Peaking at the right time

vernon-vs-coquitlam-010
The 2013-14 Express peaked at just the right time capturing the Fred Page Cup

Last season the West Kelowna Warriors won all but three of their final 21 games of the regular season and went on to win the RBC Cup. They weren’t necessarily the deepest team in the BCHL, but the fact remains they gelled as a group and peaked at the exact right moment and rode momentum all the way to a national championship.

It goes back to the old saying “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard”. Coaches know their group and good coaches know how to push the right buttons at the right times and get results. Good coaches also know when not to mess with a good thing and right now there are a couple teams in the BCHL that seem to have a very good thing going indeed while those two collided Sunday afternoon in Langley.

Heading into their road trip ending tilt at George Preston Arena Sunday, the Powell River Kings had won nine in a row. That impressive streak included a 12-1 win over Coquitlam, an 8-0 shutout over Nanaimo, and a pair of wins in Victoria against the Island division leading Grizzlies. As a result, Victoria’s hefty lead atop the division has now been whittled down to just four points. The Kings look very dangerous indeed.

But the Kings’ hot streak came to an abrupt end Sunday thanks to an equally hot team of late, the Langley Rivermen. The Riv skated to a 5-2 win over the Kings and have now won six of their last seven all but erasing a terrible first few months of the season. Now at 22-15-5-2, Langley has opened up a healthy eight point lead over Prince George for third place in the Mainland, a position they’ll likely stick in now as they just won’t have enough time to come close to either Chilliwack or Wenatchee. The Rivermen are 16 points back of the second place Chiefs, afterall.

While these two teams may not have scared too many opponents earlier this year, they’re the likes of which that can be the most dangerous come playoff time. The Rivermen have beat the Chiefs two of their last three meetings and by convincing margins (6-2 and 9-4). I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Chiefs manhandled Langley in that other recent meeting to the tune of an 8-1 destruction at Prospera Centre on January 7th. In fact, all six meetings between the two have been decided by at least three goals while their season series is split down the middle, each with three wins. The season series deciding game will be held Feburary 11th in Chilliwack.

Back to my point about coming up against a hot opponent, it’s most likely the Chiefs and Rivermen will face each other in the first round of the post-season and both teams would be wise to keep the 2014 Fred Page Cup playoffs in mind, a year that saw a mediocre regular season Coquitlam Express team get rolling at just the right time, and at the expense of the Rivermen. That year Langley finished with the league’s best record during the regular season while the Express finished third in the division with 27 wins in 58 games, about as average as it gets. While the Rivermen took care of the Eagles relatively easily in the first round, the Express upset the second-place Spruce Kings and then proceeded to shock the Rivermen with a six-game upset win in the division final before eventually going on to sweep the Vernon Vipers in the league final. The lesson is, beware the late surging surprise.

On the flip side, there are a few teams that should be pretty concerned with their play of late, perhaps most surprisingly the Penticton Vees. The perennial contenders are 4-5 in their last nine games most recently suffering a 5-2 loss in Salmon Arm Sunday afternoon. Thanks to a roaring first half of the season the Vees are one of four teams to have already clinched a playoff berth (along with Wenatchee, Victoria, and Chilliwack). Penticton also boasts a 12 point lead over second place Vernon in the Interior with a pair of games in hand on the Vipers. There is little doubt Penticton will finish where they currently are but Fred Harbinson will need to get his troops in order over the next five weeks.

The Cowichan Valley Capitals are also in a bit of trouble. With just one win in their last nine games, the Capitals are now just five points ahead of Nanaimo for third place in the Island division and nine ahead of the Bulldogs who have two games in hand on both the Capitals and the Clippers. The Capitals continue to be plagued by injury and suspension issues but like the Vees, still have plenty of time to get their problems sorted.

Alberni Valley, meanwhile, blew an opportunity over the weekend to overtake the Clippers for that final Island division playoff berth. The Clippers swept a home-and-home series with the Bulldogs earning a 3-0 shutout win at Frank Crane Friday night then taking Saturday’s rematch in overtime, 3-2 at Weyerhaeuser Arena Saturday. It was a massive four points for the sliding Clippers who are now four points up on Alberni for that final spot. But the Bulldogs still have those two games in hand and with two more meetings left with Nanaimo this playoff race will be one to watch for some time yet.

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