BCHL Today: Goaltending gives Vernon huge edge over Wenatchee

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

Welcome to the March 16, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

The playoffs resume tonight, including the series I’m most interested in.

Wenatchee is in Vernon as Interior division titans clash in round two. I hitched my wagon to the Wild before the playoffs began and I’ve stucked with them so far even as a massive red flag has popped up, but let’s see if the numbers support my faith.

Hint. They won’t.

This series starts and ends with goaltending, which appears to be a colossal advantage for the Vipers. Vernon pins its hopes on the BCHL’s Goaltender of the Year, Ty Taylor, who posted a 1.87 goals-against average and .931 save percentage in 31 regular season appearances, and has posted a 1.97 GAA and .927 SP in four post-season outings.

Having a guy like that between the pipes can be a huge psychological advantage for Vernon, and get into the heads of opponents.

At the other end, Wenatchee counters with either Seth Eisele or Austin Park, and neither should instill Wild fans with confidence. Eisele was named the BCHL’s all-rookie goalie earlier this week, which speaks more to the thin field of freshman stoppers this season than anything he did. In 34 regular season appearances the 19 year old Minnesota native posted a meh 2.64 GAA and very meh .887 SP.

He started the playoffs with a 14 save shutout of Merritt in game one of their first round series, but Eisele was pulled just 5:20 into game two after giving up two goals on three shots and hasn’t been seen since. Park replaced him, playing the last three games in a four game sweep of the Centennials. The Colorado native was shaky in his first two outings (.889 and .833 save percentages) and great in the series finale, when he stopped 32 of 33 shots in a 4-1 win.

Whenever you’re faced with a blip like that, it’s always good to look at the larger sample size.

In 25 regular season games, Park had a 2.78 GAA and .887 SP, and he looked like that guy for most of the Merritt series. I wouldn’t expect him to be dialing up that .970 SP mojo too often and I can’t see Wenatchee bench boss Bliss Littler being confident in either of these guys.

If Eisele and Park struggled against Merritt’s No. 10 ranked offence, they’re likely to struggle more against Vernon’s No. 6 ranked group.

The Wild have to hope to outscore their goaltending, which brings us back around to Taylor, who will have his hands full. Wenatchee outscored, by far, any other team in the BCHL this season, averaging 4.15 goals per game (Trail’s next at 3.76). Reigning BCHL MVP Jasper Weatherby led the circuit in regular season scoring with 37 goals and 74 points in 58 games, and hasn’t slowed down a tick in the playoffs. The Washington State native sits atop the post-season scoring list with 10 points in four games.

In a down year for offence league-wide, the Wild had six players top the 50 point mark, including X-factor defenceman Cooper Zech, who finished fourth in the BCHL scoring parade with 11 goals and 69 points in 58 games. Slava Demin collected nine goals and 45 points in 57 outings, giving Wenatchee two outstanding weapons on the back end.

AJ Vanderbeck had a quiet opening round by his standards (4-1-3-4), but the Wild have guys like Sam Morton (4-0-8-8) and Lucas Sowder (4-4-1-5) to pick up the slack.

Normally I’d dive deeper with the regular season series (3-3, Vernon leading 17-12 in goals for) and all that, but I don’t feel I need to go any further.

Goaltending is so huge in the playoffs and there’s such a huge disparity. I’m bailing on the Wild and calling the Vipers in five.

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Sticking with Wenatchee, defenceman Zak Galambos announced earlier this week that he has committed to Minnesota State Mankato.

The 20 year old Californian was the 30th highest scoring defenceman in the 17 team league this season with five goals and 28 points in 41 games, and his points-per-game rate of .68 ranked 12th among BCHL blueliners. It shows how offensively stacked Wenatchee is that Galambos was behind Cooper Zech (58-11-58-69), Slava Demin (57-9-36-45) and Chad Sasaki (57-9-27-36) in points on his own team.

Galambos will join the MSU-Mankato Mavericks next season. The team plays NCAA Div-1 hockey in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, facing off against St. Cloud State, Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska, Michigan Tech, Ferris State, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Northern Michigan, Lake Superior State and Alabama-Huntsville.

Galambos is joining a good program. The Mavs led the conference this season with a conference record of 22-5-1, though they fell in the WCHA playoffs in a three-game series versus Michigan Tech. This year’s roster includes BCHL grads Connor LaCouvee (Alberni Valley), Brad McClure (Penticton) and Steen Cooper (Penticton).

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Sticking with the WCHA, it is playoff season in the NCAA and the conference championship is Saturday night at 7 p.m. EST as Michigan Tech’s Huskies takes on Northern Michigan’s Wildcats at the Berry Events Center in Marquette, MI.

The Husky roster is loaded with BCHL grads. The list includes Devin Kero (Merritt), Brent Baltus (Trail), Mitch Meek (Penticton), Evan Anderson (Salmon Arm), Tyler Rockwell (Wenatchee), Mason Blacklock (Vernon), Jake Lucchini (Trail), Gavin Gould (Nanaimo), Jake Jackson (Nanaimo), Alex Gilles (Salmon Arm), Cooper Watson (Vernon) and Dane Birks (Merritt).

Lucchini lead the team in goals (16) and points (36) this season, in 42 games. Gould (42-13-15-28) and Jackson (38-12-13-25) were numbers three and four on the scoring parade for Michigan Tech.

The Wildcat roster is also loaded with BCHL grads. Their list includes Demico Hannoun (Penticton), Darien Craighead (Chilliwack), Zach Diamantoni (Chilliwack), Luke Voltin (Penticton), Adam Rockwood (Coquitlam), Rylan Yaremko (West Kelowna) and Tyger Howat (Coquitlam).

Rockwood led the entire WCHA in scoring with eight goals and 42 points in 34 conference games.

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Tis the season for BCHL grads to sign tryout offers with minor-pro teams. Powell River grad Ryan Scarfo is the latest to make the jump, putting his name to paper with the American Hockey League’s Belleville Senators. Not only has he secured an ATO for the remainder of this season, but Scarfo has netted a contract to play for the team in 2018-19.

The baby Sens are the AHL affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Ottawa Senators.

Scarfo has just finished a four year run at Union College, where he played in 151 games and collected 48 goals and 88 points.

“Ryan is a player we have been following for some time and we are excited to add him to our organization,” Belleville general manager Randy Lee said in a team press release. “His pace of play, his compete level, his offensive instincts and his effectiveness on the special teams make him a very attractive prospect to us.”

Scarfo logged 50 games for Powell River during the 2013-14 BCHL season, collecting 17 goals and 48 points, and here he is playing ‘Are You Smarter than a 6th Grader’ as part of a Kings community event back in the day.

Belleville has 13 games left on the regular season schedule, starting tonight with a home game against the Toronto Marlies at the Yardmen Arena.

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Finally, an interesting tidbit that was passed along to me by Victoria radio play-by-play man Scott Didmon regarding the Grizzlies vs Powell River second round series that starts tonight.

“The Grizzlies comeback from three down in the first round was the first time a BCHL team has done this in history in a seven game series. It’s been done in five game series before.”

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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