The unofficial first half of the BCHL season has come to a close with teams now on their Christmas break. Of course we are already well past the actual halfway point with most teams having just about 20 games left in order to make their post-season push or jockey for position. The New Year should see the typical frenzy of activity with the trade deadline set for January 10th and with all but the Coquitlam Express in a position to battle for a playoff berth there’s plenty of of opportunities to be had.
Seeing as it’s the season for giving, I’ve decided to compile a list of gifts I would give to each BCHL team if I had the capacity to do so. Assuming I would give what is needed, I present to you the BCHL Christmas wish list, at least as I see it.
Alberni Valley Bulldogs – A scoring forward. The Bulldogs have really turned it on of late after a horrendous start to the season. 3-3-1-1 in the month of December is a big improvement and has pulled the Bulldogs within five points of Nanaimo for the final Island division playoff berth and with a pair of games in hand. But scoring goals has been a problem all season long for Alberni. With just 86 goals scored on the year, only Coquitlam has fewer.
Chilliwack Chiefs – A time warp to January. OK this is obviously strange but the Chiefs haven’t had their best month going 2-2-1 and ending the pre-Christmas schedule with a 9-4 loss in Langley last Wednesday. The two-time defending Mainland division champs close out 2016 with 3 straight games against the Wenatchee Wild, the last two of which are in Washington where the Wild have yet to lose this season.
Coquitlam Express – A time warp to next season. This year has been nothing other than a complete and unmitigated disaster for the Express. Inundated by an unprecedented number of injures, Coquitlam entered the Christmas break with an 18-game losing streak. Scoring a league low 73 goals through 36 games and allowing a league high 188 against, there’s really nothing positive to speak of for Barry Wolff’s squad this season. My how long ago that 2014 Fred Page Cup championship seems.
Cowichan Valley Capitals – Scholarships. It’s been a pretty good 2016 portion of the season for Bob Beatty and the Capitals sitting just one point back of Powell River for second in the Island division. Captain Chris Harpur recently earned an NCAA division I scholarship to Niagara University but that currently stands as the lone post-season commitment on Cowichan’s roster. It’s pretty astounding that the team has not been able to secure any others to this point. The lowly Coquitlam Express have three Div I commits on their roster while the Penticton Vees have 15.
Langley Rivermen – Turkey-less Christmas. The last thing one of the hottest teams in the BCHL needs is to stop their recent mass of positive momentum. Winners of five straight and a 6-1 record in December, the Rivermen have surpassed Prince George to take over third place in the Mainland division. A brutal start to the season was followed by even more injury woes but the Rivermen have battled through and are firing on all cylinders. So for the Riv’s sake, let’s hope the pounds don’t get added on at the Christmas dinner table so they can stay lean and mean into 2017.
Merritt Centennials – A new building. Since I’m trying to keep each wish item brief, I won’t list all the many, many, many reasons the Centennials need a new arena to play out of but I finally have some hockey related numbers to back up what is probably more my wish than the team’s. A roller-coaster season thus far, it looks like the Cents will be battling it out til the bitter end once again for a playoff spot. Merritt is a surprising sub .500 team at home this year and it looks like one of the league’s toughest buildings to play in is doing more damage to the home side than anyone else. A rink resembling the 21st century is more in order than ever before.
Nanaimo Clippers – Goals. This year’s Clippers don’t even look close to the offensively charged powerhouse of the recent past managing just 100 goals through 38 games, the third lowest total in the BCHL. Most teams will eventually go through the natural down cycle after a contending stretch and Nanaimo is no different. But if the Clippers want to remain clinging to that last Island playoff spot with a surging Bulldogs team right on their tail, they better find a way to score more in the New Year.
Penticton Vees – There’s really not much the Vees can ask for this Christmas what with a 16 point lead atop the Interior and the league’s second best record. The Vees lead the BCHL in goals against and remain the most disciplined team by far. A power play sniper though would certainly be nice for Fred Harbinson. Penticton is uncharacteristically in the bottom third for power play execution at just 16.8% efficiency.
Powell River Kings – Short Memories. The Kings were rolling along so nicely until December hit, entering the Christmas break on a four-game losing skid having won just twice in their last eight games. Scoring has been at a premium for Powell River of late being outscored 31-13 in their last seven. The Kings are clinging onto second place in the division and will hope January is much kinder.
Prince George Spruce Kings – New Brakes. The Spruce Kings need to stop their December slide especially with the Langley Rivermen now having leapfrogged them in the standings. Throughout November the Spruce Kings were scoring at will, but that might have been covering up weaknesses that could plague them down the stretch. PG will need to figure out how to win tightly fought defensive games especially with 15 of their final 16 games on the road.
Salmon Arm Silverbacks – More Decembers. The Silverbacks started the season worse than anyone could have imagined and it cost head coach Brandon West his job. But since Misko Antisin took over the Silverbacks have righted the ship and have put up a very strong December indeed including a pair of wins over the Penticton Vees. Going 4-1-1-1 in December, Salmon Arm has pulled within a tie with Merritt for fifth in the division. It looked for a while the Silverbacks would be back outside the playoff picture but just like that they are right back in the thick of it.
Surrey Eagles – A playoff spot. Perhaps the only thing that can salvage the franchise is a return to the post-season. The Eagles have made great strides this season but currently sit on the outside looking in after a drop off following a rather good looking October and November. Well publicized off-ice issues with ownership have at least taken a back seat while the franchise improves its performance but more is required or there will be yet another off-season of chaos.
Trail Smoke Eaters – Consistency. The Smokies have really had a break-through this season under new head coach/GM Cam Keith. But a disappointing December has Trail slipping in the tight Interior and in danger of falling to the bottom just two points up on both Merritt and Salmon Arm. The Smokies can score, but defensively the team remains wildly inconsistent. A home-and-home with West Kelowna right after the Christmas break could have huge consequences down the road.
Vernon Vipers – Better overtime results. The Vipers are enjoying a pretty successful season thus far, in large part thanks to a dominant record at Kal Tire Place. The Vipers have lost just three times in regulation at home this season dropping another in overtime. Currently sitting in second place in the Interior (and holding onto a first-round playoff bye by six points), Vernon needs to just keep up the pace. But improved results in overtime down the stretch will really help their cause. Just one win in extra time has the Vipers 1-3-2 past regulation. Their six point cushion could be a lot more.
Victoria Grizzlies – Healthy Galajda. Craig Didmon would be my early favourite for coach of the year. After missing the post-season last year the Grizzlies sit atop the Island division with the league’s third best record. It’s an impressive turnaround. A big reason for this has been the play of starting netminder Matthew Galajda. With a 2.12 GAA and a league best .927 save percentage, Galajda is having an MVP worthy campaign. The Grizzlies will need to keep him healthy down the stretch and into the playoffs. Perhaps not playing him against Nanaimo again would be wise.
Wenatchee Wild – Consistent Goaltending. Perhaps the only concern the Wild should have given their league leading record is their play between the pipes. Recently shipping out Garret Nieto and bringing in Devin Cooley to compliment Anthony Yamnitsky should help as the veteran Nieto was having a tough year all told. But it’s also indicative that perhaps the Wild rely too much on their goaltending. Strange to say for a team that had put up 10 or more goals on four separate occasions this season, but rarely does a high octane offence alone win you a championship.
West Kelowna Warriors – Stability in Net. Different from the Wild’s wish, the Warriors need to have the sort of stability they saw from this point onwards last season. No team in the BCHL can hold a candle to the wild goaltending changes seen under Rylan Ferster’s watch in West Kelowna. It’s become the thing of jokes and legend with the number of tendys this guy goes through. Last year he finally got some stability in Matthew Greenfield and he ended up getting an RBC ring out of it.
As for me, my wish is for all hockey fans to enjoy the season and all that it brings. Merry Christmas!