For the second straight year the Westside Warriors will have to get past the Trail Smoke Eaters if they hope to advance through the first round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs.
The Warriors and Smoke Eaters open a best-of-seven BCHL playoff series on Friday night in West Kelowna after the league’s regular season came to a conclusion Sunday.
“We’re excited to play,” said Warriors head coach Darren Yopyk. “We have home ice which was our goal. Trail is a formidable opponent. They had a great second half of the season. They’re going to be a tough test.”
The two teams will be very familiar with each other when the series begins this weekend at Royal LePage Place. They met three times in the final two weeks of the season, including twice in Trail with the Smoke Eaters winning both.
Those losses by Westside were part of a stretch that saw the Warriors lose four of their final five games, including to powerhouse Vernon and Penticton to close out the season last weekend.
But Yopyk says he isn’t unhappy with the way the team has been playing.
“I feel we haven’t played that poorly,” said Yopyk. “We went into Trail and they played very well. We played two very good teams in Vernon and Penticton and we lost two very close games. I like the way we’ve been playing. We’ll see. We have Trail now and that’s all we’re worried about.”
Leading scorer Trevor Bailey returned to the lineup on the weekend and is healthy and ready to go for the playoffs while the Warriors could start the second season without injured defensemen Jason Nash and Izaac Berglund.
The Warriors will also lean on 20-year-old goalie Kevin Jebson, who played 53 of 60 games this season with a 2.73 goals against and .915 save percentage.
“We feel he’s the best goalie in the league and if he’s playing well we’re hard to beat,” said Yopyk. “I think our edge is our depth. We have four pretty solid lines that can really produce offensively.”
The Warriors swept the Smoke Eaters in three straight games in last year’s first round, winning twice in overtime.
Vernon’s 105 point season earned the a first round bye in the BCHL Interior Conference. The other match-ups in the first round are: Merritt at Penticton and Quesnel at Salmon Arm. Prince George and Williams Lake missed the playoffs.