A sweep of the Fraser Valley Thunderbirds allowed the Valley West Hawks to remove one more thing from their to-do list.
After 5-1 and 6-2 victories in BC Hockey Major Midget League (MML) play last weekend, the Hawks have now clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, and will host a best-of-three series March 4-6.
Valley West is still atop the MML standings with a 25-6-1 (win-lost) record with eight games to play. They are tied with the 24-7-3 Cariboo Cougars, who have just six games remaining.
Hawks head coach Jessie Leung dismissed the one-sided scores, saying both games were close but Valley West made the most of some big plays.
“We get key goals and saves at the right times in order for us to pull away,” he said. “Our goaltending has been a strength all season. We gave up some five-star chances and Tally (Nic Tallarico) and Klaus (Reece Klassen) had to save our bacon a few times.”
Valley West led 2-0 after one period and 3-0 after two in Friday’s game at the Langley Events Centre. James Malm opened the scoring, with Ilijah Colina netting what would be the winning goal five minutes later. Kabir Gill tallied the lone goal in the second period, then Justyn Gurney made it 4-0 early in the third.
After the Thunderbirds got their only goal of the game, Luka Burzan notched his 15th of the year with less than three minutes to go.
Saturday evening in Abbotsford, goals from Colina and Gurney allowed the visiting Hawks to take a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes. Josh Bruce and Ian Ross scored in the second period to double the Hawks advantage to 4-2.
Christian Bosa and Daniel Chifan completed the scoring with third-period goals. Colina collected three assists to finish with a four-point game.
Leung praised the play of special teams on the weekend, particularly the penalty-killing unit.
“It was nearly perfect, going eight-for-nine and scoring two short-handed goals Friday,” he noted. “(Carson) Franklin and Colina were really sharp on the penalty kill. They pressured at the right times and really nullified the Thunderbirds’ man advantages.”
Valley West will host the third-place Okanagan Rockets (21-8-3) next weekend, playing Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Sungod Arena in North Delta, then Sunday morning at the Langley Events Centre.
Okanagan is six points back of the Hawks with eight games remaining, and with a sweep can get back in the race for first place.
“The Hawks/Rockets rivalry has been growing for several seasons and is built upon mutual respect,” said Leung. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for their team and their coaching staff, enough to know we’re in for a battle.”
The two teams split a two-game series in Kelowna last November, with the Rockets winning 6-4 before losing the rematch 7-2.
The rest of the schedule is very favourable to the Hawks, who are chasing their first-ever first-place finish.
After this weekend, the Hawks play two games each against three opponents with records of .500 or less. Four of those six games are on home ice.
Cariboo has just six games remaining, all doubleheaders on the road against the third-, fourth- and fifth-place teams.