The Western Hockey League has turned the corner into the second half of the season, and as Saturday’s trade deadline nears, it appears the rich are getting richer as Spokane, Kelowna, Calgary and Vancouver have all taken steps to shore up their lineups for the long haul.
The Tri-City Americans, who are ranked 10th in this week’s CHL poll, haven’t made a noteworthy move since they picked up Mitch Fadden from Lethbridge in November, but that hasn’t hindered their ascent to the top of the U.S. Division.
The Americans (27-11-0-2, 56 points) play at Seattle tonight and hope to have Team Canada gold-medal winning goalie Chet Pickard in the lineup when they play host to Portland on Saturday.
“It’s pretty amazing,” said Americans GM Bob Tory of the trades. “It hasn’t been quiet here. There have been offers, but no deals have been made. We were involved in the Nick Ross trade and we have been pursuing him since October, but Kamloops felt the other offer was better. We inquired about (Joel) Broda, but Moose Jaw wasn’t interested in players that would go their way.
“There are two days left, but we are going to march ahead with the team we have. We are the third-best team in the league and I have faith in the players we have. Trades don’t guarantee you anything, you still have to play well, stay healthy and get some breaks along the way.”
Ross, a defenseman, was traded to Vancouver, while Broda, who played two seasons with the Americans before being dealt to Moose Jaw last year for Jason Reese, was traded to the Central Division-leading Calgary Hitmen on Thursday evening. Broda leads the WHL with 36 goals.
The defending Memorial Cup champion Chiefs, who trail the Americans by seven points in the standings, traded overage forward Seth Compton and a 2010 third-round bantam draft pick to Kamloops for Brady Calla on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Calla gives the Chiefs a little more size up front and has an offensive upside with five goals and eight assists in 19 games since returning from a stint in the AHL.
Compton, a West Richland native who had played his entire career in Spokane, joins the Blazers after scoring five goal and 10 assists in 40 games.
“We made one trade and at the end of the day we felt we had to make this change,” said Spokane GM Tim Speltz. “Seth is a heart and soul kind of guy, but with Calla, he gives us a little more dimension.”
The Chiefs also welcomed Ondrej Roman back to their lineup this weekend after he spent the first half of the season playing for Vitkovice HC in his native Czech Republic. Roman, who played two seasons in Spokane before missing the first half of the season, also played for his home country in the World Junior Championships, scoring four goals and four assists.
“We got his release and we are good to go,” Speltz said of getting Roman’s lease from the Czech Republic. It’s great for us to get Romy back. He had a really good tournament and now he’s focused on helping the Chiefs.”
Spokane will play this weekend without goalie Dustin Tokarski, who is taking time off after helping Canada to a gold medal at the WJC.
In the B.C. Division, the Kelowna Rockets picked up heavyweight Ryley Grantham from Moose Jaw on Thursday and could possibly add Swedish star Mikael Backlund to their lineup, but news out of Calgary indicates otherwise.
Backlund, a first-round draft pick of Calgary in 2007, was on the ice for the Flames on Thursday night. The Rockets hold Backlund’s major-junior rights, and depending on the situation in Calgary, could still receive his services.
Backlund had five goals and two assists in helping Sweden to a silver-medal finish at the WJC.
Vancouver, which has a 19-point lead over Kelowna in the B.C. Division, picked up Ross and winger Alex Rodgers in return for defenseman Curtis Kulchar, 18, and three bantam draft picks.