The Vancouver Northeast Chiefs launch into the semifinals of the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League playoffs like an Elias Pettersson howitzer shot.
The Chiefs, which draws its players from the Tri-Cities, Burnaby, New Westminster and Ridge Meadows, will travel to Prince George this weekend for a best-of-three semifinal against the Cariboo Cougars after the Northeast side dispatched the Vancouver Northwest Hawks in two straight games in their best-of-three quarter-final in Burnaby last week.
The Cougars finished the regular season in second place and also rolled through their quarter-final series in two straight games, outscoring the Greater Vancouver Canadians, 12-4.
But Jeff Urekar, the head coach of the Chiefs, who finished third in the regular season, isn’t concerned about his team entering the series a slight underdog.
“We’re not intimidated,” Urekar said. “We’re looking at it like just a regular weekend series.”
In head-to-head play, the teams skated to a draw three times, and the Cougars won the remaining game, 2-0, back on Sept. 30 in Burnaby.
“It’s a good matchup, with both teams having similar identities,” Urekar said. “We both have good depth, are hardworking and skate the game well.”
To get past the Cougars, who finished just two points ahead of the Chiefs in the regular season, the Northeasterners will have to continue with their sharp defensive shutdown work that limited the Northwest Hawks to just 53 shots over two games.
And the forwards will have to create traffic in front of Cougars’ goalie Xavier Cannon.
“He’s a good goalie,” said Urekar of the netminder who led the team with the league’s best goals-against record, allowing opponents to score just 90 times all season. “Anytime you’re in a series like this, you have to work hard to wear down their defence and create offence at the net.”
Getting an early lead would do wonders to continue to Chiefs’ momentum from their series win over the Hawks.
Chiefs’ captain Dante Ballarin, playing on a line with Coquitlam’s Quintin Hill and Port Moody’s Ryan Tattle, scored a pair of goals in the opening 1:20 of the series’ first game to lead his team to a 3-2 win last Friday.
The trio have been leading the Chiefs’ offence all season. Tattle finished atop the team’s scoring ranks, and ninth in the league, with 24 goals and 24 assists. Ballarin was 12th with 18 goals and 28 assists and Hill was one point back of that.
In the decisive second game last Saturday, a goal by Coquitlam’s Jack Steffens early in the third period put the Chiefs out of reach with a 3-0 lead they never relinquished.