BCHL Today: Langley road woes continue and Express fly off the rails

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

Welcome to the Feb. 15, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

There were four games in the league last night and we start in Merritt where the visiting Langley Rivermen continued their nosedive.

The reeling Rivermen had lost four of their last five, including lopsided results against Trail (8-1), Wenatchee (7-2) and Vernon (5-1).

The Centennials dealt them another gut punch Wednesday with a 4-1 win at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena. A Tyrell Buckley power play goal had Merritt up by one after 20 minutes, and the Cents added to their lead with a three-goal middle frame. Henry Cleghorn and Christian Sabin lit the lamp 35 seconds apart and a Zach Court snipe made it 4-0 through 40 minutes.

Merritt play-by-play man Jared Thomas says Court has been on a tear since being put on a line with Zach Risteau and Brendan Schneider. The trio came together six games ago and since then they’ve generated 22 points.

Jayden Lee scored Langley’s lone goal early in the final frame.

Coming off a shutout of the Cowichan Caps Sunday, Merritt goalie Austin Roden was solid again, stopping 25 of 26 pucks.

Meanwhile, Langley netminders Braedon Fleming and Chad Cromar are struggling. Over this stretch of misery, they’ve combined to give up 33 goals (average of 5.5 per game) and Cromar had to leave the Merritt game with a potential injury after making a sprawling toe save. Of course, not all of Langley’s struggles can be pinned on the guys between the pipes, but they’re not part of the solution either.

The good news for the Rivermen is that all of this has happened on the road. They’ll play four of their final five in the friendly confines of the George Preston Arena, where they sport an overall record of 16-6-2-1. They need to pick it up now or they’ll be the Mainland team traveling to Prince George to face the Spruce Kings in round one of the playoffs.

Side note: Katie Couture from the Cents passed along a note to say forward Zach Zorn played his 150th game last night, all of them in a Merritt uniform.

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On to Penticton where the Vees whalloped the Coquitlam Express 7-1 at the South Okanagan Events Centre.

Penticton captain Owen Sillinger led the onslaught with a four point night (two goals, two assists). Ryan Sandelin also scored twice with Taylor Ward, Wyatt Sloboshan and Kenny Johnson netting singles as the Vees exploded for five goals in the third period.

Penticton outshot the Express 42-21 with Jack MacNab scored Coquitlam’s only goal.

You can read more in the Penticton Western News game review.

Sadly, this game could be a preview of a first round playoff series if the Express cross-over to face the Interior division leader.

That’d be the Vees if the postseason started today and boy, who wouldn’t want that to happen?

Penticton (36-11-2-3) holds a two point edge on the second place Vernon Vipers, and they have a game in hand. If the Vees can secure their seventh straight division title, they’ll see Coquitlam (14-36-1-3) in a series that could be absolutely absurd.

But in a league where all but one team makes the postseason, that’s what you get.

A note about Coquitlam before moving on. Until recently, the team appeared to be making significant strides under new bench boss Jason Fortier. What they lacked in talent they were making up through systems and work ethic, but they’ve now lost six straight in ugly fashion, getting outscored 30-14.

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On to the Island Savings Centre where the Nanaimo Clippers pulled out a 4-2 road win over the Cowichan Caps.

Jake Harris, Tristan Crozier, Lucas Vanroboys and Jeremy Gervais scored for the Clips with Azzaro (great name!) Tinling and Caleb Franklin replying for the Caps.

Cowichan kept it close. They played shorthanded, dressing just 11 forwards (one an affiliated player) and four defenceman. One of the blueliners was an AP and another was a converted forward. If ever a team was set up to be bombed, this was it, so kudos to the Caps for gutting it out.

They were within a goal into the final minute of the game with the goalie pulled when Harris iced it into the empty net.

As tough as this season has been for the Capitals, it’s got to be encouraging to see they are still putting up a fight.

Meanwhile, Nanaimo is keeping itself in the hunt for the Island division title. The Clippers have won seven straight games and haven’t suffered a defeat since Jan. 21. They’ve moved into a tie with Powell River for second place, one point back of Victoria.

Nanaimo would still be a long shot though, with the Kings and Grizzlies both holding two games in hand.

Side note: On the topic of their winning streak, Clippers play-by-play man Dan Marshall pointed out that it comes on the heels of a seven game losing streak as the team adjusted to life under new head coach Darren Naylor. Between Jan. 6 and Jan. 21 Nanaimo lost to West Kelowna (4-3), Victoria (6-3), Powell River (5-3), Salmon Arm (5-4), Coquitlam (6-3), Wenatchee (10-3) and Surrey (1-0).

They ended the slide (sort of) with a 3-3 tie vs Victoria on Jan. 26 before embarking on the run they’re on now.

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Finally, onto Prince George for a relatively meaningless game between the Spruce Kings and Trail Smoke Eaters.

PG doesn’t officially have the Mainland division title wrapped up, but after beating the Smokies 3-1 at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena (bad name!), the Sprucies’ magic number is one. And now that I think of it, they may have the division title right now on tie-breakers. At any rate, just one point for them in their final five games sews it up without the need for any mental gymnastics.

The Chilliwack Chiefs are the only team that could catch them in points, if Chilliwack won out and and PG lost… out.

But Chilliwack hasn’t won a single head-to-head meeting with Prince George, so you’d have to think the Spruce Kings are safe.

Blake Hayward, Ben Brar and Jarod Hodve scored for PG in Wednesday’s win with Tyler Ghirardosi replying for Trail.

Evan DeBrouwer stopped 29 pucks for the win in goal and has earned himself an apology from this writer.

Last week I wrote that Vernon’s Ty Taylor and Penticton’s Adam Scheel are the only contenders for the BCHL’s top netminder, and it’s not even close. But DeBrouwer has been really, really good lately. He’s lowered his goals-against average to 2.20 and raised his save percentage to .921 while logging more minutes (2,593) than anyone else in the league.

The Ontario native is doing this with a lesser surrounding cast than Scheel and Taylor, and he deserves to be in the conversation.

Here’s a fun video from last year when DeBrouwer was a member of the Nanaimo Clippers.

Side note: PG’s Kyle Anderson sent a note that the Spruce Kings won their 22nd game on home ice Wednesday, tying a team mark that dates back to 2003-04.

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Finally, the National Collegiate Hockey Conference recognized academic excellence for 111 players Wednesday. There are a boatload of BCHL grads making the NCHC Academic All-Conference Team.

According to the press release, student-athletes must ‘compile a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average or better while having completed at least one academic year at his current institution.’

Five NCHC schools placed at least 14 student-athletes on the list, led by Omaha with 20. Colorado College has 17 honorees. Western Michigan (16), North Dakota (15) and Miami (14) round out the top five.

Thirty eight of the 111 players went a step further, earning Distinguished Scholar-Athlete status by posting a GPA of 3.5 or better.

Omaha is again the smartest school, collecting 10 Distinguished Scholar-Athlete nods. North Dakota had eight and Western Michigan had seven.

You can check out the full list here.

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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