BCHL This Week: Humboldt tragedy hits home for Surrey Eagles

BCHL This Week takes a look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the April 12, 2018 edition (almost) of BCHL This Week, a look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

It has obviously been a very tough week with what’s happened in Humboldt, and I’ve felt weird these last few days doing what I do, trying to make the results of sports matches seem important.

Imagine the decision the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League faced trying to decide whether to carry on their playoffs. The discussion in the SJHL board room must have been agonizing, particularly regarding the Nipawin Hawks.

Nipawin was up 3-1 on Humboldt at the time of the tragedy, on track to meet the Estevan Bruins for the Canalta Cup.

I wonder how they feel about carrying on? I wonder how they feel about getting on a bus? I assume someone asked them and they probably said something along the lines of, ‘This is what the Broncos would want,’ and that’s probably true.

But man this must be tough for those boys and whichever team wins, I wonder what that moment will be like as they’re handed the trophy.

The board of the Broncos summed up where they’re at with one quote. “The power of healing is in the game.”

A media conference is scheduled for 3 p.m. Saskatchewan time today to elaborate on the decision to play on.

Meanwhile, the outpouring of support for Humboldt has been amazing to watch.

Last I checked, the GoFundMe account had topped $8-million and people from all corners of the hockey world continue to offer support. Every BCHL team is recognizing the tragedy in big or little ways.

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs, Coquitlam Express and West Kelowna Warriors all have vigils set for tonight and the Chilliwack Chiefs will hold one April 18 at 6:30 p.m. at Prospera Centre.

But it’s the little things that are truly moving. People signing up for organ-donation lists or donating blood seems insignificant in the moment, but they may be the most meaningful actions of all.

Of course the BCHL does have direct links to Humboldt.

Jaxon Joseph, one of the victims of the bus accident, played briefly for the Surrey Eagles during the 2015-16 season, and he has been remembered this week by former teammates and coaches. For a kid who logged just 21 games for the team, he seems to have left a lasting impression.

Joseph also played for the junior B Beaver Valley Nitehawks, a Kootenay International Junior Hockey League team based in Fruitvale, B.C.

Again his tenure was brief (35 games). Again he is remembered fondly by those he met.

Also, West K coach Rylan Ferster is a Broncos alum, and offered his thoughts.

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As I said off the top, the hockey world carries on with heavy hearts and the BCHL’s Fred Page Cup championship series starts Friday (7:05 p.m.) with Prince George visiting Wenatchee in game one of a best-of-seven series.

PG punched its way into the final with a five-game takedown of the Powell River Kings, while the Wild eliminated the Trail Smoke Eaters in five.

This could be a fascinating series featuring two teams with vastly different approaches to the game.

Wenatchee brings a potent offence lead by league MVP Jasper Weatherby into battle against the BCHL’s most suffocating defence led by Spruce Kings goaltender Evan DeBrouwer. Regular readers of BCHL Today will know which side I’m pulling for, but I do respect Prince George for getting this far, and I certainly wouldn’t be shocked to see them pull off a minor upset.

After scuffling a bit in rounds one and two, DeBrouwer seems to have recaptured his top form.

Since game five of PG’s second round series against Surrey, his save percentages have been .947, .974, 1/00, .960, .929, .945, .892 and .967.

Other than that a blip in game four vs Powell River, the Ontario native has been nearly unbeatable. His overall playoff numbers are 1.95 (goals-against average) and .925 (save percentage), and he’ll have to be at his best against the Wild.

Wenatchee has averaged a BCHL-best 3.89 goals per game and five of the top eight leaders in playoff scoring wear blue and white.

Weatherby tops the list with video game numbers, 15 goals and 30 points in 15 games. Sam Morton is third (15-6-16-22), Cooper Zech is sixth (15-4-15-19), Lucas Sowder is seventh (15-7-11-18) and AJ Vanderbeck eighth (15-7-11-18).

Prince George’s Ethan de Jong is second in the scoring parade with 10 goals and 23 points in 19 outings.

The next highest scoring Spruce King is Kyle Johson, 11th with six goals and 16 points in 19 games.

Clearly de Jong will be the focus of defensive attention from the Wild.

Austin Park went the distance in goal versus Trail and should be the main man for Wenatchee against PG.

His overall playoff numbers are okay (2.43 GAA, .899 SP), but he runs hot and cold. He is capable of very good performances when he’s on, as he was in games three and five of the Trail series, when he posted save percentages of .964 and .952.

Most of the time he hovers around that .900 SP mark, which seems to be good enough behind the Wild offence.

Wenatchee and Prince George were division rivals the last two seasons when both were in the Mainland. With the Wild moving to the Interior division this year the teams only met twice in regular season play. Wenatchee won 3-2 at the Town Toyota Center on Nov. 11 and PG returned the favour with a 4-3 win at the Rolling Mix Concrete Arena on Dec. 9.

It was the Wild who eliminated the Spruce Kings from the 2017 playoff with a six-game win.

Had I stuck with my pre-playoff pick of the Wild instead of bailing like a reactionary doofus sometime in round two, I’d be looking like a genius right now. If they’ll have me back on the bandwagon, I’m picking Wenatchee to win this series, and their first Fred Page Cup title, in six hard-fought games.

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In a super surprising move, the Trail Smoke Eaters fired head coach/general manager Cam Keith earlier this week.

I find this shocking given the success the franchise has enjoyed this season after spending so many seasons treading water. This feels similar to the Kent Lewis situation in Powell River where there’s something happening behind the scenes.

Read more in the Trail Times story.

Also, did you hear Mike Vandekamp is back? The former Nanaimo Clipper bench boss takes over the head coach/GM duties for the Cowichan Caps, where he’ll be motivated to exact revenge on his former team several times a year. Of course, Vandekamp has a long way to go to get Cowichan on even footing with Nanaimo.

Cowichan was a BCHL worst 10-41-5-2 this year, eight points worse than the 16th place Coquitlam Express and 43 points behind the Clippers.

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The BCHL exists to send players on to post-secondary opportunities, and there’s scholarship news to catch up on.

Prince George forwards Dustin Manz and Patrick Cozzi both signed letters of intent Wednesday morning.

Manz will be heading to Lake Superior State while Cozzi joins Colorado College, but both are putting in one more season in the BCHL before joining the NCAA ranks in 2019-20.

Meanwhile, and I might be breaking news here because he posted it on Twitter less than an hour ago, Victoria Grizzlies forward T.J. Friedmann has committed to the Quinnipiac Bobcats. The 19 year old is eligible to return for one more BCHL season.

Sean Donaldson, who will be a household name for Trail hockey fans soon, has committed to the University of Connecticut for the 2020-21 season. The 2001-born forward had 36 goals and 66 points in 34 games for the Burnaby Winter Club prep team this season and dressed for one game for the Smoke Eaters.

Based on this vid, Smoke Eater fans are in for a treat.

Not a commitment so much as a change of plans, Salmon Arm Silverback grad Elijiah Barriga is transferring into the NCAA Div-I ranks, jumping from the University of Nevada-Las Vegas Rebels to American International College.

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Finally, good news out of Penticton last week where defenceman Jonny Tychonick was selected to represent Canada at the World U-18 Championships. The tournament runs April 19-29 in Chelyabinsk and Magnitogorsk, Russia.

According to the Vees press release, ‘Tychonick becomes just the sixth CJHL player since 2002 to play for Canada at the World Under-18 Championship, with three of those six being Penticton Vees after Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro in 2016.’

The defenceman was ranked 45th among North American skaters in the most recent Central Scouting Bureau list after posting regular season totals of 48-9-38-47 in the regular season and 11-3-14-17 in the playoffs.

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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