March 26, 2019
by Jesse Adams
THE FINAL FOUR TEAMS ARE SET IN THE BCHL PLAYOFFS WITH A SPOT IN THE FRED PAGE CUP FINAL ON THE LINE
After a pair of Game 7s last night, the final four teams in the BCHL Playoffs are set as the Prince George Spruce Kings will play the Victoria Grizzlies and the Wenatchee Wild will take on the Vernon Vipers with winners advancing to the Fred Page Cup (BCHL) Finals.
With plenty of storylines and star power in both series, here is a quick breakdown of both semifinal matchups set to begin this weekend.
Prince George Spruce Kings vs. Victoria Grizzlies
Prince George lost in the league finals last year and are hoping to avenge that loss with a league title this season.
Spruce Kings forward Ben Brar and Grizzlies forward Ryan Nolan are set to be college teammates next year at Merrimack, while Prince George’s Sean Donaldson and Victoria’s Carter Berger are both committed to Connecticut.
Prince George forward Nolan Welsh spent the 2016-17 season with Victoria where he had 11 assists in 52 games and Spruce Kings backup goalie Keenan Rancier, who is from Victoria, started the season with the Grizzlies, making five appearances.
Despite all the firepower on both teams, the biggest matchup in this series will be in the crease.
Spruce Kings goalie Logan Neaton entered the BCHL record books by recording a league-best 1.92 goals-against average, the seventh-best mark in a single season, while his five shutouts were tied for sixth-best in history.
Meanwhile, Grizzlies netminder Kurtis Chapman posted a .933 save percentage to lead the league, tying him for the third-best number in a single BCHL season.
Both goalies have carried their stellar play into the postseason, each recording two shutouts.
Neaton currently leads the playoffs with a .943 save percentage and a 1.29 goals-against average, while Chapman’s save percentage is .929 and his goals-against average is 2.26.
By the numbers:
Prince George has 12 players committed to NCAA Division I programs, while Victoria has eight.
Victoria has four players listed on NHL Central Scouting’s North American Skaters: Alex Newhook (#16), Alexander Campbell (#42), Jeremie Bucheler (#113), Carter Berger (#181 – above).
Prince George defenceman Layton Ahac is also listed as #114 among North American skaters.
Both Ahac and Berger are North Vancouver natives.
Grizzlies forward Riley Hughes is the only NHL Draft pick in the series. The Westwood, MA product was taken in the seventh round by the New York Rangers in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
Prince George is looking for it’s first Fred Page Cup title after losing in the finals last season.
The Grizzlies franchise has one previous BCHL championship – in 2001 when they were known as the Victoria Salsa. The City of Victoria also raised the Jr. A title when the Victoria Cougars took home the BCJHL trophy in 1969-70, downing the Penticton Broncos in the final.
Wenatchee Wild vs. Vernon Vipers
These teams played in the second round of last year’s playoffs where the Vipers won the first two games, but Wenatchee stormed back to win four straight, including the final two games in overtime to advance.
Wenatchee is the defending league champion and is looking to be the first team to repeat since Vernon won three in a row from 2009 to 2011.
Vernon is the lowest-remaining seed in the playoffs, coming is as the #8 ranked team, finishing #4 in the Interior, and have the lowest goal differential of all four remaining teams (+4).
Victoria’s Ben Sanderson (00, Calgary) and Wenatchee’s Chad Sasaki (98, Cypress, CA) are set to be college teammates next year at Colorado College.
The biggest matchup in this series is between two veteran leaders on their respective teams – Wenatchee Wild captain Lucas Sowder (98, Trinity, FL) and the BCHL’s current regular-season games leader Jagger Williamson (98, Lumby, BC), the Vipers captain.
Sowder has been all-world for the Wild in the playoffs. He leads the playoffs with 20 points in 13 games and has at least a point in 12 of his team’s 13 postseason games, including 11 straight.
Williamson, who’s played all of his 233 regular-season games in Vernon, is leading his team with 14 points in 12 games.
Both players bring a wealth of experience to this series, Sowder having won a championship last season and Williamson with his 38 points in 47 playoff games over the past five years.
By the numbers:
Vernon has 13 players committed to NCAA Division I programs, while Wenatchee has 12.
The Vernon franchise has 12 Fred Page Cup titles to their name, starting with their first in 1970 when they were the Vernon Essos and most recently winning their third-straight trophy in 2011.
Wenatchee won its first and only title last year in their third season in the BCHL.
The Wild have nine players returning from last year’s championship team.
Vipers forward Lane Zablocki (98, Wetaskawin, AB) is the lone NHL draft pick in this series as he was taken in the third round by the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft.