A crack has shown, finally, and the opportunity is there if the Chilliwack Chiefs will only take it.
The Merritt Centennials are stumbling, ever so slightly. Their hold on second place in the Interior conference seems strong, but not as strong as it was.
Yes, they still lead the Chiefs by 12 points.
But Chilliwack hosts Merritt Friday night at Prospera Centre in the classic four-point game. Win that and they’re within 10.
Then, the Chiefs have to take care of business with their games in hand.
They’ll have five.
Win ‘em all and we’ve got a race.
“We have so much hockey left and teams are so evenly matched that it could go either way for any one of us,” Smyl said. “That scenario is a long reach for us to try and focus on. We’re better off looking at ourselves, making sure we’re playing better and letting the standings sort themselves out.”
But Smyl would have to admit that catching Merritt, even if it’s a longshot, should be a priority.
And if so, it has to start now.
“I think it would be very important to get home seed positioning for any one of the playoffs teams,” he acknowledged. “Everyone seems to have a better record at home. Merritt, Prince George and Vernon, they’re all extremely difficult to play in their own buildings.”
The Chiefs are 1-4 against Merritt this season (with one of those losses coming in overtime).
The last head-to-head meeting was an ugly one, with the Cents clubbing the visiting Chiefs 5-1 on Jan. 14.
The whole ‘catch the Centennials’ plan is unhinged if Chilliwack can’t find a way to master Merritt.
“They’ve got some big guys and they’re so good defensively, committed to playing tough in their zone.,” Smyl said. “So in terms of a game plan, we need to somehow be a little more determined offensively, get more second and third opportunities against them. And if we get those opportunities, we’ve got to capitalize on them.”
Merritt dropped two of three last weekend on a trip to Vancouver Island.
They played Penticton Wednesday night and we’re assuming they lost, because everyone does against Penticton.
“We all have our bumps in the road. With the better teams they happen less frequently,” Smyl noted. “With them, who knows what’s happening, but we do know they’re a very good team.”
After Friday night, Chilliwack gets its first game-in-hand out of the way Saturday, hosting the Trail Smoke Eaters.
The Smokies try hard.
They really do, and they’ve actually won a couple games lately. But their overall record of 8-27-1-4 makes them an inviting target.
The Chiefs have taken all five head-to-head meetings against Trail this season, but Smyl hopes his crew takes nothing for granted.
“Those games can be deadly if you’re not prepared,” Smyl said. “We’re in no position to take anyone lightly, and if we let up a little bit, they can beat us.”