Only three teams are still alive in the BCHL playoffs, and none of them come from Penticton.
The mighty Vees are out, victims of an epic second-round upset.
The West Kelowna Warriors vanquished them in six games. They join Chilliwack’s Chiefs and Nanaimo’s Clippers in the league’s odd-ball double-round robin that will decide the two Fred Page Cup finalists.
The Chiefs, Warriors and Clippers will play each other twice, home and away.
The first two teams to win three games move on.
“I’m not surprised that the Warriors made it through,” Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic said Monday morning. “They have a big D core that I thought would give them (Penticton) problems.”
“Their goaltender is good, they have some good forwards and I knew they’d be a tough matchup for Penticton.”
It was the Vees who helped knock Tatarnic’s Chiefs out of last year’s playoffs and this year’s edition was supposed to be even better.
Led by regular season scoring leader Scott Conway (56-56-60-116) and future National Hockey League first round draft picks Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro, the Vees went 50-7-0-1 in regular season play, finishing 18 points clear of the second place Chiefs.
Tatarnic would never admit it, but the road to a championship is easier with Penticton out of the way.
“You know what, at this point I really don’t care,” the coach said when asked if he’d have liked a crack at the Vees in round three. “They’re not part of the equation, so who cares?”
Chilliwack comes off a five game win over Wenatchee preceded by a four game sweep of Coquitlam.
Tatarnic’s team has played just one game more than the minimum and all of his players are available — an enviable place to be at this point.
“Just because you played fewer games doesn’t mean you didn’t play as hard and you’re not as banged up,” the coach countered. “We have guys with bumps and bruises, just like every other team does.”
“Do we have enough time to rest and heal 100 per cent? Probably not, but I don’t think the other teams can either.”
Taylor Allan was the one concern after having a cut on his leg.
Jake Smith was helped off the ice during game five of the Wenatchee series, but he returned to that game and Tatarnic says he’s good to go.
“If there’s no bumps and bruises it means you’re not playing hard enough,” Tatarnic noted.
So Penticton’s out.
But that doesn’t mean the third round opponents are tomato cans.
Chilliwack saw the Warriors twice in January.
They played to a 3-3 draw in Kelowna and, eight days later, the Warriors whumped the Chiefs 6-3 at Prospera Centre.
“They have that big D core that protects the net well, blocks shots and makes you go through them,” Tatarnic said. “They clog up the neutral zone and they have four very skilled players up front that you have to watch out for.”
Jonathan Desbiens, Kylar Hope, Liam Blackburn and ex-Chief Garret Forster were all point-per-game guys in the regular season and Kelowna had 10 players hit double-digits in goal scoring.
“Their checking line right now has eight goals in the playoffs,” Tatarnic said. “To me, they’re very similar to us and they’ll be a tough opponent.”
The Clippers are led by Sheldon Rempal, who scored 59 goals in 56 regular season games.
Nanaimo is a deep and talented bunch who try to bully their opponents with a physical style that walks the line between clean and dirty.
They tried to bully the Chiefs when they visited Chilliwack in early December. Nanaimo escaped with a 2-1 OT win, but the Chiefs weren’t pushed around.
“They like to pretend they’re tough, but if push came to shove I think our guys would be more than willing to oblige,” Tatarnic said. “They’re coach believes in that style and tries to get them to play that way, but they’re also a very good hockey team.”
The Clips are top heavy.
Rempel, Devin Brosseau and Matthew Hoover form the big line.
Gavin Gould is point-per-game since coming over from Merritt at the trade deadline and Yanni Kaldis (58-9-54-63) is an X-factor on the blueline.
Nanaimo will be a very tough out.
“They’re another team that’s similar to us and it’s going to come down to whose deeper throughout the lineup and who executes best,” Tatarnic said. “And each team’s best guys, who is going to out-perform everyone?”
The Chiefs hosted the Warriors Tuesday night (after Progress press deadlines).
They’ll visit Nanaimo April 2 and Kelowna, host the Clippers April 4 and visit Kelowna April 6.
See bchl.ca for more info.