BCHL Today: Problems with playoffs and Victoria Grizzlies make do without Newhook

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

Welcome to the Feb. 16, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

The BCHL released its playoff primer yesterday to remind fans what the league’s ever-changing playoff format looks like this year.

As I read it, the only thing I could think of was, how are 16 teams in a 17 team league making the playoffs?

I remembered the comments of Chilliwack Chiefs radio colour-man Jacob Bestebroer when John Grisdale’s retirement news came down. He likened the commission’s job to driving a bus, and how it’s difficult if not impossible to get the bus moving in one direction while 17 team owners shout left or right.

The perennial playoff contenders, teams like the Penticton Vees, Vernon Vipers, Wenatchee Wild and Chilliwack Chiefs probably wouldn’t mind cutting the number of playoff teams in half, creating less travel, less wear and tear on the players and a fresher BCHL representative at inter-league and national playoffs.

Teams that are hit-and-miss to make the post-season from year to year probably vote the other way.

It’s easier to get in and get two games of extra revenue, even if the dollars aren’t as large as the average fan thinks, and for the bottom dwellers, the Oprah-style everyone-gets-in format keeps games relevant right up to the end.

Consider that the Cowichan Capitals, with a record of 9-38-5-2, aren’t yet mathematically eliminated from the post-season. Dreadful as they’ve been, they could still win out and catch the Coquitlam Express 14-36-1-3 for that 16th seed and the right to face the Penticton Vees (36-11-2-3) in a must-not-see first round series.

There’s a larger conversation to be had about which teams carry their weight in this league, but cutting down the playoff entrants would be one way to make sure the teams that actually deserve to be in the dance get an invite.

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On to Wenatchee this weekend where the Wild host the Trail Smoke Eaters in a pair of Interior division matches.

Just three weeks into this column you may already know that I love discussing jerseys, and the Wild are live-auctioning off six of their black 10th anniversary jerseys after Saturday night’s game. Fans at the Toyota Town Centre will have a shot at jerseys worn by AJ Vanderbeck, Jasper Weatherby, Stanislav Demin, August (Baron) Von Ungern, Cooper Zech and Murphy Stratton.

I’ve yet to see a Wenatchee jersey I didn’t like (Guns N’ Hoses nights included) and this look is strong. Solid colour scheme. Basic design with that great Wild logo. Nothing to nit-pick, and whoever gets their hands on the jersey of Stanislav Demin may be grabbing a pretty cool collectible if the BCHL’s highest-rated draft-eligible prospect goes on to play in the National Hockey League.

Sticking with Wenatchee for a moment, they’re also trying for a blue-out night tonight vs Trail.

I always love the white-out concept that Jets fans have embraced in Winnipeg, so here’s hoping Wenatchee’s great fan base pulls it off and I see some video.

Side note: Weatherby and Vanderbeck will both be playing their 100th BCHL games tonight.

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A note on scheduling. At this point in the slate, with teams jockeying for playoff position, I’d like to see more matchups featuring division rivals.

Tonight’s games are a mix. You’ve got Wenatchee vs Trail, Prince George vs Surrey and Nanaimo vs Cowichan.

But you’ve also got Chilliwack hosting Merritt, Victoria traveling to Salmon Arm, Penticton at Coquitlam and Vernon at Powell River. The Chiefs have a lot on the line this weekend, but after they face the Centennials they move on to back-to-back road games vs the Alberni Valley Bulldogs and Nanaimo Clippers.

I realize it’s very difficult to juggle 986 games. Just saying, it’d be nice to have that divisional juice in crunch time.

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A tough break, literally, for the Victoria Grizzlies has rookie phenom Alex Newhook on the shelf for the remainder of the regular season, but he hopes to be back early in the playoffs.

The Newfoundland native injured himself Feb. 7 in a game against the Cowichan Caps, but the wrist apparently isn’t bad enough to require surgery.

He is wearing a brace, but Newhook is targeting a return in three weeks when the postseason starts.

That’s probably an optimistic timetable from a player who is desperate to get back on the ice with his team in a tight race for top spot in the Island division. Newhook’s Grizz are currently in first place, clinging to a one-point lead over both the Powell River Kings and Powell River Kings.

Odds are he’ll be out longer than three weeks and Victoria will need others to pick up the slack in his absence.

Jamie Rome certainly got the message. In the first two games without Newhook, the Calgary native and Western commit tallied three goals and six points to earn BCHL Player of the Week honours.

He’s all over the highlight package from last weekend’s 4-3 OT win over Wenatchee.

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Catching up on a pair of scholarship announcements this week, Coquitlam defenceman Jordan Schulting has committed to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks and Langley’s John Wojciechowski has signed on with the University of Connecticut Huskies.

UConn is a basketball school first, and the man named Wojo will share a campus with the legendary Huskie women’s basketball program. If you haven’t heard of them, the UConn women won 111 straight games between Nov. 23, 2014 and March 31, 2017. They’ve claimed 11 NCAA Div-1 titles, including four from 2013-16.

When the conversation of greatest university b-ball programs comes up, they’re right there in the conversation with John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins.

Who knows if Wojciechowski is a hoops fan or not, but that’s a sneaky-good drawing point for UConn prospects.

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The Trail Smoke Eaters had their retro night last weekend where they wore special jerseys remembering the 1932 team.

The Smokies also released a special poster, which I bring up now because they’ve got a very shot but cool vid on their Facebook page.

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The Powell River Kings do a great job of tracking alumni.

If you’re wondering what an ex-King is up to in the collegiate or minor-pro ranks, check this out.

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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