BCHL Today: Merritt peaking at right time and Taylor signs with UNH Wildcats

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

Welcome to the Feb. 21, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We start in Merritt where a pair of Zach Horn goals lifted the Centennials to a 7-4 win over Trail Tuesday night at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena.

After making five straight starts, Merritt netminder Austin Roden got a break, with Jacob Berger taking over between the pipes. The backup did well, stopping 36 pucks as the Smokies outshot the Centennials 40-36. If you’re looking for the difference in this game, it was special teams. Merritt’s sixth-ranked penalty killers snuffed out three power play chances for Trail while their fifth ranked power play converted on three of five chances. If you’re looking for reasons why the Cents may be the most dangerous of the Interior division’s bottom seeds, there it is.

Goaltender Austin Roden (left) is one element that could make Merritt a tough out in the opening round of the BCHL playoffs. Ian Webster Photo

Good penalty killing. Check. Good power play. Check. Good goaltending. Check.

Those three things can carry you a long way in the post-season.

If you’re looking for another reason to pick Merritt as your upset special, consider this. While the team’s season-long average for goals per game is 3.24, their average over nine games in February is 3.89. Other than Zorn, five different skaters (Ashton Stockie, Brendan Schneider, Zach Risteau, Matthew Kopperud and Christian Sabin) lit the lamp.

The Centennials have the look of a team that is getting hot at the right time, and it is still technically possible for them to avoid one of the Interior’s ‘big three’ in the first round of the playoffs.

They leapfrogged Salmon Arm last night, moving into the sixth seed. It’s a long shot to catch fifth-seeded West Kelowna, but if Merritt wins out and the Warriors stumble, it could be done. That would set up a first round series between the Centennials and Smoke Eaters.

As dangerous as Trail can be, who wouldn’t prefer them to Penticton, Vernon or Wenatchee?

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Here’s an interesting statistical nugget from Kyle Anderson concerning the Mainland division’s top team, the Prince George Spruce Kings.

LEFT WITH CAPTION

Ethan de Jong (left) has scored 17 goals for Prince George this season, including one on the power play and two shorthanded. MyLight Photography

We talked yesterday about how Victoria leads the league with 13 shorthanded goals. PG is second in that category with 12, and here’s why that’s significant. As good as they’ve been in many facets of the game this year, the Spruce Kings have a bad (I’m being nice) power play, muddling along at a pedestrian success rate of 13.5 per cent. They have produced 33 power play goals all season.

Based on those numbers, Anderson calculates that 26.7 per cent of PG’s special teams goals come shorthanded. Whether this is a good thing for the team or not, you’d have to ask Spruce Kings bench boss Adam Maglio.

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On to Vernon where star goalie Ty Taylor has locked down an NCAA spot for next season.

The 18 year old Richmond native is signing on with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats, a team that plays in the loaded Hockey East Conference. UNH does battle with a host of heavyweights including Providence, Boston College, Boston U and Northeastern.

The Wildcats are struggling within the conference this season, sporting a record of 5-12-5, but New Hampshire looks like a fun place to play.

They will rise rapidly if Taylor can do in the NCAA ranks what he’s done in the BCHL. In 30 games this season he has produced a microscopic goals-against average of 1.83 to go with a league-high .932 save percentage. Taylor has seven shutouts this season to match the league’s single-season mark.

Out of curiosity, I had a look back to see where Taylor’s GAA stacks up to past leaders. You have to go back to Michael Garteig to find anyone with a lower number. Garteig, who is now in the Vancouver Canucks system, posted an absurd 1.69 GAA for the Powell River Kings in 2010-11.

There are two things that hurt Taylor’s claim for BCHL Goalie of the Year.

Taylor Ward of the Penticton Vees tries to go short side on Vernon Vipers goalie Ty Taylor during a recent BCHL game. Mark Brett photo

One is workload.

While Penticton’s Adam Scheel and Prince George’s Evan DeBrouwer have logged 43 and 44 games respectively, Taylor has appeared in 30, running a near-even split with Viper teammate Anthony Yamnitsky. Yamnitsky’s stats raise the other concern with Taylor.

A thoroughly meh goalie with Wenatchee last season, so much so that the Wild sent him packing, Yamnitsky has posted a sparkling 2.07 GAA and .921 SP in 26 games with the Vipers.

I guess what I’m getting at is Vernon seems to be an extremely friendly environment for netminders.

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There are three BCHL games tonight, all with playoff seeding implications.

Wenatchee visits West Kelowna needing a win to keep the first place Penticton Vees within striking distance in the Interior division. A loss by the Wild or a win by the Vees, who play tonight in Salmon Arm, would make it impossible for Wenatchee to catch Penticton.

This is also the Wild’s game-in-hand on Vernon, which sits two points above Wenatchee in second place.

Meanwhile, the Nanaimo Clippers try to stretch their win streak to nine and stay in the mix for first place in the Island division as they host the Chilliwack Chiefs. The Clippers are two points behind Powell River and Victoria. The Kings will hold two games in hand after tonight, which makes first place something of a long-shot, but the Grizzlies can be overtaken, which would give Nanaimo home-ice advantage should those two teams meet in the playoffs.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs need a win badly if they hope to have home ice in the opening round.

They sit third in the Mainland division standings, two points back of the Langley Rivermen. If the teams finished tied in the standings, Chilliwack would get second place based on the total wins tiebreaker, and the Chiefs would love to open at Prospera Centre.

Side note: Langley can thank overtime losses for being where they are. They have a league-high 10 this season. The next highest teams, Powell River and Surrey, have six. Knock even four of the Rivermen’s OT losses off their record, with the single points that go with them, and Langley is looking up at Chilliwack and Surrey. Of course, the flipside of that is, if you turn four of those overtime losses into wins and hand the Rivermen four points they’re still alive for the division title.

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It’s team-award season, and the West Kelowna Warriors handed out hardware after last Saturday’s 6-3 home-ice win over Victoria.

Captain Jared Marino was the choice for MVP and best forward while Stephen Kleysen was named the top defenceman.

Here’s a way-back-machine interview I found with Marino when he was a young prospect of the Ontario Hockey League’s Peterborough Petes.

Michael Lombardi was named the team’s Rookie of the Year, which kind of makes me sad. Lombardi started the season in Chilliwack and I loved watching him play. He’s a high energy kid, and the Chiefs could certainly use more energy some nights. Unfortunately, Lombardi was traded away during Chilliwack’s early season roster shuffling.

Lombardi has produced 15 goals and 39 points in 54 games, so he’s no slouch offensively. Thirty nine points would rank third on Chilliwack behind Will Calverley (44) and Tommy Lee (40) and I do wonder if Chiefs bench boss Jason Tatarnic has any regrets about that one.

Anyhow, carrying on. West K’s Most Improved Player award went to RJ Murphy. The Heart and Soul award went to Jake Harrison, who was also voted the Fan Favourite. The Community Minded Player award went to Cavin Tilsley.

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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