WHL blog: Bjorkstrand joins 50 in 50 club


Oliver Bjorkstrand. (Marissa Baecker/Getty)

Oliver Bjorkstrand of the Portland Winterhawks continues to amaze. With four goals Saturday night against Seattle, he set a franchise record with goals in 12 straight games and stretched his total to 52 on the season in only 50 games played. It was the first time that a WHL player has score up 50 in 50 since Emerson Etem in the 2011-12 season. If Bjorkstrand keeps up his current pace he will be the first player to average a goal-per-game over a full season since Calgary’s Pavel Brendl notched 73 goals in 68 games during the 1998-99 season.

Bjorkstrand’s four goals were all different, showing off his versatility. The first was on a pretty back-hander on a breakaway. Then he scored on a two-on-one, electing to keep the puck instead of pass it off. Later, he banged home a goal from in close and he finished off the night scoring with a guy draped all over him.

After the game he was all smiles. “For myself personally, it’s probably one of the best ones,” he said. “I got 50 goals in 50 games so I’m really proud of myself for doing that, and I have to give credit to my teammates. Nic [Petan] and Paul [Bittner] and a lot of guys helped me out in getting those goals.”

Portland Winterhawks on Twitter

His goal-scoring streak was stopped the next night, but he did chip in with two assists, and is now only three points behind Medicine Hat’s Trevor Cox for the scoring title. What’s remarkable about that is that he’s played 12 fewer games.

Needless to say, Bjorkstrand is going to bring in a pretty good haul at the WHL awards at the end of the year. Portland won two games this weekend, which sets up a huge match up with Everett on Wednesday of this week. They trail the first place Silvertips by four points but have two games in hand. This is the last time the teams will play during the regular season and the pressure has to be on Everett. Portland has an easier schedule to finish the year and if the Silvertips want to hold on to first place, they almost have to win on Wednesday.

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Race for Scotty Munro

The Scotty Munro Memorial Trophy is handed out to the regular-season champion. Last season, Kelowna won the honour and the Rockets are in the race to repeat. They sit in the top spot with 105 points, but the Brandon Wheat Kings are breathing down their necks. Brandon has 103 points and both teams having six games left. These two have their playoffs spots all wrapped up, so the Munro chase is all they are really playing for. The Rockets have four home games remaining while Brandon has three. The Wheat Kings have the easier schedule from an opponent stand point, which may give them the inside track.

Does the trophy matter? In the NHL it’s been well documented how little the Presidents’ Trophy means to playoff success. How about the WHL? Kelowna won it last year and failed to get to the final, but the two previous champions—Portland and Edmonton—were also Scotty Munro winners. Looking back over the past ten years however, winning the Munro Trophy doesn’t equate to post-season success. The regular season champ has gone on to win the WHL title three times. So maybe Kelowna and Brandon want to rethink pushing too hard to win it.

Central Division coming down to the wire

The Calgary Hitmen stormed to the Central Division lead over the past month, wresting it away from the struggling Medicine Hat Tigers. Calgary then took off on a long and tough nine-game road trip. They stayed hot on the road for the most part but stumbled to losses their past two road games. That has given the Tigers some hope and they have won a couple of games to get the Central all square again.

Medicine Hat Tigers on Twitter

During Medicine Hat’s struggles, they had a hard time scoring. They have shown some signs of coming out of that but only scored once in their past two games, beating Kootenay 1-0 after being blanked by Moose Jaw. On paper they have scorers in Trevor Cox and Cole Sanford and if those guys can turn it on, the Tigers just might be able to squeak past Calgary.

The Hitmen have to be happy to be back in Alberta after the long road trip. They still have two more road games before they get to play at home, but they are in Red Deer and Lethbridge so they won’t have the long trip like the one they just took through the U.S. Division. The Hitmen can score, but they’ll have to get solid goaltending from the combination of Mack Shields and Brendan Burke if they want to hold off the Tigers.

Bottom-feeders playing hard

With intense battles at the top of the U.S. and Central Division, both conferences have a tight race for the last playoff spot.

In the East, the Moose Jaw Warriors have come back from the dead to pull within two points of the Swift Current Broncos. They’ve won three in a row while the Broncos have lost six straight. The Warriors have been led by Brayden Point who had three goals and five assists in Moose Jaw’s three wins. The Broncos had a spot wrapped up but now are in danger of possibly slipping out of the playoffs.

In the West there are four teams that still have a shot of slipping into the playoffs. The Prince George Cougars have been hot—with five wins and points in their last six games—and are in third in the B.C. Division. The Tri-City Americans have battled numerous injuries and are in danger of dropping out completely. They have a two-point lead over the Kamloops Blazers and a four-point lead over the Vancouver Giants. If nothing else, the last couple weeks of the season will give the fans of these teams some excitement and drama.

Player of the week

Oliver Bjorkstrand, RW, Portland Winterhawks It’s getting to the point where Bjorkstrand is in the hunt to be the PoW each week. But in only two games, he potted four goals and added a couple of assists. He’s averaging more than a goal-per-game and you have to wonder how 88 players were selected before him in the 2013 NHL Draft.

2015 NHL Draft Tracker

Paul Bittner, LW, Portland Winterhawks Not to be out done by his linemate Bjorkstrand, Bittner picked up a hat trick Saturday night against Tri-City. He also added three assists over the weekend. The big power forward is enjoying a nice draft year with 32 goals and 63 points.

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