After demolishing their first and second round opponents in the BCHL playoffs, the Chilliwack Chiefs find themselves in the role of underdog heading to round three.
The Chiefs are the third seed in as the three team double round-robin showdown gets underway.
The Island division’s Nanaimo Clippers are in Penticton tonight to face the Interior champ Vees.
The Chiefs wait for Friday night, when they’ll visit Nanaimo.
Chilliwack’s next home game is Sunday night against Penticton.
The unorthodox format sees each team faces the other twice (home and away) to decide which two advance to the Fred Page Cup final.
“We’re going to treat it like a regional tournament where every game is important, like a game seven,” said Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic. “Hopefully we’ve prepared our guys for this. I think nerves and composure will be important as we go forward.”
The Chiefs will tackle two daunting top dogs, the only teams that finished ahead of them in the regular season standings.
Though they haven’t looked nearly as dominant in the postseason, the Vees had the BCHL’s best record by far.
They went 44-9-3-2 in 58 regular season games, allowing just 1.98 goals against per match.
No offensive slouches, the Vees had the league’s fifth best offence, averaging 3.72 goals per game.
Goalie Hunter Miska ran away with the league’s top goalie award.
What the Vees lack in game breaking superstars they make up for in depth. Like the Chiefs they’ll roll four lines and get scoring from everywhere in their lineup.
“They’ve got a few guys like (Tyson) Jost and (Demico) Hannoun — there’s not just a couple guys you can concentrate on,” Tatarnic noted.
The teams played twice during the regular season.
They tied 1-1 in December and the Vees won 3-2 in overtime in early February.
“When we played in Penticton it was a great game but I don’t think either team was satisfied with the outcome (the 1-1 tie),” Tatarnic said. “And when we lost to them, it was a great game again, but it was overtime and it just didn’t feel like anything was settled.”
Nanaimo handed the Chiefs one of their worst losses of the year when they thumped Chilliwack 10-2 in mid-November.
“We were missing a few regulars and only had two of our defencemen playing,” Tatarnic said. “But Nanaimo’s a lot like Penticton with three lines that can score and a balanced D that likes to jump into the rush.”
They edged the Chiefs 2-1 at Prospera Centre in early January. Like the Vees, the Clips have a deep offence and a netminder, Guillaume Decelles, who’s tough to beat.
“If you look at all three teams that are still in it, each was successful for the same reasons,” Tatarnic said. “They all have balanced scoring, depth and goaltending.”
The coach said his approach won’t change drastically based on opponents, no matter how good they are.
“We’re going to treat it as, ‘This is what we do well and what we’re going to do,’ and hopefully they have to adapt to us,” he explained. “If you’re reacting to the other team you’re just playing chase the whole time. There’s not really any secret to our forecheck by now anyways. We’ve done it through two rounds and we’ll see how they adjust to it.”
The Chiefs are a well rested group.
They finished their first round series in five games and completed a four game second round sweep of Prince George March 17.
They’ll have enjoyed nine full days off by the time the puck is dropped in Nanaimo.
“We get the most rest, and we’ve got some guys we need to heal up,” Tatarnic said. “And we’ll play a team that has to travel all the way to Penticton Wednesday and all the way back for our game Friday.
“If we were healthy after the Prince George series ended, I would have said, ‘Let’s play right away,’” the coach continued. “But we weren’t, so I view this long break as a good thing.”
Rory Bell is expected to play his first game since being knocked unconscious during game four of the PG series.
Brandon Potomak is also expected back, while Luke McColgan’s status remains uncertain.