In the first of our divisional previews for the Shaw BCHL Playoffs, we take a look at the Mainland Division, where the league-leading Coquitlam Express faceoff against the Langley Rivermen, while the Chilliwack Chiefs take on the Surrey Eagles after the teams finished one point apart in the standings.
#1 Coquitlam Express vs. #4 Langley Rivermen
Head to head:
Coquitlam won the season series 6-2.
Coquitlam comes into the playoffs as the league’s top team as they set a franchise record for wins and points during the regular season. Offensively, they’re led by BCHL All-Rookie Greg Lapointe who finished first in rookie scoring and led the team with 60 points in 56 games. The team also possesses other elite offensive talent Josh Wildauer and Carolina Hurricanes 2019 draft pick Massimo Rizzo.
Despite their offensive prowess, Coquitlam’s biggest strength is on defence. Coming into the season, they already had a stellar blueline, including team captain and BCHL Second-Team All-Star Drew Cooper, Nick Carabin, Steve Bellini and Noah De La Durantaye, but they also added Wyatt Head from the West Kelowna Warriors as well as Joey Berkopec from the Merritt Centennials.
The Express have enjoyed unbelievably good goaltending this season from First-Team All-Star and Goaltending Award finalist Clay Stevenson. He posted the second-best save percentage and goals-against average in a single season in BCHL history, but due to an NCAA rule, he is ineligible to play in the playoffs, which leaves a question mark in the crease. It will be up to season-long backup Jack Watson and recently-acquired Joe Howe to step up and fill the large void in net.
The Rivermen got a huge boost right before the season when it was announced that former captain Brendan Budy would be returning to the team after splitting last year with the University of Denver and the Tri-City Storm of the USHL. Budy has had a major impact since returning and tied for the team lead in points with 49 in 50 games. Budy has been out with an injury since Feb. 11 and his return would be key to Langley pulling off the upset.
Like the Express, the Rivermen’s biggest strength is on the blueline. Their defence corps features Jake Livingstone, a Minnesota State commit who tied with Budy for the team lead in scoring and finished second among all BCHL defencemen. He was named a BCHL Second-Team All-Star and is a finalist for the Defensive Award. Joining him on the blueline is another blue-chip defenceman in 17-year-old Ryan Helliwell who put up 23 points in his second BCHL season.
In net, the Rivermen have two capable goaltenders and it wouldn’t be surprising to see both of them at some point during the series. Braedon Fleming is the longtime starter in Langley and is in his fourth full season with the team. He posted two shutouts this season to climb into the top-10 all-time in shutouts over his career with nine. The other option in the crease is Jonathan Mor who joined the team midseason after playing for the Minnesota Wilderness of the NAHL. Mor played quite a bit down the stretch and proved to be a solid option alongside his goaltending partner.
The Express dominated the season series, winning six of eight games, and are the league’s top team, so they are naturally the favourite to win. The wildcard here is in between the pipes. If one of Langley’s two goaltenders can step up, especially in the absence of Stevenson, they have a chance to pull off the first-round upset.
#2 Chilliwack Chiefs vs. #3 Surrey Eagles
Head to head:
Surrey won the season series 6-2 with one win coming in a shootout.
Nikita Nesterenko emerged as the go-to player on offence for the Chiefs this year. The 18-year-old draft pick of the Minnesota Wild led the team in scoring with 56 points in 56 games and finished third among all BCHL rookies. Another rookie who had a huge season for the Chiefs was 2003-born Peter Reynolds who finished second to Nesterenko with 47 points in 53 games. Chilliwack also got a big boost late in the season with the return of Ethan Bowen who was out for two months with a wrist injury. Bowen is the top-ranked BCHL prospect for the 2020 NHL Entry Draft and will hope to get back to his high-scoring ways in the postseason.
Chilliwack boasts one of the best top-six defences in the BCHL with five of their six blueliners already committed to NCAA Division I programs. They’re led by Cooper Moore, a 2019 pick of the Detroit Red Wings who was recently named to the BCHL’s All-Rookie Team and led the Chiefs in defenceman scoring. They also have other highly-touted defencemen like Jack Agnew, Xavier Henry, Hudson Thornton and team captain Nathan Kelly.
In the crease, the Chiefs clear-cut number-one goalie is BCHL veteran Mathieu Caron who is in his third season with the team. The recent Brown University commit has put together a solid season for the team, posting 18 wins, a .909 save percentage, a 2.62 goals-against average and three shutouts.
Surrey had a major bounce-back year after being the lone team to miss out on the BCHL playoffs last season and that’s largely due to the offseason acquisition of Cristophe Tellier. The 19-year-old from Sherbrooke, Que. has been on a tear this year, finishing out the season on a 15-game point streak and climbing all the way to second in league scoring with 71 points in 58 games. He was also named a First-Team All-Star. His running mate all year has been team captain and another offseason acquisition Hudson Schandor who also had a huge season for the Eagles after coming over from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Schandor ended his season with 61 points and tied for seventh in league scoring.
Another new acquisition, this one midseason, has made an immediate impact and that’s defenceman Kieran O’Hearn who was picked up from the Trail Smoke Eaters. O’Hearn put up 18 points in 39 games after being acquired in October and led the team in scoring from the backend. Owen Nolan, Brett Bliss and Brendan Kim all had productive seasons on the back end as well as Cade Alami who has been a force on both ends of the ice.
The Eagles have two solid options in net with Thomas Scarfone and recently-acquired Reece Klassen. Scarfone played in 33 games this year and has the fifth-best save percentage among qualified goalies with a mark of .920 and his 2.69 goals-against average is eighth-best. As for Klassen, who came over from the Swift Current Broncos of the WHL midseason, he’s posted even better numbers with nine wins in 14 games, a .924 save percentage, a 2.25 goals-against average and two shutouts.
The teams battled it out until the final game of the regular season to see who would get home-ice advantage and the Chiefs prevailed with a win in their last game. Home-ice should prove to be important, but the Eagles took the season series, including the final six matchups, which should give them all the confidence that they can beat the Chiefs in this series. If Bowen is able to regain his early-season scoring touch, it will be hard for the Eagles to handle with all the other firepower the Chiefs possess.