The Beaver Valley Nitehawks will continue their wild ride today as they get set to face off against the Aldergrove Kodiaks in the first game of the Cyclone Taylor Cup at the Nelson Community Complex.
The Nitehawks will then play the Nelson Leafs on Friday, and the Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League (VIJHL) champion, Victoria Cougars, on Saturday.
The last time the Nitehawks played in the Cyclone was just two years ago in Abbotsford, where they came away with a fourth-place finish. This time around returning three-year veterans like Ryan Edwards, Dallas Calvin, Archie McKinnon and Fraser Stang will look to improve on their 2012 showing.
“We’re pretty close actually,” said Edwards after winning the KIJHL title over Kamloops. “We’ve got depth, we got size, speed, and just pretty similar. We know the season isn’t over yet, we want to win the Cyclone, unlike two years ago.”
But the Cyclone is not a seven-game series, it is a sprint to the finish, and one bad game in the three-game round robin can be disastrous, particularly when playing on the road.
“It all comes down to how you are going to skate, and if you going to come out and be quick, resilient, and hard working then it doesn’t matter who you are playing,” said Nitehawks coach Terry Jones. “We just have to come out and be ready, and we’ve shown to be so in the playoffs.”
The Aldergrove Kodiaks finished first in their division 34-6-2-2 for 72 points and second overall behind the Richmond Sockeyes, 34-5-2-3, in the Pacific Junior Hockey League that includes two divisions and 10 teams from around the Lower Mainland.
After cruising through the first round of the PJHL playoffs with a sweep over the Mission City Outlaws and a 4-1 series win over the second-seed Abbotsford Pilots, the Kodiaks needed seven games to beat the Sockeyes in the league final. Aldergrove was down 3-1 in the series but reeled off three straight victories including a 3-2 overtime win in Game 6 to win the championship.
The Kodiaks are led by PJHL scoring leader Stephan Ryan who averaged two-points per game, netting 41 goals and 47 assists in 44 games this season. The six-foot, 19-year-old forward also played 69 games in the BCHL, the majority, 56, with the Prince George Spruce Kings in 2010-11. Adam Callegari, 20, was second in league scoring with 26-44-70 in 38 matches played. The tandem, along with playoff scoring leader Spencer McHaffie with 12 goals and 10 assists in 16 post-season games, will be players to key on in today’s opening match.
Jordan Liem, 20, has carried the load for the Kodiaks in the playoffs, getting all 16 starts and posting 12 wins with a 2.32 goals-against average, and a .926 save percentage.
The Victoria Cougars won their league with a 3-0 Game 6 win over the Peninsula Panthers to capture the VIJHL title for the third year in a row. The Cougars won the overall regular season championship in the nine-team league going 35-10-1-2 for 73 points, ahead of the North division champion Comox Valley and the Panthers which each totalled 65.
Victoria swept the Kerry Park Islanders in the first round of the best-of-seven series, then took out the Campbell River Storm in five games, before eliminating the Panthers in six games.
The Cougars defenceman Graham Zagrodney, 20, led the team in scoring with eight goals and 56 assists in 48 games, but in the playoffs the Victoria trio of Michael Fretz, 10-15-25, Blake Roney 12-10-22, and Sam McMullen 12-9-21 lead all scorers.
Former Castlegar Rebels goalie Connor Beauchamp backstops the Cougars and has carried the team through the playoffs with seven wins in 11 starts, including one shutout, and a sparkling 1.89 GAA, and a .925 save percentage.
In the 2012 Cyclone, Victoria beat B.V. 3-0, but would lose in the final game to the host team Abbotsford in double overtime.
The Leafs meanwhile, should be well-rested after bowing to the Nitehawks in the Neil Murdoch division final in six games almost a month ago. Led by Trail native and regular season scoring champion Jamie Vlanich, the host Leafs will be looking for a good performance and a measure of revenge against the Hawks in Friday’s game.
“I think the boys are focused and ready to go, regardless if Beaver Valley was coming or Kamloops,” Leafs coach Frank Maida told the Nelson Star. “But, being Beaver Valley, I think we owe them one and we are going to be ready to go.”
The 2012 KIJHL champion Castlegar Rebels won bronze at last year’s Cyclone in Comox. The last KIJHL team to win the B.C. title was the Revelstoke Grizzlies in 2009, while the Hawks wins came in 1997 with coach Pat Corrado and rookie of the year Barrett Jackman and Jones’ team in 2001 led by former coach Jeremy Cominotto.