From a neutral fan perspective or general supporter of the BCHL, you would hope to see a tightening of the gap between playoff teams in their respective divisions as they gear up for the post-season which is now less than two weeks away.
That’s certainly the case in the Interior division with just six points separating third through sixth with first-round matchups still to be determined. Despite a 5-1 loss to Salmon Arm on Saturday, the Penticton Vees appear to have come out of their January funk having now won five of their last six games and seven of nine in the month of February. Along with the Vernon Vipers, Penticton has clinched a first-round bye while the two await the outcomes of the division quarterfinal that will see West Kelowna and Trail garner home ice advantage against either Merritt or Salmon Arm. It should be a pretty entertaining first round as it’s hard to pick a favourite in any of the potential matchups, especially with the way the Silverbacks have been coming on recently.
The Mainland division first-round matchups have already been determined and from my point of view there’s really only one that will be ofr substantial entertainment value and that’s Chilliwack vs. Langley. The Wenatchee Wild have clinched their first-ever regular season title in just their second year in the league and will have home ice advantage throughout the Fred Page Cup playoffs. The Prince George Spruce Kings have the unenviable task of trying to at least push the best-of-seven series to a fifth game.
To say it’s a mismatch is an understatement. After Monday night’s Prince George game in Langley, the Wild have 36 more points, have scored 82 more goals, and have allowed 66 fewer goals against. In their seven meetings over the course of the regular season, the Wild went 7-0 while outscoring PG by a combined 40-13. It was sheer domination. I would very much like to be proven wrong but I will be surprised if the series makes it to six games.
The Langley-Chilliwack matchup could definitely be a much different story. While the Chiefs have the decided edge in the standings, the season series between the two was both close and entertaining. The Chiefs ended up with the oh-so-slight edge with a season series record of 4-3, the final game of which was decided in overtime on February 11th. But while the series itself was pretty much as close as possible, only that seventh and final meeting needed extra time. In fact all of the previous six games between the two were decided by a margin of at least three goals. The Chiefs outscored the Rivermen by a combined 31-29, yes that’s an average of over 8.5 goals per game. I suspect their impending playoff series will be slightly more defensive but likely just as entertaining.
That brings us to the Island where things aren’t nearly as rosy from the league’s perspective. Whereas the other two divisions will have at least one if not more intriguing first-round matchups, the same cannot be said for the Island where there are really only two contenders. The Victoria Grizzlies have clinched first place while the Powell River Kings sit just six points back while both have had impressive seasons, especially in the second half. But there is a massive drop off from the Kings to the Capitals and Clippers who will finish third and fourth. I was on the Island last week and watched a pair of games, first the Capitals in Alberni on Tuesday followed by a Cowichan Valley visit to Nanaimo Wednesday. The quality of both games was subpar and if what I witnessed was a precursor to how the Capitals and Clippers will play come the post-season they’ll both be in very tough.
But the best things about playoffs is the element of surprise. Very few would have predicted the West Kelowna Warriors would have defeated the Penticton Vees in the division final last year let alone go on to win the RBC Cup. Every year there is at least one surprise run, who will it be this time?