Interior Conference Playoff Preview

The Shaw BCHL Playoffs begin tomorrow, so we are breaking down each series starting with the four Interior Conference matchups.

#1 Penticton Vees vs. #8 Trail Smoke Eaters

Head-to-Head:

Penticton won the season series 5-0-0-0.

Top Performers:

Penticton – F Luc Wilson (75 points), F Josh Nadeau (72 points), G Kaeden Lane (six shutouts)

Trail – F Brady Hunter (56 points), F Zach Michaelis (52 points), F Teddy Lagerback (49 points)

Breakdown:

Penticton finished the season as the number-one overall seed and won all five games against Trail this year, so they are the heavy favourite coming in.

The Smoke Eaters will need to rely on their strong forward group to match the Vees. Despite finishing eighth in the conference, Trail scored the fourth most goals in the Interior. If they can put the puck in the net with consistency and get some timely saves from their goalies, they could push Penticton in this series.

On the Vees side, they finished the year with a +133 goal differential, by far the best in the league. Luc Wilson tied for fourth in league scoring while Josh Nadeau ended up sixth, so they will be counting on their offensive weapons to carry that pace into the postseason. Combine that with strong goaltending from Kaeden Lane who led the BCHL in shutouts this year and they will be a tough team to beat.

#2 Salmon Arm Silverbacks vs. #7 Wenatchee Wild

Head-to-Head:

Salmon Arm won the season series 4-0-0-1

Top Performers:

Salmon Arm – F Simon Tassy (78 points), F Noah Serdachny (63 points), D Michael Ladyman (43 points), G Owen Say (.923 SV%)

Wenatchee – F Ean Somosza (53 points), Cade Littler (45 points), D Mario Gasparini (25 points)

Breakdown:

Salmon Arm took the season series in convincing fashion with their only loss coming in the shootout, so they are considered a heavy favourite.

Wenatchee is one of the youngest teams in the league and has steadily improved throughout the season. At one point they were battling for the final playoff spot, but eventually landed comfortably in seventh place in the conference. The Wild have relied on their young forwards all year and this series will be no different. 2003-born forward Ean Somoza and 2004-born Cade Littler led the charge offensively all season and they will need to be productive for Wenatchee to have a chance. Like the rest of his team, Wild goalie Tyler Shea has also seen his game improve throughout the year and will need to keep that trend going in this series.

As for Salmon Arm, they have been at or near the top of the standings all year long. 21-year-old forward Simon Tassy was one of the best players in the BCHL this year, finishing third in league scoring. Alongside him is Noah Serdachny who has also been a top producer in his second season in the league and finished ninth in scoring. That dynamic duo should be the key to a Salmon series win, but they have a high-end goaltender to rely on as well. Owen Say had the second-best save percentage in the BCHL, while playing the second-most minutes of any goalie.

#3 West Kelowna Warriors vs. #6 Vernon Vipers

Head-to-Head:

West Kelowna won the season series 4-1-0-0

Top Performers:

West Kelowna – F Felix Trudeau (61 points), F Tyler Cristall (57 points), D Tyson Jugnauth (50 points)

Vernon – F Luke Buss (36 points), D Talon Zakall (32 points), G Roan Clarke (.914 SV%)

Breakdown:

This is another series where there is a clear favourite with the Warriors taking all but one of the five head-to-head matchups with the Vipers this year.

For Vernon to pull off the upset, they will need to slow down West Kelowna’s high-powered offence. Lucky for them, the Vipers have been good at keeping the puck out of their net this year, allowing 154 goals against, which is sixth-best in the league. They have also received stellar goaltending from rookie Roan Clarke who has the sixth-best save percentage in the BCHL. Vernon missed one of their best players Cameron MacDonald for a large portion of the year, so having him healthy and in the lineup will be a huge part of their gameplan. He finished off the regular season on a high with a four-point effort in the team’s final game. It is not out of the question for the Vipers to go on a run and string some wins together as they won nine straight from Jan. 14 to Feb. 5.

On the West Kelowna side, they boast one of the best offences in the league. The Warriors finished with 231 goals for, which was second in the BCHL. On top of their productive forward group, the team gets a significant amount of offence from the back end. Tyson Jugnauth leads the way on the blueline and finished second in defencemen scoring this year. Not far behind are Nicolas Ardanaz and Tyler Rubin who ended up sixth and seventh respectively on the d-man scoring list. Special teams will also be a big part of West Kelowna’s game. The team finished in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill percentage.

#4 Prince George Spruce Kings vs. #5 Cranbrook Bucks

Head-to-Head:

Prince George won the season series 3-0-2-0.

Top Performers:

Prince George – F Nick Rhéaume (59 points), F John Herrington (54 points), F Simon Labelle (44 points), G Aaron Trotter (.914 SV%)

Cranbrook – F Tyson Dyck (75 points), F Noah Quinn (55 points), G Nathan Airey (.911 SV%)

Breakdown:

This is by far the closest matchup on paper, which makes sense since the teams were only separated by three points in the standings. It is also the series with the most travel involved, so that could play into the result as well.

Prince George gave up the second-least goals against this year and a lot of that has to do with their goaltending duo of Aaron Trotter and Jordan Fairlie. Trotter played the majority of games and finished with the fifth-highest save percentage and third-best goals-against average, while Fairlie was the league leader in goals-against average (2.01) and had the fourth-best save percentage (.918) in 17 less games. It’s not all goaltending for the Spruce Kings as they have a group of elite forwards, including Nick Rhéaume, John Herrington and Simon Labelle.

Cranbrook’s second season in the league and first with a regular schedule was undoubtedly a success, but they hope to take things even farther in the postseason. The Bucks have one of the top young players in the BCHL in Tyson Dyck, who finished in a tie for fourth in league scoring as a 2004-born player and is a prospect for this summer’s NHL Entry Draft. His running mate this year was Noah Quinn, who is a 2003-born forward. Cranbrook also has a group of defencemen who have the ability to join the rush and create offence. Team captain Rhys Bentham led the offensive charge from the back end, along with Bauer Morrissey who finished second in points among Bucks blueliners. Goaltender Nathan Airey put in a solid season for the Bucks as well, finishing eighth in save percentage during the year and third in the BCHL with four shutouts.

This one is a toss-up with the teams matching up so closely on paper. Home-ice advantage may play into things which would give Prince George the slight advantage as the higher seed.

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