KIJHL playoff preview: Race to Cyclone begins

It’s the start of the long journey to the Cyclone Taylor Cup for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks tonight at the B.V. Arena.

It’s the start of the long journey to the Cyclone Taylor Cup for the Beaver Valley Nitehawks tonight at the B.V. Arena.

The second seed Nitehawks take on the third place Castlegar Rebels, while Nelson Leafs will tangle with the Spokane Braves in the first round of the Neil Murdoch division championship.

The Hawks are stacked with talented and physical forwards, but also own the least goals against in the league, 143, a tribute to a strong defence, and the most consistent goaltending tandem in the league in Brett Clark, who also has most wins of any goalie on the season, 22, and Grayson Sharpe.

With an 8-0 record against the Rebels this season, the Hawks should emerge from this series relatively unscathed, but the defending KIJHL champion is always a tough playoff team and could surprise the Nitehawks in one or two matches. Odds are on B.V. to sweep the Rebels or win it in five.

As for the Leafs, who have already booked their spot as hosts in the Cyclone Taylor, the serendipitous departure of Jamie Vlanich and Travis Wellman from Castlegar to Nelson last summer has garnered the regular-season division champs two of the top three scorers in the KIJHL, while robbing the Rebels of much-needed offence.

Spokane has taken giant strides forward this year and managed to take Nelson to overtime in three of their games, winning one, with 5-of-8 matches decided by one goal. This has the makings of an upset special, but the Leafs should emerge in six or less.

In the Eddie Mountain division, the Creston Valley Thunder Cats will have an easy time of it with the Columbia Valley Rockies. The Cats finished 43 points ahead of the Rockies and scored 125 more goals, an average of roughly 2.5 more goals per game.  With four players in the top-15 in league scoring including the league’s second leading scorer in Jesse Collins, the Cats have a huge advantage offensively, and are stacked on defence, posting the highest goal differential in the league at plus-121. Columbia meanwhile has the second worse goal differential at minus-73 and you’ll have to scroll down to 41st spot before you find the Rockies highest point-getter in Ryan Henderson. Cats in four.

In the other playoff series, familiar foes Fernie Ghostriders and Kimberley Dynamiters play what could be the most interesting series of the lot. Kimberley finished six points up on Fernie for second spot thanks to a four game winning streak to end the season, and enjoyed a 6-2 edge in head-to-head matches with the Ghostriders.

Fernie struggled down the stretch, and the Ghostriders will likely disappear from the playoffs in six games.

In the Okanagan/Shushwap Conference the matchups will see KIJHL regualr season champion Kamloops Storm take on the Sicamous Eagles, and the Chase Heat face the 100-Mile House Wranglers in the Doug Birks division.  In the Okanagan division, the top-seed Summerland Steam play the North Okanagan Knights and the Kelowna Chiefs take on last year’s Okanagan Conference champs the Osoyoos Coyotes.

The Nitehawks face Castlegar tonight and Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Beaver Valley Arena and move to Castlegar for Game 3 on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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