Goaltenders helping Raiders, Ice fight for WHL playoff positioning

Prince Albert Raiders goaltender Max Paddock. (Lucas Chudleigh/Apollo Multimedia)

As we hit the home stretch in the regular season across the Canadian Hockey League, the battle for playoff positioning in some cases could come right down to the wire.

The Western Hockey League’s East Division is a prime example.

The defending champion Prince Albert Raiders continue to lead the way with 27 wins and the addition of veteran goaltender Max Paddock from the Regina Pats has paid major dividends. The 19-year-old hasn’t lost a game in regulation time since joining his new club, going 5-0-2. What’s more impressive is Paddock’s minuscule 1.38 goals-against average.

With five points separating the top three teams in the division and nine points separating the top four, a late-season slide could change the look of the standings in a quick way.

For the Winnipeg Ice, who sit in second in the division, it’s also been a veteran goaltender who has helped lead the way.

Despite a three-game losing skid, overage goaltender Liam Hughes has posted good numbers since joining the team in early December.

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Hughes, who stepped away from the sport in January 2019 for personal reasons after splitting time with the Seattle Thunderbirds and Lethbridge Hurricanes, returned to action in November, playing one game with the Alberta League’s Drayton Valley Thunder before joining Winnipeg, where he has posted a 2.47 goals against average in 19 games.

In the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the Chicoutimi Sagueneens and Moncton Wildcats loaded up at the trade deadline and continue to battle for top spot in the league’s Eastern Conference with Chicoutimi holding a four-point edge.

The addition of overage defenceman Patrick Kyte has been a good one for the Sagueneens. As the team added several high-end players to the roster ahead of the deadline, Kyle had provided some offence from the back end while also bringing some key experience while playing with the Halifax Mooseheads last season.

Kyte’s playoff and Memorial Cup experience from last season comes in handy as the team looks to go on a long run.

Chicoutimi also added Felix Bibeau (New York Islanders) and Raphael Lavoie (Edmonton Oilers), giving the team added both playoff and Memorial Cup experience last season — Bibeau with Rouyn-Noranda and Lavoie with Halifax.

Meanwhile, Moncton’s additions of Jared MacIsaac (Detroit Red Wings) and Benoit-Olivier Groulx (Anaheim Ducks) in separate deals with Halifax, also give the Wildcats plenty of post-season experience.

MacIsaac is settling in after missing extended time early in the season while Groulx has continued to produce offensively since joining the club at Christmas.

In the Ontario Hockey League, the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers continue to battle it out for top spot in the Midwest Division with the Knights holding a one-point edge over the Rangers following weekend action.

The additions of two key overage players has worked out well for the Knights thus far.

Defenceman Markus Phillips, who won an OHL title last season with the Guelph Storm, has provided a steady, veteran presence on a talented London blue line.

Up front, forward Jason Willms, acquired from the Barrie Colts, a reliable centre who can chip in offensively. Willms has routinely taken key faceoffs for the Knights since joining the club.

As the Rangers added Florida Panthers prospect Serron Noel ahead of the deadline, plenty of eyes have been on him in that time, but it’s been the addition of defenceman Holden Wale that’s gone under the radar some and given the Rangers some solid depth on the blue line.

The veteran defenceman has also given the Rangers some extra offence from the back end with five points in his eight games.

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