For the fourth time in their 18-year history, the Vancouver Giants are set to battle the Spokane Chiefs in the WHL post-season when the puck drops for game one on Friday night at Langley Events Centre.
The Chiefs lead the all-time series 2 to 1 but this meeting will mark the first time the two Major Junior hockey clubs have battled in the Conference Championship Series.
At stake is a berth in the WHL Finals where they will play the victor of the Eastern Conference Championship series between the Prince Albert Raiders/Edmonton Oil Kings for the chance to capture the Ed Chynoweth Cup.
The regular season saw Vancouver take three of the four head-to-head contests, with the Chiefs winning the most recent match-up, prevailing 4-1 in Spokane on March 8.
Vancouver won the opener, 5-4 in a shootout in the fourth game of the season back in late September and then 6-4 on January 18. The Giants also prevailed 5-4 on Feb. 15. Vancouver won both games at Langley Events Centre while going 1-1 at Spokane’s War Memorial
Minus the shootout goal, both teams scored 16 goals in the season series.
Vancouver was the top team in the Western Conference with a mark of 48-15-3-2 for 101 points while Spokane was third in the conference at 40-21-2-5 and 87 points.
Both teams have played 10 games and the Giants hold the edge in both goals for (41-36) and goals against (22-25) although the Chiefs have played the two tougher opponents by winning percentage (.680 for Portland and Everett compared to .526 for Seattle and Victoria).
The Giants have two players in the top three of the WHL playoff scoring race as Davis Koch is tied for top spot with 14 points, including a league-leading dozen assists, and defenceman Bowen Byram is third with 13 points (four goals, nine assists).
The Chiefs counter with Riley Woods (six goals, 11 points) who is sixth overall and Jaret Anderson-Dolan (three goals, 10 points) who is 11th.
Each team is led by a stud defenceman. For the Giants, it is Bowen Byram, who is currently ranked second among North American skaters for this June’s NHL Entry Draft, and for the Chiefs, it’s Ty Smith, a first-round pick (17th overall) in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft by the New Jersey Devils.
Much as they did all season, the Giants have gone with the platoon system, alternating Trent Miner and David Tendeck. Both have played five games and each has gone 4-1 while posting strikingly similar
numbers. Miner has posted a 1.92 goals against average and a .915 save percentage with one shutout while Tendeck has a 2.18 GAA and .912 save percentage.
Bailey Brykin has played since game one of the post-season, going 8-2 with a 2.26 goals against average and a .931 save percentage.
The series also pits the WHL’s top-ranked power play (Spokane) against the league’s second-stingiest penalty kill (Vancouver) during the regular season. The Chiefs torched the opposition when playing a man up, connecting on 29.1 per cent of their chances and that includes going 7-for-16 (43.8 per cent) against the Giants during the season series.
And as eye-popping as those numbers have been, Spokane has really upped their special teams in the post-season scoring on nearly half their chances (48 per cent) with 12 goals in 25 opportunities. On the penalty kill, the Chiefs ranked 14th among the 22 WHL clubs at 76.6 per cent during the 68-game regular season but have found great success in the post-season allowing just four goals on 28 opportunities, a kill rate of 85.7 per cent, which is good for second among the 16 playoff teams through the opening two rounds.
The Giants special teams both ranked in the top five during the regular season with the penalty kill at 84.9 per cent (second) and the power play at 24.6 per cent (fourth). The power play has picked up right where it left off in the opening two rounds of the post-season, ranking second behind only Spokane thanks to a 33.3 per cent success rate.
The penalty kill has taken a hit in the playoffs however, surrendering nine goals on 37 chances (75.7 per cent). Vancouver did curb the amount of times they were short-handed in round two.
In their six-game opening-round victory over Seattle, the Giants were short-handed 29 times, allowing seven goals. In their subsequent four-game sweep over Victoria, the team only allowed nine power-play opportunities, killing off seven of those chances.
Spokane has four players already drafted into the NHL in Jake McGrew, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Filip Kral and Ty Smith. The Giants counter with two, Alex Kannok Leipert and David Tendeck.
Three of the Chiefs players are from the Lower Mainland with Richmond’s Matt Leduc and Cloverdale’s Bobby Russell and Reece Klassen. Leduc and Russell are both defencemen while Klassen is a goaltender.
Russell and Klassen have also called Langley Events Centre their home rink the past, suiting up for the Valley West Hawks of the Major Midget BC Hockey League in both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 seasons.