The Williams Lake Stampeders clinched home ice advantage for the first round of the Central Interior Hockey League playoffs after splitting a two-game set with the Smithers Steelheads in Smithers over the weekend.
The Stampeders came out on the losing end of a 5-4 contest, Saturday, before rebounding Sunday to take a 5-3 win in its final game of the regular season.
“[Saturday] it was a little slow,” said Stampeders head coach Kelly Kohlen. “We made a couple mistakes and it cost us. Sunday, we played well. We had no bus legs and we started playing our game.”
Saturday, Smithers stormed out of the gates taking a first-period 3-1 lead with goals from Adam Devries, Michael Wall and Ian Smith. Nathan Zurak added the only first-period marker for the Stamps.
Smithers went up 5-2 in the second with Williams Lake’s Brent McIsaac scoring first, before Devries added his second of the contest. Randall Groot added the eventual game winner at 19:51 of the frame.
Scoring on the power play in the third for Williams Lake were Wilfred Robbins and Zurak, who notched his second of the contest.
Sunday, Stamps netminder Justin Foote turned aside 51 of 54 Steelhead shots — to Williams Lake’s 24 — to lead his club to victory.
“We were out shot pretty badly,” Kohlen said. “Justin stood on his head and played really well.”
Scoring for Williams Lake in the win were Stuart Sasges (1-0-1), Francis Johnson (1-1-2), Curtis Gassoff (1-0-1), Matt Lees (1-0-1) and Gilbert Robbins (1-0-1). Adding goals in the losing effort for Smithers were Darryl Young (1-0-1), Eric Smith (1-2-3) and Ian Smith (1-1-2).
Goaltending duties for Smithers in Sunday’s game were split between Tyler Perreault (seven saves on 11 shots) and Jamie Deba (12 saves on 13 shots).
Of note, Williams Lake centre Johnson finished the regular-season scoring race in fifth place with 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points. In eighth was defenceman McIsaac (8-15-23), while forwards Paul Girodat (11-11-22) and Sasges (7-15-22) tied for 10th.
With the split, Williams Lake finished the regular season in second place in the CIHL’s East Division with 11 wins, four losses and one overtime loss — three points behind the first-place Steelheads (13-3-0).
“I think we had a slow start, but we finished strong,” Kohlen said of the regular season. “We would have liked to have got first, but we’ve got home-ice advantage in the first round and you never know what can happen in the playoffs.”
Williams Lake will now meet the Burns Lake Braves (10-6-0) in the best-of-three East Division semi-final. Game one will be played in Burns Lake on Jan. 22, with games two and three (if necessary) in Williams Lake at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex on Jan. 29-30. Game time on Jan. 29 is 7:30 p.m.
Kohlen said he likes his clubs chances in the first round.
“I think it should go in our favour if everything goes the way we can play,” he said, noting Williams Lake won three out of the four regular season meetings with the Braves.
In the other East Division semi-final, the Steelheads will take on the fourth-place Houston Luckies (7-7-2).
In the West Division, the Prince Rupert Rampage finished the regular season in first place with 11 wins and five losses and will meet the Hazelton Wolverines (2-14-0) in its first round matchup. The other West Division semi-final will see the West’s second-place Kitimat Ice Demons (9-5-2) take on the Terrace River Kings (7-9-0).