BCHL Today: Can Surrey Eagle offence crack Prince George D?

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the March 13, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

The second round of the playoffs starts Friday night with four series on tap.

I’ll look at one a day between now and then, starting with the least compelling of the matchups, the Surrey Eagles versus the Prince George Spruce Kings. I wrote before the playoffs that none of the Mainland division teams, Chilliwack Chiefs included, excited me and I stick by that. Nothing I saw during the regular season and the first round of the playoffs leads me to believe that Prince George or Surrey will be able to beat any of the other remaining teams in a league final.

They’re welcome to prove me wrong, but that’s how I see it.

Jeff Stewart (left) and the Surrey Eagles take on the Prince George Spruce Kings in a second round BCHL playoff series. (Garrett James photo)

For one round more, we can rely on regular season data and the head-to-head season series to help prognosticate, but that’s a tricky issue here. The Sprucies and Eagles got seven of their eight regular season matchups out of the way before Halloween, so there’s not much recent data to look at.

The teams last played Feb. 16 in Surrey, with the Eagles winning 5-3, and overall Surrey held a 5-3-0-0 advantage. The Eagles are one of the few teams that consistently showed the ability to crack PG’s defensive shell. In their first meeting of the season, way back on Sep. 15, Prince George blanked Surrey 5-0, but from that point on the Eagles averaged 3.43 goals per game against the Spruce Kings. Even if you throw that shutout back in the mix, Surrey averaged three goals per game against their Mainland rival.

In 58 regular season outings, Prince George averaged 2.38 goals against per game.

The Eagles bring a deeper and more talented offensive attack into this series than PG’s last opponent did.

Will Calverley led the Chilliwack Chiefs in regular season scoring with 46 points and Chilliwack didn’t have a single 20 goal man. Surrey had five players exceed Calverley’s point total and had four players top 20 goals. Ty Westgard finished third in BCHL scoring with 70 points. John Wesley was fifth with 68 points. Both were point-per-game in the first round of the playoffs versus Langley and Surrey found a playoff sensation in Desi Burgart. The Penticton native lit up the Rivermen for eight goals in six games, taking the heat off of the big two.

The Spruce Kings should have an edge in goal.

Evan DeBrouwer, a finalist for the league’s Top Goaltender Award, posted a 1.92 goals-against average and .927 save percentage in seven games versus the Chiefs. Mario Cavaliere, a trade deadline pickup by Surrey, posted a 3.83 GAA and .908 SP versus Langley. To be fair, one bad game (eight goals against in game five) skewed his numbers in the wrong direction. Cavaliere was otherwise solid with the ability to be spectacular from time to time.

This series will come down to systems and persistence. No doubt the Spruce Kings will rely on their 1-3-1 setup to frustrate the Eagles, who will need to stay patient and do what Chilliwack couldn’t, bury their chances when they get them. Surrey’s power play clicked at a 27.3 per cent success rate in round one and that could be a difference maker if the refs are in the mood to call penalties.

The playoffs get tougher to predict from here on out, but I will continue to irritate Prince George fans and call for an Eagle upset in seven hard-fought games.

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Victoria goaltender Kurtis Chapman is the latest BCHL Player of the Week.

The Alberta native sparked his team to an epic comeback in their first round series against the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.

Victoria Grizzlies goalie Kurtis Chapman (1) reads to students as part of Get Moving With the Grizzlies initiative. (Photo courtesy Victoria Grizzlies)

Chapman missed the first two games of the series. He returned to the lineup in game three, stopping 35 of 38 shots in a 3-2 overtime loss that put Victoria down 3-0 in the best-of-seven. The 19 year old was lights out from there, posting save percentages of .971, .974, .946 and .969 as the Grizzlies roared back for the win. Chapman faced 142 Bulldog shots in games four through seven and allowed just five pucks to elude him.

He is a massive problem for Victoria’s second round opponent, the Powell River Kings.

Only Chapman could have prevented Desi Burgart from being the POW. I talked about his scoring explosion in the Prince George/Surrey breakdown, and Surrey assistant GM Adam Mannella passed along some numbers about Burgart’s four goal game last Tuesday.

“It’s the first four-goal game in the BCHL playoffs since Jacob Jackson did it for the Nanaimo Clippers on March 3, 2015, and it’s the first four-goal game in Eagles playoff history since at least 2003-04 (as far back as our records go),” Mannella wrote.

Mannella pointed out that Surrey players have produced five four goal games since 2003-04, all in the regular season and only two in the last decade. A lollipop for you if you can guess the names without looking.

Find the answers at the very end of today’s column.

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Carrying on with scholarship news out of Alberni Valley where Mitch Oliver has committed to Lake Superior State.

The 20 year old defenceman has aged out of junior A hockey and will join the NCAA Div-1 Lakers for the 2018-19 season.

The Kelowna native was one of the top offensive blueliners in the BCHL this season. No defenceman had more goals than Oliver, who put 12 in the net and he was eighth among D-men in points with 39 in 54 games. Oliver played 180 regular season and playoff games in the BCHL (mostly with Vernon) between 2013-14 and 2017-18, posting 19 goals and 79 points. He spent part of the 2016-17 season with the Alberta Junior Hockey League’s Bonnyville Pontiacs, where he collected nine goals and 28 points in 46 games.

Bulldogs defenceman Mitch Oliver scores a powerplay goal in the second period of an Oct. 1 game against the Langley Rivermen. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

“Mitch was a tremendous leader for our team over the past seven months, displaying great character at and away from the rink while giving his teammates someone to look up to, trust and respect,” Alberni Valley head coach Matt Hughes said in a team press release. “He was a key guy for us offensively with his powerful shot and his ability to move the puck, and he logged big minutes for us in all situations. We expect Mitch to be an impact player at the college level.”

Lake Superior State plays in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, facing off against Alaska-Anchorage, Alaska, Alabama-Huntsville, Ferris State, Michigan Tech, Bemidji State, Bowling Green, Northern Michigan and Minnesota State.

“I’m very excited for the opportunity to play NCAA Div-1 hockey at a top-end school like Lake Superior State University,” Oliver said in a team press release. “They have shown a lot of interest in me as a player and as a person and I can’t wait to be a part of the Lakers program. The university offers great academic options and after forming a strong relationship with the coaching staff it was clear that Lake Superior State was the right choice for me.”

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Catching up on another commitment, Langley’s Eric Butte will join the U.S. Military Academy at West Point next season.

Langley Rivermen’s Eric Butte and Surrey Eagles’ Aaron White during game one of the teams’ best-of-seven playoff series at the George Preston Recreation Centre. Garrett James photo

A Massachusetts native who has spent the last two seasons with the Rivermen, Butte collected 21 goals and 54 points in 109 regular season BCHL games, adding another one goal and five assists in 12 playoff games. He heads to New York to join the Black Knights, an NCAA Div-1 squad that plays in the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA). The 11 team circuit includes Mercyhurst, Canisius, Air Force, Holy Cross, RIT, Robert Morris, American International, Bentley, Niagara and Sacred Heart.

The U.S. Military Academy hockey program dates all the way back to the 1903-04 season, but not with a whole lot of success. The Black Knights have won just one conference title in regular season play, finishing first in 2007-08.

Butte is the first BCHLer to commit to the U.S. Military Academy this season, following in the skate-steps of past BCHLers Tipper Higgins, Trevin Kozlowski, Dominic Franco, Blake Box and Taylor Maruya.

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Here are the players who have scored four goals in a game for the Surrey Eagles since the 2003-04 season, and I was just kidding about the lollipops.

● John Wesley 10/1/17 vs VER

● Adam Tambellini 2/22/13 vs PR

● Cameron Sinclair 12/14/07 vs PG

● Tyler Eckford 10/23/04 vs MER

● Andrew Kozek 1/25/04 vs QUE

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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