The Abbotsford Pilots face the Ridge Meadows Flames in what is sure to be a hotly contested first-round playoff series.

The Abbotsford Pilots face the Ridge Meadows Flames in what is sure to be a hotly contested first-round playoff series.

Pilots primed for playoffs

As the Pacific International Junior Hockey League playoffs begin, Abbotsford Pilots coach Jim Cowden faces a unique motivational challenge.

As the Pacific International Junior Hockey League playoffs begin, Abbotsford Pilots coach Jim Cowden faces a unique motivational challenge.

The Pilots are already guaranteed a berth to the Keystone Cup – the Western Canadian junior B hockey championship tournament – by virtue of the fact they’re hosting the event, April 17-20.

So, whereas in years past a PJHL championship was the first step in the journey towards the Keystone Cup – a bauble which the Pilots won in 2012 – a deep PJHL playoff run might be viewed as optional this time around.

But Cowden is confident that his core of leaders in their final season of junior eligibility will want to make the most of their last hurrah.

“We’ve got a lot of experience,” he said, alluding to a 20-year-old group that includes forwards Jarrett Martin, Braedon Monk and Brad Parker, defenceman Ryan Parmar, and goalie Zachary Station. “They’re going to motivate themselves, and everybody else will follow, because they’re our leaders. We’ve just got to get by this first series, because it’s going to be a battle.”

That series, pitting the Pilots against the Ridge Meadows Flames, opens on Tuesday evening at MSA Arena (7 p.m. start). The best-of-seven set resumes on Wednesday at Planet Ice in Maple Ridge (8:30 p.m.), and returns to MSA for Friday’s Game 3 (7:30 p.m.).

The Pilots (27-12-5, 59 points) finished second in the PJHL’s Harold Brittain Conference, 20 points ahead of the third-place Flames (17-22-5). But despite the fact that his team won five of six head-to-head meetings this season, Cowden believes it will be a hard-fought series.

“They’re a good team, and we’re going to have to play very well to get by them,” he said, lauding Ridge Meadows’ speed up front and blue-collar attitude.

The Pilots, though, are playing some of their best hockey of the season, posting a 10-3-1 record since the calendar flipped to 2014.

Pilots vs. Flames first round playoff series schedule

Game 1 – Tuesday, Feb. 18, 7 p.m., MSA Arena

Game 2 – Wednesday, Feb. 19, 8:30 p.m., Planet Ice

Game 3 – Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m., MSA Arena

Game 4 – Saturday, Feb. 22, 7:45 p.m., Planet Ice

*Game 5 – Tuesday, Feb. 25, 7 p.m., MSA Arena

*Game 6 – Wednesday, Feb. 26, 8:45 p.m., Planet Ice

*Game 7 – Friday, Feb. 28, 7:30 p.m., MSA Arena