Around the BCHL: Chilliwack Chiefs lose starting goalie to injury

Around the BCHL is a look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the November 27, 2018 edition of Around the BCHL

Starting today with a bad situation in Chilliwack where it looks like starting goaltender Mathieu Caron might be lost for the season with a knee injury.

During Friday night’s home game against Prince George, Caron absorbed friendly-fire contact from a teammate and crumpled to the ice grabbing his knee (more accurately the leg pad covering it). He was eventually able to get to his feet and skate off the ice, but once he was in the tunnel to the dressing room he needed two people to support him.

Chilliwack’s Mathieu Caron makes a stop on Penticton’s Cassidy Bowes during a game earlier this season. MARK BRETT PHOTO

Caron saw a doctor Monday and here’s what Chilliwack head coach Brian Maloney had to say about that.

“He’s told us it might be an ACL tear or something like that, and we’ll get the MRI back later this week with an exact diagnosis, but it’s not looking like Mathieu will be coming back this year.”

Normally this would be disastrous. Teams don’t skate through losing their number one goalie, but the Chiefs have a luxury named Daniel Chenard. Last season winning top goalie honours at last spring’s RBC Cup, the Quebec kid has been rehabbing after having offseason hip surgery, and arrived in Chilliwack Tuesday.

Maloney suggested he’s probably a couple weeks away, which means the Chiefs would have to lean on Nolan Hildebrand in the interim. The former Penticton Vees backup was spectacular in relief Friday, earning first star honours in a 3-2 shootout win over Prince George.

Saturday was a different story as PG got to him for six.

If Hildebrand can hold the fort until Chenard gets back, and Chenard is Chenard…ish when he returns, then the Chiefs will be in fine shape.

But the margin for error is small because…

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The Prince George Spruce Kings are just one point behind Chilliwack in the Mainland division standings after the weekend results, and PG holds one game in hand.

My takeaway from the head to heads is that the Spruce Kings are a better team, but the gap isn’t as big as I thought it would be.

It’s apparent now that the Chiefs have the offensive talent to hang with anybody, and any questions relate to defence. That’s where Prince George has the advantage. Young teams tend to make more mistakes at that end of the ice, and Chilliwack is middle-of-the-road in goals against with 86 through 30 games. PG’s veteran roster has more experience, knows their systems better and is less prone to panicking under pressure. The result is a league low 63 goals against in 29 games.

The Chiefs have 26 games to keep ironing out the wrinkles and by playoff time they may have closed the gap even further.

With Coquitlam falling out of the race for first place, it looks like the Mainland will come down to Chilliwack and PG and it would be surprising if they don’t end up facing each other in the playoffs. That will be a heckuva series.

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We’re hitting the midpoint of the season this week, and that brings clarity in the standings.

The cream is rising to the top, Surrey’s still on the bottom and we can start talking about playoff races/positioning.

As mentioned Chilliwack and Prince George are now 11 and 10 points up respectively on the third place Coquitlam Express. Langley is fourth with 27 points, 12 up on the last place Surrey Eagles. You can lock the top four into the playoffs and if I had to guess it’s going to be Prince George-Chilliwack-Coquitlam-Langley come March.

The Victoria Grizzlies are slowly pulling away in the Island division, putting seven points between them and the second place Powell River Kings. The bottom three is, um, bad? Third place Nanaimo (12-14-0-0) would be fifth in the Mainland division and eighth in the Interior division and their minus-21 goals for/goals against ratio is fourth worst in the entire league.

They can thank the stars for the two teams below them, the Alberni Valley Bulldogs (9-18-1-0) and Cowichan Capitals (6-17-4-1).

We’ll be returning to the bad-teams-in-the-playoffs conversation in the spring when a really horrid team is in the postseason.

In the Interior division the Penticton Vees have predictably risen to the top. Yawn. The New England Patriots of the BCHL have surged past the second place Merritt Centennials and there’s no reason to think they’ll slow down.

Merritt’s hanging in there thanks to their potent offence, but another slumbering giant has woken up.

Winners of seven of their last eight games, the Wenatchee Wild are now just four points back of the Centennials and five back of Penticton.

The Interior is fascinating because of how competitive it is top to almost bottom.

West Kelowna, Salmon Arm and Vernon are all within 10 points of Penticton and all three have proven capable of going on runs. Trail (11-13-4-2) is in seventh place, but they’re just one point behind Vernon, two behind Salmon Arm and three behind West Kelowna. One good weekend and some head-to-head wins and the Smokies could turn things around in a hurry.

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Feel good stories have been in short supply in the Alberni Valley this season, but here’s a heartwarming story from off the ice.

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A scholarship announcement from the Merritt Centennials as defenceman Mike Van Unen commits to Northern Michigan.

In his third season of junior A (all with Merritt), Van Unen has taken a leap forward.

Mike Van Unen of the Merritt Centennials, left, and Connor Marritt of the Vernon Vipers fight for puck possession in BCHL action earlier this season. (Lisa Mazurek/Morning Star)

The 19 year old has already tied a career high in goals (three) and eclipsed his career high in points (15) through 29 games. In a Centennials news release, the Kamloops native said it’s his puck-moving ability that caught Northern Michigan’s eye.

“They like my skating, moving the puck and said it would fit in well with the culture they’re trying to build there.”

Mike’s brother, Rylan, also plays for the Centennials and previously committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. Next season will be the first time they haven’t played together.

“It was more about finding the best fit for ourselves than going as a package,” Mike said.

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Finally, a nice article from the Cornell Daily Sun about four Powell River Kings grads doing their thing with the NCAA’s Cornell Big Red.

Well worth the read.

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

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