It’s a good news, bad news scenario for the White Rock Whalers this week.
First, the good – the junior ‘B’ hockey team is getting ready for its first-ever appearance in the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs, in just its second year on the ice.
The bad? When they hit the ice Wednesday for Game 1 of the first round, they’ll be lining up against the North Vancouver Wolfpack, a powerhouse team that steamrolled the rest of the PJHL this season, finishing with just three regulation losses in 44 games; their 88 points was 22 better than any other team in the league.
The Whalers’ attempt to craft a David-versus-Goliath story line begins Wednesday night at White Rock’s Centennial Arena. The two teams will square off for Game 1 at 8:15 p.m.
The next two games of the best-of-seven series move to North Vancouver’s Harry Jerome Rec Centre, before the teams return to White Rock for Game 4 on Tuesday, Feb. 18. A fifth game, should it be required, is scheduled for Feb. 22 in North Vancouver. Date for Games 6-7, if necessary, are not yet listed on the league’s website.
The Whalers finished as the fourth seed in the PJHL’s Tom Shaw Conference, with a record of 24-18-0-2 (win-loss-tie-overtime loss). They finished four points back of the third-place Grandview Steelers. In order to catch them in the final week of the regular season – thus avoiding a first-round matchup against the Wolfpack – the Whalers needed to win both their final two game and have Grandview lose both of theirs. However, a Steelers’ win on Feb. 2, as well as a White Rock loss to Delta on Feb. 4 ended the third-place pursuit.
Regardless of their opponent, the playoffs have been the Whalers’ goal since the team’s inaugural season ended a year ago, with head coach Jason Rogers telling Peace Arch News at the time that Year 1 was a learning experience for all involved, but “anything short of the playoffs next year would be a disappointment and I’d take personal ownership of that.”
At that same time, he predicted White Rock could challenge for a “five or six” seed in the playoffs in 2019/20 – a goal they exceeded as fourth-place finishers. The team also hit the 50-point mark for the regular season, which Rogers noted was a goal this season.
Against the Wolfpack, the Whalers will have to find a way to slow down the league’s most high-powered offence, while finding a way to score goals themselves against the league’s top-rated defence. North Vancouver scored 260 goals in 44 games this season – 51 more than the next closest team, and nearly 100 more than the third-best – while allowing only 91 against.
The Whalers, by comparison, scored 136 times this season, and allowed 146.
North Vancouver boasts the league’s top three point-getters, as well. Forwards Alex Suprynowicz, Lucas Barker and Dominic Davis finished first through third in scoring, with 77, 74 and 67 points, respectively.
The job of shutting down such a high-octane offence will fall to White Rock netminders Jonathan Holloway and Chris Akerman, who split duties between the pipes this season. Holloway played 26 games, while Akerman, who is in his last season of junior hockey, played 23.
While the team hasn’t yet tipped its hand as to which netminder will get the Game 1 start, Akerman did play in the team’s regular-season finale on Saturday, backstopping the Whalers to a 2-1 win over the Ridge Meadows Flames. After the game, Rogers said that the game provided Akerman an opportunity to show “what he’s got before (the coaching staff” makes some difficult decisions” regarding the lineup for the first-round, quarter-final series.
For more information on the PJHL playoffs, visit www.pjhl.net