A quick look at the Interior division standings paints a pretty interesting picture. While it’s still fairly early in the season, just four points separates 2nd through fifth and it’s already shaping up to be quite the dog fight down the stretch.
The Penticton Vees remain atop, well ahead of the rest of the pack at 13-2 but otherwise the current standings look nothing like what we’ve seen in recent years. The reason is two-part: the Smoke Eaters and Centennials are winning while the defending RBC champion West Kelowna Warriors are not. Since suffering their first home ice loss in nearly a year back on the 13th, the Vees rattled off a pair of road wins on the weekend, 4-2 in Merritt and 6-3 in West Kelowna. The Warriors have now lost six straight and have not picked up a regulation win over a month (5-3 over Coquitlam on September 22). Is it too early for Rylan Ferster to worry about his club? Perhaps, but in the league’s toughest division sitting five points out of a playoff spot in October is not a good place to be.
The Centennials did not have a good weekend losing to Penticton Friday and Chilliwack Sunday, but had points in all five previous games and currently hold down second place in the division at 8-6-2-1. Joe Martin has quickly proved his worth as a head coach in the BCHL after making some adept moves at last year’s trade deadline helped build a solid roster to compete now.
The Smoke Eaters split a weekend home-and-home series with the Vernon Vipers with the road team winning both. 5-2 in their last seven games, the Smokies have improved big time and can quite possibly become a playoff team for the first time in recent memory. There is certainly tons of time left but Cam Keith has done a good job early on behind the bench in his first season at the helm and this Trail team definitely seems to be for real. With four skaters in the top 20 league scorers (Luke Santerno, Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, and Joshua Laframboise), the Smokies have some good offensive weapons while simultaneously playing with solid team defence.
Perhaps no team has raised more eyebrows than the Surrey Eagles. This past week is a good indication of the sort of roller coaster season this team has had so far. First, the Eagles earned a convincing 6-1 win at home Thursday over the Wild handing Wenatchee their first regulation loss of the season. It was Surrey’s fourth win in six games as it appeared the lowly Eagles had turned a corner. That was until they headed north to Prince George where they were slammed 11-2 by the Spruce Kings Saturday night before losing again 4-2 to the same PG squad Sunday afternoon. In back-to-back games the Eagles defeated the top ranked BCHL team in the country by five goals then lost by nine to a team three games under .500. This could really only happen in the BCHL.
Speaking of those Spruce Kings, a horrendous start to the season has turned around in remarkable fashion. Prince George has now won four of their last five games including a 4-1 win at home to the visiting Chilliwack Chiefs Thursday night, scoring a remarkable 27 goals in that span. At 7-8-0-1 the Spruce Kings sit in third place in the Mainland, also thanks in part to poor play by three other teams in the division in Langley, Coquitlam, and (sometimes) Surrey.
The poor Rivermen record is perhaps the most surprising development in the division thus far, other than Surrey’s bizarre results. Having made the playoffs every season under head coach/GM Bobby Henderson who is now in his fifth year in charge, the Rivermen have been devastated with injuries and defensive gaffes through the first six weeks of the campaign. A road trip to the Island over the weekend was very unkind to the Rivermen who picked up just a single point in a double OT loss in Cowichan Saturday night. That lone point was sandwiched between a 4-2 loss in Victoria Friday and a 5-1 loss in Powell River Sunday. At 4-9-3-1 Langley is just two points ahead of the Eagles for fifth in the division while Surrey holds a pair of games in hand. Having said that the Rivermen are just one point back of the Express for fourth and with plenty of time to go adjustments can certainly be made. But things will need to turn around soon or the Rivermen will have a real risk of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12.
Over on the Island the Victoria Grizzlies are hoping today’s standings stick which would see them go from worst to first. The Grizzlies have been enjoying consistently solid play picking up a pair of weekend wins over Langley and Alberni. Victoria currently sits at 9-2-2-3 (yes, three ties already) good for a share of first place with the Cowichan Valley Capitals but with a game in hand on their Malahat rivals.
Since skating to a 3-3 tie against the Grizzlies on the 15th the Capitals have won three straight, the last two of which were double OT victories. Much of Cowichan’s success can be attributed to the play of starting goaltender Lane Michasiw. Now in his third BCHL season, the 20 year-old has a 7-2-0-1 record, a solid 2.54 GAA and a league best .930 save percentage. Given that the Capitals have a team goal differential of zero despite a 10-4-2-1 record, no Michasiw would likely mean big trouble. But the team is scraping together wins and that’s all that matters. Question is, is it sustainable?
While the Capitals are enjoying success the Alberni Valley Bulldogs most certainly aren’t. Something is seriously wrong as the Bulldogs have lost eight in a row and are already eight point back of fourth place Nanaimo with just four wins on the season. Fans are getting restless and the heat is definitely on head coach/GM Kevin Willison. His job is likely safe for now despite their woes since his employers are the cash strapped community association that owns the team. But the passionate fan base will only keep getting louder with calls for his head unless things are turned around soon.