BCHL Today: Alberni Valley Bulldogs have Victoria on the ropes

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 7, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

There’s a lot of places we could start today, but Alberni Valley tops the list.

After a 3-2 overtime win Tuesday night the Bulldogs are up 3-0 on the Victoria Grizzlies with a chance to close out the series tonight. If anyone tells me they called an Alberni Valley sweep I will call them a filthy liar to their face. Even the Bulldogs didn’t see this coming. But is an Alberni Valley win so totally out of left field? Were there any signs that this could happen?

I’ll admit I was wrong to call the Bulldogs a playoff cupcake, but I think I had good reason.

I broke down their regular season schedule this morning looking for anything that might have predicted this.

Six regular season games versus Victoria were competitive but resulted in five losses, with the Grizzlies outscoring the Bulldogs by a combined 20-10.

Based on that alone, you’d expect a quick series in Victoria’s favour with Alberni Valley maybe taking a game.

I looked at things month by month to see if there was tangible improvement over the course of the season, and I don’t see it.

The Bulldogs had 11 wins, 22 losses and three ties before Christmas with a combined goals for/goals against ratio of minus-41.

After the break they had six wins and 15 losses with a goals for/goals against ratio of minus-35.

If anything, according to the numbers, they got worse in 2018 than they were in 2017. But as a wise man (Nanaimo play by play man Dan Marshall) reminded me last week, that’s why they play the games. The one thing I can’t see in the results is the ultimate intangible.

Asked to explain the series this morning, Alberni Valley Director of Operations Tali Campbell replied, “Heart. This team is playing with their heart.”

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Staying on the Island for a second, Preston Brodziak scored 3:36 into overtime, giving Nanaimo a 2-1 road win over the Powell River Kings at the Hap Parker Arena. The series I thought would be the BCHL’s best is living up to that prediction. The teams are tied 2-2 heading back to Nanaimo for tomorrow’s game five at the Frank Crane Arena.

A tip of the hat to both goaltenders in this one. Clipper keeper Taz Burman has gotten steadily better as this series has progressed, posting save percentages of .879, .900, .906 and last night .963. Burman was supposed to give Nanaimo a big edge over the Kings and he is holding up his end of the deal. But Powell River goaltenders have surprised. Matteo Paler-Chow turned in a second straight stellar effort Tuesday night, stopping 33 of 35 shots.

If the goaltending is close to even this series is a coin flip.

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On to the game I was at last night, with Chilliwack beating Prince George 3-2 to tie their Mainland division series at 2-2.

The Chiefs broke through PG’s defensive wall to generate 32 shots in this one, getting goals from Ryan Bowen, Bryan Allbee and Jake Gresh. With more finish (the story of Chilliwack’s season) they could have put five or six pucks behind Spruce King stopper Evan DeBrouwer.

How to explain it? A few theories were floated in the pressbox. The two most plausible explanations are that the Chiefs were desperate, knowing the series was over if they went down 3-1. They skated hard, played physical and hounded the puck everywhere on the ice. When Chilliwack plays that way they are a very hard team to beat.

The other possibility pointed out to me was that Prince George’s top defenceman, Chays Ruddy, dressed for the game but didn’t play as much as he normally does, and he didn’t look as effective as he normally does. If the 20 year old Ontario native is indeed slowed by some sort of injury, it could be a significant hit to the Spruce Kings.

“If he’s out or playing hurt, the Chiefs can penetrate a lot easier,” my pressbox source suggested.

I was interested to see how PG would react when they were forced to play catchup. Twice they faced two-goal deficits, which forced them to abandon their defensive system, to a degree. They couldn’t hang back and wait and watch Chilliwack take time off the clock. But even down by two, most of the time the Spruce Kings had only one forechecker going deep to force the play.

The contrast in style and philosophy in this series is stark. Even up by two, Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic had two men flying in on the forecheck, playing an aggressive puck-pressure system that A) made it difficult for PG to break out, B) made it difficult to get through the neutral zone and C) made it difficult to get set up for any sustained pressure in the Chilliwack end of the ice.

When played well, the systems employed by the Chiefs and Spruce Kings both accomplish the same thing, but one is far more entertaining to watch.

After going 0 for 7 in regular season matchups, I’m sure the Chiefs had some doubts about this series and this opponent.

After last night’s game, I wonder if they’ll be a much more confident team going forward, as the series resumes Thursday night in Prince George.

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Off to Coquitlam where the Express endured another beating at the hands of Penticton.

Chris Klack and Wyatt Sloboshan had two goals apiece Tuesday night as the Vees handed the Express a 7-2 loss at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre.

Jackson Keane, Marcus Mitchell and Jack Barnes also scored for Penticton with Jack MacNab and Joshua Wildauer replying for Coquitlam.

The Vees have taken the last two games by a combined score of 16-4, and Express radio play-by-play man Eddie Gregory points out an interesting stat.

“The Vees have done their damage in this series in the second period, outscoring the Express 4-0 and 5-0 in the last two games.”

The score was 2-1 Penticton after 20 minutes in game two before the roof fell in. The score was 2-1 Coquitlam last night before everything fell apart. Either the Vees are slow starters or the Express coach Jason Fortier delivers amazing pre-game speeches.

Penticton can complete the series sweep tonight in a game that starts at 7 p.m.

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The first team punted from the playoffs is the West Kelowna Warriors, who went meekly into the night with a 6-3 home ice loss to Trail.

Tyler Ghirardosi led the way to the Smoke Eaters sweep with a four point performance, scoring three goals and setting up a Ryan Murphy strike. Levi Glasman had two goals and defenceman Jeremy Lucchini chipped in with three helpers.

Goaltender Adam Marcoux is starting to look formidable. The Calgary native started the series with a thud, allowing five goals in game one with a .821 save percentage. Since then he’s allowed five goals in three games with save percentages of .920, 1.00 and .909.

Trail has the firepower to keep up with any opponent, but they’ve had some defensive issues. Marcoux could be a great equalizer in a second round series against the Penticton Vees.

In the other Interior division series Tuesday night, the Vernon Vipers doubled up Salmon Arm by a 4-2 count at the Shaw Centre to take a 3-0 lead.

My pre-playoff favourite as a potential pain in the butt is on the ropes. Merritt fell 5-4 at home to Wenatchee and trail 3-0 in that series. Centennials radio play by play man Jared Thomas passed along a good goaltending stat.

“Both goaltenders made it through the game, the first game of the series where this has been the case. Jacob Berger and Austin Park both toughed it out, but with a 5-4 final, starters could switch tonight.”

The series resumes tonight with game four in Merritt.

Side note: It’s a little sad, isn’t it, that each of the Interior division’s top four seeds is on track to sweep their first round opponents?

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The final game Tuesday night saw Surrey beat Langley 4-2 to take a 3-1 lead in their series.

Desi Burgart had four goals for the Eagles giving him five in the series. His team can knock the Rivermen out of the playoffs tomorrow night when Langley hosts Surrey in a 7 p.m. start at the George Preston Arena.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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