BCHL Today: Wenatchee Wild on the ropes and Smoke Eaters reeling

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

Welcome to the March 19, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We dive back into playoff action, with four more games in the books since last we talked.

Let’s start in Vernon where the Vipers didn’t have it as easy as they did in a 7-1 game-one win, but a 3-1 triumph in game two has them up 2-0 on Wenatchee.

After all the discussion about Wild goaltending, it was difficult to point the finger of blame at Austin Park in this one. He wasn’t great, stopping 25 of 28 shots for a .893 save percentage, but he wasn’t a liability either. Most nights, Park’s effort gives Wenatchee a chance to win, but in this series the Wild offence is missing in action. Two games, two goals from a team that averaged a league-leading (by far) 4.15 per game during the regular season.

AJ Vanderbeck scored Saturday night. After tying for the BCHL lead with 37 snipes during the regular season, the Colorado native has just two in the post-season. If Wenatchee’s goaltending isn’t going to be a strength, then Vanderbeck and the Wild offence have to do more.

Credit to Vernon’s stifling D and goaltender Ty Taylor. Just when you think his numbers can’t get any better, Taylor drops his goals-against average to 1.65 and raises his save-percentage to .942. These are video game numbers for a goalie.

Wenatchee will hope home ice makes a difference when the series switches to the Town Toyota Center Tuesday night (7:05 p.m. start). The Wild had the league’s best home ice record during the regular season, at 24-4-1-0 and they were 2-0 in their opening round sweep of Merritt.

It’s safe to say game three is a must-win for Wenatchee.

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The other Interior division series isn’t going well for the underdogs.

Penticton swatted Trail 7-2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre Saturday night to go up 2-0 as the series shifts back to Cominco Arena Tuesday night (7 p.m.).

The story of game two was power plays. While Trail only got two chances with the extra man, coming up empty on both, the Vees converted on five of seven opportunities. Owen Sillinger had a hat-trick, with two of his goals coming on the PP. Jackson Keane scored twice on the PP and Lukas Sillinger collected his first of the postseason on the man advantage.

Jack Barnes added an even strength goal, with Spencer McLean and Tyler Ghirardosi replying for the Smoke Eaters.

Two of Penticton’s PP goals came during a five-minute major, handed to Ethan Martini for a blow to the head that came after the whistle. The six-foot-six blueliner has to be suspended for such a vicious hit, and his absence would be a blow to a Trail defence corps that is already struggling.

Adam Marcoux went the distance in the Smoke Eaters net, stopping 28 of 35 shots for a .800 save percentage. The Calgary native has struggled in this series, giving up 12 goals so far, but that may be as much a function of what’s going on in front of him as anything else.

I talked about home ice being a potential lifeline for the Wenatchee Wild. Trail, on the other hand, wasn’t terribly strong at the Cominco Arena, posting the BCHL’s 10th best record at 18-10-1-0. The Vees, on the other hand, were the league’s top road warriors at 19-8-1-1.

It’s real hard to find anything Trail fans can cling to.

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The Victoria Grizzlies are digging themselves into another hole, but this time they not be able to escape.

The Grizz trail 0-2 in their second round series versus Powell River after a 3-2 loss Saturday night. Both defeats have come on home ice at the Q Centre, and now Victoria must hit the road for two games at the home of the Kings, the Hap Parker Arena.

I find goaltending fascinating, and I find the choices coaches make about goalies to be fascinating.

Victoria coach Craig Didmon started Zachary Rose in game two, and it’s not like the decision blew up in his face. Rose played well, stopping 29 of 32 shots (.906 SP). My only question for Didmon would be, why such a short leash for Kurtis Chapman?

Chapman came into round two as the reigning BCHL Player of the Week after leading Victoria back from an 0-3 series deficit against Alberni Valley. He laid a major egg in game one versus Powell River, giving up four goals on 19 shots in a 5-1 loss, but despite that his overall playoff numbers are still an impressive 1.98 GAA and a .940 SP.

If he’s not injured, I don’t quite understand why he wouldn’t get the chance to bounce back.

At the other end, Matteo Paler-Chow continues his outstanding playoff run. The Powell River netminder was busy, stopping 40 of 41 shots to earn first star honours. The 18 year old Vancouverite has posted a 2.09 GAA and .936 SP in the postseason. Goaltending could have been an Achilles Heel for the Kings, and I guess it still could be, but Paler-Chow has so far turned it into a strength.

The other item of note from his game is penalties. Later this week, I think I’ll take another look at the overall numbers to see if reality is still lining up with my perception that calls are down in the playoffs. Victoria outshot Powell River 41-32 Saturday night, which is usually an indicator that a team is skating well and drawing obstruction calls.

But the Grizzlies only had one power play in the entire game. The Kings had four as referees Shayne Alyward and Hasret Sidhu kept their whistles in their pockets.

When I ran the numbers earlier in the playoffs, calls were indeed down from the regular season.

I mentioned it then and I’ll repeat it now. A different standard between the regular season and playoffs drives everyone nuts, and there’s no reason for it. If the idea is to ‘let the boys decide the games,’ remember that a referee not making a call helps decide the game just as much as a referee making the call.

One final note on this game, coming from Powell River radio play-by-play man Alex Rawnsey.

“The two wins for Powell River on the weekend in Victoria against the Grizzlies is the first time this year (in 10 meetings) that the Kings defeated the Grizzlies in back-to-back games.”

This series resumes tonight, with a 7 p.m. start at the Hap Parker Arena.

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On to Prince George where Surrey won 3-2 Saturday night, evening that playoff series at one win apiece.

After getting throttled by a 9-1 count in game one, the Eagles had a lot to prove, and final score aside I’m not sure they did so in game two.

The shot clock favoured the Spruce Kings 48-19, and only a huge bounce-back effort from Mario Cavaliere saved Surrey from another loss. I wrote previously that Cavaliere seems prone to massive swings in performance. After coughing up six goals in that game one loss, the Ontario native produced his best game of the playoffs with a .958 SP.

The Eagles were opportunistic with the few chances they got, which is what you have to do against PG. Desi Burgart’s playoff-leading ninth goal got the scoring started midway through period two and an Aaron White strike had Surrey up 2-0 through 40 minutes. Ethan de Jong got PG on the board 7:41 into period three, but John Wesley answered at 12:21, giving the Eagles breathing room.

Ben Brar scored the second Spruce King goal with just one second on the clock.

Evan DeBrouwer had a rare meh night in the Prince George net, and he’ll look to bounce back tonight as the series shifts to the South Surrey Arena for game two.

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Sticking with Surrey and finishing up with a scholarship, as Jackson Ross commits to Colorado College.

Ross is heading home to play NCAA Div-I hockey. The 20 year old native of Centennial, Colorado will join the Tigers this fall, becoming the sixth Eagle player this season to earn a scholarship. The others are Jordan Robert (Clarkson), Desi Burgart (Quinnipiac), Jeff Stewart (Colgate), Chase Danol (Bowling Green) and Cory Babichuk (RPI).

Colorado College plays in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) and competes against North Dakota, St. Cloud State, Denver, Western Michigan, Minnesota Duluth, Omaha and Miami (Ohio).

Ross is finishing up his second full BCHL season. He played one game in 2015-16 with Salmon Arm and has played his last 108 regular season and eight playoff matches with Surrey, collecting 10 goals, 41 points and 117 penalty minutes.

“Jackson has been an absolute warrior for this organization,” said Eagles head coach Brandon West in a team press release. “We are extremely happy for him and his family. Jackson is a tireless worker that leads by example everyday and this opportunity to play in his home state is very well earned.”

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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