At least in the Kootenay Conference, KIJHL playoffs are proceeding as expected.
The top two teams in their respective Murdoch and Mountain divisions are currently competing for the conference championship and the league’s runaway first place squad is ahead of the overall fifth-place team, 3-1.
Beaver Valley fans would be wise, however, not to be too comfortable about the Nitehawks inevitable advance.
Beaver Valley is in the same position they occupied in the last series, with Castlegar. Up two games and going home with a chance to clinch. Memory serves to remind us all that that series went very, very deep into game seven before the Nitehawks, coming back from a two-goal deficit, edged the Rebels for the division crown.
It isn’t as if nobody expected Fernie to be a tough opponent. The Ghostriders swept their first round series, then held off a very strong Kimberley club in seven games, just the way Beaver Valley advanced past Castlegar.
It behooves Nitehawks fans to bring, en masse, a strongly positive vibe into the Hawks’ Nest tonight.
With the other semi-final also having the potential to end tonight, a series-closing Beaver Valley victory tonight could be very helpful, even instrumental, in the Nitehawks getting where they want, and are expected, to go – to a league title and beyond.
On the other side of the playoff split, nothing is as expected. The fourth seeds from both the Doug Birks (Okanagan) and Shuswap divisions, neither of which would have finished above fourth on the Kootenay side of the KIJHL , are currently fighting for the chance to play the Nitehawks/Ghostriders winner. It seems likely, therefore, the winner between Beaver Valley and Fernie will be strongly favoured to advance to the provincial championship round.
All the more reason tonight’s valley tilt is important. A win for the Nitehawks will allow at least as much rest for Beaver Valley players as the Okanagan winner will get, and reduce the risk of injury high-stress playoff hockey presents.
On the BCHL front – some seem surprised that the Merritt Centennials, of all teams, swept their playoff round against the Prince George Spruce Kings.
The Kings are big and strong, have the league’s top scorer and three of the top 14. The Kings put an end to the Penticton Vees epic winning streak on the season’s last weekend. Merritt’s top scorer, their only one in the top 20 in the BCHL, sat just above Prince George’s fourth place point getter.
But, it’s a team game. Merritt is better organized and balanced, perhaps a little faster, and with their playoff sweep has handled the Spruce Kings seven straight times.
The surprise in the BCHL is that Penticton, a legendary regular season powerhouse, has its hands full with the fourth place Chilliwack Chiefs, who have actually outscored Penticton, 7-6, in winning two of the last three games in that series, which is tied, 2-2.