By contributor Reid Eccles
Friday, March 4, signaled the start of the 10-day 2016 Fred Page Cup playoffs, and the Clippers were set to play their first of a possible seven games against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs. The Clippers came into the playoffs seeded first in the Island Division, which gave them home ice advantage over the fourth-placed Bulldogs.
Though the Clippers had a streak of injuries to end the regular season, their roster was back to a healthy number of players going into the first round. The Clippers won the season series 6-2 outscoring the Bulldogs 34-24 in the process. The Bulldogs were only victorious in Frank Crane Arena once this season.
The close proximity of the Alberni Valley to Nanaimo has developed a rough rivalry between the two teams, and fans could expected series of rowdy games—and not just on the ice. If the series extends past the initial four matches, the stands will likely be quite animated. At press time, the Bulldogs have a lead in the series with a 2-1 win on Friday.
If the Clippers eliminated the Bulldogs first in the round they would have face the winning team of the second Island Division match-up between the Cowichan Valley Capitals and the Powell River Kings. With the best goal differential in the Island Division, the second-seeded Kings will most likely take the series, but nothing is certain in playoff hockey. Whichever team makes it through the second round will be crowned Island Division champion and will move on to the third round to face the Mainland Division and Interior Division champions in an unusual round-robin series.
The double-round-robin sees the division champions playing each other twice, once at each team’s home arena respectively, and the first team to accumulate three wins advances and secures home ice advance in the finals. The remaining two teams host each other back-to-back until a second team has won three games; the third team is eliminated. Into the finals, the seven-game series format is re-established, and the winning team takes home the cup and is awarded the title of the 2016 Fred Page Cup champions.
While the Clippers hold a strong chance of besting their Island Division rivals, the real test in post-season will be facing the Penticton Vees in the double-round-robin, and then possibly again in the finals. As defending champions, the Vees dominated the BCHL this season, only losing a total of seven games. The Vees ended the 2015-16 season with 101 points in 58 games, boasting the best special teams percentages in the league and an ungodly goal differential. Penticton could easily be considered the best Junior-A team in the country this year.
Penticton took the limited season series, beating the Clippers twice, once in regulation and once in double-overtime. The Clippers’ entire roster will have to stay healthy to stand a chance at beating the Penticton Vees in a seven-game series. That being said, nothing is certain in the post-season. It is entirely possible the Vees drop to either the Salmon Arm Silverbacks or the West Kelowna Warriors in the second round. Or a combination of losses could stop the Vees from making it through the double-round-robin, but, at this point, it seems likely the Vees will be defending their title in the Fred Page Cup Finals.
Regardless of what awaits the Clippers if they reach the Finals, the first hurtle was Alberni Valley. The Clippers hosted the Bulldogs in back-to-back home games Friday and Saturday, March 4 and 5, before the series went to Weyerhauser Arena the following Tuesday and Wednesday, March 8 and 9. If needed, the final three games will alternate between Nanaimo and Alberni Valley over the following weekend.
Puck drop for each game of the first round is set for 7 p.m. Tickets for Clippers games can be purchased at the box office at Frank Crane Arena starting an hour before puck drop. Tickets are only $10 for VIU students, and a free beer is included with admission. Tickets for the away games in Alberni Valley can be purchased at the Alberni Valley Multiplex, and a student discount of $11 is also offered.
For more information, visit bchl.ca/playoffs.