BCHL Today: Victoria Grizzlies complete comeback and Lewis lawyers up

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 12, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

The first round of the BCHL playoffs is done.

Series that went the distance finished up Sunday night, and in the end there were no surprises. A few series went longer than I expected, and the coin flip between Nanaimo and Powell River landed the wrong way, but in the end teams that were supposed to win came out on top.

We start this morning in Victoria where the Grizzlies completed an epic comeback with a 3-1 win win Sunday at the Q Centre.

Bulldogs forward Isaac Tonkin-Palmer takes a check from Grizzlies defenceman Cole Noble during Game 6 on Saturday. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Kurtis Chapman stopped 31 pucks as Victoria erased an 0-3 series deficit against Alberni Valley, taking the series in seven. Over five starts in the series, Chapman posted save percentages of .921, .971, .971, .939 and last night, .969. At a time of year when goaltending is so huge, the Grizzlies have to feel great about their number one guy being on such a roll.

Cameron Thompson, Finn Withey (great name!) and Cole Noble scored the Victoria goals in game seven.

In another example of referees keeping their whistles in their pockets in the playoffs, there were only eight penalties called and two power plays, total, in the game. Alberni Valley had both. Victoria never saw a man advantage.

What to say about AV? They’ll be remembered as the team that had a top seed on the ropes and blew a huge lead, which maybe isn’t fair. Once Victoria got Chapman back and flipped the switch, they overwhelmed the underdog Dawgs, but Alberni Valley deserves credit for taking this series to the limit when no one thought they’d win a game.

It’s something for the franchise to build on.

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Powell River will meet Victoria in the second round of the playoffs after taking out Nanaimo in six games.

The series concluded Saturday night with a 6-4 Kings win at the Hap Parker Arena. Mitchell Williams and Carter Turnbull had two goals apiece for Powell River with Neal Samanski and Gavin Rauser adding singles. The game was 5-4 into the final minute. Williams scored his second of the game with 35 seconds left to seal the deal.

The goaltending was interesting in this series.

We’ve talked lots about the Powell River netminders. Matteo Paler-Chow stopped 30 of 34 shots Saturday, his first clunky performance of the first round. Checking into this series in game three, the Vancouverite posted save percentages of .933, .943, .938 and .882, out-dueling Nanaimo’s Taz Burman. The Tazmanian Devil struggled to find his footing and ended the playoffs with a thud, allowing six goals on 36 shots for a .833 SP in game six.

You wonder how much the absence of Jake Harris hurt Nanaimo. The Toronto native was Nanaimo’s second leading scorer during the regular season, despite missing a big chunk of games. In the 41 games he played in, the 19 year old collected 20 goals and 47 points, posting a better points-per-game (1.15) than Tristan Crozier (1.08). Harris was knocked out of the lineup in mid-February, taking a big weapon out of the Nanaimo arsenal.

Crozier did his thing against Powell River, leading Nanaimo with two goals and six points. Cal Babych, Parker Colley and David Melaragni had four points apiece, but in a series where the Clippers twice lost by a single goal, Harris might have been the difference.

Nanaimo came into the playoffs on such a role, carrying that 10 game win streak into the post-season.

Now they’re out, showing you just how fast things can change.

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Sticking with Powell River, the team is being sued by former head coach/general manager Kent Lewis.

The Powell River Peak reported last week that the suit was filed in the Supreme Court of the Powell River law courts March. 2.

Lewis was fired by the team Jan. 29, on the day his club clinched a playoff spot.

He was in his 18th season guiding the team. The Kings experienced great success under his leadership, highlighted by four straight league finals appearances from 2009 to 2012.

Powell River Kings Hockey Club Society president Rob Villani explained at the time that the team was looking for a full-time hockey boss, where Lewis had been operating as a part-timer. Lawrence Robinson, a Vancouver lawyer working on Lewis’ behalf, said his client’s reputation reputation was damaged when the Kings fired him. Robinson said Lewis reached out to the Powell River board, looking to get an explanation for his firing and maybe ‘clear the air,’ but his request for a meeting was ignored.

“He led this team for a long time, successfully, clinched a playoff spot this year, and then in circumstances where a playoff spot has been clinched and they’re on the cusp of the playoffs, he is unceremoniously and summarily terminated from his employment,” Robinson told the Powell River Peak. “That inevitably leads to speculation running wild and people are questioning what happened and, in fact, to this day Kent Lewis is not sure what precipitated him being dismissed from his job.”

As of March 7 the team had 21 days to respond to the civil suit.

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Back to playoff results and the other series that was decided on Sunday.

Chilliwack fell 3-1 in Prince George and the Spruce Kings prevailed in seven games, setting up a second round series with Surrey.

I’ll take a deeper dive into the Chiefs later this week, trying to determine where their season stacks up against other Royal Bank Cup hosts from the past decade or so. The answer, I’m sure, is not too well, but I will give Chilliwack credit for taking this series the distance.

There was nothing in the regular season numbers to suggest this would go seven games, keeping in mind that the Chiefs didn’t beat PG even once during the campaign. I picked Chilliwack to lose in five games, and I know head coach Jason Tatarnic used predictions from myself (and others?) to fire up his team. He indicated as much in a pre-game radio interview with Chilliwack radio play-by-play man Vanni DeBartolo last night, so I am taking full credit for helping motivate his crew.

The one element I couldn’t factor into my round one prediction was goaltending.

Chilliwack Chiefs goalie Daniel Chenard stretches to make a save against the Surrey Eagles during a regular season matchup. Chenard’s playoff performance gives the Chiefs hope as they take nearly two months to prepare for the 2018 Royal Bank Cup. GARRETT JAMES PHOTO

Chiefs netminder Daniel Chenard posted a 3.07 goals-against average and .893 save percentage in 31 regular season appearances. There was no reason to suspect he would suddenly find his game in the playoffs, but that’s what the 17 year old did, cutting his GAA by more than one and a half goals per game, down to 1.51. His save percentage rocketed up to .927

Chenard went toe-to-toe with a guy, Evan DeBrouwer, who was a finalist for BCHL Goaltender of the Year. DeBrouwer’s first round numbers were 1.92 and .927.

Chenard’s performance gives Chilliwack some hope going into the RBC Cup in May, but their fatal flaw remains. In Sunday’s finale the Chiefs led 1-0 into the third period but couldn’t bury the Spruce Kings, and that was a common thread throughout the regular season and playoffs. The team has hard workers up and down the roster, guys who try real hard and score at a reasonable rate. But they lack the high-end talent that can produce back-breaking goals when they’re needed the most.

There’s some more bulletin board material for you Coach T.

Side note: Game six ends just before 9:30 p.m. Saturday night. After a long bus ride to PG the teams are back at it in a 7 p.m. start Sunday. Brutal. Out of safety concerns for the players, couldn’t (shouldn’t) the league have pushed game seven to Monday?

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I’ll get into each of the second round series later this week, but here are the matchups.

The Mainland division final will have Prince George versus Surrey while the Island division final features Victoria versus Powell River.

The Interior division has the top-seed Penticton Vees versus the number-four seed Trail Smoke Eaters while the number-two seed Vernon Vipers face the number-three seed Wenatchee Wild.

I am so glad the second round is here and the playoff pool has been thinned. I am looking forward to following three of those series.

If you’ve been reading BCHL Today lately, you can guess which one I’m not fired up about.

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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