It's playoff time in the British Columbia Hockey League (BCHL), with the Chilliwack Chiefs drawing the Prince George Spruce Kings in the first round. The two teams will play a best-of-five series, with the first two games going Friday and Saturday at Prospera Centre.
Games three and four are set for Monday and Tuesday in Prince George, with the fifth and deciding game to be played Wednesday in Chilliwack, if necessary.
Here's how the two teams stack up:
The Chiefs had three players (Austin Plevy, Luke Esposito and Philip Zielonka) in the top 12 in league scoring. The highest-scoring Spruce King, Coltyn Hansen, finished tied for 23rd. So Chilliwack should have the edge, right?
Yes, but . . . over the 56-game season, Chilliwack outscored Prince George by only 12 goals. In the 23 games since New Year's Day, the Chiefs have only scored four more goals.
Chilliwack has more offensive weapons, no doubt. But the production has run dry several times over the past month and, when it's happened, the forwards have shown a tendency to try to do too much on their own, instead of reverting back to basics.
That said, the numbers don't lie: Chilliwack has eight players who scored 11 or more goals.
While Plevy, Esposito and Zielonka are the stars, Josh Hansen, Ryan Donohoe and Trevor Hills give the Chiefs a threesome that can go head-to-head with the best in the BCHL.
Spencer Graboski has rediscovered his scoring touch in the second half of the year, and with Jaret Babych and his canon shot returning from injury, the Chiefs can boast scoring from three lines.
Aside from puck-moving defenceman Mitch Eden, Prince George's rearguard should not pose much of a threat in Chilliwack's zone.
But the Spruce Kings' top six are solid in their own end, with six-foot-three Harvard-bound Kevin Guiltinan and 20-year-old veteran Trevor Esau supplying an intimidating amount of size and strength.
Chilliwack's defence has a proven ability to put the puck in the net, having combined for 22 goals during the season. But head coach Harvey Smyl will be more interested in how they fare in their own zone.
"We're looking for [David] Thompson, [Shay] Laurent, Cooper Rush to be strong, strong defensively and to keep their guys to the outside," he told the Times. "We'll give up shots because they like to shoot from everywhere and anywhere; we just want to make sure we box them out and not let them get close to the net for second and third chances."
In Mitch Gillam, Chilliwack boasts the consensus best goaltender in the Coastal Conference, and probably the BCHL.
But Prince George netminder Kirk Thompson is no slouch. While the Chiefs won the season series between the two teams, Prince George claimed victory in the final two games. In both of those, Thompson was named first star, making a combined 89 saves.
Gillam, though, is better. Smyl said his goalie is crucial to his team's success and wasn't at all surprised when told Gillam had been named the conference's MVP.
The Chiefs have the third-best power play in the BCHL and the best penalty kill.
And yet, if they're not careful, Chilliwack can still lose this battle.
That's because the Chiefs were by far the most penalized team in the league. The Chiefs found themselves shorthanded 309 times during the regular season-more than 71 times more often than the comparatively docile Spruce Kings.
Fortunately, the Chiefs' stellar penalty killing-which scored a league-best 12 shorthanded goals-still allowed Chilliwack to finish the season with 28 more special teams goals scored than allowed.
Prince George, by comparison, was minus-three in that category.
But if Chilliwack finds itself embroiled in after-the-whistle shenanigans and playing whole periods down a man, the Spruce Kings could come out on top.
Series prediction: Smyl says the season series between the two teams was closer than his team's 6-2 record would indicate. That may be so, but the Chiefs are still clearly the better team. Chiefs in four.