The Shaw BCHL Playoffs begin tomorrow, so we will preview each first-round series, starting with the four Coastal Conference matchups.
#1 Nanaimo Clippers vs. #8 Langley Rivermen
Nanaimo won the season series 3-1 with one Clippers win coming in a shootout.
Nanaimo – F Kai Daniells (71 points), F Brody Waters (61 points), D Ethan Mistry (58 points), G Aiden Campbell (.913 save percentage)
Langley – F Vitaly Levyy (48 points), F Andrej Kovacevic (41 points), G Ajeet Gundarah (.921 save percentage)
The Clippers scored the most goals in the Coastal Conference and unsurprisingly had four players in the top-20 in league scoring, including Kai Daniells who finished fifth overall. But, it wasn’t just the forwards producing for Nanaimo this year as Ethan Mistry led all BCHL blueliners in scoring, while Michael Craig’s 48 points were fourth among league defencemen.
Langley will need a strong performance from Ajeet Gundarah in net if they plan on upsetting the top seed. The Richmond, B.C. native is enjoying another strong campaign between the pipes for the Rivermen, finishing the regular season with the fifth-highest save percentage in the league at .921. Vitaly Levyy will need to be an offensive spark for his team as well. The BCHL All-Star had an impressive second season, putting up 48 points this year, a 31-point improvement from his rookie showing.
#2 Surrey Eagles vs. #7 Powell River Kings
The teams split the season series 2-2.
Surrey – Jake Bongo (56 points), Jacob Bonkowski (54 points), F Aaron Schwartz (53 points), D Tate Taylor (45 points), G Eli Pulver (.930 save percentage)
Powell River – F Karter McNarland (47 points), F Anthony Lucarelli (43 points), F Cameron Symons (42 points), D Casey Aman (35 points)
Surrey gave up the fewest goals in the conference during the regular season, averaging 2.80 against per game. In large part, that was due to the play of goaltender Eli Pulver who led the BCHL with a .930 save percentage and six shutouts. He was unfortunately injured in early March, so his health will be something to monitor. The Eagles also possess a high-octane offence, as displayed by their deadly combo of forwards, including Jake Bongo, Jacob Bonkowski and Aaron Schwartz, as well as high-flying defencemen like Tate Taylor.
Powell River missed out on the playoffs last year and are eager to get back in the mix in 2023. Karter McNarland and Anthony Lucarelli have both taken significant steps forward in their second seasons in the BCHL and finished one-two respectively in team scoring. A late-season offensive surge from Cameron Symons, along with a healthy Parker Lalonde, should help the Kings keep up offensively, especially for a team that did not have much trouble finding the back of the net this year.
#3 Alberni Valley Bulldogs vs. #6 Victoria Grizzlies
Alberni Valley won the season series 4-3 with one Bulldogs win coming in overtime and another in the shootout.
Alberni Valley – F Nicholas Beneteau (56 points), F Will Elger (47 points), F Matthew Maltais (41 points), G Hobie Hedquist (three shutouts)
Victoria – F Olivier Picard (58 points), F Owen Bohn (47 points), D Hoyt Stanley (38 points), G Oliver Auyeung-Ashton (.927 save percentage)
For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs relied heavily on goaltender Hobie Hedquist who played the third-most minutes in the BCHL and came through with a 26-12-2 record, a .914 save percentage and three shutouts. The team also benefited from a breakout year by St. Lawrence University commit Nicholas Beneteau who led the team in scoring with 56 points on 20 goals and 36 helpers. Midseason addition Dakota MacIntosh seemed to be the piece this team was missing early in the season as they hit their stride once he entered the lineup and posted 38 points in 31 games starting in November.
Victoria is another team that relied heavily on their starting goaltender, even more so than the Bulldogs this year. Oliver Auyeung-Ashton played the second most minutes of any BCHL netminder and rewarded his team with a .927 save percentage and five shutouts, both second best in the league. The Grizzlies, who had to replace a massive amount of offence from last year’s squad, found production in Quebec native Olivier Picard who led the team in scoring with 58 points and tied for fifth overall in the BCHL with 29 goals.
#4 Coquitlam Express vs. #5 Chilliwack Chiefs
Coquitlam won the season series 5-3 with two Express wins coming in a shootout and two Chiefs wins coming in overtime.
Coquitlam – F Tyler Kopff (52 points), F Mateo Dixon (49 points), F Mirko Buttazzoni (47 points), D Jason Gallucci (32 points)
Chilliwack – D Abram Wiebe (53 points), F AJ Lacroix (44 points), F Mason Kesselring (40 points)
Coquitlam boasts the second-best power-play percentage in the conference and the Chiefs took the second-most penalties in the league during the regular season, which could work to Coquitlam’s advantage. Nine of Mirko Buttazzoni’s 20 goals this year came while up a man, so he could be a big factor in the series. The Express were getting a strong season out of goaltender Adam Manji, but he went down with an injury earlier this month, so the team may need to rely on Brady Smith who went 10-7-1 in his 18 appearances this year.
Chilliwack has one of the BCHL’s top defenceman holding things down on the back end in Abram Wiebe, a draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights and the team’s leading scorer. He will be a key contributor both offensively and in his own end. The Chiefs will also look to forwards like AJ Lacroix, who took another step forward in his development this year, and Mason Kesselring to find the back of the net. This series is one of three rematches from last year’s first round.