BCHL Today: Victoria Grizzlies stay alive with Bulldog win

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 8, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

There were four games in the league last night and three teams waved bye bye to the playoffs. Gone in sweepy style are the Coquitlam Express, Merritt Centennials and Salmon Arm Silverbacks while the Victoria Grizzlies live to fight another day.

And that’s where we start. Rookie phenom Alex Newhook collected his first goal of the series and Victoria goalie Kurtis Chapman was at the top of his game in a 4-1 Grizzly win.

Chapman missed the first two games of this series, going home after his best friend passed away.

Zachary Rose filled in and surrendered 10 goals combined in games one and two. Chapman, a 19 year old Airdrie native, reclaimed the crease in game three, stopping 35 shots with a .921 save percentage in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime loss. He came back with 33 saves and a .971 save percentage last night.

Bulldogs’ forward James Orban avoids a check from Grizzlies’ forward Alex Newhook. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

I mentioned Newhook finally getting on the board with a second period goal. Interesting note there is he collected his first regular season goal at the Weyerhauser Arena as well. Ethan Nother, Dayne Finnson and Cameron Thompson also scored for Victoria with Michael Sacco responding for the Bulldogs.

It’s been a good series so far for Sacco. The New York native has four goals and five points.

So Victoria is on the board, still facing a 3-1 deficit. Even against Alberni Valley, is there reason to suspect they can complete an epic comeback.

Victoria radio play by play man Scott Didmon passed along a short note Thursday morning that provides Grizzlies fans some hope.

“Twice this regular season the Grizzlies, when losing three straight, won three straight and the other was four straight.”

This series resumes Friday night, 7 p.m. at the Q Centre in Victoria.

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On to teams that couldn’t avoid elimination, starting with the Coquitlam Express.

Based on the score, you’d think Coquitlam put up a helluva fight in game four, falling 2-1 to the Penticton Vees at the Poirier Sports and Leisure Centre.

Upon further review, it looks like Clay Stevenson put up a helluva fight while the rest of the Express stood around and watched. Making his first start of the series after putting in relief appearances in games two and three, the 18 year old Chilliwack native stopped 57 of 59 shots, keeping his team in the game when they were being badly outplayed.

Trying to bump their recent slow-start trend, the Vees pumped 22 shots on goal in the opening frame and couldn’t beat Stevenson.

Taylor Ward of the Penticton Vees gets some good air in front of Coquitlam Express goalie Brock Hamm during game three of the Vees/Express series. MARK BRETT/ BLACK PRESS

Owen Sillinger, who was named BCHL Player of the Month on Wednesday, opened the scoring 1:22 into period two, but Coquitlam’s Joshua Wildauer scored exactly three minutes later and the game was tied 1-1 through 40 minutes.

Taylor Ward scored the game winner 7:58 into period three and the Express, other than Stevenson, went quietly to their fate.

In the last 20 minutes of their season, Coquitlam could only generate five shots on net.

The final numbers from this series are thus. Penticton won with a combined goals for/goals against ratio of 20-6. Two games were decided by one goal. The other two were 9-2 and 7-2 blowouts. Bolstered by a five-point outing in game two, Ward led Penticton in scoring with seven points. Chris Klack and Wyatt Sloboshan had six apiece. Massimo Rizzo had five.

Vees goaltender Adam Scheel posted a Scheelish 1.50 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Side note: Of concern to Penticton moving forward, star defenceman Nicky Leivermann missed the game after receiving a blow to the head from Coquitlam’s Dominic Davis in game three. Davis was suspended four games. Leivermann had 10 goals and 37 points in 43 regular season games, and had four assists in three playoff matches. If he’s out for any length of time, the Vees will feel it.

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Niko Karamanis scored 3:23 into overtime and Vernon completed a sweep of the Salmon Arm Silverbacks with a 1-0 road win.

Like the Penticton/Coquitlam game, the final score in this one is a bit deceiving as the Vipers peppered the Silverback net with 50 shots. Kyle Dumba stopped all but the last one, turning in his third straight solid performance. The Calgary native came on in relief of Reid Cooper in game two and over the final 156:17 in this series stopped 107 of 113 pucks.

Defenceman Akito Hirose chases the puck behind the Silverbacks net during playoff action last night at the Shaw Centre. JODI BRAK PHOTO

Ty Taylor was his equal at the other end. The BCHL’s top goaltender turned in a 31 save shutout to close out the series, doing some of his best work early in the third period when Vernon’s Jack Judson was handed a five minute major and game misconduct for a blow to the head. Taylor tied a BCHL record in the regular season with seven shutouts, equaling the mark set by Michael Garteig (2010-11 Powell River) and Brad Thiessen (2005-06 Merritt/Prince George).

He’s got his first of the post-season. In four playoff games so far Taylor’s posted a 1.97 goals-against average and .927 save percentage, which, believe it or not, is down a tick from his regular season numbers (1.87 GAA, .931 SP).

The Richmond native will jump to the NCAA ranks next fall with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and Kevin Mitchell, the excellent sports writer for the Vernon Morning Star, wrote a great article recently on the 18 year old.

You can read it here.

Taylor and the Vipers will face the Wenatchee Wild in round two, and that’s because…

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The Wild eliminated Merritt Wednesday night with a 4-1 win at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.

Austin Park got his second straight start in net, replacing the ineffective Seth Eisele and turning aside 32 of 33 Centennial shots. Merritt’s Chase Bell snuck a puck past Park 11:53 into the second period to open the scoring, but the Colorado native was unbeatable from that point on.

Wenatchee’s Josh Arnold tied the game just 45 seconds after Bell’s tally, and Matt Dorsey gave the Wild the lead 20 seconds after that.

Jasper Weatherby scored his league-leading sixth of the playoffs on a late second period power play and Lucas Sowder put a bow on it with a third period strike.

My takeaways from this series are all goalie-centric.

I am fascinated by the Centennials netminding duo of Austin Roden and Jacob Berger. Roden was red hot down the stretch and stopped 16 of 16 shots in a game-one relief appearance. He got the start in game two, struggled, and never got another chance.

Veteran Jacob Berger was just OK.

I’m not one to second guess coaches, because generally they know a lot more than I do, but I’d love to know why Roden had such a short leash after playing so well in February.

Meanwhile, I picked Wenatchee to win the Fred Page Cup before the playoffs started and I’ll stick with that based on the star power up and down their lineup. But I don’t feel nearly as good about it now as I did then, not with the Wild’s netminding situation in flux.

Seth Eisle posted a shutout in game one but was yanked 5:20 into game two after giving up two goals on three shots.

He’s been riding the bench since.

Park played well last night, but his previous two outings weren’t that great and his regular season numbers (2.78 GAA and .887 SP) don’t inspire confidence. Wenatchee will be going up against Ty Taylor in round two. The importance of every goal in that series will be magnified, and unless Eisele or Park gets on some kind of roll, Vernon had a massive edge in net.

The Wild are often able to outscore goaltending issues, but they may not be able to do that here.

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Finishing off with a short but uplifting note sent along yesterday by Wenatchee play-by-play man Arch Ecker.

By now you’ve likely heard of the fire that gutted the home of a family who was billeting three Merritt Centennials players.

Teams around the league have stepped up to help Jessica and Rich Culbertson rebuild their life.

This from a Wild press release.

“When the story reached Wenatchee, the Wild fan base, known collectively as “WildNation” (or, this year, “WildNat10n” in honor of their tenth anniversary) banded together and using the first two games of the playoff series as a collection point, used an info table on the concourse along with proceeds from the 50/50 drawings and chuck-a-puck to raise a total of $2,672.25 USD, and someone tossed in a $20 CDN bill for good measure. On Tuesday, with the Wild getting a game day skate in advance of Game 3 in Merritt at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, Wenatchee Head Coach / GM Bliss Littler met with the Culbertsons to hand over the cash.”

The Chilliwack Chiefs, Prince George Spruce Kings and Langley Rivermen have also raised money for the Culbertsons.

“The entire Centennials organization just wants to send out a thank you,” said Merritt’s Katie Couture. “to everyone that’s reached out to the billet family and players that lost their home in the fire.”

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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