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Cranbrook Bucks face Wenatchee Wild to kick off BCHL post-season campaign

The BCHL playoffs are set to get underway across the province.
Donovan Frias (#26) and Carsyn Good (#3) scramble for the puck to help preserve goalie Carter Capton’s second shutout of the season in the Bucks’ 2-0 win over the Wenatchee Wild on Jan. 13 in Cranbrook. Martin Ross photo.

The BCHL playoffs are set to get underway across the province.

The Cranbrook Bucks, which finished second place in the Interior Conference, are facing the Wenatchee Wild in a best of seven game series to open the post-season campaign.

“We’re really excited,” said Kellan Hjartarson. “I think we had a really good stretch of games in the last five games and it’s a good note to end the season and get going on the playoffs.”

The Herd played the Wild seven times during the regular season, with a record of two wins and five losses, however, two of those losses came in a shootout.

A first-round playoff matchup provides an opportunity for a mental reset, said goaltender Nathan Airey.

“I think, mentally, we just got to put it behind us,” the netminder said. “That’s the key in having a strong mental game. The season that we just had kind of means nothing now. Now it’s 0-0 and we all reset and we’re ready to go.”

Airey shouldered the lions share of the starts over the season, earning 23 wins — including two shutouts — while posting a 2.44 goals against average and a 0.925 save percentage.

The climb to the top end of the Interior Conference began at the end of last November, as the Bucks won nine games in a row to set the table, and the tone, for the second half of the BCHL season.

“To come out of that with the record we did, I think that’s what moved the needle for us in a big way because it was such a dogfight,” said Ryan Donald, Head Coach and General Manager for the Cranbrook Bucks.

“You knew it was, with the records that Salmon Arm, West Kelowna and Prince George all had, we were right in the middle of that and to be able to separate ourselves out of the that middle pack and get some distance, ultimately helped us out the back stretch as well.”

Despite facing off against Wenatchee as the conference’s seventh place seeding, the Bucks are expecting a tough challenge.

“They’re a team that’s got firepower,” said Donald. “They play a tough brand that’s difficult to get on the inside of, they’ve got really good buy-in to blocking shots, and playing defensive and pressuring you up the ice and not giving up a lot of easy territory. A team that’s difficult to beat and ultimately, they’re a team I felt that their record, their place in the standings didn’t really indicate the team that they have.

“A good test for us, we’ve said that down the stretch. They’re a team that’s built to play in the playoffs. That’s what we’re going to be seeing, whether it’s physicality, whether it’s blocking shots, just kind of that other level.”

The Wild have some top-end players such as Ean Somoza, Cade Littler and Micah Berger.

Somoza is Wenatchee’s overall points leader with 22 goals and 52 assists. Littler led the Wild in goal scoring with 29 markers, while Berger lit the red lamp 26 times.

However, the Bucks have been able to spread out their offence by committee this season.

Jack Silich and Donovan Frias led the team with 24 goals each, while Noah Quinn tallied 21 goals, but added 28 apples to grab the overall club points top spot.

Also adding to the goal-scoring was Nick Peluso (15G), Rhys Bentham (13G) and Kellan Hjartarson (14G).

In total, eight Bucks players broke double-digits in the goal-scoring column over the course of the regular season.

“We all work hard..I think we really bond well together and we’ve finally hit our stride so I’m super excited to see what we do it the playoffs,” said Quinn.

Last year in the first full BCHL campaign since the pandemic-induced 20-game pod season, the Bucks took the Prince George Spruce Kings to six games in the opening round of the playoffs, falling by only a one-goal margin in both of the final two games of the post-season run.

“It was a notch above,” said Donald. “We’ve been talking a lot about that with our group, we’re into a different season now. It goes with community support, it goes with the energy around the team, even on the ice at practice today, it has a different feeling with the importance of what we’re doing.”

The Bucks secured home-ice advantage and will host the Wild for Game 1 on Friday, March 31 at Western Financial Place.

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Trevor Crawley

About the Author: Trevor Crawley

Trevor Crawley has been a reporter with the Cranbrook Townsman and Black Press in various roles since 2011.
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