WHL: Leaders, struggles, accolades and one controversial ban

The World Juniors are history. Players are returning to their respective teams for a busy weekend of play. And as we steamroll into the second half of the season, there's a change atop the WHL standings. The Saskatoon Blades now lead the league with a 30-9-0-1 record after 40 games, followed by the Kootenay Ice with a 26-11-1-2 record. The Portland Winterhawks, who led the WHL so decisively during the first half of the season, are tied for third in the league with a 25-12-0-3 record. The Medicine Hat Tigers and Moose Jaw Warriors also have 25 wins.

The cellar dwellers of each division surely face tough questions and even tougher scrutiny, especially the defending WHL champions, the Calgary Hitmen. They're languishing at the bottom of the Central Division with a 12-26-2-1 record. Memorial Cup finalists, the Brandon Wheat Kings are anchoring the East Division with a 13-23-1-4 record. The B.C. Division's last place team, the Chilliwack Bruins, has a 17-17-2-1 record, while the Everett Silvertips and Seattle Thunderbirds are nearly tied for last in the U.S. Division. The 'Tips have a 16-18-2-3 record, while the T-Birds have a 16-15-3-4 record.

Blazers ban sports editor

The Kamloops Blazers, who sit just above Chilliwack near the bottom of the B.C. Division, caused a bit of a stir last week when they barred Kamloops Daily News Sports Editor Greg Drinnan from talking to anyone involved with the organization, following what they deemed unfavorable reports about the team's struggles. If you haven't been following the drama, here's a link to the latest update on the situation. Every team does have a prerogative to grant or limit access, but as someone who lives and works in a major market with professional teams that have had less than stellar seasons, I've never heard of any mainstream media outlet being barred from talking to players and coaches because they've reported on the less than stellar season. Professionally, I think it's a bad move on the team's part. If a team is having a bad season, wouldn't management want to give interviews, to give their positive spin on what they're doing to try to turn things around, rather than ban a reporter/writer/blogger from gathering comments and information, leaving them to their own devices, to write what they can from stats, standings and speculation? Just putting it out there.

Outdoor game in Spokane

The Winter Classic is history, but another outdoor game is quickly approaching. The RockStar Outdoor Hockey Classic will pit the Kootenay Ice against the Spokane Chiefs at Avista Stadium in Spokane on Saturday, January 15th. If you can't make it to Spokane for this historic match, the WHL has negotiated a way for you to watch it from the comfort of your own home. Depending upon where you live, you can watch the game: FSN Northwest, Shaw TV, Shaw Direct and SWX (Spokane). Shaw TV, Shaw Direct and SWX will air the game live at 1pm, while FSN NW will tape-delay it until 10pm. You also have options to stream the game online or listen to it on the radio. Click here for full details about when, where and how to catch the game. (Ian Furness, who has a daily show on 950 KJR-AM in Seattle and does play by play for the WHL on FSN NW, will call the game, along with color analyst Kevin Sawyer and Shaw TV's WHL Central host Joey Kenward.

Players of the Week, Month

Congratulations to the WHL's Player of the Week: Austin Fyten (Lethbridge Hurricanes); Player of the Month: Tyler Johnson (Spokane Chiefs) and Goaltender of the Month: Drew Owsley (Tri City Americans).


This weekend's games:

Tonight (Friday, January 7)

Saskatoon @ Prince Albert

Medicine Hat @ Swift Current

Calgary @ Brandon

Moose Jaw @ Kootenay

Regina @ Red Deer

Chilliwack @ Kamloops

Vancouver @ Prince George

Lethbridge @ Spokane

Tri City @ Everett

Kelowna @ Seattle

Saturday, January 8

Brandon @ Prince Albert

Regina @ Edmonton

Red Deer @ Kootenay

Swift Current @ Medicine Hat

Seattle @ Portland

Vancouver @ Prince George

Everett @ Spokane

Kamloops @ Kelowna

Lethbridge @ Tri City

Sunday, January 9

Seattle @ Chilliwack

Everett @ Portland

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