It’s been a strong start to the playoffs for the Terrace River Kings, who won both of their games against the Smithers Steelheads by a comfortable margin.
The River Kings went into the playoffs second in their division with a 9-4-0-3 record and faced the Steelheads, who were fourth in their division with a 7-8-0-1 record. The River Kings hit the ground running in their first playoff game on Feb. 17.
In Game 1, the River Kings jumped into a 2-0 lead and never looked back finishing off the home team 8-3 after 30 minutes.
Game 2 in Terrace was more of the same with the home team scoring first at 12:31 of the opening frame. While Levi Olson was able to tie it for Smithers 29 seconds later, it was all Terrace from that point on as the River Kings added six unanswered goals for a 7 – 1 final.
The Hazelton Wolverines, meanwhile, had to first knock-off the Kitimat Ice Demons in a wildcard game Feb. 11. They did that easily, doubling up the Demons 12 – 6.
With a valiant year under their belts, going 12-4-0-0, the Prince Rupert Rampage were the odds-on favourites to win the west going into Hazelton on Friday. But the Wolverines had something else in mind.
On home ice, they took a 1-0 advantage in the playoff with a 6-4 victory on Feb. 17.
Following that, the Wolverines knocked the Rampage out in Prince Rupert with a hard-fought 4 – 3 victory.
The Wolverines have been building chemistry all year long and now you can see the fruition of all that work, Hazelton’s Coach Barnes said.
“We’ve been saying all year long we were playing for the playoffs, trying to get as many people in to have a pool to pick from.”
“We think we’ve got a good team that can go a long way in the playoffs and hopefully on to the Coy Cup.”
Smithers also had home-ice advantage in the first game of their series with Terrace Feb. 17.
But unlike their Hazelton counterparts, the Steelheads just couldn’t get anything going against their opponents.
In the East Division, there was also surprising upset as the upstart Nechako Northstars playing their first season in Vanderhoof and Fort St. James picked off the second place Williams Lake Stampeders in a best-of-three Feb. 11, 18 and 19.
While Nechako only managed six wins to Williams Lake’s 11 during the season, they had the Stampeders’ number splitting the season series and winning the first and last in the best of three.
The Northstars face off in the East Division final with the regular season league-leading Quesnel Kangaroos (12-3-0-1) starting in Vanderhoof Feb. 24 with Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) scheduled for Feb. 25 and 26 in Quesnel.
The West Division final will also be played Feb 24, 25 and potentially 26 starting in Hazelton.
The winner of the CIHL championship series qualifies for the Coy Cup at the end of March in Quesnel. As the host team, Quesnel is already guaranteed a spot in the four-team round-robin.
Last season in a modified version of the championship, Terrace hosted the Dawson Creek Canucks, winner of the North Peace Hockey League (NPHL) in a best-of-three series.
This season sees a return to the traditional format in which the qualifiers are: the host team, the winner of the CIHL, the winner of the NPHL and a yet-to-be-disclosed finalist.
– With files from K-J Millar