The Nanaimo Clippers celebrate Sunday at Frank Crane Arena after defeating the Powell River Kings and advancing to the next round of the BCHL playoffs.

The Nanaimo Clippers celebrate Sunday at Frank Crane Arena after defeating the Powell River Kings and advancing to the next round of the BCHL playoffs.

Triple-threat match will determine finalists

The Nanaimo Clippers, the Penticton Vees and the Chilliwack Chiefs are the three division champs in the mix.

There won’t be three teams on the ice all at once – the idea is that pretty soon, there will be only two left skating.

The Nanaimo Clippers begin the third round of the B.C. Hockey League playoffs on Wednesday (March 25) in the Okanagan, part of a three-team round-robin to determine the league’s two finalists. The Clippers, the Penticton Vees and the Chilliwack Chiefs are the three division champs in the mix.

“It’s a unique system that we use with three divisions in our league, and I’ve never been in one of these…” said Mike Vandekamp, Clippers coach. “It’ll be unique and different, but we’re just glad to be in it.”

Each team could play the other twice, but the round-robin will continue only as long as all three teams are mathematically in contention. That means that the Clippers could advance after as few as two games – tonight’s road game against the Vees and a home game Friday (March 27) against the Chiefs.

“We’re going to treat it like a regional tournament where every game is important, like a Game 7,” said Jason Tatarnic, Chiefs coach. “Hopefully we’ve prepared our guys for this. I think nerves and composure will be important as we go forward.”

The Chiefs swept the Prince George Spruce Kings in the Mainland Division final, while the Vees needed seven games to eliminate the Vernon Vipers and the Clippers also needed seven games to get past the Powell River Kings.

Nanaimo also went to Game 7 in Round 1 against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, so they pretty much played the equivalent a quarter of a hockey season in a 19-day span this month. That won’t slow them down, said Cole Maier, Clippers forward.

“Everybody will be going. It’s playoff hockey,” he said. “There’s definitely guys that have their bangs and bruises, but everyone’s playing through it.”

And the Clippers will be mentally prepared, too, said the coach – they’ve proven repeatedly this post-season that they can rise to the occasion.

“Any team that’s battling through the playoffs this deep is going to have strong character and we’re no different,” Vandekamp said. “Our kids have worked really hard this year, they’ve come together very well as a group and we’re proud of what they’ve accomplished so far.”

GAME ON … The Chiefs visit the Clippers on Friday at 7 p.m. at Frank Crane Arena. For ticket information, please visit www.nanaimoclippers.com.

– with files from Eric Welsh

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