Interior Division playoff preview

No. 1 Penticton Vees vs. No. 8 Cowichan Valley Capitals

Regular season head-to-head: (2 games)
The Vees won both matchups in regulation by a combined score of 8-3.

Of note:
As they have all season, Penticton will be looking for offensive production from the blueline, namely from BCHL Top Defenceman award-winner James Miller who was the team’s leading scorer and finished 11th among all BCHL skaters with 62 points. The Vees will also be aiming to continue their strong play defensively as they let in the second-fewest goals in the regular season thanks in large part to BCHL Top Goaltender award-winner Jack LaFontaine.

Cowichan Valley’s leading scorer in the regular season was also a defenceman – David Melaragni put up 49 points to finish third in scoring among all BCHL d-men. Getting a win in Penticton in Game 1 or 2 will be huge for the Caps since they only won five games on the road all season. Staying out of the penalty box will be another key for Cowichan Valley. They had the worst penalty kill percentage in the league during the regular season and also led the BCHL in penalty minutes.

Final word:
The Vees are the heavy favourites here, but the Caps have wins over league-heavyweights Merritt, Victoria and Powell River this season, so they’ve proven they can compete with the top teams in the BCHL.

No. 2 Merritt Centennials vs. No. 7 Trail Smoke Eaters

Regular season head-to-head: (6 games)
Merritt won four of the six meetings in regulation, while the Smoke Eaters won once in overtime and another in a shootout.

Of note:
The Centennials were the second-highest scoring team during the regular season and had four players in the top-20 in the BCHL points race: Bradley Cocca (68), Mathieu Gosselin (60), Nick Granowicz (59) and Nicholas Wicks (59). Merritt excels at 5-on-5 play, but their special teams both rank in the bottom half of the league, so staying out of the box and improving their power play will be key. The Cents heads into the playoffs having won their last five games of the year, the longest current streak in the BCHL.

Merritt averaged the third-most shots on net in the regular season, so the Smokies will need to rely on their goaltending, specifically Adam Marcoux who played the fifth-most minutes in the league. Trail’s power play was ranked fourth overall in the regular season, so they will hope to force the Cents into taking penalties to take advantage of Merritt being the second-most penalized team in the BCHL. Trail will look to leading scorers Carter Jones (55 points) and Chase Stevenson (53 points) to provide the offence.

Final word:
The Centennials are the clear favourite, but if the Smokies can get solid goaltending and special teams, they could make things interesting.

No. 3 Wenatchee Wild vs. No. 6 West Kelowna Warriors

Regular season head-to-head: (6 games)
The teams split the season series with three wins apiece.

Of note:
Getting out to an early lead will be important for the defending league-champion Wild as they only had one regulation loss when leading after one period in the regular season and zero when leading after two. Matt Gosiewski led the team in scoring and his 28 goals were 10 more than the next Wenatchee player. Traditionally known as an offensive team, the Wild were actually better on the defensive side this year and finished in the top-five in the league in goals against.

The Warriors will look to Mike Hardman to provide the offence for them in this series. The 20-year-old scored 39 goals in the regular season, second most in the BCHL, and finished third in points with 72. West Kelowna is also dangerous on the power play as they were the second-best team with the man advantage this year, while their penalty kill was ranked 14th. The Warriors were the fourth-highest scoring team in the BCHL, but they finished with a -10 goal differential so they will need to tighten up defensively.

Final word:
Wenatchee are the defending champs and are favoured to win this series. West Kelowna will need to break through the Wild’s stingy defence and get solid goaltending from the tandem of Connor Hopkins and Brock Baier if they are to pull off the upset.

No. 4 Vernon Vipers vs. No. 5 Salmon Arm Silverbacks

Regular season head-to-head: (6 games)
Salmon Arm won five of the six meetings, including two in overtime and one in a shootout.

Of note:
The Vipers allowed the third-fewest goals in the BCHL and will rely heavily on goaltender Aidan Porter who finished in the top-five in goals-against average (2.59) and top-10 in save percentage (.908). He also tied for the second-most shutouts with four. As they did in the regular season, Vernon will try to score by committee as they had four different players with 40 points or more. Matt Kowalski led the team in scoring with 43 points and had 30 in 35 games after being acquired from West Kelowna.

Matthew Verboon leads the way offensively for the Silverbacks. After a strong start to the year, he earned a spot with Team Switzerland at the 2019 World Junior Championships, but he’s been even better since returning, totaling 29 points in Salmon Arm’s final 19 games. The Silverbacks are hoping to turn things around after losing four straight to finish the season. Despite the losing streak, they still managed to hold of West Kelowna, finishing one point ahead of them for fifth place in the division.

Final word:
Even though Salmon Arm took five of the six matchups in the regular season, this series is still too close to call. Four of the six meetings were one-goal games, including two in overtime and one in the shootout and we would expect the same in this series.