There is no team in the BCHL going into the playoffs as a bigger underdog than the Chilliwack Chiefs.
Harvey Smyl’s crew has the unenviable task of taking on a junior A juggernaut that has lost just one game since early November.
The Penticton Vees finished the regular season with just six losses overall, dominating just about everyone they faced.
They scored 334 goals, tops in the league by 89 over the next best team (Coquitlam Express at 245).
The Vees allowed 133 goals, making them the league’s second stingiest team (Powell River gave up 127).
Penticton landed nine players on the BCHL’s all-star teams (see right) and Vees players won four awards.
If Penticton doesn’t beat Chilliwack, it will go down as perhaps the biggest upset in BCHL playoff history. If Penticton doesn’t beat Chilliwack quickly and decisively, eyebrows will be raised.
Among Chilliwack’s many problems will be finding a way to put pucks behind Vees netminder Michael Garteig. The Prince George native won the BCHL’s goaltending award, given to the netminder who posts the lowest goals-against average (1.93) with a minimum of 1,000 minutes played.
“He’s well positioned, very experienced, handles the puck well and he’s very composed,” Smyl said. “He’s like any other goalie in that you try to get traffic and get those second and third opportunities.”
Garteig is protected by a star-laden defence anchored by Columbus Blue Jackets draft pick Mike Reilly (fourth round, 2011).
Reilly’s offensive numbers this season were off the chart for a D-man as he posted 24 goals and 83 points in 51 games.
Reilly is aided by fellow all-star blueliner Troy Stecher, who had five goals and 42 points in 53 games.
“Reilly is fast and skilled and a very important piece to their puzzle back there, as is Stecher,” Smyl said. “We’ve got to create some pressure, create some turnovers and then hopefully score when we get our opportunities.”
Up front, the Vees ice seven 30 goal scorers. It would be eight, but Connor Reilly has been sidelined indefinitely by injury.
“We certainly don’t want to take any bad penalties, I’ll tell you that,” Smyl said. “We have to play banging, grinding hockey and not give them odd-man rushes. We have to make them earn their chances.”
Games one and two are Friday and Saturday in Penticton. Games three and four are Monday and Tuesday in Chilliwack.