Welcome to the Feb. 14, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.
The Penticton Vees have the league’s best record at 35-11-2-3, and they’ve done it while losing a huge amount of man games to injury.
Despite losing two key players, co-captain Grant Cruikshank and NHL-drafted defenceman Ryan O’Connell, to season ending ailments and enduring long-term injuries to Nicky Leivermann, Chris Clack, Taylor Ward, Jackson Keane and Cassidy Bowes, the defending Fred Page Cup champs remain the team to beat heading into this year’s playoffs.
And the team may be getting healthier at the right time.
Penticton play-by-play man Craig Beauchemin expects two players to return to the lineup as the Vees host the Coquitlam Express tonight.
Leivermann has missed the last 14 games. When healthy, the 19 year old defenceman has been a point-producer on the blueline with seven goals and 29 points in 36 games.
Dakota Boutin is also set to return after missing nine games. The 20 year old has collected 16 goals and 32 points in 42 games this year.
Adding Leivermann and Boutin back into the mix makes the Vees that much more dangerous.
Side note: According to Beauchemin, Penticton now needs to average just 2,587 fans over their last three home dates to average 3,000 for the season, which hasn’t been done by a Canadian Junior Hockey League team. The Vees have been averaging well over 2,587 per match, so consider that a slam dunk.
Side note: Other games in the league tonight have the Trail Smoke Eaters visiting the Prince George Spruce Kings, the Langley Rivermen in Merritt and the Nanaimo Clippers at the Cowichan Caps.
An interesting note out of Powell River, passed along by Kings play-by-play man Alex Rawnsley.
The Kings are on a four-game winning streak fueled by the excellent play of previously unknown goaltenders. Sidelined by injuries, regular stoppers Mitch Adamyk and Matteo Paler-Chow have logged just 15 minutes, with the remaining 225 minutes have gone to affiliate/emergency goaltenders. Rawnsley says that Alex Rolfe is 2-0, Derek Krall is 1-0 and Cam Stevenson is 1-0 over that stretch.
Collectively they’ve stopped 113 of 122 shots, keeping Powell River in the thick of a tight Island division race. The Kings are just one point behind the first place Victoria Grizzlies with big home games this weekend against Vernon (Friday) and Chilliwack (Sunday).
The Merritt Centennials held their ‘Family Day Weekend,’ last weekend.
Lots of teams do this, setting aside a portion of their schedule where family can fly or drive in and watch their son/sibling/grandson play. Most of the time, family can only follow players through online newspaper sites, streaming radio, BCHL TV or social media feeds. It’s a rare treat to watch them live and it’s often very motivating for the players.
On Sunday the Centennials and their families hit the road to visit the Cowichan Caps at the Island Savings Centre.
Merritt radio play-by-play man Jared Thomas says the team started the day at the home of Mattias Dal Monte’s parents, eating a massive pre-game meal of pancakes, waffles, fruit, sausages, bacon, whipped cream, orange juice and coffee.
Dal Monte’s grandparents flew in from Kitimat to watch him play, and they cheered loudly as the 17 year old defenceman picked up his first BCHL goal late in the second period. Goalie Austin Roden had his parents and grandparents in the stands as he pitched a shutout, stopping 20 pucks in a 4-0 win.
The Alberni Valley Bulldogs are doing something nice for their four remaining home games, bringing back four graduates as the team celebrates its history.
Alums Tyler Ruel, Turner Popoff, Paul Savage and Garrett Halls will return to the ‘Dog Pound.’
Ruel will lead off Saturday as Alberni Valley hosts the Chilliwack Chiefs at the Weyerhauser Arena. A local kid who logged 275 games in a Bulldog uni, Ruel was part of the team’s inaugural campaign in 2002 and played through 2006-07. He racked up 87 goals and 147 points, and made an appearance in a BCHL all-star game (when they had those).
Here’s a throwback TV story about Ruel from 2011.
Richmond native Turner Popoff is in town for a Sunday home game versus Vernon. Popoff was a force on the AV blueline from 2011-13 and moved on to play for the Vancouver Island University Mariners in the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League.
Paul Savage drops the puck at a Feb. 24 home game vs Powell River. The defenceman played 46 games for AV during the 2016-17 season.
The final alum is Garrett Halls, who will be at a Feb. 25 home game against Powell River. The Comox native spent three seasons (2013-16) with the Dawgs, tallying 11 goals and 56 points in 168 games. He currently plays for the VIU Mariners.
The BCHL handed out five suspensions coming out of last weekend’s games.
Chilliwack’s Adam Berg (pictured left in Chiefs red) and Cowichan’s Ethan Scardina have both been slapped with four game bans after receiving blow-to-the-head majors.
Vernon’s Shane Kelly is out for four games after receiving his fifth fighting major of the season.
Langley’s Ethan Lehy was hit with a two-game ban after receiving a checking-from-behind major and Coquitlam’s Lucas Wong was slammed with a six-game suspension after receiving a match penalty for checking from behind.
Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.