BCHL Today: Tight races for top spot in all three divisions

BCHL Today is a (near) daily feature providing news and notes from around the junior A world.

Welcome to the Jan. 27, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

There were seven games around the league Friday night and we start in West Kelowna where the Warriors clashed with the Vernon Vipers.

Edmonton native Derek Brown had his first big game in a Vipes uni, scoring three in a 7-4 Vernon win. The 20 year old forward was acquired from the AJHL’s Bonnyville Pontiacs at the trade deadline and this was his fifth BCHL game.

He had but one goal to show for the previous four, so this represents a huge step in the right direction.

I talked earlier this week about strength of leagues, and the obvious edge the BCHL has when inter-league events happen. The strength of the BCHL also shows when players are traded into the league.

The Chilliwack Chiefs traded for PJ Marrocco in late November, at a time when he was leading the entire AJHL in scoring with 22 goals and 41 points in 28 games (1.46 points per game). Since arriving in Chilliwack he has been a good but not great player, with seven goals and 13 points in 14 games (.93 points per game).

There’s still some hockey to be played, and Marrocco may yet become the dynamic offence-driving player the Chiefs hoped for.

Brown, who played with Marrocco in Bonnyville, may be another example of how difficult it is to jump from lesser leagues into the BCHL.

But back to the game and congrats to Vernon native Coleton Bilodeau who, 50 games into his BCHL career, scored his first goal early in the third period.

Brett Stapley, Jesse Lansdell and Jimmy Lambert also scored for the Vipers, who got 27 saves from goalie Ty Taylor.

RJ Murphy had a pair of goals for WK with Ryan Steele and Bennett Norlin also scoring.

The teams combined for eight goals in the second period, including five unanswered by Vernon.

The Vipers (30-12-1-4) maintained a first place tie with Penticton (more on them next) atop the Interior division standings while the fifth place Warriors (20-23-3-1) saw their lead on sixth place Salmon Arm shrink to four points.

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On to Penticton where a big game by goalie Adam Scheel led the Vees to a 4-1 road win at the Hap Parker Arena in Powell River.

Scheel stopped 29 of 30 shots from the Kings, who got their lone goal from Carter Turnbull.

Wyatt Sloboshan scored his first two goals in a Penticton uni, with Jared Nash and Owen Sillinger also lighting the lamp.

Sloboshan has been a solid pickup for the Vees. The former Western Hockey Leaguer who started this season with the Regina Pats, has eight points in seven games since joining the BCHL squad and leads Penticton into another road game tonight in Cowichan Valley.

The last time the Vees faced the Caps, it was a 10-1 home ice win, and this one could be similar.

Penticton (30-9-2-3) is tied with Vernon and one point up on the Wenatchee Wild (more on them next) in a hugely competitive race atop the Interior division. Powell River (23-15-4-4-) is second in the Island division, one point back of the Victoria Grizzlies with a game in hand.

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On to Wenatchee where the Wild needed double overtime to get past the Merritt Centennials.

Merritt goaltender Austin Roden, a Victoria native, turned in a first-star performance with 44 saves as his Cents were out-shot 46-34.

Wenatchee’s Murphy Stratton scored the game’s first goal 4:30 into period three as Roden dueled with Wild stopper Eisele. Merritt’s Zach Court broke up Eisele’s shutout bid, netting the equalizer in the final minute, with just 37 ticks on the clock.

Jasper Weatherby scored the overtime winner.

Roden made a huge kick save a split-second before to rob Wenatchee’s Lucas Sowder, but Weatherby buried the rebound for his 32nd of the season. Weatherby leads the BCHL in points with 64, but Surrey’s John Wesley leads him by one in the goal department with 33.

Wenatchee (30-12-3-1) lurks just one point back of Vernon and Penticton in the Interior division. I was sad when the Wild left the Mainland division, busting up a burgeoning rivalry with the Chilliwack Chiefs, but having the three powerhouses duking it out in the Interior sure is interesting.

Merritt is at the opposite end of that spectrum. The seventh place team in the Interior fell to 17-22-4-1, five points back of Salmon Arm.

They do hold three games in hand.

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Bouncing over to an Island division showdown, the Victoria Grizzlies and Nanaimo Clippers played to a 3-3 draw at the Q Centre in Victoria.

Cal Babych opened and closed the scoring in this one. His second goal came shorthanded with just seven seconds remaining to send the game to overtime. Preston Brodziak drew the primary assist and scored one of his own.

Super rookie Alex Newhook scored twice for the Grizzlies with Shawn O’Malley also scoring.

At just 16 year sold, Newhook sits second in the BCHL in points with 58 and the Newfoundland native has turned in some spectacular moments. Bet Boston College can’t wait to get their hands on him for 2019-20, and I bet BCHL defencemen wish he’d leave sooner.

By picking up the single point in OT, Newhook’s crew improved to 24-16-4-3 and inched ahead of Powell River for first place in the Island division.

Nanaimo (22-20-3-3) is still within striking distance, four back of the Kings and five back of the Grizzlies. But both teams have games in hand on the Clippers, which will make it tough to gain enough ground.

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Eighteen year old Michael Sacco scored three for Alberni Valley and Jackson Doucet added a pair, but it wasn’t enough as the Bulldogs fell 7-6 in double overtime to the Salmon Arm Silverbacks.

Trevor Adam scored the winner as seven different Salmon Arm players lit the lamp. Adams, Sol Seibel, Akito Hirose, Grayson Constable, Tanner Campbell, Logan Mostat and Demetri Kambeitz clipped pucks behind AV keeper Jon Hawthorne.

Hawthorne was in a shooting gallery all night as the Silverbacks peppered his net with 47 shots.

I noted earlier this week that Salmon Arm has been playing better and picking up points. They’re up to 20-23-3-1 and just four points behind the slumping West Kelowna Warriors. The Interior is full of juicy battles at the top and bottom.

Also, I mentioned earlier this week that the Silverbacks would be wearing special-edition MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) jerseys.

Here’s how the jersey looked.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs (14-24-4-4) will make the playoffs in a league that hands out postseason berths like Oprah hands out Christmas presents, but theirs should be a quick exit.

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Another high-scoring inter-division matchup saw the Trail Smoke Eaters score five of the game’s final six goals in a 7-4 home-ice win over Surrey at the Cominco Arena.

Tyler Ghiradosi scored three for the Smokies with Blaine Caton, Connor Welsh (great name!), Levi Glasman and Carter Jones also doing damage.

Matthew Campese had a pair for Surrey while John Wesley picked up his league-leading 33rd of the season. Cognrats to Dryden Michaud who scored his first BCHL goal in his fifth BCHL game. Until recently the 19 year old forward was playing for the Western Hockey League’s Saskatoon Blades.

And finally, the Langley Rivermen got two goals from Angus Crookshank and singles from Sean Gulka and Nicholas Ponak in a 4-1 home-ice win over Prince George.

Ben Poisson scored the lone Spruce King goal in a huge Mainland division matchup.

The Rivermen (21-14-10-2), Spruce Kings (23-15-4-4) and Surrey Eagles (24-17-4-2) are in a three-way tie for top spot.

The 2018 RBC Cup hosts, the Chilliwack Chiefs (21-18-2-3) are seven points back, but hold at least two games in hand on everyone.

BCHL Today takes a break on Sundays. I’ll be back Monday to take a look at the rest of the weekend action and what lies ahead as we hit the final stretch of regular season play.

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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