Round two of the BCHL playoffs begins this weekend with some matchups that no one would have predicted two weeks ago.
The Mainland and Island division finals could be seen coming a mile away, with the Chilliwack Chiefs taking on the Prince George Spruce Kings in one and the Victoria Grizzlies and Powell River Kings clashing in the other.
But the Interior conference playoffs have taken a wild turn.
The perennial powerhouse Penticton Vees finished third overall in the regular season standings with a 37-16-3-2 record and drew the Island division’s fifth place Cowichan Capitals (17-35-5-1) in round one.
It was shocking enough when the Caps won game one by a 4-1 score at the South Okanagan Events Centre, but one game blips happen.
The Vees righted the ship in game two with a dominant 4-1 win of their own and the world made sense once more.
But games three and four didn’t go according to any script.
Back home at the Island Savings Centre, Cowichan actually out-shot Penticton in game three (33-32) and David Melaragni scored the overtime winner in a 3-2 Caps triumph.
Pierce Diamond posted a 27 save shutout in game four, giving Cowichan a 3-1 series lead.
And still, no one though the vaunted Vees would lose, especially after they beat the Caps by a 4-1 count in game six.
Needing another win to stay alive as they traveled back to Vancouver Island, Penticton threw 37 pucks at Diamond in game six and only one got by him. Lukas Sillinger scored with 36 seconds left, too little too late in a 3-1 loss that sent the Vees packing.
One massive upset wasn’t enough though.
The Trail Smoke Eaters finished seventh and last in the Interior division during the regular season, stumbling to a 23-24-8-3 record.
The Merritt Centennials tied Penticton for first in the division and third overall in the entire league with a record of 36-15-4-3.
But all that went straight out the window as the Smokies eliminated Merritt in five games.
The Centennials won the first won at home, skating away with a 4-2 decision. They lost the next four by scores of 5-2, 5-2, 3-2 and 4-2.
Goaltender Donovan Buskey, a Vancouver native who appeared in just nine regular season games for Trail, was the story of the series.
Over the final four games of the series the teenager stopped 128 of 136 shots for a .931 save percentage.
Merritt came into the playoffs with the league’s second most potent offence, averaging 3.80 goals per game. They averaged 2.5 versus Trail with top scorers like Nick Granowicz (5-1-1-2), Bradley Cocca (5-2-0-2), Nicholas Wicks (5-0-2-2) and Mathieu Gosselin (5-0-2-2) struggling to produce.
Centennials goaltender Austin Roden had a tough series, posting a 3.84 goals-against average and .881 save percentage.
Trail moves on to face the Vernon Vipers in round two while the Capitals face the Wenatchee Wild.