It’s playoff time in the valley.
The Beaver Valley Nitehawks, after a couple of early stumbles, rolled through a customarily strong regular season and finished first in the Neil Murdoch division. The Nelson Leafs, mostly because of an ineligible player fiasco, tumbled into fourth to earn the unenviable spot of facing off against the Hawks in round one.
On paper the Nitehawks, with more top-end scoring and a slightly better defensive record, look like a shoo-in to the finals. They do not play hockey on paper, however.
Over the season the Hawks beat the Leafs four times against one loss and a tie. The wins were all close, however, and the record included an overtime home win and a home loss. It would not have taken much for the Leafs, outscored only 21-17 on the season, to have reversed the win-loss count.
So, Beaver Valley and its fans need not take anything for granted, especially not a division finals round. The club will need as much support as it can muster, and strong focus, to move past Nelson. There will be ample motivation for the green team to play with enthusiasm that the Nitehawks will need to match.
Game times are 7:30 both Saturday and Sunday and 7.00 for the likely fifth game Thursday, so set your schedules accordingly, Nitehawk fans.
On the bottom side of the Murdoch division draw are second place Castlegar and the Spokane Braves, who gained just enough ground from the ineligibility fiasco to outpoint the Leafs for third place. Some long term KIJHL observers believe the Braves will give Castlegar all it can handle and maybe more.
Best time of the year for Junior B fans.
• The Smoke Eaters have been out of the playoff picture for a couple of weeks, but there will still be no shortage of importance for their final three games, beginning with their last home start of the season Saturday night.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks will be among the Smokies’ biggest fans for the rest of the season. Salmon Arm is locked in a tight battle with both West Kelowna and Merrit for a playoff position and are done with Trail. Meanwhile the Smoke Eaters face West Kelowna twice and Merritt once in the last three contests and could prove crucial to the Silverbacks future.
Friday’s away opponent, Vernon, as they showed again Wednesday, are a bit too talented for the Smokies to handle. West Kelowna and Merritt victories by Trail, on the other hand, seem eminently doable.
It really isn’t much solace that the Smokies can impact the league even during the last gasp of an incredibly frustrating season of outcomes, but it should be more than enough to motivate the team, especially in their last home barn appearance, to come out flying.
See you at the rink Saturday. The Silverbacks will be there, waving Smoke Eater banners, in spirit. The Canucks’ annoying green people will be there, I am told, in the flesh.