The B.C. Hockey League’s three-team, double round-robin semifinal is a somewhat odd format.
But Victoria Grizzlies head coach Craig Didmon is already looking for the advantages to his team, which opens the next playoff round as the No. 1 seed on Friday (March 28) at The Q Centre in Colwood against the Vernon Vipers.
It’s a sprint to the finish situation where the top two teams – Coquitlam Express are the other semifinalist – advance to the Fred Page Cup championship final, starting April 11.
“It’s a horse race as soon as the puck drops,” Didmon said this week, after the Grizzlies dispatched the Kings with a 4-2 series-clinching Game 6 win last Friday in Powell River.
“I like the format. It’s a nice change from two seven-game series. You get a couple games in your barn, then play once each in two other rinks. It’s kind of a fun way to do it. As well, it gives you chance to check out the rink before playing a team in the final.”
The schedule is spaced out more than the Grizzlies’ previous two series. Game 2 sees the team head to Coquitlam for a game next Tuesday, return home to play Coquitlam on the Thursday (April 3), then travel to Vernon to finish the round robin April 5.
Measuring up his team’s opponents, Didmon said the Vipers “knocked off two really good hockey clubs in Penticton and West Kelowna,” the top two teams in the Interior.
“They’re a big team, they’re skilled and they’ve had a coach there for a number of years who knows how to win,” he said of Jason Williamson, who has chalked up two Royal Bank Cup national Jr. A championships (2009, 2010) and lost the 2011 final as a member of the Vipers coaching staff.
Vernon, who beat Penticton 4-3 in overtime of Game 7 on Saturday to advance, also hosts the 2014 Royal Bank Cup this May.
As for Coquitlam, who defeated Langley four games to two to win the Mainland division, Didmon says “they’ve got a ton of offence” – the Express led the BCHL in goals this season with 228 – but also give up a lot of goals.
Getting the better of these teams will require the Grizzlies to stick to their game, he said.
“We’re a team that likes to possess the puck and control the play. We want to go out there and play our way. We have four lines that can play and seven d-men that can generate offence.”
Didmon said he feels pretty comfortable with his goaltenders and planned to name the Game 1 starter mid-week.
Both Nic Renyard and Alec Dillon have four wins in the playoffs, but the latter won all four games against Powell River, including two in a row to close out the series.
Injury-wise, the Grizz are mostly healthy, but hope to have top-scoring defenceman Brandon Egli back in the lineup for Friday.
Overall, Didmon is feeling very positive about the way things are shaping up for his hockey team.
“To be in the third round hasn’t happened a lot in this organization,” he said.
“The guys have been through a lot – that first round, going to Game 7 in double overtime, was pretty intense. I think they feel like they’ve had their back against the wall and they know what that feels like. I think we’re getting mentally stronger as a group and starting to believe there’s a great opportunity here.”
Victoria Grizzlies’ season record against its BCHL semifinal round-robin opponents:
Nov. 3: Victoria 4 @ Vernon 3 (OT)
Nov. 17: Victoria 4 @ Coquitlam 3
Dec. 6: Vernon 4 @ Victoria 3 (OT)
Feb. 8: Coquitlam 1 @ Victoria 3
Grizzlies’ top scorers in those games:
• Myles Fitzgerald – 1G – 6A – 7 Pts.
• Gerry Fitzgerald – 3G – 3A – 6 Pts.
• Jesse Schwartz – 1G – 5A – 6 Pts.
• Kevin Massy – 1G – 3A – 4 Pts.