The part of the season that the Alberni Valley Bulldogs players—and their fans—live for is finally here.
The Bulldogs square off in Nanaimo against the Clippers this weekend in the first two of five games in the opening round of the B.C. Hockey League Coastal Conference playoffs.
“Whichever team’s best players play like the best players is going to be successful,” Bulldogs head coach Kevin Willison said.
“We have to get the greasy goals and get inside their house and bang away at the goal.”
The Bulldogs ended the regular season with a pair of wins, including a 5-4 overtime victory over the Clippers on the road.
Their final game was a 6-4 win over the Victoria Grizzlies on Sunday.
The Bulldogs had 19 shots on goal compared to Victoria’s 30. And they were sharp with the man advantage, going five for six on the power play.
Willison said the Bulldogs played to their strengths against the Grizzlies: speed, skating and attacking the net, all of which are ingredients needed to take it all against Nanaimo.
But the players also displayed toughness, a quality not found on the scoresheet, but one that will be important in the post-season, he added.
Ryan Lough took a shot to the head from Grizzlies’ Blake Thompson in the first period then scored on the subsequent power play.
“Our physical players stepped up but (Lough) didn’t back down. That’s what it takes.”
The other quality Alberni has to have in spades is consistent killer instinct.
“We’ve let our foot off the gas and let other teams back in it, and that can’t happen,” Willison said. “We have to shut them down every shift after a goal and keep momentum.”
Willison expects a tough series with the Clippers.
Alberni bested Nanaimo in five of eight games in the regular season, and the teams have gone 2-2 in their last four outings.
Nanaimo matches well with size but Alberni has an edge in speed, he said. Bulldog goalie Jay Deo has been stellar all year, turning away a total of 101 shots from Nanaimo in his last three tilts.
The Bulldogs’ top two lines will be counted on for scoring, but secondary scoring will also be needed from the blue-line, Willison said.
Special teams are going to be huge in the playoffs, he added. The Bulldogs have to do a better job killing penalties than they have, but at the same time not draw any needless penalties of their own.
“We can’t afford any cheap stick penalties. We have to be disciplined and have to stay out of the box.”
The intensity of the first shift of the first game at Frank Crane Arena on Friday is going to register on the Richter Scale, Willison said.
“If we can weather that and get the first goal to take the crowd out of it, then I like our chances.”