The B.C. Hockey League played an entire regular season to eliminate just one of its 17 teams. The bottom-dwelling Merritt Centennials are left holding the wooden spoon while the other 16 teams advance to best-of-seven playoff series.
Even that involves some contorting.
While the other BCHL Island Division clubs get to stay on the rock for the playoffs, the Victoria Grizzlies will be hopping a ferry and then busing five hours for their opening games Friday and Saturday in Salmon Arm.
The crossover series against the Interior Division third-seed Silverbacks (30-23-5) is the price to pay when you place fifth and last in the Island Division at 24-33-1. The third and fourth games are next Monday and Tuesday at The Q Centre.
“We are used to ferry travel. Still, it’s not the easiest first round,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Craig Didmon.
“But we put ourselves in this position and we have to make the best of it. Drawing the third-place team in the Interior is not an easy task. We are going to have to be at our best throughout all of our positions.”
Goaltending often makes the difference in hockey playoffs and Didmon singled out goaltender Liam Souliere by name. The NCAA Penn State Nittany Lions-bound goaltender, a 20-year-old Blainville, Que., has been a standout in the crease since joining the team in early January after missing the season up to then due to a knee injury.
Salmon Arm answers with a pretty good goalie of its own. Ethan Langenegger, committed to NCAA Div. 1 Lake Superior State, had a 2.79 goals-against average and .908 save percentage in 42 games this season.
The Silverbacks have eight players committed to NCAA Div. 1 schools, including Langenegger, Nick Unruh headed to Dartmouth and Luke Mylymok to Minnesota-Duluth.
“Based on our respective second halves, we match up well with them [Silverbacks],” said Didmon.
“They have a mobile yet big defence and a very good goalie [Langenegger]. They play a sit-back, patient game, waiting for other teams’ mistakes. They do not plays the same run-and-gun game like us. I will come down to the team that best adapts to the other team’s differing style.”
The Grizzlies and Silverbacks split their regular-season series 1-1.
The Island Division top-seed Nanaimo Clippers, backstopped by the division nominee for BCHL goaltender of the year Jordan Naylor, will meet the division fourth-seed Alberni Valley Bulldogs (26-28-4) in their first-round playoff series beginning Friday and Saturday at Frank Crane Arena in the Harbour City.
The NCAA Div. 1 Rochester Institute of Technology-bound Dimitri Mikrogiannakis, the Island Divison nominee for BCHL player of the year and top blueliner, leads the division second-seed Cowichan Valley Capitals (35-16-7) into their series against the third-seed Powell River Kings (29-23-6) beginning Friday and Saturday at the Stick in Duncan.