For the third consecutive year, Powell River Kings and Victoria Grizzlies will meet in the BC Hockey League Island Division final, starting Friday, March 15, in Victoria. Both teams cruised through their opening round matchups.
Powell River closed out Nanaimo Clippers on Thursday, March 7, on the back of a clinical effort that saw Neal Samanski and Ben Thomas score inside the opening five minutes. Kings outshot Nanaimo 23-6 in the opening period. Levi Glasman and Mitch Williams, with two, rounded out the scoring as Kings advanced past the Clippers, winning game five by a 5-1 score and the series 4-1.
“Tuesday [game four, March 5] was such an emotional rollercoaster for everyone; we took some time yesterday to get away from the rink, get together as a group and take a breather,” said assistant coach Brock Sawyer on game five preparations. “But this morning it was all business. We got together in the morning and went over some video with the goal of correcting some mistakes from Tuesday. We knew we had to jump all over them in the first 20; we got that and took control of the game.”
With Victoria advancing in a sweep past Alberni Valley a night prior, Powell River’s win not only advanced the team to the second round for the sixth straight season, but also a third consecutive matchup against Victoria for an Island Division championship. Victoria prevailed in overtime in 2017, with Powell River advancing on Ben Berard’s overtime winner a year later.
The matchup, at least statistically, is favourable for the Kings. They won the regular season series 6-2, outscoring the Grizzlies 44-26.
Many of Powell River’s wins came in emphatic fashion, highlighted by a 12-5 road victory in October, and punctuated by an 8-3 win at home in late February.
“I’m really excited to get the series going, Powell River and Victoria has turned into a really good rivalry over my time here,” said Kings captain Ben Berard. “Both teams have a lot of returning players from the series last year, so it makes it fun out there when you have that history, and it’s easy for us to get up and get ready for them.”
Through eight games in the regular season, both teams’ major offensive weapons accounted for a predictable amount of damage. Powell River’s Ryan Brushett had seven goals and eight assists in seven games, while Williams (5-9-14), Josh Coblenz (4-8-12) and Glasman (6-2-8) were all factors.
Victoria’s offence is centred around the “Fab Five,” as coined by Kings’ head coach Tyler Kuntz. The quintet of upcoming NHL Entry Draft prospects Alex Newhook and Alex Campbell, New York Rangers draft pick Riley Hughes, Carter Berger (led all BCHL defenders in regular season scoring ) and Jeremie Bucheler account for more than half all goals scored, and almost two-thirds of powerplay offence.
“You have to play them hard, not dirty in any way, but just be on them as much as you can, play physical and frustrate them to get them off their game,” said Kings’ defender Jack Long, who has played 38 career regular season and playoff games against Victoria. “Obviously winning the season series this year is great, but we can’t take them lightly at all. They have a lot of skill on their team and with how the games change in playoffs we need to play with confidence, but not be overconfident.”
For Glasman, his form against Victoria continued against Nanaimo in the first round. The second-year BCHL player shares fourth place in league playoff scoring with six goals and three assists in five games.
“It was just the details and habits the coaches have preached all season long: playing simple, trying not to be too fancy and playing the right way,” said Glasman about his playoff success. “We definitely know they’ll give us more of a push in this next round, but the regular season record really helps our confidence; we just need to ramp it up more to come out on top.”
With Victoria finishing higher than Powell River in the standings, games one and two will take place in the capital city on Friday, March 15, and Saturday, March 16. Games three and four shift to Powell River on Monday, March 18, and Tuesday, March 19.
If needed, the series will continue with game five on Friday, March 22, in Victoria, game six on Saturday, March 23, in Powell River, and game seven in Victoria on Monday, March 25.
All games start at 7 pm.