Friday, March 19, 2010

Coastal Preview: Bulldogs, Kings Ready To Battle For Coastal Title:

Coastal Preview: Bulldogs, Kings ready to battle for Coastal title

Thursday, March 18, 2010 - Submitted by Chad Klassen

#1 - Alberni Valley Bulldogs vs. #2 – Powell River Kings

Alberni Valley: 45-12-1-2; 93 points
Powell River: 36-14-1-6; 79 points

The Powell River Kings are hoping that experience proves decisive when they face off with the Alberni Valley Bulldogs in Friday night’s Coastal Conference Finals opener. Powell River finished second to the Bulldogs in the Coast's regular season standings, but they'll be able to lean on lessons learned during last season's Conference Championship run. Alberni Valley, meanwhile, boasts an array of talent but are coming off their first winning season in three years.

How are the Kings feeling about their chance to finish the job after a Fred Page Cup series loss to Vernon last season? "The guys are pretty fired up," says head coach Kent Lewis explains. Powell River enters the series well-rested after a four-game sweep over Langley, while Alberni Valley needed six games to advance past Nanaimo in their conference semi-final series. But the Bulldogs seemed to find their rythym -- particularly in the offensive zone -- in winning three straight to close out the series.

This meeting marks the first between the clubs since a Coastal quarter-final series in 2005 that was won by Alberni Valley in five games. And with top seeds Vernon and Penticton meeting in the Interior, the series marks the third spring in a row that the two top seeds in both conferences have met for a pair of Fred Page Cup berths.

“In the last two years, there haven't been many Cinderellas in the BCHL," says Lewis. "Last year it was 1 vs. 2 and this year it’s 1 vs. 2. I think that’s a testament to all four clubs. They deserve to be here and they’ve been consistent all year. I expect two great battles and there will be just two standing in the next 14 days.”

Lewis' Kings enter the Coastal Conference Finals as the hottest playoff team in the BCHL. They have only dropped a single game through the first two rounds and are rolling with all four lines contributing offensively. Solid defence and great goaltending from Josh Watson has also been a big part of Powell River’s postseason success.

For the Bulldogs, a three-game winning streak propelled them past Nanaimo after initially nearly falling behind 3-0 in the series. But the top-ranked team rebounded and found its game with 17 goals in the trio of wins. Head coach Nolan Graham says that experience was all part of the learning process young players have to go through during a deep playoff run.

“We talked about ups and downs and going through the experience of it -- and living it the last nine or 10 days I think made us stronger as a group,” says Graham. “It gave us a better understanding of what playoff hockey is all about and it was a good reminder that winning in the playoffs is a completely different animal than winning in the regular season.”

Graham and his Bulldog players are fully aware of the challenge that lies ahead in their series with Powell River.

“We’re going to have to compete harder than we did against Nanaimo,” he says. “Kent Lewis is another fantastic coach that does a good job motivating his players. They’re a tough team to play against and play a very structured, defensive and disciplined style of hockey. You’ve got to be ready to compete and battle through those types of games because it’s tough to get scoring chances. It’s going to be a tremendous challenge and it's one we’re looking forward to.”

Alberni Valley will start the finals in the comfort of the Weyerhaeuser Arena, but both teams proved during the regular season they could steal wins on the road.

During their six-game season series that finished even at 3-3, the Bulldogs and Kings exchanged road victories four times. Powell River stole a pair of wins at Weyerhaeuser early in the year and Alberni Valley responded with two of their own in January at the Powell River Recreation Complex.

“I don’t think at this time of year you look at home and away," says Lewis. "You’ve just got to play. I think we’ve been comfortable in both situations and at the end of the day it’s about bringing you’re best hockey."

Graham agrees: “These are two very closely matched hockey team that can win on any given night regardless of where the game is played. We’ve played each other extremely hard and a bunch of the games have come down to one shot in the third period. This is going to be a great series."

Take into account the skill level and talent on each side, plus great goaltending, and it could easily go the distance.

The Kings boast one of the deepest talent pools in the league, with three solid lines that can bury their chances. Emerging star Matt Garbowsky has provided a spark through two rounds with 11 goals and 20 points in nine playoff games. But Daniel Carr (15 points), Jordan Grant (13), Chad Niddery (nine) and Matt Labreche (seven) are also able to do their part in the offensive zone.

For Alberni Valley, scoring has come from a variety of go-to players that have emerged as offensive threats. New York native Matt Hatch leads Alberni Valley with 10 points in the playoffs, but Mark MacMillan, Tye Lewis and David Dziurzynski have each pumped in seven points. Mitch MacMillan, who exploded for 61 goals and 93 points in his 20-year-old season, put up four points against Nanaimo but can catch fire quickly.

“We’ve got some really skilled forwards that can put up some numbers, but you’ve got to really understand when you can make plays and when you can’t. If you start to force pucks in bad areas, you’re going to give a team like Powell River opportunities offensively,” warns Graham.

Series Schedule:

Game 1: Friday, March 19th - 7:00 PM, Weyerhaeuser Arena
Game 2: Saturday, March 20th - 7:00 PM, Weyerhaeuser Arena
Game 3: Monday, March 22nd - 7:00 PM, Powell River Recreation Complex
Game 4: Tuesday, March 23th - 7:00 PM, Powell River Recreation Complex
Game 5: Thursday, March 25th - 7:00 PM, Weyerhaeuser Arena
Game 6: Friday, March 26th - 7:30 PM, Powell River Recreation Complex
Game 7: Saturday, March 27th - 7:00 PM, Weyerhaeuser Arena

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