It was a fantastic ending to a great WLA season, spearheaded by a three-team race for the final two playoff spots between Langley, Maple Ridge, and Burnaby. The teams all finished with a 9-9 record, but the Lakers were left behind as a result of the WLA’s very confusing goal formula. Losing by a goal to New Westminster ultimately sealed Burnaby’s fate, and they can always wonder what could have been with Tye Belanger in goal the full season. On the other hand, they can continue to build through the draft and have a promising team for the future.
Coquitlam’s Bruce Murray retired after Coquitlam’s final game of the season, a 10-7 win over the last-place Nanaimo Timbermen. The A’s captain and leader is hanging them up after a long WLA career that included a couple of Mann Cup appearances. Congratulations to Bruce.
The Victoria Shamrocks take on Maple Ridge in a rematch of last year’s WLA Finals, which the Shamrocks won in five games. They’ve taken Game One by a score of 13-9 on what some would call some questionable officiating on both sides of the ball. Steve Priolo threw some haymakers at Kevin Reid and only received a double minor for roughing. It’s a type of call that can change the complexion of the game, especially one in which Maple Ridge fought back from 5-1 to tie the game. But it was pretty awful overall—Victoria should’ve gotten a couple more calls I thought. Unfortunately it’s a pretty accurate representation of the state of officiating in B.C. currently.
As New West and Langley get set to kick things off tonight, here’s my look at the two first-round series.
(1) Victoria Shamrocks (14-4) vs. (4) Maple Ridge Burrards (9-9)
Victoria won the season series 3-0 (13-6, 12-11, 10-9 OT)
After Victoria came into Maple Ridge and dominated the Burrards early in the season, Maple Ridge has reminded us why they made it to the finals the previous year. They are a thorn in the side of the Shamrocks, who probably would have preferred to play Burnaby based on their relatively easy wins. But Maple Ridge is also a great first round opponent for a lot of reasons. They are well aware of the problems they pose, ranging from the pesky style they play to the extracurricular activities between whistles. Should they win this series and draw New West, they will have already been through a physical series and the positives may outweigh the negatives there.
With Frank Scigliano out since June, the Burrards have leaned heavily on Carson Michaud, and he’s been a good stopgap solution for them. But it’s tough to win in the playoffs without your goaltending winning a game for you here and there. I’m not so sure Michaud can do that against the array of shooters Victoria possesses; instead, the defence might be able to put him in a good enough situation to do it.
Victoria just has to keep doing what they have done all season. They have bounced back from losing two straight to Nanaimo to start the season and have played well after the New West and Coquitlam losses. It’s hard to see them letting this series even push to seven, barring a couple of bad games on the road.
Prediction: Victoria in five
(2) New Westminster Salmonbellies (12-6) vs. (3) Langley Thunder (9-9)
New West won the season series 2-1 (6-5, 6-8, 8-7)
This series could turn out in many different forms, from more of a skill-based, transition series to a slowed down, defensive style. Or, you could see a hybrid of those two—who knows in the WLA anymore?
We do know the Thunder can move the ball on offence and it mostly goes through Patrick Saunders, Athan Iannucci and Alex Turner, with Lewis Ratcliff and Anthony Malcom also featuring heavily. It will be a tough test for New West to complete over seven potential games, especially if Brodie McDonald is able to give Langley the requisite goaltending to win the series. It sort of reminds you of the Langley-New West series of a few years ago, with New West’s Eric Penney taking over McDonald’s role as the up-and-comer and McDonald settling into a Tyler Richards-like role.
New West would be ecstatic to see Logan Schuss continue his strong run into the playoffs, as he was huge in the win over Victoria. I trust New West to figure out Langley before the Thunder can claw back into the series. I don’t know if Langley will be able to score consistently enough to overcome the amount of shots they allow on net. The ‘Bellies just seem like a safer bet at this point.
Prediction: New West in five