Pilots defenceman Kellan Lavallee takes down a Ridge Meadows forward in front of the net.

Pilots defenceman Kellan Lavallee takes down a Ridge Meadows forward in front of the net.

Pilots passing chemistry, soar to first place after nine straight wins

'It's been a fun ride,' says Abbotsford Pilots coach Jim Cowden.

When Abbotsford Pilots coach Jim Cowden launches into an analysis of his team’s nine-game winning streak, he doesn’t begin with what happens during games.

Rather, he waxes eloquent about the Pilots’ optional practices on Monday nights.

“We’ll get 14 or 15 guys out, and that tells you something,” Cowden said.

“You look at teams that go on runs, and it’s not always the most talented teams, it’s the ones that come together. They support one another, they get along, they enjoy their time together. And our guys do – they enjoy every minute coming to the rink.

“It’s been a fun ride.”

The Pilots have traditionally been slow starters, but they’ve been scorching out of the gate this season, going undefeated in October and stretching the win streak to nine with victories over the Ridge Meadows Flames (4-2 at home last Friday) and the Port Moody Panthers (7-3 on the road Saturday).

That leaves the Pilots (12-3-1, 25 points) in first overall in the Pacific Junior Hockey League heading into a huge road showdown vs. the Delta Ice Hawks on Tuesday evening. Delta, with 24 points, leads the Tom Shaw Conference and is one point back of Abby with one game in hand.

Through 16 games, the Pilots’ top line of Brad Parker (12 goals and nine assists for 21 points), Braeden Monk (6-15-21) and Kolten Grieve (8-11-19) has been lighting up the league, and 17-year-old rookie Jared Virtanen is averaging a point per game (7-9-16).

The Pilots are also getting great offensive contributions from defencemen Eric Wieking (4-10-14) and Austin Edwards (4-5-9 in 11 games), while goalie Zachary Station has been outstanding with an 11-2-1 record, a 2.32 goals against average and a .927 save percentage.

Cowden has added judiciously to his core, swinging recent trades for power forward Clayton Lake and backup goalie Brenden Sharp.

As hosts of the Keystone Cup, the Western Canadian championship tourney, in April, the Pilots already know they’ll be playing deep into the post-season. Cowden said he’s not concerned about his squad peaking too early.

“I’m all about work ethic and staying focused,” he said. “We’ll continue to keep that identity going – getting in shooting lanes, backchecking, forechecking, just playing our systems. If you’re playing your systems, I don’t think you can get complacent, and I won’t allow it.”

• The Pilots play at home on Friday vs. the Grandview Steelers (7:30 p.m., MSA Arena).

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