The path through the BCHL playoffs was unpredictable. But it will end, as anticipated, with the best two teams meeting in the finals.
The Penticton Vees and the Nanaimo Clippers will play a best-of-seven series for the Fred Page Cup championship.
“It’ll be a fight for inches out there,” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach.
This will be Nanaimo’s first trip to the finals since 2008, when it was swept by Penticton. The Vees have made two other trips to the finals since then, winning in 2012 and losing in 2013.
In 2014-15, the Clippers and Vees met twice in the regular season and twice in the playoffs, which each team defending home ice. The BCHL’s unusual playoff format has created familiarity between the foes.
“These extra two games that we got to play them here in the past week or so kind of changes that dynamic,” said Vandekamp. “It probably builds a little bit more animosity into the whole thing.”
Both coaches see similarities between the combatants, as both the Clips and Vees intend to roll four lines and rotate three defence pairings.
“They play everyone; we like to play that same game,” Vandekamp said. “So the head-to-head matchups are going to be real key.”
Nanaimo’s scoring leader so far these playoffs is defenceman Nick Gushue, while Penticton’s offence has been led by Demico Hannoun, Connor Chartier and Dakota Conroy.
“The thing about them is they’ve got four solid lines just like us so we’re just going to have to be aware of every single line and every single line on our team is going to have to play their best games,” said Brendan Taylor, Clippers captain.
There will be much more to the series than line-matching – intangibles like desire will be noticeable over seven games. Vandekamp said he wants his guys to seize this moment, because it’s rare.
“One of the biggest things is you’ve got to look at it as an opportunity; it’s not something to be uptight about or nervous about or feel pressure,” he said. “We’ve worked hard to give ourselves a chance here and we have an equal chance with them when the puck drops.”
This is the first round of the playoffs in which a trophy has been at stake, which makes for a new level of motivation, players said.
“All of us are going to be really excited to go and I think it’s going to bring some extra energy for the team,” Taylor said.
With both finalists thinking that way, it should make for high-intensity hockey for the fans.
“It’s going to be the best hockey they can see,” said Guillaume Decelles, Clippers goalie. “It’s going to be physical, guys are going to sacrifice everything to block a shot or take one for the team. It’s going to be a really good series.”
Fred Harbinson, Vees coach, anticipates that the atmosphere will overflow the arenas.
“Both towns are going to create a buzz and an excitement…” he said. “You’re going to see two teams that want the same thing and they’re going to do whatever it takes.”