Three stars selections evoke passion in WHL, hockey

Photo by Mark Peterson Media. Niall Crocker of the Prince Albert Raiders acknowledges the crowd at the Art Hauser Centre after he was named one of the three stars during a Raider home game earlier this season.

Should they be objective on merit or a promotional tool?

I underestimated how much passion could come up around the end of game three star selections in hockey.

For myself, I’ve long considered the three star selections to be a promotional tool. I basically see them as a showy thing for the home teams to use to give pats on the backs of the host side’s players.

I used to see them as an objective thing given out on merit for the happenings in that night’s game. That view is pretty much reserved for NHL contests these days. For any other hockey league in North America including the WHL, they are a promotional tool.

On Saturday night, I posted the sentiment on social media that the three star selections in the WHL don’t mean anything in the grand scheme of things and are just showy things for the home team. I made that same post on Facebook, Instagram and Platform X (formerly Twitter) with a screenshot of the top of the box score of the Prince Albert Raiders 4-3 overtime victory over the Hurricanes in Lethbridge on Saturday. All of the three star selections that night came from the host Hurricanes.

Those posts started attracting messages in the comments sections and direct messages poured in. All sorts of views came in about overall observations on three star selections, and the passion was there.

To be fair, that Saturday clash between the Raiders and Hurricanes was a rough game to pick three stars. The Raiders scored twice inside the last 41 seconds of regulation to force a 3-3 tie and overtime, and Sloan Stanick scored 17 seconds into the extra session to give the Prince Albert side the win.

In Lethbridge, like in a number of markets, the three stars are picked with five minutes to play in the third, and there are no mechanisms or there doesn’t seem to be a will to put in mechanisms to make changes.

Going back to the WHL schedule on Saturday, the Seattle Thunderbirds beat the Silvertips in Everett 4-3 in overtime, and the first two stars went to Silvertips players and the third selection to Thunderbirds centre Sam Popowich, who had the assist on the overtime winner. The Silvertips had a 41-21 edge in shots on goal, which meant Thunderbirds netminder Scott Ratzlaff made 38 saves and didn’t get a star selection.

The Saskatoon Blades beat the Tigers in Medicine Hat 4-3 in overtime in a very evenly played game. The first two stars went to the host side and Blades left-winger Brandon Lisowsky was named the third star leading all players with three points in that contest coming off two goals and an assist.

The Victoria Royals beat the visiting Kelowna Rockets 3-2 in regulation despite being outshot 37-20. The first two stars went to the host side and Rockets centre Tij Iginla was named the third star.

The best work on the three stars from Saturday on the objective front came in Kamloops, where the Blazers downed the visiting Prince George Cougars 2-1 after the Blazers claimed a tiebreaking shootout 1-0. Blazers goalie Jesse Sanche was named the first star making 47 saves over 65 minutes and stopping all three shooters in the shootout.

Cougars netminder Ty Young was the second star making 28 saves over 65 minutes and stopping two-of-three shooters in the shootout. Blazers right-winger Ashton Ferster was named the third star scoring the first goal in regulation.

Still, that Saturday slate of games was just one night where you could find examples of the three stars not being objective. You could easily go through the WHL schedule to find countless examples where the three stars aren’t objective.

In some cases in recent years where it is a rivalry game between say the Regina Pats and Moose Jaw Warriors and there is a one-goal win by the home side, all three stars come from the home side to stir the pot in the rivalry. In Prince Albert, you can be sure there are a few Raiders fans that have documented every case where the Raiders have been shut out of the three stars every time they have lost by a goal to the Blades in Saskatoon since Prince Albert joined the WHL at the start of the 1982-83 campaign.

When it comes to picking the three stars objectively, this is where some will say I am becoming that old man that yells at clouds.

To me, the person that set the bar and the standard for ensuring the three stars were objective was Bruce Vance, when he went on his run working seemingly every business role for the Raiders at some point in time from 2001 to 2015. I saw that work on the three star selections first hand very early in my time covering the WHL remembering back to the first season I covered the Raiders for the Daily Herald in 2001-02.

Before the start of the game, Vance ensured which media member in attendance was choosing the three stars for that night’s game. He seemed to always be able to track you down when you got in the building.

With about five minutes to go in the third period, he would meet with the media person about three stars. If the difference in the contest was two goals, he would hang out through to the end of the contest in case any changes had to be made if the side that was down rallied for the win. He would radio down the changes that had to be made if that situation played out.

On the side, you usually had a great visit with Vance too during that time.

If the score of the game was 8-2, he would usually come for the three stars and in those cases move on to get a head start on what came up next when it came to overseeing a game night. If there was a major swing in a game that had a spread of three or more goals, Vance would return to double check the three stars, if he began getting a head start on his next game night task.

If all three stars went to the visitors on a game night, all Vance would say is that those things happen from time to time in hockey. Everyone that knew Vance knew how much he always passionately wanted the Raiders to win.

To me if you want to say the three star selections are objective, you have to go by the bar and standard that Vance set. If not, the three star selections are just showy things on the promotional front.

In the messages I received, I was reminded there was an unwritten hockey code when it came to picking the three stars. Back in the 1980s in what is viewed as the last era of unwritten hockey codes ruling the day, the first and third star selections went to the winning side and the second selection went to the losing side.

If a goaltender on the losing side put in an effort that the puck stopper was close to stealing the game or kept the losing side in the game, the goaltender from the losing side was the first star and the winning side got the second and third stars.

If the game was decided by four or more goals, all three stars can come from the winning side.

Overall, I am good with however anyone wants to pick the three stars of a hockey game. If you want to pick them objectively, go for it. If you want to use them as a promotional tool to give someone on the home side a pat on the back, stir up a rivalry or satisfy another promotional variable, go for it.

I did have reach outs from media members that said they ensure their three star selections are objective, and that is awesome to hear. I had fans reach out that agree with me in that they saw the three star selections as just being a promotional tool to be used by the home team.

I had fans reach outs that said the three star selections should be objective, and they get mightily upset when they feel their teams players got screwed out of a three star selection nod in a road game like Bret Hart was screwed out of the WWE title at the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal.

Overall, I do hope hockey followers will try to take three star selections out of whatever league they watch with a grain of salt. With that said, it is kind of cool to see the passion come out when this subject is brought up.

Darren Steinke is a Saskatoon-based freelance sportswriter and photographer with more than 20 years of experience covering the WHL. He blogs frequently at