A mid-Island rivalry in junior B hockey is about to become more intense than ever.
The Nanaimo Buccaneers will meet the Oceanside Generals in a playoff series for the first time ever starting this Tuesday, Feb. 20.
The Vancouver Island Junior Hockey League changed its playoff format this year and the No. 2-seeded Buccaneers will face the No. 7-seeded Generals in a best-of-seven first-round series.
It’s kind of a continuation of the regular season, as the teams played Thursday in Nanaimo and Saturday in Parksville with the Bucs winning both games by scores of 4-3 and 5-2.
Dylan Hartl, Buccaneers defenceman, said no matter the opponent, the Bucs try to play their own game, but they know the Gens will be competitive.
“You’ve got to expect everything out of them,” Hartl said. “We know they’re going to come hard, they’ve come hard every game. So we’ve just got to keep going.”
Nolan Richardson, Nanaimo assistant coach, said the Bucs are well-suited to battling through the tight games that typically happen come playoff time.
“We have four lines that can play at any point in the game and that’s something not a lot of teams in this league have,” he said. “Being able to put any line on the ice in any situation and just the depth helps us in all situations.”
He said the mood in the room has changed to a post-season mindset.
“All the 20-year-olds, they’re really leading the younger guys … that don’t quite have the experience into the playoffs,” Richardson said.
He said it does take an extra level at this time of year.
“That’s one of the big things is just that big shift,” Richardson said. “It’s different hockey. You’ll see the shift in the speed of the game.”
Hartl said he thinks every Buccaneers player will be going when that puck drops on playoffs.
“It’s a great group and we’re all pumped and ready to go,” he said.
He scored the overtime game-winning goal in the Bucs’ final home game of the regular season Thursday. Luc Wilson, Noah Kelly and Brandon Armstrong were other scorers and Blake Wood made 23 saves for the win.
In the regular-season finale Saturday, Billy Walters scored twice and Cam Nickerson, Booker Chacalias and Wilson also tallied. Wood made 24 saves.
Nanaimo (37-9-0-2) finished the 2017-18 regular season with the most wins in the VIJHL. Jayden Schubert won the team scoring title with 50 points and he and Wilson had the most goals on the Bucs with 22 apiece. Derek Krall won the Bruce Naylor Award as the VIJHL’s Top Goaltender and Curtis Toneff won the Ed Kingston Award as Coach of the Year.
GAME ON … The Buccaneers and Generals play Game 1 on Tuesday, Feb. 20, at 7:15 p.m. at the Nanaimo Ice Centre. Game 2 is Thursday, Feb. 22, also at 7:15 p.m. at the NIC.