By contributor Reid Eccles
It’s a good post-season to be a Clippers fan. The Clippers easily secured the Island Division Championship, sweeping the Powell River Kings 4-0, and now the Penticton Vees have been eliminated from the BCHL’s 2016 Fred Page Cup playoffs. Rallying in four straight games, the West Kelowna Warriors were able to dethrone the Vees and take the Interior Division Championship 4-2. For the Clippers going into the double-round-robin third round, this scenario is among the best.
The Clippers’ secondary scoring remained strong through the second round and the Clippers easily have the best goal differential of the remaining teams. Top line forwards Sheldon Rempal, Devin Brosseau, and Matt Hoover, as well as all-star defenseman Yanni Kaldis, are leading the way in scoring. Nolan Aibel has eight points in nine games, while Chris Dodero, Gavin Gould, and Kale Bennett are steadily producing as well. Nanoose Bay local Corey Renwick even has two goals, including the game-winner that capped off the Kings in game four. Going into the third round, 13 individual Clippers skaters have scored.
While the Clippers had 10 days off between rounds, the Warriors have been playing, and they’ve won four games in that time. The Warriors are going to be looking to ride the high of defeating the Vees through the double-round-robin. But the Clippers have won eight straight games in the first two rounds, and only trailed for a total of 10 minutes in that stretch.
Though the Warriors did prevail over the Vees, Penticton goaltender Anthony Brodeur was injured early in the post-season and the Vees were forced to play 18-year-old backup Zachary Driscoll. Brodeur has been a staple in the Vees’ success all season, and his absence put the Vees in a tough position. The Vees’ offense remained stellar through the first two rounds, but they were inevitably out-scored. So, yes, the Warriors are the team that eliminated Penticton, but they accomplished the feat with a handicap of sorts, which does not translate to them being a better team, or having a competitive edge over the Clippers. Brodeur previously played Major Junior hockey for the Gatineau Olympiques of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), and has been drafted by the New Jersey Devils; he is the son of legendary NHL goaltender Martin Brodeur.
On March 31, the Clippers faced the Warriors in their first meeting of the round-robin and won the game 4-1. It turns out the 10 days off didn’t have much effect on the Clippers’ top players, as Rempal and Hoover each scored twice, including two empty netters—one apiece. This put the Clippers’ win-streak up to nine games, and put the Warriors down a game after they won the inaugural match of the double-round-robin against the Chilliwack Chiefs.
That being said, the Mainlaind Division champion Chilliwack Chiefs shouldn’t be taken lightly either. The Chiefs finished atop the Mainland Division during regular season play, and they eliminated the Wenatchee Wild from the playoffs in only five games—both worthy accomplishments. At this point in the playoffs the round-robin is essentially a toss-up, but Clippers fans should be feeling optimistic to at least see the finals come to Frank Crane Arena.
With the Vees eliminated, Rempal has securely taken over the post-season scoring lead with 19 points in 10 games, accumulating 10 goals and nine assists. While still Penticton-heavy, the top five now includes 18-year-old Chiefs forward Jordan Kowaguchi with 15 points in 10 games.
At press time, the West Kelowna Warriors, the Chilliwack Chiefs, and the Nanaimo Clippers all hold a record of 1-1. The first team to reach the three-victory plateau enters the final best-of-seven series with home-ice advantage. The remaining two teams host each other until a second team reaches three wins and the second spot is filled; the final team is eliminated.
Puck drop for each game of the third 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.
A full post-season schedule can be found at <bchl.ca/playoffs>.