The WHL is one win away from capturing their first ever Hershey Cup All-star Series title. In Hull, Quebec last week the WHL's Eastern Conference skated to a 5-2 win over the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League's Lebel Conference to take a two point lead in the standing. The third and final game of the Hershey Cup will take place in Kitchener, Ontario on November 27 with the OHL Western Conference hosting the QMJHL Dilio Conference. The QMJHL won the 2001 Hershey Cup while last season it was the OHL that finished first in the three game series.
Home ice has not been used as an advantage in the Hershey Cup as visiting teams have won the last five games. The last win by a home team was on January 24, 2001 in Guelph, Ontario as the OHL Western Conference defeated the WHL Eastern Conference 5-2. Should tonight's game end in a tie a shoot out to determine the winner will take place. The first round will have each team select five shooters and should the game remain tied at that point the shootout will continue in a one on one basis in a sudden death format.
The WHL Western Conference squad gave the WHL their first Hershey Cup win last February when they defeated the QMJHL Dilio Conference by a margin of 9-4. Six players from last year's team return for the Western Conference All-stars. The goaltending duo of Billy Thompson of the Prince George Cougars and the Spokane Chiefs' Barry Brust return from last season as do defencemen Matthew Spillar of the Seattle Thunderbirds and Gerard Dicaire of the defending Memorial Cup champion Kootenay Ice. Up front the returnees from the team that won in Rimouski are Kootenay's Duncan Milroy and the Thunderbirds' Dustin Johner. For Milroy and Dicaire this will be their third appearance in a Hershey Cup game as they join Brett Lutes of the Montreal Rocket as the only players to play in three Hershey Cup games. Johner had a goal and an assist in last year's game.
For the OHL Eastern Conference they will be seeking their first Hershey Cup win. In their previous two games they fell to the QMJHL's Lebel Conference by scores of 8-5 in Montreal in 2001 and 4-2 in Ottawa last January. Andy Chiodo of the Toronto St. Michael's Majors, the Ottawa 67's Brendan Bell, Lukas Krajicek and Eric Staal of the Peterborough Petes, the Oshawa Generals' Brandon Nolan and Patrick O'Sullivan of the Mississauga IceDogs will all play in their second consecutive Hershey Cup game. Jay McClement of the Brampton Battalion played for the OHL's Western Conference team in Red Deer last January where he scored once and added an assist in a 7-2 OHL win.
The OHL Eastern Conference team includes the league's leading scorer in Corey Locke of the Ottawa 67's. In 22 games this season the native of Newmarket, Ontario has recorded 60 points on 25 goals and 35 assists. On Monday Locke was selected as the OHL's Player of the Week for the second week in a row and for the third time this season. Locke was also the CHL Player of the Week for last week and the CHL Player of the Month for October. Nine of the OHL's 12 forwards are in double figures for goals this season including Locke and teammate Matt Foy, with 21 goals, who have both topped the 20-goal mark. From a special team perspective the members of the OHL's Eastern Conference team has scored 61 power play goals and 22 shorthanded goals. Foy and Locke have each scored five shorthanded goals this season while Staal and Matthew Stajan of the Belleville Bulls have scored four shorthanded markers in the 2002 - 2003 season.
In the WHL Western Conference line up are two of the WHL's leading scorers in Erik Christensen of the Kamloops Blazers and Nigel Dawes of the Kootenay Ice. Dawes leads the WHL with 20 goals and has added 15 helpers. Christensen has recorded 41 points on 17 goals and 24 assists. In their line up tonight the WHL team has nine players who have scored ten or more goals. The defensive corps of the WHL also boasts some offensive abilities as they bring a combined total of 25 goals to the game. The roster of the WHL Western Conference has scored a combined total of 84 power play goals this season including 10 from Dawes. Shorthanded the team has a combined total of 14 goals.
Tonight's game will provide fans with an opportunity to see several leading candidates for the team that will represent Canada at the 2003 World Junior Hockey Championships that will be played in Halifax and Sydney, Nova Scotia in late December and early January. The Hershey Cup All-star Series is part of the evaluation process for the selection of the players that will attend the final selection camp in Halifax in December. From last August's Summer Development Camp Roster seven players will play in tonight's game. Marc Habscheid, Head Coach of the Kelowna Rockets, is the WHL Western Conference Head Coach.
The second game of the 2002 - 2003 Hershey Cup All-star Series will feature twenty-four players that have been drafted by National Hockey League teams. Top prospects for the 2003 NHL Entry Draft include the Peterborough Petes' Eric Staal, Patrick O'Sullivan, the CHL's Rookie of the Year in 2001 - 2002, and Braydon Coburn of the Portland Winter Hawks.
The next game in the Hershey Cup All-star Series is set for November 27 in Kitchener, Ontario with the OHL's Western Conference All-stars hosting the QMJHL's Dilio Conference All-stars.