The playoffs are upon us. After a third-place finish in the BCMML’s regular season, the Okanagan Rockets kick off the 2016-17 postseason with a weekend best-of-three series against the sixth-place Vancouver NW Giants.
Last Weekend: The Rockets wrapped up the regular season in Prince George, with a pair of games against the Cariboo Cougars. Despite having a short bench, the Rockets kept the weekend close, dropping a 5-2 final on Saturday, and a 4-3 decision on Sunday morning.
Head-to-Head: The Rockets and Giants played four times this season, with the Rockets picking up wins in all four of those meetings. The first meeting came back at the Capital News Centre on October 8&9, with the Rockets winning 8-5 on Saturday, and 5-2 in the Sunday matinee. The Rockets and Giants were back at it in Squamish on January 7&8, which featured another 5-2 win on Saturday, before the Rockets wrapped up season series with a 7-1 victory on the Sunday.
Historically Speaking: Though the Rockets held the upper hand against Vancouver NW this year, the Giants have had much better success against the Rockets in the past. Dating back to the 06/07 campaign, the Giants have an all-time record of 25-11-8 against Okanagan.
The Second Season: On paper, the matchup is a bit lopsided. As previously mentioned, the Rockets won four straight against the Giants this season, by a combined score of 25-10. The Rockets are also a resurgent group, having won four of six since losing big to the NE Chiefs in Penticton in early February, which included an inspiring effort in Prince George last weekend. That being said, the Giants have consistently improved as a team. Since the two setbacks against the Rockets in early January, the Giants only lost five games after that, with four of those five coming against either the Cougars or the Chiefs. Other than a 3-1 loss to Kootenay, the Giants had weekend sweeps against Valley West, North Island, South Island, a win-tie split against Thompson, and a double takedown of the tough Fraser Valley Thunderbirds last weekend, which moved Vancouver NW into sixth place, and avoided a first round matchup with the Chiefs in the process. The Giants are a young, hungry team, who are ready to strike. For the Rockets, it’ll be about playing the game they’ve crafted over the last couple months, and not looking too far down the road.
Giants To Watch: The Giants roster features the league’s co-leading goal scorer in second-year forward Liam Kindree, who finished tied with Cariboo’s Daine Dubois, putting up 67 points over 40 games played. The Kelowna Rockets draft pick also spent time with the WHL squad during the month of December, and picked up a point over those seven games. That left fellow ’00 Hudson Schandor a little bit overshadowed by his league-leading teammate. Schandor had a great year though, recording 47 points. Veteran Jack Graham was also over a point-per-game, as he had 36 points through 34 games. On the blueline, 16-year-old Trevor Longo finished with 37 points over his 40 games, while teammate Mackenzie Gray notched 27 points in that time. Honourable mention to Gianni Fairbrother, who cracked the 20 point plateau, while also being four games short of playing in a full 40 game schedule.
Between The Pipes: Both Jesse Makaj (10-9-1, 3.01) and Donovan Buskey (8-7-3, 3.32) faced Rockets shooters two times each this season. The two goalies essentially split the crease evenly this season, with the 15-year-old Makaj making only two more appearances than Buskey. For the Rockets, they’ll hitch their saddle to Owen Partrick, who’s emerged as the team’s go-to goalie since the loss of Cole Demers in January. When it was all said and done, Partrick’s 16 wins were only bettered by Kolby Matthews of the Chiefs, and Marcus Allen of the Cougars.
Playoff Format: With the playoffs now underway, a friendly reminder on the league’s playoff format may be of use. Just like it’s an NHL conference, the BCMML rewards the top eight teams in the league with a playoff berth, leaving North Island, Thompson, and South Island on the outside looking in this year. That leaves three rounds of league playoffs, with the quarters, semis, and league finals all consisting of best-of-three series’. The top four seeds get home-ice advantage in the first round, with the remaining teams re-seeded for the semi-finals and finals, respectively. For example, if all four top seeds come out on top this weekend, the Cougars would host GVC, and the Chiefs would take on the Rockets in Port Coquitlam during the second round. That means if the Rockets want to get a second home playoff series, they not only have to beat the Giants, but also hope for either the Cougars or the Chiefs to get upset in Round 1.
Once the league title is decided, the winner of the BCMML plays the top Midget-AAA team from Alberta, to decide who gets one of six berths in the national championship – the Telus Cup. Because that tournament is being hosted in Prince George this year, Cariboo is already automatically in that tournament as the host. That means if the Cougars win the league, the league winner from Alberta will automatically advance to The Telus, so no chance for a BC team to get in through the back door. At the same time as that BC-Alberta showdown, winners from leagues across the country will crown a provincial champion for Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces. Lastly, the Eastman Selects of Steinbach, Manitoba are hosting the Western Regionals this year. That’s a four-team qualifier, which pits a host team against the winners from Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Northern Ontario. That means when it’s finally time for the Telus Cup in April there will be six teams in attendance: The host (Cariboo), the BC-AB winner (Pacific), the Ontario winner (Central), the Quebec winner (Quebec), the Maritime winner (Atlantic), and the West Regional winner. The tourney runs in PG from April 24-30.
Lineup News: First off, some regular season recognition to bestow. Captain Coleton Bilodeau took home the Rockets scoring title this season, with 58 points through 37 games, finishing sixth in league scoring. Extra impressive considering that Bilodeau could hardly be described as injury-free during many of those 37……In a race that came down to the last weekend of the season, Max Kryski was the Rockets leading goal-scorer, putting up 23 in his 37 games this year. He also trailed Bilodeau by just 5 points, and was eighth in league scoring…… An honourable mention to Rayman Bassi, who had a resurgence late in the season and finished with a solid 49 points in a 40-game season, good for a tie for ninth in league scoring with Valley West’s Tyler Ho……Also coming down to the final weekend of the season was the scoring title among Rockets defencemen. Tied at 36 points, Wyatt Head’s three-point weekend edged out Seth Barton’s two-point performance. A great season for both 17-year-olds, who both produced at over a point-per-game pace……Another honourable mention to Mitchell Gove, whose 20 points was tops among the team’s three 15-year-old skaters……Lastly, the aforementioned Owen Partrick had an incredibly solid season, finishing in a tie for third for wins with 16, and finishing sixth with a 2.75 GAA……As for this weekend’s lineup, the Rockets are getting healthy at the right time. All four regulars who missed action last weekend (Karpowich, Jenkins, Hite, Schiavon) will be back for the Rockets this time around. As well, the Rockets will dress two APs this weekend, with a couple extra roster spots to work with. Jordan Lowry will play on the Rockets fourth line with Will Reimer and Brandon Della Paolera, after already playing up with the team against South Island a few weeks ago. Defenceman Luigi Russo will also be in the lineup this weekend – it’s his first time up from the Midget Tier-1 squad this season.