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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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WHL notes: Prince George makes its playoff push

With four weeks left in the Western Hockey League’s regular season, the Prince George Cougars appear to be the biggest threat to the Spokane Chiefs’ playoff hopes. Following Saturday night’s 4-2 victory over Moose Jaw, the Cougars (24-33-2-2, 52 points) have picked up points in six of their last eight games to close within six points of the Chiefs and five of Tri-City, the teams that would advance as wild cards if the season ended today. Prince George has rebounded from an 11-game losing streak that seemed to spell its doom. If the Cougars make the playoffs, they may point to a 4-2 victory over defending Memorial Cup champion Edmonton on Feb. 6. “When we were losing all those games, we had no confidence,” defenseman Josh Connolly told Ted Clarke of the Prince George Citizen. “We ended that slump with a win over Edmonton and we’ve just built on that since then.” Spokane has played three fewer games than Prince George. But 10 of the Chiefs’ final 14 games are against their rivals from the U.S. Division, considered the league’s best. Spokane also has one game left with the league’s top team, Kelowna, and two with Vancouver, which has won six of its last nine games.
Speltz receives honor
Chiefs general manager Tim Speltz was one of three people named Tuesday by Hockey Canada to the Program of Excellence management group for the 2015-16 season. Speltz will support the under-20 program, including the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship. Speltz assisted the management group at the 2014 U-18 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup, when Team Canada won the gold medal. “It is a great honor to represent your country at an international event,” Speltz said. “Having the opportunity at this level is extra special and very humbling.” Speltz has been Chiefs GM since 1990, assisting Spokane’s drive to WHL championships and Memorial Cup victories in 1991 and 2008. Also named to the management group were Joël Bouchard of Blainville- Boisbriand of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Dale DeGray of Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League.
Mixed bag in return
Red Deer’s Connor Gay made his first trip to Regina since the Pats traded him on Jan. 5. Gay’s Rebels gave up three power-play goals in the second period and lost 4-1 on Saturday. “I was excited to come back and hopefully beat the team that traded me,” Gay told Greg Harder of the Regina Leader-Post. “Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, but it was a cool experience to come back.” Gay has two goals and 11 points in 19 games since joining the Rebels.
Around the league
The WHL swept the Canadian Hockey League’s weekly awards as Brandon’s Jayce Hawryluk was named top player and Kootenay’s Wyatt Hoflin took honors as top goaltender. Hawryluk, a Florida Panthers prospect who had been out of the Wheat Kings’ lineup since Jan. 16 with an upper-body injury, accounted for five goals and two assists in two games over the weekend. Hoflin made 92 saves during three victories, including stopping 29 shots as the Ice blanked the Chiefs 5-0 last Saturday. … Vancouver Giants captain Dalton Sward broke a bone in his left hand during a collision with a Kamloops player on Saturday night and will be out of action 4-6 weeks. The Giants also lost a captain named Dalton to injury last season when Dalton Thrower suffered a season-ending ankle injury. … Red Deer called up 16-year-old forward Reese Johnson after he completed his season with the Saskatoon Blazers of the Saskatchewan Midget AAA Hockey League. Johnson might be in the lineup as early as today because of injuries to Conner Bleackley, Evan Polei and Brooks Maxwell.
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