Red Deer Rebels first round pick in the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft Ethan Rowland has joined the team for the remainder of the season. (Courtesy of Red Deer Rebels)

Column: Three-on-Three thoughts on the WHL

Rowland with Rebels for remainder of the year

Red Deer Rebels first round pick from the 2017 WHL Bantam Draft Ethan Rowland has struggled through his fair share of adversity this season.

The 15-year-old injured his knee on the first day of Rebels prospect camp in the fall, then suffered a broken collarbone after joining his midget AAA team the Calgary Northstars.

Now, he’s joined the WHL club for the rest of the year. He said there’s a steep learning curve.

“Speed is a lot faster, you have to be working every day. It’s lots of fun and it’s a big jump from midget. Just happy to be here and soak it all in,” Rowland said.

With the Northstars season now complete, Rowland is practicing with the Rebels, but unsure of when he’ll get his first tastes of game action.

“Just hoping I can prove myself and get in the lineup, play my first WHL game. It is what it is if I don’t get in,” Rowland said.

Rowland had only a goal and four assists this season in 19 games during his first year of Midget AAA and said the learning curve of the league was high but he tried to make the most of the experience.

“We had a lot of good older players on our team, so it took away opportunities for me to play big minutes. I thought as the year went on I got better and started to get back into game speed,” he said.

Lamb Goalie of the Month

Riley Lamb is riding a spectacular wave of stellar goaltending in the Red Deer Rebels net.

The second-year WHL netminder was celebrated for his February performance on Thursday, earning WHL Goalie of the Month honours.

The Rivers, Man. native went undefeated in the month, picking up eight wins along the way with a 1.99 goals against average and .957 save percentage.

Lamb, 19, played a critical role in a Rebels sweep of a four-game B.C. trip, where he allowed just six goals in three games against playoff contenders.

Before the eight straight victories, Lamb had just two wins on the season.

The six-foot, 176-pound netminder was WHL goalie of the week twice in February and also the CHL Goalie of the Week on one occasion.

He has a 10-9-3-2 record on the year with a 3.23 GAA and a .903 SV%. In 68 career WHL games, he has 24-21-8-5 record with a 3.32 GAA and .901 SV% with four shutouts.

Playoff scenarios abound

With the final month of the WHL regular season upon us, teams jockeying for playoff position are aplenty.

Eight of the 16 playoff spots up for grabs have been spoken for so far, with all three U.S. division teams set, and two each in the Central and the East.

The Red Deer Rebels are battling tightly for the third spot in the Central Division with the Kootenay Ice.

Red Deer currently has a six-point advantage on the Ice for the playoff position, but the two teams play each other three more times before the season’s end.

Who gets the final spot will likely come down to the final weekend of the season, where the Rebels and Ice square off for a home-and-home on March 17 and 18.

Four points separate the Medicine Hat Tigers and the Lethbridge Hurricanes for top spot in the Central, with the Tigers holding the slight edge but the Hurricanes owning two games in hand.

Those two divisional rivals will also play a home-and-home on the final weekend of the year.

The Regina Pats and Brandon Wheat Kings are neck-and-neck for the third spot in the East, with the loser likely finishing in the first wild card.

Neither spot is envious, as the third in the division takes either the Swift Current Broncos or Moose Jaw Warriors, and the wild card team gets the winner of the East.

The Saskatoon Blades and Prince Albert Raiders are entangled in a battle for the second wild card in the eastern conference, both with 65 points after 63 games.

The Raiders and Blades will also faceoff on the final weekend of the year.

The Western Conference is all but set with Seattle and Tri-City pulling away in the wild card, but Victoria and Vancouver are separated by two points in the B.C. division for second place.

In the U.S. Division, Spokane and Portland are just three points apart, with the Winterhawks currently hanging on to second.

Basically, it’s a schedule makers’ dream down the stretch with a plethora of important divisional games each and every night for the final 18 nights of the regular season.

It’s likely that the final playoff matchups in the WHL won’t be ironed out until all 22 teams finish game 72.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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