BCHL playoff scramble a stress test for players, coaches alike

‘From top to bottom and team to team, this is the most balanced that I’ve seen this league in my six years in it,’ says Chilliwack Chiefs GM/coach Brian Maloney

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The BC Hockey League regular season wraps this weekend, with playoff match-ups still to be decided.

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Going into Wednesday action, only three points separated fourth and second place in the Coastal Conference and only one four first-round series — the first-place Alberni Valley Bulldogs against the eighth-place Cowichan Valley Capitals — had been decided.

“From top to bottom and team to team, this is the most balanced that I’ve seen this league in my six years in it,” said Brian Maloney, general manager and coach of the Chilliwack Chiefs, one of the teams in that logjam in the Coast.

“On a league level you want to see it. On a stress level for coaches and players, it’s probably not been as good.”

All four series in the Interior Conference have been set, including the first-place Penticton Vees facing the eighth-place Trail Smoke Eaters in a battle of two of the league’s more storied franchises.

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Penticton will finish first overall. The Vees carried a 41-8-0-2 record into a Wednesday match-up against the Wenatchee (Wash.) Wild.

“We’re playing the way you need to play in the playoffs,” Vees general manager and coach Fred Harbinson said. “It feels like for the past two months our guys have been getting dialed in.

“But we’re definitely not looking past anybody, either. Trail is a team that fell a little bit in the standings because of injuries, and we’re assuming that they’ve got guys back for the playoffs.

“It’s two teams that go way back in this league. I think it’s going to be fun to be in both buildings in the series.”

Winger Bradley Nadeau, at age 16, has 40 points in 46 games for the league-leading Penticton Vees.
Winger Bradley Nadeau, at age 16, has 40 points in 46 games for the league-leading Penticton Vees. Photo by Garrett James

Victoria Grizzlies forward Matthew Wood, who turned 17 last month, had the league scoring lead as of Wednesday morning with 85 points, including 45 goals, in 45 games. Fellow Victoria forward Ells Rickwood, who’s 19, was next best with 80 points.

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The 6-3, 185-pound Wood is a University of Connecticut commit. Fifth-place Victoria (29-24-0-0) finishes its regular season with a visit to the Nanaimo Clippers on Friday.

The 18-team BCHL didn’t have its traditional playoffs last year, instead opting for 20-game seasons played in five pods.

The 2020 playoffs were shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think that was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do, coming into our dressing room to tell our guys that the playoffs weren’t going to continue then,” Harbinson said.

Maloney added: “I think players, coaches and fans are all excited about having playoffs.”

The BCHL champion won’t be in the running for the Centennial Cup national title, since the league pulled out of the Canadian Junior Hockey League last spring and lost its spot in that tournament. The BCHL had sent a letter to the CJHL regarding multiple concerns. They wanted player transfers to be less restricted, for instance. The CJHL never responded to BCHL’s concerns, and the BCHL opted to leave.

It did give the BCHL an opportunity to start its season later, which allowed it to spread out games. The league wasn’t concerned about having its schedule completed to link up with the other leagues for playoffs.

“I think this will make winning our league mean even more,” Harbinson said.

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