The first round of the BCHL playoffs came to a riveting end on Monday.
The number-8 seed Cowichan Valley Capitals knocked off the number-1 Penticton Vees in Duncan with a 3-1 victory to win the series 4-2, while the no. 3 Wenatchee Wild eliminated the persistent sixth seed, West Kelowna Warriors, in Game 7 with a 6-3 victory in the Interior Division quarter-finals.
For the second straight year, the highly-favoured 37-16-3-2 Vees failed to meet expectations losing to the 17-35-5-1 Capitals in the first round, almost a year after the Trail Smoke Eaters dispatched Penticton in the second round in seven last season.
“Cowichan is a team that has a very high compete level, and we played them twice this season, and they played us extremely hard,” said Smoke Eaters head coach and GM Jeff Tambellini. “When you have an offensive team that has had a lot of success, when you get into those series against those teams that play desperate and hard, sometimes it doesn’t come as easy as they want.”
The no. 3 Wild are now the top seed and will play the Capitals in the Interior semifinal. The Smoke Eaters eliminated the second-seed Merritt Centennials on Friday in Game 5 and will now face the Vernon Vipers in the other semifinal.
The Vipers got by the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in five games, but every one was hard fought, with three games going to overtime, and Game 5 decided in triple-overtime with a 4-3 Vernon victory.
Parity has been a highlight of the league all season, particularly in the Interior, and continues to play a big part in the playoffs.
“When we prepared this year for games in our division, we knew there were no easy nights, and some of our hardest games were against Vernon,” added Tambellini. “We know how hard it is to win … and to see some of the outcomes and the scores all around the league is definitely not surprising.”
In the Mainland Division, the Chilliwack Chiefs came back down three-games-to-none to bounce the Langley Rivermen in Game 7. The Chiefs play the Prince George Spruce Kings who took out the Coquitlam Express in five games.
In the Island Division, the Victoria Grizzlies swept the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and will play the Powell River Kings, who dispatched the Nanaimo Clippers in five.
The Interior Division semifinals begin on Friday with Trail heading to Vernon for Games 1 and 2 at 7 p.m. Games 3 and 4 go in Trail on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Cominco Arena with the puck drop also at 7 p.m.