classic in person  might want to consider making the trip to Calgary for a second outdoor game next month. The Hitmen will host the Regina Pats at McMahon Stadium on Monday, February 21st. The puck drops at 1pm Calgary time. For more information, visit the Calgary Hitmen's website. I'll have more about this game in an upcoming post.

Trades, trades and more trades

This was a busy week for a number of teams, working furiously to make changes before the trade deadline. the biggest trade saw the Brandon Wheat Kings sending star Brayden Schenn and a 3rd round pick in the 2012 Bantam Draft to the Saskatoon Blades, in return for four draft picks and two prospects. Schenn is coming off a stellar showing at the World Junior Hockey Championships, in which Canada picked up the silver medal for the second year in a row, but Schenn was voted tournament MVP. The Blades are understandably over the moon about their newest acquisition. They gush talk more about it here. Brandon also sent defenseman Darren Bestland to the Vancouver Giants for forward Matt MacKay and a pick in 2012.

The second blockbuster trade sent forward Cody Eakin from Swift Current to Kootenay, in exchange for forward Christian Magnus, plus prospects Ryan Bloom, Jarrett Zentner, Colby Cave, Steven Myland and 3 draft picks.

The third trade that made me do a double involves the Everett Silvertips and Medicine Hat Tigers. The 'Tips sent forward Kellan Tochkin (Canucks prospect) and defenseman Alex Theriau (Dallas Stars prospect) to Medicine Hat, in return for forward Ryan Harrison and a 2nd round draft pick this year. The Everett Herald's Nick Patterson breaks down the trade here.

Here's a look at other trades that took place this week:

The Calgary Hitmen sent defenseman Matt MacKenzie to the Tri City Americans, in return for forward Brooks Macek, defenseman Spencer Humphries and a conditional pick in 2012.

The Portland Winterhawks traded defenseman Branden Scheidl to the Lethbridge Hurricanes for forward Ryley Bennefield.

The Vancouver Giants sent defenseman Tanner Sohn to the Saskatoon Blades for a 10th round draft pick in 2013. they also sent forward Brett Lyon to Moose Jaw for forward Nathan Smith; defenseman Dalton Reum to Swift Current for d-man Joel Rogers and forward Craig Cunningham to the Portland Winterhawks for forwards Spencer Bennett, Teal Burns and two picks.

The Regina Pats sent defenseman Mitch Spooner to Seattle. The T-Birds gave up a 5th round conditional draft pick in 2012.

The T-Birds also traded forward Charles Wells and a 1st round pick in the 2011 CHL Import draft to Prince Albert, in exchange for defenseman Ryan Button, and sent forward Scott Ramsey to the Medicine Hat Tigers for a 4th round pick in 2011.

Prince Albert also dealt forward Sebastian Svendsen to Moose Jaw, in exchance for forward Michal Hlinka and two draft picks.

The Edmonton Oil Kings sent a 5th round pick in the 2012 draft to Vancouver, in exchange for forward Mark Reners.

Is your head spinning yet??

Now, to this weekend's games:

Tonight (Friday, January 14)

Prince Albert @ Moose Jaw

Edmonton @ Regina

Saskatoon @ Swift Current

Red Deer @ Brandon

Spokane @ Kootenay

Calgary @ Lethbridge

Chilliwack @ Prince George

Portland @ Kelowna

Kamloops @ Tri City

Medicine Hat @ Vancouver

Everett @ Seattle

Saturday, January 15

Kootenay @ Spokane

Moose Jaw @ Prince Albert

Red Deer @ Regina

Swift Current @ Saskatoon

Edmonton @ Brandon

Portland @ Kamloops

Chilliwack @ Prince George

Seattle @ Everett

Medicine Hat @ Kelowna

Vancouver @ Tri City

Sunday, January 16

Lethbridge @ Calgary

Edmonton @ Moose Jaw

Red Deer @ Swift Current

Spokane @ Everett

Vancouver @ Seattle


As always, I'd love to hear from you-- about how you think your team is doing, what you think about the trades they made (if they made any trades at all). Weigh in about the WHL getting involved in outdoor games - good or bad idea? Or, just let me know what you want to see in this column. See you next week.

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