The stage is now set for the first round of the Central Interior Hockey League playoffs.
The Williams Lake Stampeders, who wrapped up its 18-game season Jan. 12 in first place in the CIHL’s East Division and third overall, will meet the sixth-seed Lac La Hache Tomahawks in a best-of-three series.
Game one of the series goes this Saturday, Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Lac La Hache’s Rolf Zeis Memorial Arena. Game two and, if necessary, game three are scheduled for Feb. 2-3 in Williams Lake at the Cariboo Memorial Recreation Complex.
Williams Lake finished the season with a 12-5-1 record, while Lac La Hache started their campaign strong but went on to lose its last 10 games to finish 6-11-1.
Both teams present some dangerous offensive weapons with Williams Lake’s Nathan Zurak (21-14-35) and Lac La Hache’s Wilfred Robbins (16-18-34), Robin Gilbert (20-10-30) and Drew Rose (6-23-29) finishing in the top six in league scoring.
Stampeders general manager Kelly Kohlen said he expects it should be a good series. He added Williams Lake won four of the five regular season meetings between the two clubs.
“If we can stay out of the penalty box and play our game we’ll be OK,” Kohlen said. “We’ve got a couple of guys with injuries but most everyone is ready to go.”
Williams Lake will be missing players Mike Kohlen, Tyrel Lucas and Jhed Gerrior to injuries.
Kohlen noted the team will need to be sharp defensively in order to be successful.
“We’ve got to smarten up defensively a bit,” he said. “We have the players to do it but we’ve got to tighten it up a bit on the defensive end and not allow so many offensive opportunities. And I think if we do that and capitalize on our scoring chances we’ll be good.”
The two teams are no strangers to one another as several current Lac La Hache Tomahawks players played for the Stampeders before the team entered the league two years ago.
Tomahawks netminder Willie Sellars, who played several seasons with the Stamps, said he’s expecting a close series.
“Lots of goals and lots of saves,” Sellars said. “The rivalry has been heated between both teams and even though we’re on a bit of a skid anything can happen in the playoffs.
“We’re actually very pumped and excited to play the Stamps in the first round because, honestly, both rinks feel like our home rink.”
The last several games between the two clubs has resulted in both arenas filling up with fans.
“We probably have more fans in Williams Lake because the rink is a lot warmer.
“But continuing on that note the atmosphere in both rinks is going to be great and anyone who doesn’t come watch is going to miss out on the best hockey players in our area going head to head.”
Other first-round matchups include the first-seed Smithers Steelheads taking on the Houston Luckies, the Kitimat Ice Demons meeting the Terrace River Kings and the Quesnel Kangaroos versus the Omineca Ice.