Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Pulock are travelling on very similar paths in their hockey careers. They are two of the Islanders top defensive prospects, who both captain a Western Hockey League club and can relate to each other in a way almost no one else can.
Their parallel paths are about to cross, as their respective teams, the Edmonton Oil Kings and the Brandon Wheat Kings, meet in the second round of the WHL playoffs, starting Thursday night.
Both Reinhart’s Oil Kings and Pulock’s Wheat Kings swept their first round series’ to set up this heavyweight collision. The top-seeded Oil Kings handled their business, knocking off the eighth-seeded Prince Albert Raiders in four games, while the seventh-seeded Wheat Kings shocked the WHL by beating the second-seeded Regina Pats in four straight.
“People thought [the series] was going to be a little closer than it was,” Pulock said. “For our team, we had a strong finish to our season, built a lot of confidence and kept rolling through the first round.”
Pulock finished the series with four points (two goals, two assists), but the Wheat Kings offense was red-hot, scoring 24 goals in the four-game series – at least five goals in each contest.
“All four lines are contributing right now and I think come playoff time, that’s definitely key,” Pulock said. “For me, I want to be at my best in this series, that’s my job. I want to lead this team. I have to be playing my best heading into the second round.”
While the Wheat Kings are averaging the most goals-per-game (six) in the Eastern Conference, the Oil Kings have allowed the fewest. Edmonton only allowed nine goals over four games to Prince Albert, while scoring 18 of their own. Despite the optics of a four-game sweep on paper, Reinhart said the Raiders gave the Oil Kings all they could handle; serving as a reminder that nothing comes easy in the post season.
“It was a closer series than the standings indicated,” Reinhart said. “Every team in this league – regardless of where you are in the standings – can play on any given night.
Reinhart, who is a noted shutdown specialist, contributed a goal and two assists in the series, including a two-point effort in Edmonton’s comeback, overtime win in game three.
Pulock and Reinhart have developed a relationship through Islanders training camps and Hockey Canada events. The off-ice friends hold each other in the highest regards on the ice.
“[On Long Island] I was pretty close with him being from the Western league,” Reinhart said. “He’s got a heck of a shot, he runs their offense and he can also shut guys down.”
“Obviously Griffin is a great player who we are going to have to watch out for all series,” Pulock said. “He’s a solid defenseman who likes to get in the play offensively a bit. He’s definitely a key guy that we have to look out for.”
The joint admiration also fuels competition, meaning that relationship will put on hold for the duration of the series.
“On the ice – right now – he’s the enemy,” Reinhart said. “I’m sure after the series; we’ll catch up and chat a little bit.”
Game one goes Thursday night in Edmonton. Puck drop is at 9:00 p.m. eastern time.
Season Recap: Edmonton won the season series with Brandon 3-1, taking both games at Rexall Place and splitting the two games at Keystone Centre. The Oil Kings won the last three meetings between the teams, outscoring the Wheat Kings 15-9. Brandon took the first meeting 4-3 in early October.
Schedule (all times eastern):
Game One: Brandon at Edmonton, Thurs. Apr. 3 9:00 p.m.
Game Two: Brandon at Edmonton, Sat. Apr. 5 2:00 p.m.
Game Three: Edmonton at Brandon, Tues. Apr. 8 8:00 p.m.
Game Four: Edmonton at Brandon, Wed. Apr. 9 8:00 p.m.
Game Five*: Brandon at Edmonton, Fri. Apr. 11 9:00 p.m.
Game Six*: Edmonton at Brandon, Mon. Apr. 14 8:00 p.m.
Game Seven*: Brandon at Edmonton, Wed. Apr. 16 9:00 p.m.