John Morrow photo Abbotsford Pilots goalie Daniel Zuvic defends his crease against White Rock Whalers forward Praveen Dhaliwal during a game earlier this season.

Winter Classic wins push Whalers into PJHL playoff hunt

White Rock junior ‘B’ hockey squad sits ninth in league after pair of wins in Richmond

The White Rock Whalers may not have finished 2018 on a high note – they lost their final three games, and four of their last five, before Christmas – but they rebounded once the the calendar turned, and now find themselves on a modest two-game win streak.

Last weekend at the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s annual Winter Classic showcase – in which the league’s 12 teams gather in Richmond and play two games apiece – the expansion Whalers won both their games, 5-4 over the North Vancouver Wolf Pack on Saturday, and 2-0 over the Port Moody Panthers Sunday morning.

“It was a nice way to start the new year,” said Whalers coach Jason Rogers. “I thought we played well… certainly, to be in that environment, that kind of showcase, it’s good to get some results.”

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The victories put the junior ‘B’ hockey squad into ninth place in the PJHL, seven points shy of the eighth-place Aldergrove Kodiaks for the last playoff spot. And though the late-December losses set them back in their quest for the post-season, Rogers is still confident his group can make a run at the eighth seed with just 10 regular-season games left to play.

“We kind of control our own destiny a little bit. We’re seven back of Aldergrove right now, but we have two games in hand and we play them twice, so that means there’s eight points sitting there for us if we can get them,” he explained.

One way or another, the Whalers’ playoff hopes will become clearer in the next few weeks, Rogers added, considering the team’s challenging upcoming schedule. In addition to hitting the ice at Centennial Arena this Saturday against the Abbotsford Pilots – who are in first place in the PJHL’s Harold Brittain Conference – the Whalers also have two midweek games next week, both on the road, before returning to Centennial Arena for a Saturday home game Jan. 19.

“We have a tough stretch coming up… but I think (after) that point, we’ll have a real good idea of where we stand,” Rogers said.

“We didn’t finish 2018 like we wanted to, but there’s a couple teams who played good games against us. We kind of laid an egg over that period and the end result is we made it a little more difficult on ourselves, but we’re approaching this next stretch not as a big picture, but instead we’re looking at the next three games, then the next three after that.

“We’ll just try to chip away and put up some numbers.”

The Whalers – like all other junior ‘B’, junior ‘A’ and major-junior teams across Canada – have also been busy this week as the Hockey Canada trade deadline approached. The deadline passed Thursday after Peace Arch News’ press deadline.

While proud of the fact that the team has made minimal moves since the start of the season, Rogers, speaking Wednesday, said it is difficult, as a first-year team, to balance a playoff push with a longer-term vision.

“We’ve made very few changes since Day 1, which I think says a lot about who we had (to start with) and how we felt about wanting to build a team,” he said.

“There are a lot of teams who are interested in our players as they try to make their own (playoff) pushes, but we’re happy with where we are.

“But if something makes sense for us (looking ahead) to next year, we’ll look at it, of course. But we’re pretty happy making a push here with what we have.”



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