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Thursday, September 20, 2001

2001-02 Western Hockey League season begins Friday

 The opening of the Western Hockey League 2001-2002 season will be highlighted by the introduction of the League's new expansion team, the Vancouver Giants.

 The Giants, who will play all home games at the PNE Coliseum in Vancouver will open the season with back to back home games Friday, September 21st against the Kamloops Blazers and Saturday, September 22nd when the Seattle Thunderbirds will provide the opposition.

 The Giants franchise, with a new ownership group lead by Ron Toigo, Gordie Howe, Pat Quinn, Milan Ilich, and Sultan Thiara, is the first expansion team in the WHL since the Edmonton (Kootenay) Ice joined the League in 1996-97.

 Meanwhile, the defending Western Hockey League and Memorial Cup Champions Red Deer Rebels will open their season on Saturday, September 22nd at home when the Lethbridge Hurricanes visit the Centrium.

 This season, the Western Hockey League will introduce a new realignment of the League with the Eastern and Western Conferences balanced with a similar number of teams in each of the four Divisions.

 Each Conference will consist of two Divisions with the Western Conference featuring a five team British Columbia (B.C.) Division and the United States (U.S.) Division comprising the four U.S based teams. The Eastern Conference will consist of two Divisions (East & Central) with five teams in each Division.

 EASTERN CONFERENCE

 East Division
 Brandon
 Moose Jaw
 Prince Albert
 Regina
 Saskatoon

 Central Division
 Calgary
 Lethbridge
 Medicine Hat
 Red Deer
 Swift Current

 WESTERN CONFERENCE

 B.C Division
 Kamloops
 Kelowna
 Kootenay
 Prince George
 Vancouver

 U.S Division
 Portland
 Seattle
 Spokane
 Tri-Cities

 The Western Hockey League also announced in June a new playoff format. Beginning with the 2001-2002 playoffs, four teams will make the playoffs in each division in the Eastern Conference. In the Western Conference, four teams will make the playoffs in each Division unless the fifth place team in the B.C Division has more regular season points than the fourth place team in the U.S Division. If this occurs, the fifth place team will become a wild card team and will make the playoffs instead of the fourth place team in the U.S Division.

 In each Conference, first round match-ups will be the first place team playing the fourth place team, and the second place team playing the third place team, in each Division, based on regular season standings. Second round match-ups will be first place team playing the fourth place team, and the second place team playing the third place team, in each Conference, based on regular season standings. All playoff series will be best of seven.

 The Western Hockey League season will also feature several rule changes.

 Among the changes fans of the WHL will notice this season are the implementation of the "Fast Face-Off " procedure, and more four-on-four play when coincidental minor penalties are called.

 The Fast Face-Off procedure has been used with success in several international hockey events and will be used at the 2002 Olympic Games and the 2002 IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships. The rule will be implemented immediately by the WHL on a trial basis until Oct. 11.






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