The payoff for six months of practice and preparation starts this weekend as Nelson’s rep teams head into the West Kootenay playoffs.
All three rep teams will tangle with squads from around the area with shots at a provincial championship for those who survive the next couple weeks.
Here’s a look at how the teams break down…
Pee Wee Rep
It’s a tale of two teams evenly matched. When Nelson takes on the combined Rossland/Trail/Beaver Valley team starting Saturday afternoon at the Nelson and District Community Complex, few will be able to predict an outcome.
“They should be close,” says head coach Ron Podgorenko of the upcoming games. “Our goaltending has been a strength this year and they have been able to steal games. If that happens and our second year players come alive like they have of late then we have a pretty good chance.”
Podgorenko describes this season’s edition of pee wee rep as small and young. Consistency has been a problem all season long, but the team has shown signs that they could contend for a provincial title.
“When they want to play, they can play against anybody,” says Podgorenko. “We’ve beat some pretty good teams in tournaments from much bigger associations, so we have the potential.”
Nelson’s season record against the Trail team is 2-2 with all games being close.
Like all West Kootenay rep playoff series, the pee wee set will be the first team to four points. The winner of the series gains a berth in the Tier II provincials which are being held in Aldergrove in late March.
Game one starts at 12:45 p.m. Saturday at the NDCC and game two will be played in Trail on February 19. If needed, a third game will be played on February 20 at the NDCC.
There will be few surprises when the Nelson bantams take to the ice against Castlegar Friday night at the NDCC.
“It will be very physical,” says bantam head coach Jeff Hunt. “We’ve seen a lot of this team in regular season, exhibition and tournaments… there’s no escaping them. There is certainly a bit of rivalry that has been established.”
Coming into the series Nelson has to be considered the favourite. The locals won the West Kootenay bantam rep regular season banner with a 10-2-0 record. Castlegar and Spokane both finished with 3-7-2 records.
Because Spokane can’t vie for a provincial title, it will be the Kootenay neighbours battling it out to see who gets the Tier III bantam berth.
“If our kids play well then they will enjoy some success,” Hunt says of the series. “But Castlegar is a good team, they are physical and have a couple really talented kids.”
Nelson has been plagued by injury and illness for much of the season. Earlier this week was only the second time this season the coaching staff had every kid at practice.
“We’re a bit of a unique beast,” Hunt says when asked to describe his team. “We have two great goaltenders who can win us games. We have a really strong defence and forwards with a lot of energy.”
Game one starts tonight at 6 p.m. at the NDCC. Game two will be played in Castlegar on Saturday night and if required game three will be back at the Complex on Sunday starting at 12:15 p.m.
The Tier III bantam provincials are being held in Smithers in late March.
Wearing the underdog mantle, the combined Nelson/Castlegar Midget Reps will attempt to knock off a powerhouse Trail/Rossland/Beaver Valley team.
“We’ve played them twice during the season and have lost both times,” says midget coach Tony Maida. “But I think we are going to come a little more prepared for the playoffs.”
At the start of the 2010-11 season, low numbers in both Nelson and Castlegar forced an amalgamation which in turn bumped the locals to the more competitive Tier II provincial status. But with the pressure of Junior B and Midget AAA hockey in the area, there were few alternatives.
“That’s the biggest challenge for midget rep, but with the guys I have on this team it’s been great,” says Maida. “They are committed all year coming to practices… it’s not always easy at this age with some of them having full time jobs and school.”
Another challenge at the outset was combining a team made up of players who battled hard against each other throughout their earlier minor hockey careers.
“It’s gone really well right from the start,” says Maida. “We had a parent/player meeting first thing and I asked everybody to put their past differences aside. They have done that and it’s been excellent.”
Heading into the post season, the Nelson/Castlegar team sports an overall record of just below .500 in exhibition, league and tournament play. If they hope to get a shot at the best in Salmon Arm in late March, they will have to play their best hockey of the season.
“They’re [Trail] a very strong team and have some very skilled players that can put the puck in the net. I’m hoping we can compete with them and we will outwork them,” Maida says. “The last couple games we have played the boys have really showed up. So if we play our game then we have a pretty good chance.”
The series is tentatively scheduled to open on February 22 at the Nelson District and Community Complex starting at 5 p.m. The game is dependent upon the Nelson Junior Leafs’ playoff fortunes and may have to be changed.