BCHL Today: Victoria Grizzlies lose captain and Weatherby wins scoring title

BCHL Today is a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

Welcome to the Feb. 27, 2018 edition of BCHL Today, a (near) daily look at what’s going on around the league and the junior A world.

We start today in Victoria, where the Grizzlies are missing a key piece heading into the playoffs.

A Victoria newspaper reports captain Lucas Clark has left the team for the remainder of the season. The article suggests Clark was sent home for disciplinary reasons, a notion supported by a direct quote from Grizzlies president Lance Black.

“It was an extremely tough decision because Lucas is a good kid but we have sent him home for breaking team rules, which we don’t take lightly,” Black told the Victoria Times Colonist. “We are a team that treats our players very well and take pride in having integrity as an organization and there are certain things we just don’t condone.

“And it’s too bad because Lucas is a good hockey player and was a big part of our team, but no individual is bigger than the team and we always put the team and the organization first.”

So that’s a bombshell.

The Ontario native played his last game Feb. 18, finishing the campaign with 49 games played, 10 goals, 40 points and 92 penalty minutes.

It’s at this time of year that Clark’s gritty style will be missed the most. Victoria should still have no trouble with their first round opponent, an Alberni Valley Bulldogs squad that finished 29 points below them in the regular season standings.

But in the post-season war of attrition, Clark’s absence may play a significant role as the Grizzlies advance.

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The BCHL made official the winners of the Brett Hull and Wally Forslund trophies Monday.

Both are based purely on statistics, and were finalized after the regular season wrapped up on the weekend.

The Brett Hull Trophy is the BCHL equivalent of the National Hockey League’s Art Ross Trophy, going to the league’s top scorer.

Wenatchee’s Jasper Weatherby is that guy this year, posting a league high 74 points. Surrey’s Ty Westgard was his closest rival, finishing with 70.

Wenatchee grad Brendan Harris won this award last season with 98 points. There were six players last year (Harris, Jordan Kawaguchi, Charlie Combs, Brett Mennear, Jonny Evans and Kohen Olischefski) whose point totals would have put them above Weatherby this year, supporting the notion that 2017-18 was a bit of a dead-puck season.

And by ‘a bit’ I mean it was the biggest dead-puck season in the modern era of BCHL record keeping.

I took a quick trip through the league’s top scorers since 2003-04 and the next lowest scoring total from a league leader is 83, posted by Salmon Arm’s Landon Smith in 2013-14. Langley’s Mario Puskarich posted 89 points in 2012-13.

The rest of the leaders are well above those modest marks.

There’s more digging required to see if this goes beyond the scoring leaders to scoring in general. It’s possible the league just didn’t have the elite level talent this season that it’s seen in the past. That seems tenuous.

It’s more possible that the tight-checking systems employed by coaches are chocking the offence out of the league, which is a shame. Most recruits I’ve talked to in recent years are attracted to the fast-paced brand of BCHL hockey with a focus on skill and offence.

Does the league want to lose that edge?

Side note: Following last week’s mention of Wenatchee D Cooper Zech and his offensive exploits, reader Don Kendall sent along the following note.

“I often read your column online and thought I would share some numbers with you. The highest scoring defenceman in BCHL history was Campbell Blair who had 109 points with Vernon in 1986-87. Reilly’s total ties him for the Penticton record with Ian Kidd who had 83 points in 83-84.”

Thanks Don!

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The Wally Forslund Trophy goes to the netminding tandem with the lowest combined goals-against average.

This year, that’s the Vernon pair of Ty Taylor and Anthony Yamnitsky, who accumulated a stingy GAA of 1.98. They break up a five year run by Penticton Vee netminders.

Taylor and Yamnitsky split Vernon’s goaltending duties almost down the middle this season. Taylor, an 18 year old, made 31 appearances with a league-low 1.87 GAA while Yamnitsky, a 20 year old, logged 27 appearances with a 2.11 GAA.

It’s worth mentioning again how much of a renaissance this season has been for Yamnitsky.

Blaine Caton of the Trail Smoke Eaters snaps a puck past Viper goalie Anthony Yamnitsky. JIM BAILEY/ TRAIL TIMES

The Ohio native was considered a huge liability for a powerhouse Wenatchee squad last year when he posted a meh .895 save percentage in 41 games. Every time his team visited Chilliwack during the regular season, talk in the press-box was about how long it would be before the Wild found an upgrade. They never did, and a Wenatchee team that was viewed as a favourite for the Fred Page Cup crashed and burned in the Mainland division final. They were swept by the Chilliwack Chiefs with Yamnitsky turning in a 2.57 GAA and .897 SP in the playoffs.

Wenatchee moved to replace him in the offseason and he landed in a good spot.

No doubt the stingy system employed by Vernon bench boss Mark Ferner has helped both Viper netminders, but Yamnitsky deserves lots of credit for bouncing back.

A fragile breed by nature, lots of goaltenders would have been wrecked by last season’s experience.

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A fun statistical note out of Coquitlam.

Express play-by-play man Eddie Gregory points out that defenceman Jack MacNab was the only player in the BCHL to play in 59 regular season games.

The regular season slate is 58 games long, but MacNab went one game further while splitting the season between Coquitlam and Nanaimo.

The 19 year old Indianapolis native spent the first 37 games of his rookie year with the Clippers before being dealt to the Express in exchange for future considerations. The forward logged another 22 games with Coquitlam, giving himself that league-high total.

The Notre Dame commit produced eight goals, 18 points and 23 penalty minutes.

His regular season was long but his playoffs should be very short. The Express start the playoffs Friday night in Penticton, facing a Vees team that beat them twice in the final weeks of the season by a combined score of 12-2. There is no bigger underdog in the first round than Coquitlam.

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Continuing our look at players who are aging out of the BCHL once the playoffs are done, here’s a quick look at Island division grads.

Once the playoffs are done the Victoria Grizzlies will say goodbye to Ethan Nother (F), Justin Michaelian (F), Shawn O’Malley (F), Matthew Doran (D) and Dayne Finnson (D).

The list of departing Nanaimo Clippers includes Parker Colley (F), Cal Babych (F), Jamie Collins (F), Jordan Wharrie (D), Brandon Marinelli (D) and Taz Burman (G).

Bulldogs forward Cole Poliziani knocks the puck loose with a big check against Cowichan Valley Capitals defenceman Riley Thorpe. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

The Powell River Kings will lose Gavin Rauser (F), Jonny Evans (F), Hunter Findlater (F), Kevin Obssuth (F) and Carmine Buono (D).

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs will say goodbye to Christian Simeone (F), Cole Poliziani (F), Mitchell Oliver (D) and Brock Lefebrve (G).

The only team not in this year’s playoffs surprisingly had five 20 year olds on the roster. The list of Cowichan Caps who played their final junior A game last weekend includes Tate Coughlin (F), Troy MacTavish (F), Simon Chen (D), Andrew McCann (D) and Domenic Masellis (D).

Eric Welsh is the sports editor at the Chilliwack Progress and has been covering junior A hockey in B.C. and Alberta since 2003.

Email eric.welsh@theprogress.com

 

Bulldogs forward Cole Poliziani knocks the puck loose with a big check against Cowichan Valley Capitals defenceman Riley Thorpe during a game on Wednesday, Nov. 1. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

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