BCHL Today: Island and Mainland divisions coming down to the wire

BCHL Today is a (near) daily feature providing news and notes from around the junior A world.

Welcome to the Feb. 10, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We had seven games in the BCHL Friday night, with some interesting results, and we start in Nanaimo where the suddenly surging Clippers stopped Wenatchee 4-1.

The guy known as the Tazmanian Devil was the difference maker in this one. Clipper goaltender Taz Burman stopped 32 pucks, including 15 in the third period alone. The only Wenatchee player to put one by him was Sam Hesler.

The Wild meanwhile, did not get good goaltending, losing a game where they limited Nanaimo to 14 shots. Seth Eisele was pulled 12:40 into the second period after giving up three goals on just eight shots. Joshua Bourne beat him in the first. David Silye slipped one through early in the middle frame and a Brady Lynn snipe chased him from the cage.

Austin Ryman took over and gave up a third period goal to Tristan Crozier, otherwise stopping four of five shots.

With Victoria idle, Nanaimo moved within one point of first place in the Island division, though the Grizzlies have two games in hand.

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The third team in the Island division chase took care of business on home ice as the Powell River Kings dumped Merritt 7-4 at the Hap Parker Arena.

Making just his third BCHL appearance and seeing his first action since Jan. 20, Kings goalie Alex Rolfe showed just a little rust, stopping 27 of 31 shots for the win. Rolfe out-dueled Centennials stopper Alex Berger, who had a tough night. Powell River peppered his net with 40 pucks, getting two goals apiece from Ethan Kimball and Ben Berard.

Ben Thomas picked up three assists.

It’s uncommon to see someone getting their first goal this late in the season, but congrats to 17 year old Newfoundland native Nick Abbott, who lit the lamp for the first time in 19 BCHL games, scoring Powell River’s seventh goal.

Zach Risteau had a nice night on the Merritt side, picking up one goal and two helpers for a three point night.

Like Nanaimo, Powell River crept to within one point of Victoria. Unlike Nanaimo, the Grizz hold no games in hand on the Kings.

Before moving on from Powell River, last week I wrote about midget rep goalie Cam Stevenson coming off the bench as an emergency goalie and turning in a stellar performance for his first BCHL win. There’s an article on the BCHL homepage that delves deeper into that night.

Check it out here.

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Moving on to a key Mainland division clash, the Chilliwack Chiefs got back in the win column with a huge 3-2 home-ice victory over the Surrey Eagles.

PJ Marrocco led the way with a three-point night, firing two pucks past Surrey keeper Mario Cavaliere and helping to set up Jared Turcotte’s game winning goal.

Marrocco scored on the power play early in the third period to lift Chilliwack into a 2-2 tie, as the Chiefs came through with a rare clutch goal with the man advantage.

With two minutes left in the game, Marrocco dumped the puck behind the Surrey net. Cavaliere went behind the cage and tried to fire it up the left-wing wall. But Chilliwack defenceman Jake Gresh held it in at the point and put a wrist shot on goal. Turcotte tipped it past Cavaliere as his Chiefs snapped a four game losing streak.

The Mainland division standings look interesting this morning.

Langley was blasted 5-1 by the Vernon Vipers Friday night (more on that in a minute) and the Rivermen are slumping badly. They currently hold third place in the Mainland division, just two points up on Chilliwack, which holds one game in hand.

The Eagles are clinging to that second-seed, but the Chiefs are within striking distance, three points back with a game in hand. The teams meet Monday afternoon in Surrey for their final head-to-head matchup.

On the Chilliwack side, not only would they want to avoid traveling to Prince George in the first round of the playoffs, but you’d have to think they’d much rather see Surrey or Langley when the postseason begins. In six games vs the tight-checking Spruce Kings this season, the Chiefs have five losses (one in OT) and a tie.

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Now to the Rivermen, who’ve picked an awful time to go into a tail-spin.

Friday’s loss in Vernon was Langley’s fourth straight. The last three have been lopsided. 8-1 at Trail. 7-2 at Wenatchee and 5-1 vs the Vipers at Kal Tire Place. Maybe life will improve for the Rivermen when they’re back home at the George Preston Arena, where they’ll play four of their final five regular season games, but before then they’ve got road games at Surrey (tonight) and at Merritt.

Langley is the best bet right now to sink to the fourth seed in the Mainland division.

Braedon Fleming got the start against Vernon and had a disastrous outing. He lasted just 12:28, giving up four goals on six shots.

Eric Butte had the Rivermen up by one 1:26 in, then the avalanche started. Jagger Williamson lit the lamp twice in 16 seconds (4:33 and 4:49). Derek Brown followed up with goals at 8:08 and 12:28 as Vernon buried Langley.

Brett Stapley scored the only goal of the second period and the third period was scoreless.

What might be worrying for Rivermen fans is how little pushback (hockey wise) there was. Langley managed just 10 shots in the final 40 minutes, just three in the third period. And like they did in the loss to Trail last week, they completely lost their composure.

Angus Crookshank drew a misconduct penalty midway through the final frame, the first of 13 dealt out by referees Grant Tyson and Bronson Tazalaar. Langley had seven of them, plus a five-minute checking from behind penalty to Jon Wojciechowski.

To be a fly on the window during the long bus-ride home.

Langley appears to be a troubled team on several levels right now.

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Penticton goaltender Adam Scheel was knocked out of a game last weekend after being run over in his crease by a pair of Salmon Arm Silverbacks, and he didn’t dress for a mid-week game at Trail. But the star stopper was back between the pipes for the rematch and looked just fine. Scheel stopped all 23 pucks he faced in a 3-0 win over the Smoke Eaters, earning his third clean sheet of the season.

And Vees nation breathes a collective sigh of relief.

All due respect to Nolan Hildebrand, who stymied Trail in a 4-1 Penticton win Wednesday, the team’s playoff fortunes are enhanced greatly with Scheel in goal. The Ohio native has posted eye-popping numbers this season, with a microscopic 2.01 goals-against average and .930 save percentage.

It’s between Scheel and Vernon’s Ty Taylor as to who’s the league’s best goaltender this year, with no one else in the conversation, and this writer throws it to Scheel.

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The other two BCHL games Friday night saw Evan DeBrouwer stop 15 shots for Prince George in a 4-0 home-ice shutout of the Coquitlam Express.

West Kelowna got by a surprisingly frisky Cowichan Caps squad by a 3-1 count at the Island Savings Centre.

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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