Welcome to the March 1, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.
We start in Wenatchee where the BCHL playoffs officially start tonight with the Merritt Centennials visiting the Wild.
On paper, this looks like one of several first round series that should be over quick. Wenatchee finished 24 points ahead of Merritt in the Interior division standings. The Wild scored 30 more goals than the Centennials over the course of the regular season and gave up 59 fewer.
Wenatchee has a defenceman, Cooper Zech, who would have led Merritt in scoring by 21 points.
What could possibly lead anyone to believe the Cents have a chance in this series? Well, they don’t, but if you’re looking for reasons, here’s a couple.
The Town Toyota Centre is an arena where opponents fear to tread. Wenatchee has had the league’s best home record the last two years. This season they lost just five times in 29 outings, and Merritt handed them two of those.
|Slava Denim (right) and the Wenatchee Wild are heavy favourites over Merritt in round one, but the Centennials are probably the most intriguing lower seed. PURE LIFE PHOTOGRAPHY|
The Centennials beat the Wild 3-2 in mid-October. In late January, as Merritt started to find its game, it went into Wenatchee for a weekend back to back. The Wild won a tight first game by a 2-1 count. The Centennials won the second by a 3-2 score.
I’m reminded a bit of last year when Wenatchee lost only twice on home ice all year. Both were overtime losses to the Chilliwack Chiefs, who then won games one and two of their second round playoff series in Wenatchee en route to a shocking sweep.
Not saying that’s going to happen here. Those Chiefs were better than these Centennials, but it certainly helps Merritt not being intimidated in ‘The Den.’
The second reason to not write off the Centennials is goaltender Austin Roden, who sneakily posted a 2.40 goals-against average and .931 save percentage during the regular season. The Victoria native is on a roll heading into the post-season. Over his last nine starts he’s posted save percentages of .909, .957, .923, 1.00, .962, .950, .959, .962 and .929.
Wenatchee’s Seth Eisele is a little reminiscent of Anthony Yamnitsky stats-wise. As a member of Wenatchee last season, Yamnitsky posted mediocre numbers and was viewed as the weakness of an otherwise unstoppable juggernaut. That proved accurate as Chilliwack dumped the Wild, with Yamnitsky struggling in the series.
Eisele, a 19 year old Minnesota native, went through this season with meh numbers, 2.64 GAA and .887 SP, and it’s not hard to see goaltending again being the Achilles Heel for Wenatchee.
All of that said, I am taking the Wild, but I’m thinking the Centennials push this one to seven.
Two Mainland division series start tomorrow night.
Let’s look at Chilliwack versus Prince George first. In a battle of one-versus-four seeds the Spruce Kings are heavy favourites, but should they be?
The case in favour of PG is this. Seven regular season meetings resulted in six Spruce King wins and one tie.
Actually, there’s more. Give Prince George a massive edge in goaltending, with 20 year old Evan DeBrouwer going up against a pair of struggling 17 year olds. DeBrouwer was a finalist for the BCHL Goaltending Award (more on that later) with a 2.24 GAA and .920 SP. Chilliwack’s Mathieu Caron (2.66 and .895) and Daniel Chenard (3.07 and .893) have been inconsistent, with neither netminder asserting himself as the number one guy.
|Prince George goalie Evan DeBrouwer, seen here in a BCHL game vs Trail, is a huge problem for the Chilliwack Chiefs. JIM BAILEY PHOTO|
Actually, there’s more.
The Spruce Kings gave up 138 goals during the regular season while only four teams scored less than the Chiefs. Chilliwack averaged 2.93 goals per game and didn’t have a single 20 goal man. I looked back as far as 2003-04 to see the last time the Chiefs didn’t have anyone hit that mark, and it hasn’t happened. Even in 2013-14, when the team bottomed out in Harvey Smyl’s final season, Mathieu Tibbet came up with 31 goals.
If you’re looking for me to bring up the case for Chilliwack to win this series, I can’t. Everything about the matchup and the underlying numbers suggests this should be over quick, and this year’s Royal Bank Cup hosts will be sidelined until May.
I do think Chilliwack will get a win, but I’m calling this one in five. Prove me wrong Chiefs. Prove me wrong.
The Langley Rivermen and Surrey Eagles could provide a sneaky-interesting series in a clash of two and three seeds.
Neither team had a huge edge in the regular season series, with Langley winning four, Surrey winning three and the teams tying a game back in mid-December.
In the PG vs Chilliwack capsule I mentioned that only four teams have scored less than the Chiefs. Langley is one of those teams (by a two goal margin). Brendan Budy and Angus Crookshank provided the Rivermen a pair of 20 goal men (22 apiece), but the scoring depth isn’t there. The Eagles will put their defensive focus on Langley’s top line and it will be up to someone else to step forward.
The Rivermen have been a bit of a smoke-and-mirrors show this season. Logically, you’d think that if a second seed can’t score, they must be able to defend like demons. Langley isn’t bad defensively. Starting goalie Braedon Fleming posted OK numbers (2.74 GAA and .906 SP).
But they are purely middle of the road.
Surrey isn’t some crazy powerhouse either, but if the Eagles have a calling card, it’s that they have a couple of top-end players and some decent scoring depth. Ty Westgard ranked second in BCHL scoring with 15 goals and 70 points in 56 games. John Wesley ranked fifth with 68 points in 56 games, and tied Wenatchee’s AJ Vanderbeck and Jasper Weatherby in the league lead for goals with 37.
Behind them you’ve got Desi Burgart (53-22-28-50), Jeffrey Stewart (56-20-30-50) and Ryan Brushett (58-21-28-49).
All else being equal or close to it, go with the more talented team. I’m saying Surrey in six games.
I mentioned BCHL awards earlier. The league announced all of the winners late Wednesday afternoon.
An initial round of voting by BCHL coaches produced one nominee from each division and a second round of voting by those same coaches produced the winners.
There’s a lot of Wenatchee as the Wild took three of the six awards.
Bliss Littler won the Joe Tennant Memorial Trophy as coach of the year while Cooper Zech won the Top Defenceman Trophy. Jasper Weatherby was a sensible choice for the Vern Dye Memorial Trophy as league MVP.
Despite missing a handful of games at season’s end due to a wrist injury, Victoria Grizzly Alex Newhook was a unanimous choice as rookie of the year, winning the Bruce Allison Memorial Trophy.
Vernon’s Ty Taylor won the Top Goaltender Award and Ben Poisson of the Prince George Spruce Kings won the Bob Fenton Trophy as Most Sportsmanlike Player.
|Vipers netminder Ty Taylor jumps on the puck as Cavin Tilsey of the West Kelowna Warriors tries to poke it in. LISA VANDERVELDE PHOTO|
One thing that’s bugging me about this. Top Goaltender Award? Top Defenceman Trophy? At the very least, the other awards have names attached to them, even if we aren’t sure exactly who some of those people were.
How about the Duncan Keith or Troy Stecher Defenceman award? The Carey Price Goaltending Award?
Anything to add a bit of juice to those names.
Finally, a rant about the playoffs.
As I’m going through each of these series, I am thinking, ‘Man, what a dog of a first round.’
Aside from your own team, what series do you get excited about? The Interior division matchups seem very cut-and-dry, with clear favourites expected to overwhelm underdogs. I have some interest in Merritt vs Wenatchee. Not that I think the Centennials can win, but I do think they can push the Wild.
|The sooner we get from Penticton vs Coquitlam to Penticton vs Wenatchee,the better.|
I have zero interest in Penticton vs Coquitlam. If it were possible for a best-of-seven series to end in three games, that’d be the candidate.
Vernon vs Salmon Arm? Meh. Trail vs West Kelowna. Could be OK.
The entire Mainland division is uninteresting from top to bottom.
Victoria vs Alberni Valley? Yawn. The only series that I find compelling in the entire league is Nanaimo vs Powell River.
Which brings me back to something I will harp on over and over and over. Sixteen teams in the playoffs is just too much. What’s the solution? I don’t know. Throw the entire league into one division and have the top eight make the playoffs? Keep the divisions the way they are and have four from the Interior and two each from the Mainland and Island?
Have 12, with the top seeds getting a bye?
Having Coquitlam (15-38-1-4) and Alberni Valley (17-32-5-4) in there is a problem.
Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.