The Chilliwack Bruins get a good look at a pair of potential playoff opponents when they host the Tri-City Americans and Vancouver Giants this weekend.
Currently sitting eighth in the Western conference with a playoff spot clinched, the Bruins would meet the Americans if the post-season were to begin today.
They could still pass both Kamloops and Kelowna to finish sixth in the West, but the odds favour them playing either Tri-City or the Vancouver Giants in round one.
And that makes this weekend interesting. Will there be message sending? A little extra hop in their step as the Bruins show potential opponents that they won’t be an easy first-round mark?
Ever the diplomat, head coach Marc Habscheid believes there is little psychological advantage to beating a potential playoff opponent prior to the playoffs.
While wins are still important, the primary concern is the continuing evolution of his team.
“It’s still more about the process for us, getting ready for game one of the playoffs and where we need to be at that point,” he said. “We’ve talked about not jumping ahead in the process. We’ll stick with it until game 72, and hopefully at that point the process is where it needs to be heading into the playoffs.”
The Bruins have had some surprisingly good luck facing the Americans this season, a team led by their former head coach Jim Hiller.
Chilliwack trounced Hiller’s crew 5-2 at Prospera Centre on Oct. 28 and split a pair of games in Kennewick, losing 5-0 on Jan. 10 and winning 6-3 on Feb. 12.
But Tri-City does possess the league’s second best record at 45-18-1-2, and a talented group of players that includes leading scorer Brendan Shinnimin (74 points in 64 games).
“I don’t think I’d read too much into what we’ve done against them this year,” Habscheid said. “The game they beat us, they spanked us really good, and we have a lot of respect for them.”
Sunday’s game represents the 10th and final regular season matchup between Chilliwack and the Giants.
The series stands at 3-5-0-1 in favour of Vancouver, who overhauled their roster at the trade deadline and presents a daunting opponent. The last two meetings have gone Vancouver’s way by scores of 4-2 and 6-1.
Ex-Edmonton Oil Kings Brett Breitkreuz and Tomas Vincour have fit in seamlessly, as has James Wright, who was returned to the team after a 48 game stint with the National Hockey League’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
“They’ve added some experience and high end talent up front and that automatically makes them a better team,” Habscheid said. “You know they’re always going to play hard, but they’re even more difficult to face now with the upgrades they’ve made.”
The Bruins should be feeling good coming into the weekend after a successful six-game road trip on which they went 3-3-0-0.
Chilliwack recorded wins over Swift Current, Saskatoon and Prince Albert, and competed well in every game they played.
“We played against a lot of good teams on that road trip, teams that had a lot on the line,” Habscheid noted. “We’re not going to win every game, but we want to have the mentality that we are going to win every game. The guys did a good job with that, for the most part, and when they did face some tough times, they responded well.”
Whatever the outcome against these Western conference powers, Habscheid and company will be glad to be back on home ice after a gruelling, albeit successful six-game road trip.
“It’s good to get out on the road sometimes and see some new buildings,” Habscheid said. “It was a long, hard road trip. But it gave us a chance to do some things as a team, and hopefully we’ve improved as a result.”
Puck drop against Tri-City is 7 p.m. tonight.
Sunday’s game agaisnt Vancouver is a 5 p.m. start.
l The Tri-City Herald recently released its annual Best of the West survey.
In a vote by players, coaches and managers around the league, Chilliwack’s Ryan Howse was heralded as teh player with the most accurate shot, drawing 81 per cent of the vote.
Howse was second in the ‘most valuable to team’ category, fourth in ‘most improved player’ and third in the ‘best pro prospect’ voting.
Teammate Kevin Sundher was sixth in the ‘top faceoff man’ category, and Habscheid was second to Don Hay as the best coach in the conference.