BCHL Today: Alberni Valley Bulldogs on track for first round upset

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

Welcome to the March 5, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

The Victoria Grizzlies are in trouble and apparently the Alberni Valley Bulldogs are a worthy playoff team.

We start our playoff roundup at the Q Centre in Victoria where a second straight overtime win has the underdog Dawgs up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series, heading home for games three and four.

Cole Poliziani was the hero in game one. Mitchell Oliver and Michael Sacco were the co-heroes in game two.

The Grizzlies looked like they were heading for a win when Justin Michaelian put them ahead 4-3 with 3:27 to play.

But Sacco tied it up just over two minutes later (with an assist to Oliver), and Oliver won it 3:56 into overtime, taking a drop pass from Julian Benner, putting the moves on Victoria keeper Zachary Rose and sliding the puck inside the right post.

John Hawthorne was outstanding in the Alberni Valley net. Seconds before Oliver’s game winner he made huge back-to-back stops on Michaelian. The 19 year old Chemainus native stopped 48 pucks, out-dueling Rose for the second game in a row.

Rose is off to a shaky start in the postseason. The Newfoundland native has given up five goals in each game, posting save percentages of .865 and .881.

He’ll definitely need to be better as the series shifts to the Weyerhauser Arena. The Bulldogs were… less bad… at home this season, posting an 11-13-3-2 record with a minus-22 goals for/goals against ratio. The Grizzlies were quite average (13-14-1-1) on the road.

Side note: Did Alex Newhook come back to soon? Two games (small sample size warning!) and no points for a kid who had 66 in 45 regular season games. Wrist injuries are tricky and might be making it difficult to put zip on passes and shots. Now that I’ve written this, he’ll probably go off for five or six points in game three, but it’s something worth watching.

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On to things that aren’t worth watching, starting in Prince George where the Spruce Kings blanked the Chilliwack Chiefs 2-0 Saturday night to even that series at one game apiece.

This game was scoreless through 40 minutes and 37 seconds before Jay Keranen finally gave the hometown crowd something to cheer about. That was the only goal that was scored with a goaltender in the net. Ben Brar added an empty netter in the final minute and PG netminder Evan DeBrouwer rebounded from a meh effort in game one with a 20 save clean sheet.

We knew this series was going to be boring, but I don’t know how many people predicted that both games so far would be shutouts (Chilliwack won 3-0 in game one). The encouraging thing for Chilliwack is Daniel Chenard has turned in two straight games of very solid netminding. Like I said in Saturday’s BCHL Today, if Chenard can get on a roll it changes a lot for the Chiefs, who return to home ice tonight for game three at Prospera Centre.

Chilliwack was not good at home this year, posting a 15-11-1-2 record. Their .569 win percentage tied Salmon Arm for fifth worst in the league behind Cowichan (.362), Coquitlam (.431), Alberni Valley (.466) and Merritt (.552).

The Spruce Kings aren’t amazing road warriors by any stretch, but their .483 win percentage tied Victoria for sixth overall.

Prince George won all four games in Chilliwack during the regular season, blanking the Chiefs twice and outscoring them by a combined 12-2.

Side note: Rolling Mix Concrete Arena. I’m sure it’s a great business run by great people. As a name for a hockey arena it’s awful.

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Another series that returned to script Saturday night saw Penticton blast Coquitlam 9-2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

The Express hung with the Vees in game one, losing 2-1. Game two is why I was dreading this series.

The score was 2-1 through 20 minutes, with Chris Klack and Massimo Rizzo scoring for Penticton and Jack Lippis replying for Penticton.

The Vees scored the next seven goals. Rizzo, Jackson Keane, Taylor Ward and Dakota Boutin lit the lamp in the second period. Ward scored twice more in the final frame with Marcus Mitchell also hitting the scoresheet. Ward had five points on the night while Vees defenceman Nicky Leivermann had four assists.

Pity Coquitlam keeper Brock Hamm, who was left in net for eight of the nine goals before finally escaping to the bench. Clay Stevenson came in for the final 14:59.

Adam Scheel had another quiet night at the other end as the Express tested him with 22 shots.

Penticton played the first of two games without D-man James Miller, who was slapped with a two-game ban for a hit from behind in game one.

This series shifts the Poirier Arena with little expectation that the Vees will slow down.

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After not starting Austin Roden in game one, Merritt head coach Joe Martin turned to the red-hot stopper for game two of a first round series with Wenatchee.

And it didn’t go well.

Roden was lifted after 30:21 and four goals against as the Wild skated to a 6-4 win and a 2-0 series lead at the Town Toyota Centre. Lucas Sowder, Nathan Iannone and Chad Sasaki slipped pucks past Roden in the first period and Jasper Weatherby chased him from the net at 10:21 of period two, having given up four goals on 19 shots.

Jacob Berger took over and was very busy. The Wild sent 28 pucks his way and two eluded him, with Weatherby and Sowder collecting third-period goals.

At the other end, Wenatchee may have a big problem. Starting goaltender Seth Eisele gave up early goals to Merritt’s Christian Sabin and Matthew Kopperud and exited the game at 5:21. Was it performance related (two goals on three shots) or injury related?

I’m working to track that down.

Meantime, Austin Park took over for the final 54:40 and played well. Mathieu Gosselin and Zach Risteau scored Centennial goals 55 seconds part late in the second period. Otherwise the 19 year old Colorado native was perfect.

His regular season stats (2.78 goals-against average and .887 save percentage) don’t inspire confidence, but if Eisele is A) injured or B) having a playoff meltdown, Park may see more action.

Wenatchee will also have to play the next two games without defenceman Murphy Stratton, who was suspended for two games after delivering a check from behind in game two.

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We finished up in Nanaimo where the Clippers bounced back from a 4-1 loss in game one with a 4-3 win in game two.

Taz Burman had a nice effort in net after a shaky outing in game one, stopping 27 of 30 shots.

The Clippers got two point nights from Jamie Collins, Parker Colley and David Melaragni, each of them delivering one goal and one assist. Tristan Crozier scored the game winner at 17:47 of period three, firing the puck past Powell River goalie Derek Krall.

Krall finally hit the wall (hah!) after producing a series of eye-popping starts. The Crofton native game up four goals on 27 shots.

Neal Samanski had two goals for the Kings with Ben Berard adding a single.

I had this series pegged as the one to watch heading into round one and so far it hasn’t disappointed. These teams are so evenly matched, it’s almost a coin flip at this point who’s going to emerge victorious. Their series resumes tonight and both teams must be watching that Victoria/Alberni Valley series thinking, ‘If we can just get past this one, we might get the Dawgs in round two.

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The other two games Saturday saw Surrey take a 2-0 series lead over Langley with a 5-3 home ice win, led by Ty Westgard’s three point night (two goals, one helper) and Mario Cavaliere’s 29 saves in net.

That series resumes tonight.

Trail badly out-played West Kelowna, taking a 2-0 lead in their series with a 7-2 win. I thought the Warriors would be a feistier foe. Even though game one went to overtime, the Smoke Eaters have badly outplayed and outshot West K in both matches.

Trail didn’t seem to suffer much, playing the first of four games without forward Carter Jones. The Spokane native was suspended four games after receiving a blow to the head major in game one.

That series resumes tonight.

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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