Sorry for the lack of updates after the season came to a close last week. I was sick in bed all weekend and have been keeping busy at work. It's always easy to update things when there is something specific you're looking forward to... but the prospect of trying to summarize the end of the season is generally pretty grand.
I don't think I'm going to do it here yet either.
There are lots of things I would like to discuss. At some point in the future I want to do a post talking about each player and the strides they've made since August. Really when you look at how far the team has come it's pretty amazing. They were getting killed by the good teams back in September and October. Now we can look at the playoffs and only wonder "what if" because of so many injuries. That said, they still put up a hell of a fight. Only one of the games in the five game series didn't require an empty netter to finish it.
I know people hate hearing the "injury excuse" when a team loses. That's fine and I understand it. However, the Smoke Eaters were decimated by injuries in the first round. They came in to the playoffs without Thomas Abenante, Steve Oursov and Wade Bennett guaranteed for the entire series. They were also missing Justin Brown to start. He would later make a return but still not at 100%.
In the first game of the series Darnell Dyck got injured to the extent that he didn't play a shift in the next three games. He made his return in Game 5, but he was no where near 100% and wouldn't have played in a game 6 if there was one.
Curtis Tonello then got hurt in Game 3 and Trail was missing a key member of their back end for the rest of the series. One only has to have watched Trail's improvement in the last month of the season to see what a difference Tonello can make.
So in addition to all of those guys who missed time I can tell you that at least Travis St. Denis, Scott Jacklin, Graeme Strukoff, Mitch Kaufmann, Sean Nugent and Sam Mellor were all playing at significantly bellow 100%. That's just what I know about and I understand there were even more than that. These guys were all hurt to the level that they easily could have been sitting out of the line-up if the team didn't need them so desperately.
I can hear people saying already that every team runs into injury trouble in the playoffs and has to battle through it. That's fine and I agree, but Trail's situation was well beyond the normal playoff grind. It was in my opinion just too much to overcome in the end. Part of that is because Westside is such a deep team that they can throw all four lines over the boards and run a short team ragged.
Full credit to the Warriors for a well played series. I'm not saying Trail absolutely would've won if they had been at 100%. Instead I suspect we'd have seen a longer series. I just think we have to give this Smokies roster a ton of respect for digging deep within themselves and battling as hard as they did under the circumstances. They were very close and could have won in every game but one.
What a goaltending battle it was too between Kevin Jebson and Kiefer Smiley. Full marks to both for a terrific series.
Hopefully all Smokies fans recognize that effort and recognize how much potential there is in this roster for next year... and also thank the hard work and dedication of the Smoke Eaters who will leave the BCHL (Nick Sandor, Sean Nugent and Taylor Swaffield) after their 20 year old seasons.
Again as I said I'll have more to come in the days and weeks ahead. For now here's some audio from the end of the season...
Just wanted to put in my 2 cents for the second round of the BCHL playoffs as they get started tonight. I did this last year and I seem to recall having pretty good results. I'm not going to check that out for fear of proving myself wrong!
First congrats to Quesnel for pulling off their first playoff series win in the BCHL from what I understand. That's a terrific achievement for the franchise. They really made strides by adding some scoring depth in the second half of the season. However, this is where the run comes to an end. As much as I'd like to see a lower seeded team shock the world I just don't think the Millionaires much up well with the Vipers. Unless Vernon runs into a rash of injuries and goaltending trouble I'm saying it'll be the Vipers in 5. There is just too much depth in the Vernon line-up. However, I don't think the games will be one sided. Quesnel knows how to battle and will lean heavily on their strong vets I imagine. They do need Halcrow to be in top form though. If he falters it could get ugly.
As for the other Interior series... it should be a dandy. The Warriors and Vees are both nationally ranked teams with terrific depth. I think Kevin Jebson may give Westside an edge in goal because of his big game experience and how amazing he seems to play in those clutch situations... but he hasn't looked great against Penticton so far this season. The Vees have the most dangerous players in the series (Manderson and Bennett) so Westside I think has to hope that their 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines can out perform Penticton's. The Vees have a ridiculous power play so the Warriors have to stay out of the box. Their discipline was a major factor in their loss in game 1 against Trail and they can't afford that stuff against a man advantage that operates at basically a 30 perecent clip. Westside also has to hope that Trevor Bailey finds his scoring touch again after only picking up a single point in 5 games against Trail. If Bailey and Cole Wilson are shut down again I can't see how they can get past Penticton. I'll take the Vees in 6. However, I am intrigued by the possibility of a game 7 in Memorial Arena. That barn might actually favour Westside if it gets that far.
I don't know have nearly as much to say about the coast as frankly my knowledge of those teams is not quite as deep. I'll take Alberni Valley in 5 over Nanaimo. I know the Clippers have found their playoff form and did a great job against Victoria. However, the Bulldogs have all the top offensive guns in the series. They also have the best defenceman and in my view the better goaltender. The Clippers are going to test the Bulldogs with their tenacious team game, but the talent levels just don't match up in my view. The other series could be very interesting as I like both Langley and Powell River. Each club has scorers, agitators, two way players and good goaltending. They work hard and it should be a war. I'll take the Kings in 7 partially because the Chiefs take too many penalties and that can kill you against a good team in the playoffs. That being said, I don't like either of their chances against Alberni.
KIJHL GAME 7
Finally I hope as many of you as possible head to Nelson tonight for game 7 of the Neil Murdoch Division finals. It's been quite a series. Games 5 and 6 went to double overtime and the home team has won each game so far. The Leafs are obviously hoping that trend continues, but even with a win tonight there's little time to rest before facing Fernie in the semi-finals on Thursday. Puck drop is at 7pm tonight in Nelson. It should be a terrific game!