Chilliwack Chiefs a massive underdog versus Penticton Vees
By Eric Welsh – Chilliwack Progress
There is no team in the BCHL going into the playoffs as a bigger underdog than the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Harvey Smyl’s crew has the unenviable task of taking on a junior A juggernaut that has lost just one game since early November.
The Penticton Vees finished the regular season with just six losses overall, dominating just about everyone they faced.
They scored 334 goals, tops in the league by 89 over the next best team (Coquitlam Express at 245).
The Vees allowed 133 goals, making them the league’s second stingiest team (Powell River gave up 127).
Penticton landed nine players on the BCHL’s all-star teams (see right) and Vees players won four awards.
If Penticton doesn’t beat Chilliwack, it will go down as perhaps the biggest upset in BCHL playoff history. If Penticton doesn’t beat Chilliwack quickly and decisively, eyebrows will be raised.
Among Chilliwack’s many problems will be finding a way to put pucks behind Vees netminder Michael Garteig. The Prince George native won the BCHL’s goaltending award, given to the netminder who posts the lowest goals-against average (1.93) with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played.
“He’s well positioned, very experienced, handles the puck well and he’s very composed,” Smyl said. “He’s like any other goalie in that you try to get traffic and get those second and third opportunities.”
Garteig is protected by a star-laden defence anchored by Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Mike Reilly (fourth round, 2011).
Reilly’s offensive numbers this season were off the chart for a D-man as he posted 24 goals and 83 points in 51 games.
Reilly is aided by fellow all-star blueliner Troy Stecher, who had five goals and 42 points in 53 games.
“Reilly is fast and skilled and a very important piece to their puzzle back there, as is Stecher,” Smyl said. “We’ve got to create some pressure, create some turnovers and then hopefully score when we get our opportunities.”
Up front, the Vees ice seven 30 goal scorers. It would be eight, but Connor Reilly has been sidelined indefinitely by injury.
“We certainly don’t want to take any bad penalties, I’ll tell you that,” Smyl said. “We have to play banging, grinding hockey and not give them odd-man rushes. We have to make them earn their chances.”
Games one and two are Friday and Saturday in Penticton. Games three and four are Monday and Tuesday in Chilliwack.
History says Chilliwack Chiefs have a chance
Each week during the BCHL season, local hockey guru Jacob Bestebroer writes a Chilliwack Progress column talking about the local team and goings on around the junior A circuit.
The Chilliwack Chiefs have now qualified for the playoffs in 16 of their 17 seasons, and are 21 of 22 when you include their five seasons in Langley.
Over that time, we’ve learned that not everything goes as expected.
In 1995-96 the Chiefs won 44 games and were picked by everyone to win the league title. Everything was going according to plan until top scorer Shawn Horcoff went down with a leg injury early in the second round versus the Langley Thunder.
The Thunder won that series in seven games.
The Chiefs were dominant in 2001-02, setting a team record that still stands with 46 wins and cruising through the first three rounds (winning 11 of 13 games). After surprisingly losing the first two games in the finals versus Vernon, Chilliwack won four straight to win the league title.
They took the Doyle Cup in six games over Drayton Valley, advancing to the national championships in Halifax.
In Halifax, the Chiefs were the best team but were upset in the one game semi-final by Manitoba’s OCN Blizzard. Had those teams played 20 times the Chiefs would have won 19 of them.
Of course it hasn’t always gone against the Chiefs.
In the second half of the 1994-95 season the Chiefs showed signs that they would be a tough team to beat in the playoffs, but their incredible run to this city’s first junior hockey championship was Cinderella like. Their epic second round victory versus the heavily favored Kelowna Spartans was as incredible as incredible gets.
Down three games to two, the Chiefs won game six at home in triple overtime on a goal by Shawn York.
Earlier in the game Mike Minard, the Chiefs number one goalie, was knocked out of the game with an injury. Backup Corey Deutsch came in and was great. He was equally as good when the Chiefs went into Kelowna and won game seven.
The Chiefs went on to win the league title in five games over the Power River Paper Kings, who themselves had pulled off a huge upset in the semi-finals, beating the favoured Penticton Panthers.
In 1999 the Chiefs were given little chance in the semi-finals versus the Surrey Eagles, who were in their third year of an incredible run.
Two years earlier they dominated like few teams in this league ever have, only to be upset in the national final by Summerside. They made amends the next year by winning the national championship in Nanaimo.
Their 1999 team was not quite as good but the Chiefs were given less than no chance of winning that series.
Trailing three games to one the Chiefs won three straight elimination games to win the series, including game seven in Surrey on an overtime goal by Jeff Yopyk.
This year, the Chiefs face the Penticton Vees in round one.
The Vees rewrote the BCHL record book this season with 54 wins and are obvious favorites in this series.
But as we’ve seen before, things don’t always go as they are expected to.
Tall order for Chiefs
First of all, let’s get the doom and gloom out of the way.
The Chilliwack Chiefs are facing the Penticton Vees in the first round of the British Columbia Hockey League playoffs. Yes, the same Vees squad that lost six times in 60 games. A Vees team that won 42 straight games. The club that boasts seven of the BCHL’s nine top scorers, along with the top goalie. The team with the best power play and best penalty kill in the league. A franchise that set a new league record for wins in a season. The undisputed No. 1 Junior A team in the country.
And the Chilliwack Chiefs must beat this team four times in the next two weeks.
Doom and gloom wise, that’s about it.
On the bright side-yes, there is a bright side-the Chiefs can think back to the hurting they laid on Penticton to open the season. Chilliwack beat the Vees 7-1 that glorious night five and a half months ago.
If they can do it once, they can do it again, right?
And if they can do it twice, they can do it three times, right?
OK. It’s a stretch. But that’s how Harvey Smyl’s squad will have to approach the series as they prepare to attack the Mordor-like fortress of the South Okanagan Events Centre. (Bonus piece of gloom: the Vees lost only once at home in 30 regular season games.)
Smyl says his team will approach the series period by period. In three of the Chiefs last four games against the Vees, Chilliwack scored first and trailed by a single goal going into the third period. If the Chiefs can put themselves in a similar position in Penticton, and maybe even enter the third tied, the game will be in reach.
“The plan will be as simple as possible,” Smyl told the Times. “We’re going to try and get off to a good first period and take it period by period from there.”
Despite the formidable opponent, Smyl said his players are just happy to be playing in the post-season after battling for months to get to the playoffs.
“They’re exciting about playing,” said Smyl. “They worked their tails off to get here and are certainly deserving of the opportunity.”
After dealing with injuries for much of the second half of the season, Smyl will have his full roster to draw on, with captain Tyler Miller back manning the blue line and Kody Dhaliwal returning to the lineup after coming down with the flu last weekend.
Their veteran leadership will be crucial if Chilliwack has a chance of winning this weekend.
While physical play inevitably picks up come playoff time, Smyl said the Chiefs will have to pick their sports and remember their defensive responsibilities.
“You do have to play them physically but you have to be smart about that because they’re so skilled and if one [player] takes himself out of the play to make a hit, that opens up all kinds of lanes and opportunities,” Smyl noted. Add in the Penticton power play and restraint may be the order of the day when it comes to containing the Vees.
And therein is the conundrum.
For the Chiefs the series will be akin to having to fight a bear for the last piece of meat on Earth.
“When you play the game, you always think you stand a chance,” Smyl tells the Times, two days before a rendezvous with that bear.
The first two games of the series take place Friday and Saturday in Penticton. Games three and four are scheduled for Monday and Tuesday, respectively, in Chilliwack.
© Copyright (c) Chilliwack Times
Playoffs arrive, Vees excited
By Emanuel Sequeira – Penticton Western News
Kyle Beaulieu said it’s a clean slate on any trash talk with the Chilliwack Chiefs from their regular season series.
“We will still have the grudge match,” said Beaulieu, the Penticton Vees defenceman. “That will carry over a little bit.”
The Chiefs and Vees will clash at the South Okanagan Events Centre for Games 1 and 2 Friday and Saturday to open the BCHL’s playoffs.
Beaulieu, who is making his second playoff appearance with the Vees, is excited for what it is t come. The White Rock native said teams shut down defensively, plays happen quicker and hitting is harder. He is eager to help the Vees advance further in the playoffs.
“We certainly have the group to go far,” he said, as the Vees are the No. 1-ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Vees captain Logan Johnston shares Beaulieu’s feelings in wanting to see the team go further and believes they will.
“I think everybody is pretty excited,” said Johnston. “We didn’t necessarily have a whole lot on the line at the end of the year except for the streak. Now it’s kind of like everything is resetting.”
Johnston, who is known to step up his game in the playoffs, expects to continue that trend.
“I just think the game suits me better, the playoff style,” he said after being one of last guys off the ice on Tuesday.
He feels the key to success against the Chiefs will be a strong start and matching their intensity.
“That’s going to be their main thing. If we’re as intense as they are and sharp, then I think we’re sitting pretty good,” said Johnston, who has 12 goals and 17 points in 35 playoff games.
He added that the Chiefs have strong goaltending and defence. What works in the Chiefs favour in Johnston’s opinion is their work ethic. They also have experience.
“A lot of those guys played for Quesnel before and they had a couple of successful playoff goes there in Vernon,” he said.
Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said the Chiefs get to pucks quickly and their forwards pressure hard. He acknowledged while both their goalies are good, they have had success against them. He talked about getting pucks on net and staying disciplined.
“We have to play physical, play between whistles and don’t be selfish,” said Harbinson.
“We certainly don’t want to take any bad penalties, I’ll tell you that,” said Chiefs coach Harvey Smyl. “We have to play banging, grinding hockey and not give them odd-man rushes. We have to make them earn their chances.”
The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be striving to make life difficult for Vees goalie Michael Garteig, who was named the BCHL’s Goalie of the Year for the second year in a row.