The Beaver Valley Nitehawks kick off their 2012 playoff campaign tonight full of optimism and a decided advantage over first-round opponent Spokane Braves.
The Nitehawks just finished up their best season in eight years, winning 42 games and taking the league title. They’ve also won eight of their past 10 games, are healthy and boast three of the top four scorers in the KIJHL in Chris Derochie, Craig Martin and Ryan Edwards and Dallas Calvin surely would have finished in the top five if he hadn’t missed 11 games.
The 16-year-old Martin capped his rookie season by leading the KIJHL in goals, notching 48 tallies in 50 games, two more than Fruitvale native Rylan Duley of the Kimberley Dynamiters, while Derochie finished second in total points, 101, and assists, 72.
The Hawks formidable offence has lit up opposition lamps a league leading 323 times this season, scoring 44 more times than the next best Kimberley and 131 more times than Spokane.
Beaver Valley has as much depth as any team with forwards Calvin, Chris Johnson, Justin Niminiken, Mason Spear, Tyler Collins, and Max Flanagan capable of stepping up and carrying the team on any given night.
On the back end, a strong defence led by Arie Postmus, Nick Perez and Derek Lashuk should neutralize the Braves forwards. 19-year-old Uriah Machuga managed 78 points in his third year with Spokane and leads the team in scoring.
In their last meeting, an 11-2 Nitehawk drubbing, their defensive transition was immediate. Once the Hawks ‘D’ gained possession they’d fire a quick, deep pass to a streaking forward generating breakaways and multiple two on ones.
And if the Braves do manage a shot, the Nitehawks have two very capable goalies in Mike Vlanich and Zach Perehudoff. Both have played well this year and often spectacular finishing with an almost identical 2.88 and 2.84 GAA and .899 and .900 save percentage respectively. The Braves tandem of Branden Amatto and rookie Mitch Tyson have allowed exactly 100 more goals than the Hawks duo over the season.
The Nitehawks also have yet to lose to the Braves this year, outscoring them 56-16 in eight games.
The Braves are indeed in tough and the Hawks should roll over them in four. The Nitehawks host the Braves Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. before heading to Spokane Monday and Tuesday.
The Castlegar and Nelson series also starts Friday in Castlegar at 7:30 p.m. at the Castlegar Complex.