For the Valley West Hawks, finishing first in the BC Major Midget League regular-season standings wasn’t quite ‘Mission Accomplished’ but it could go a long way toward helping the hockey team reach its end goal – a league championship.
On Saturday on Vancouver Island, the Hawks defeated the North Island Silvertips 5-2 to clinch top spot in the 11-team league, meaning they’ll have home-ice advantage not just in the first round of playoffs, which begin this week, but throughout the entirety of the post-season.
Valley West finished the regular season with a record of 31-6-2-1 (win-loss-tie-overtime loss), which was two points better than the Cariboo Cougars, who finished in second.
The Hawks lost their second game of the weekend, to the Silvertips by an identical 5-2 score, but with top spot locked up, the team chose to rest the majority of their top players. Some – like key forward Nolan Krogfoss – sparingly, in order to help them reach certain individual milestones. Krogfoss managed to reach 100 career points, while leading scorer Justin Sourdif – a top draft pick of the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants – captured the BCMML scoring title, with 71 points in 35 games.
“The result of Sunday’s game wasn’t a big deal to us,” said Hawks head coach Rob Evers.
“It gave us the opportunity to rest guys, and everyone left really happy and really focused.”
As the playoff’s top seed, Valley West will have last line-change in two of three games each series, and should they advance far enough to where they face off against an out-of-town squad like the Prince George-based Cougars or Kelowna-based Okanagan Rockets, the entire series will be played in Surrey, thus saving the Hawks from a long bus trip or two.
Proud Coach Today! One of @vwhawks goals was to finish first and secure home ice. Even though we lost 2 top six forwards to Jr before Christmas and have had many injuries to key players, the TEAM stuck with it and persevered. Extremely blessed to have worked with this group!
— Rob Evers (@robevers21) March 12, 2018
“We had some internal team goals this year, like finishing first in the regular season so we’d get home-ice (throughout) the playoffs,” said Evers.
“In the finals – if we make it to the finals – we didn’t want to be travelling. We want to play our games in our own rink.”
In their own rink is exactly where their quest for a second BCMML title in three years will start.
Beginning Friday night at South Surrey Arena, the No. 1-ranked Hawks will square off against the eighth-seeded Vancouver NE Chiefs. Game 2 of the best-of-three series is set for Saturday, 2 p.m. at South Surrey Arena, and Game 3 – if necessary – will go Sunday at the Langley Events Centre.
During the regular season, Valley West had good luck against the Chiefs – who finished 31 points behind the Hawks in the standings. The Hawks won a pair of lopsided games early in the season, added another victory in February, but did lose once, 6-3, on Feb. 25 at Burnaby Eight Rinks.
Though the Hawks were without a handful of regulars due to injury in that loss, Evers said it serves as a good example of how prepared his team must be come Friday night’s opening game.
“(Chiefs head coach) Jamie Jackson has done a really good job with that team – maybe they finished a little lower (in the standings) than they thought they would, but they’re a team that’s got better all year,” Evers said.
“For us, we feel like we can play against anybody, and as long as we’re disciplined and work hard, we should get the result we want, but if our league has proved anything this year, it’s that anyone can beat anyone, so we’re going to be ready to go.”
With the exception of defenceman Kabir Gill – who Evers said is out for the season with an injury – the Hawks are expected to ice an otherwise healthy lineup against the Chiefs, which should come as a welcome change for Evers, who has had to juggle his lineup on-the-fly since mid-December, when a pair of key players, Arshdeep Bains and Hunor Torzsok, left for the junior ranks, and then injuries hit.
“Cam MacDonald was injured twice, Davis Frank injured his hip and missed some time, Nolan Krogfoss took a knee against Fraser Valley and missed a handful of games, and Max Mohagen played injured a fair bit,” Evers explained.
“So we’ve had our fair share of injuries in the second half, but… we’re happy that everyone is going to be back for playoffs and ready to go.”
The coach hopes the adversity his team faced as it kept its focus on first place will pay off in the playoffs.
“For me, it was really good to see who was out, somebody else stepped up and we continued to win games,” he said.
“Now, all 20 guys are focused on winning a championship so they have something to show for their year and how hard they all worked.”