The Shaw BCHL Playoffs begin tomorrow. Earlier, we previewed the Coastal Conference matchups, now we dig into the series on the Interior Conference side of things.
#1 Penticton Vees vs. #8 Trail Smoke Eaters
Penticton won the season series 5-0 with one win coming in a shootout.
Penticton – F Bradly Nadeau (113 points), F Josh Nadeau (110 points), F Aydar Suniev (90 points), D Ryan Hopkins (49 points), G Luca Di Pasquo (1.70 goals-against average)
Trail – F Brady Hunter (63 points), F Mathieu Cobetto-Roy (44 points), D Evan Bushy (35 points), F Nicholas Remissong (35 points)
The Vees are coming off one of, if not the best regular season in BCHL history. They won the Ron Boileau Trophy as regular season champions after going 50-3-0-1. They boast the top-three scorers in the league in Bradly Nadeau, Josh Nadeau and Aydar Suniev. The team has three of the top-five point-getters among defencemen in Ryan Hopkins and Frank Djurasevic, as well as the league leader in goals-against average in Luca Di Pasquo.
The Smoke Eaters are no strangers to starting the playoffs in Penticton as an underdog. Last year, Trail entered the playoffs in this exact situation as the number-eight seed on the road to take on the league-leading Vees and they came out on top in Game 1 after a well-deserved 5-3 win and will look to repeat that effort in the series opener on Friday night. The Smokies will need a huge series from Brady Hunter who quietly crept into seventh in BCHL scoring by the end of the year, thanks in large part to a 13-game point streak from early February to mid-March.
#2 Cranbrook Bucks vs. #7 Wenatchee Wild
Wenatchee won the season series 5-2 with two Wild wins coming in the shootout.
Cranbrook – F Noah Quinn (49 points), F Jack Silich (44 points), F Nick Peluso (41 points), D Rhys Bentham (38 points), G Nathan Airey (.925 save percentage)
Wenatchee – F Ean Somoza (74 points), F Cade Littler (68 points), F Micah Berger (54 points), F Luke Weilandt 43 points)
This is a rare situation where the lower seed had a considerable edge in the season series with the Wild winning five of seven contests.
The Bucks received strong goaltending all season long from Nathan Airey who will be relied on again to backstop the team after finishing the regular season with a .925 save percentage and a 2.44 goals-against average, both third in the league. The team also saw third-year forward Noah Quinn step up as the team’s go-to offensive option, along with newcomer Jack Silich who fit right in with his new team this year. The Bucks went from expansion team to second place in the highly-competitive Interior Conference in just their third season in the league.
The Wild were one of the hottest teams in the BCHL during the final two months of play, losing just four of their final 16 games of the regular season. Two key contributors to their success were Ean Somoza and Cade Littler, both second-year players who took considerable steps forward this year. Somoza ended the season as the league’s fourth-leading scorer, while Littler, a 2022 Calgary Flames draft pick, was sixth.
#3 West Kelowna Warriors vs. #6 Vernon Vipers
West Kelowna won the season series 4-1 with two Warriors wins coming in a shootout.
West Kelowna – F Jaiden Moriello (55 points), F Rylee Hlusiak (51 points), F Ben MacDonald (50 points), D Isaiah Norlin (44 points)
Vernon – F Lee Parks (48 points), F Reagan Milburn (48 points), F Luke Pakulak (40 points), G Ethan David (.912 save percentage)
Another rematch from last year’s first round, the Warriors may have had the edge in the season series, but there were several close games, including two in the shootout, so it may be closer than it appears on paper.
West Kelowna scored the second-most goals of any team in the BCHL this year, thanks in large part to a balanced attack from the forward group that includes Jaiden Moriello, Rylee Hlusiak and Ben MacDonald. An impressive sophomore year from Isaiah Norlin also helped spur the offence as the 2003-born defenceman finished seventh in BCHL defencemen scoring this year.
The Vipers owned the top penalty killing unit in the BCHL this year, operating at an 85.5 per cent clip. Their power play was also one of the better units in the league, finishing the year at 21.8 per cent, fourth in the conference and sixth in the league. Individually, Luke Pakulak was the biggest contributor with the man advantage, scoring a team-high 10 goals on the power play, while Reagan Milburn contributed eight of his own. Another factor will be the goaltending duo of Roan Clarke and Ethan David who came close to splitting games evenly and are both proven netminders in the league.
#4 Salmon Arm Silverbacks vs. #5 Prince George Spruce Kings
Salmon Arm won the season series 4-3 with three Silverbacks wins coming in overtime.
Salmon Arm – F Nathan Mackie (50 points), F Owen Beckner (50 points), F Ethan Ullrick (47 points), D Tristan Allen (33 points), G Matthew Tovell (.919 save percentage)
Prince George – F John Herrington (48 points), F Ty Gagno (40 points), F Killian McGregor-Bennett (39 points), D Ben LeFranc (30 points), G Jordan Fairlie (three shutouts)
This is one of the closest series of the first round on paper. The teams finished tied in points in the standings and one goal against apart. They also saw a lot of each other down the stretch, facing off five times in the final two months of the year.
Salmon Arm relied on a group of high-end forwards to produce offence, including team scoring leaders Nathan Mackie and Owen Beckner, as well as midseason newcomer Tristan Allen and and offseason addition CJ Foley who produced from the back end. The team also got a strong performance in net from 2002-born netminder Matthew Tovell who finished top-six in the BCHL in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts.
John Herrington was a key performer for the Spruce Kings for the second year in a row, leading the team in goals and points. As always, Prince George was stingy in their own end as well, limiting teams to 161 goals against, fifth-best in the BCHL. Team defence is a large part of that, but so is starting goaltender Jordan Fairlie who was named a BCHL All-Star earlier this year and earned three shutouts while enduring a heavy workload.