Welcome to the Feb. 19, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.
Catching up on a slate of Saturday and Sunday games, we hit the highlights starting with the Langley Rivermen.
Turns out all they needed was a home-cooked meal and their own bed to turn things around.
After enduring an awful five game road trip that saw them lose all five and get outscored 30-12, the Rivermen returned to the friendly confines of the George Preston Arena for a pair of weekend games.
The first was against the Interior division leading Penticton Vees.
Despite getting outshot 45-23, Langley skated off with a 5-3 win behind a 42 save effort from Braedon Fleming. No one struggled more on the road-trip than Fleming, who looked like a completely different guy back home. Brendan Budy had a pair of goals with Angus Crookshank, Spencer Berry and Trevor St. Jean adding singles.
Adam Scheel had an extremely rare off night in the Penticton net, where he was pulled for performance-based reasons for just the second time this season. Langley beat him three times on 10 shots in the opening frame and his night ended after a Crookshank power play goal midway through period two. Nolan Hildebrand took over and faced just four Rivermen shots in 26:21 of work.
Langley was back at it Sunday, topping Coquitlam by a 3-1 count. Fleming was again the star as the Express outshot the Rivermen 37-30.
Fleming got offensive support from Berry, Budy and Brady Berger (lots of B’s!) while Colby Pederson had the lone Coquitlam goal.
So Langley’s won two straight, but can they feel good about it? The shot clock says no, especially on home ice where the home team usually benefits. I’m sure Rivermen coach Bobby Henderson would say there’s lots to work on before the playoffs start, but at the very least Langley helped their playoff positioning.
And that’s because…
The inconsistent Chilliwack Chiefs struggle to string two good periods together, let alone two games.
Here’s how Chilliwack’s weekend went.
A 5-2 home-ice loss Friday night to the Merritt Centennials (22-26-4-2), the last place team in the Interior division.
A 5-0 road win Saturday night over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (15-31-5-4), the fourth seed in the Island division.
A 7-1 road loss Sunday afternoon to the Powell River Kings (29-16-6-4) at the Hap Parker Arena, where the Chiefs were stoned by a reserve goaltender making just his fifth BCHL appearance. Chilliwack threw 40 pucks at Derek Krall and only Corey Andonovski could beat him as the 17 year old stopper earned a first star selection.
The Chiefs goalies, meanwhile, had a tough night.
Mathieu Caron earned his first BCHL shutout in the win vs Alberni Valley, so Chilliwack coach Jason Tatarnic went with the hot hand vs Powell River. Caron lasted just 12:36, giving up two goals to Kevin Obssuth and a single to Ethan Kimball before getting the hook.
Daniel Chenard took over and gave up a goal to Jack Long 29 seconds later. He ended up yielding four goals on 21 shots.
Tatarnic has asked a lot of these two goalies this year.
Both are 17 years old and it’s far too early to say they won’t develop into top-flight BCHL netminders.
But like the Chiefs in general, Caron and Chenard have been very unpredictable. Right now, if you had to handicap just about any potential playoff series, the edge in netminding would go to Chilliwack’s opponents, and that is tough to overcome.
The Mainland division standings this morning have Prince George in first followed by Langley (60 points), Chilliwack (58) and Surrey (58).
Gotta throw some love to Merritt today, as the surging Centennials earned a win and a tie in weekend action.
I mentioned the Chilliwack game earlier. Merritt was dominated in the opening 20 minutes at Prospera Centre, but flipped the tables on the Chiefs for the rest of the game. The final score is deceptive, because Zach Zorn and Tyrell Buckley scored last minute goals in an empty net, but the Centennials were full value for the win.
They earned a 2-2 home-ice tie vs Victoria Sunday, with goalie Austin Roden turning in the latest in a string of strong outings. Roden stopped 47 pucks while his Grizzly counterpart, Kurtis Chapman, stopped 44.
Over his last six games the 19 year old has produced save percentages of .957, .923, 1.000, .962, .950 and .959. Merritt has gone 4-1-0-1 in those starts.
Sticking with Merritt for a moment, because you know how much I love to talk jerseys, the Centennials are currently auctioning off their 45th anniversary jerseys, with proceeds split between the Canadian Mental Health Association and the Ty Pozzobon Foundation.
And now back to the Grizzlies and their quest to secure an Island division title, a quest that took a gut punch Saturday night with a 6-3 loss at West Kelowna.
Minus super-rookie and team scoring leader Alex Newhook (wrist), the Grizzlies proved no match for the Warriors.
Victoria actually led 2-1 after 20 minutes on goals by Ethan Nother and Shawn O’Malley, and Marty Westhaver scored the only goal in the second period to give the Grizzlies a 3-1 lead through 40.
Then the roof collapsed.
Chase Dubois made it 3-2 at 7:03 and RJ Murphy tied it at 11:51. Willie Reim gave the Warriors the lead at 16:32 and Chase Stevenson added insurance at 18:34.
Ryan Steele wrapped up the scoring with a last minute empty netter as West K scored five times on 26 shots.
In the highly competitive Island division (at the top at least), one lapse is all it takes.
Victoria is now tied for top spot with the Powell River Kings, each with 68 points. The Nanaimo Clippers, winners of eight straight games, are only one point back, which brings me to a note I received from Wenatchee Wild play-by-play man Arch Ecker this morning.
“Four teams are locked into their seed. 12 are not. That’s pretty impressive heading into the final week”
It certainly is.
The four teams who are A) in the playoffs and B) cannot rise or fall are the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (fourth, Island), Prince George Spruce Kings (first, Mainland), Trail Smoke Eaters (fourth, Interior) and Coquitlam (eighth, crossing over to Interior).
The rest of it is still up in the air heading into the final weekend of action.
We finish up in Wenatchee where a season-high 3,901 fans watched the Wild beat the Trail Smoke Eaters 4-1 Saturday at the Town Toyota Centre.
The Wild mixed in a few cool things on a night where the team celebrated its 10th year of existence.
During warmups, players wore jerseys from years gone by and the team produced a video tribute highlighting the greatest moments in franchise history. Alums Michael Voran, DJ Vandercook and Brandon Burrell took part in the ceremonial puck drop.
Alumnis who couldn’t make it to Wenatchee sent their greetings in video form.
This is a team that does things right on and off the ice and they are my pick to win the Fred Page Cup this season.
Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.