Cherie Morgan Photography

Projecting the complete 2021 BCHL playoffs based on the pod season

 

The 2021-22 BC Hockey League season is quickly approaching, and things seem to be heading back to normal. It appears as though all 18 teams will compete in a full 54-game schedule, after a very unusual season last year.

The 2020-21 season went into the books as one of the wildest the BCHL has ever experienced. When the puck finally dropped on the regular season, just 16 of the league’s 18 teams competed.

They were divided into five pods around the province and played just 20 games, exclusively against the other clubs in their respective pods. The league was then forced to announce there would be no playoffs, due to the complicated reality of COVID-19 restrictions.

But what if the BCHL had been able to conduct a postseason? What if all 16 participating teams competed in a traditional playoff?

As a just-for-fun project, I decided to simulate the 2020-21 playoffs, using the standings and statistics from the pod season. This projection will show who each team would have played, and how far they would have gone in the postseason.

(2020-21 BCHL pod season league standings)

The first order of business is to separate the league’s 16 teams back into their respective conferences — Coastal and Interior. Once I have each conference set up with its eight competing teams, I will determine the standings and playoff matchups.

I’ll start with the Coastal Conference standings and first-round playoff matchups, then move on to the Interior. I’ll then look at the second round of the playoffs, before assessing the conference finals.

Finally, I’ll take a look at the BCHL final series and name a hypothetical 2021 Fred Page Cup champion.

Coastal Conference standings and first round playoff matchups

[wptb id=13123] 

In the Coastal Conference, the Surrey Eagles would’ve faced the Coquitlam Express in round one. Surrey went 8-1-1 in 10 meetings against the Express in 2020-21, en route to the top spot in the conference. Coquitlam would avoid the four-game sweep, but its disappointing season would end in a five-game series.

The Victoria Grizzlies would meet a familiar foe in the Powell River Kings in round one. These two former Island Division rivals have had many playoff battles in recent years. The Island pod champion Grizzlies and their high-powered offense would take this series in five games.

The Chilliwack Chiefs saw the Cowichan Valley Capitals in a first-round matchup between relatively unfamiliar foes. The Chiefs put together a decent season in the Chilliwack pod, while Cowichan finished last on the Island. The Caps would push Chilliwack to a fifth game, but that’s as close as they’d come.

The Alberni Valley Bulldogs won six of seven matchups with the Nanaimo Clippers last season, en route to finishing nine points ahead of them in the standings. A veteran Nanaimo squad could have gone six games with the Bulldogs, but a high octane Alberni offense would prevail.

Interior Conference standings and first-round playoff matchups

[wptb id=13221]

Much like over in the Coastal Conference, I have the four higher-seeds advancing in the Interior.

The first-overall Penticton Vees meet the last-place Merritt Centennials in the most lopsided series of the playoffs. The explosive Vees would’ve had little trouble with the Cents, in a series that certainly would have lasted just four games.

After winning the Chilliwack pod, the second-place Prince George Spruce Kings faced the seventh-seeded Cranbrook Bucks. The relentless Bucks would certainly present a challenge for Prince George, but the Spruce Kings take this series in six games.

After already facing each other 10 times during the pod season, the Vernon Vipers and West Kelowna Warriors would meet again in the playoffs. Vernon won six of the 10 meetings last season, and would likely win this series in seven games.

In another tight series, the fourth-place Salmon Arm Silverbacks meet the five-seed Trail Smoke Eaters. Trail would push Salmon Arm to a game seven before the Silverbacks ultimately prevailed.

The conference semifinals

In the Coastal Conference, it’s Surrey taking on Alberni Valley in round two. After making quick work of Coquitlam, Surrey would not be slowed down by Alberni Valley either. The Bulldogs’ surprising season comes to an end at the hands of the Eagles, as Surrey soars to the conference finals.

The Coastal’s other second-round matchup features Victoria and Chilliwack. This series would almost certainly go seven games, with not much separating the two teams. The Grizzlies offense would once again get them over the top, as they advance to face Surrey.

On the Interior side, Penticton plays a familiar foe in Salmon Arm, who they faced five times during the 2020-21 exhibition season. Penticton went 4-1 against the Silverbacks in the pre-season, including taking the Okanagan Cup semifinal game. An improved Salmon Arm squad gives the Vees more of a challenge in this series, but Penticton advances in six games.

In the final second-round series, Prince George takes on Vernon in a tight matchup. Prince George edged the Vipers by just one point in the regular season but was much stingier defensively. The Spruce Kings would ultimately win this series in seven games, and advance to play Penticton in the conference final.

The final four and BCHL championship

The Coastal Conference final between Surrey and Victoria is a matchup between the regular season’s top two offenses. The margins are slim but the Eagles edge the Grizzlies in almost every category. It would likely take seven games, but Surrey advances to its first BCHL final since winning the championship in 2012-13.

In the Interior, Penticton takes on Prince George in a battle of the two best defensive teams of the pod season. Despite the Spruce Kings’ stellar campaign, they would not be able to stop a powerful Penticton club. The Vees advance to the league final, knocking off Prince George in six games.

At last — the Fred Page Cup final. It’s not very often that the top two teams from the regular season actually meet for the league championship. However, in my playoff simulation based solely on regular season stats, that’s exactly what happened.

Surrey and Penticton meet in what would have been a highly anticipated BCHL final. The two teams combined for 35 wins in 40 games and tore up the rest of the BCHL last season.

Not only did these two teams have exceptional campaigns, but many of the league’s top players during the pod season also wore one of these two jerseys. The Eagles and Vees would likely go head-to-head for seven games in this year’s championship series before a winner could be determined.

And the winner is…

After a hard-fought and wildly entertaining seven game series with Surrey, the Penticton Vees would be this year’s Fred Page Cup champions. It was a truly dominant season for Penticton.

Including both the BCHL’s extended exhibition schedule and the pod season, Penticton went 31-2-1 in 2020-21. They won the Okanagan Cup exhibition tournament, then won the Penticton pod, and were the top team in the BCHL this year.

A team that was built to be championship caliber was exactly that all season long. Although they were not afforded an opportunity to compete for a title like they set out to do, it was still an incredibly successful season for the Vees.

While I enjoyed doing this project, it may not have been as entertaining as the 2020 BCHL playoff simulation, which was conducted using EA Sports’ NHL 20 video game.

Nonetheless, it was a fun projection to complete this summer and see how teams would have stacked up against each other in the 2021 BC Hockey League playoffs.