Home-ice advantage in the first-round of BC Major Midget League playoffs may be a bit of a longshot for the Valley West Hawks, but with four games left in the regular season, the team is instead simply looking to gain momentum as the schedule winds down.
Last weekend, the Hawks split a two-game Lower Mainland-based series with the visiting Kootenay Ice, losing 4-2 Sunday afternoon at South Surrey Arena, before bouncing back to shutout their Eastern-B.C. rivals 3-0 on Monday morning at Queen’s Park Arena in New Westminster.
The Hawks sit sixth in the 11-team circuit – the top eight squads make the playoffs – and they’re four points back of the fifth-place Fraser Valley Thunderbirds and five behind the fourth-place Greater Vancouver Canadians.
“It might be (difficult) to get into that top-four, but we aren’t worried about that,” said Hawks coach Jessie Leung.
“At the end of the day, we’ll play anyone, anywhere – even if we have to go on the road (for a playoff series).”
In Sunday’s loss, the Hawks got off to a slow start, and found themselves down 4-0 at the end of the first period after Kootenay goals from Owen Titus – just 1:32 into the game – Conner Seib, Aiden Jenner and Reid Wilson.
Valley West got on the board in the middle frame, however, when Nolan Krogfoss found the back of the net for his first of two goals on the day.
His second goal came in the third period, but Valley West was unable to bridge the gap further before losing by two.
The Cloverdale forward’s two-goal outburst – plus another on Monday – gave him 16 on the season, good for second-best on the team behind Surrey’s Tyler Ho, who has 17.
The Hawks rebounded on the Family Day holiday, however, stealing two points from the Ice, thanks largely to the play of White Rock netminder Dorrin Luding, who pitched the shutout to earn his seventh win of the season.
Neither team scored in the first period, but the Hawks took a 1-0 lead in the second on a goal from Gianna Lattanzio. The home team broke the game open late in the third, when Ho and Krogfoss scored goals less than two minutes apart.
“Realistically, we only lost one period all weekend, but we just lost it in a big way, giving up four goals,” Leung said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t show up that first period, but we bounced back.”
With two weekend series left before the post-season begins – this weekend, Valley West plays the North Island Silvertips, followed by two games against the Vancouver Northeast Chiefs in early March – Leung said he was more concerned with his squad finding some consistency than he was with playoff-position posturing.
The Hawks were among the MML’s top clubs early in the season, but have fallen in the standings in the last few months – in no small part because the team has lost a handful of veterans forwards to the Western Hockey League and injury. Justyn Gurney was called up to the Calgary Hitmen after Christmas, and has remained there, while Jonas Leas and Carson Franklin suffered season-ending injuries. Another forward, Calder Newson, has also been out with a shoulder injury, but Leung expected him to return this weekend.
“We’ve been in a bit of a funk scoring goals, but there’s been a bit of an adjustment period as we’ve put guys in new roles due to having some injuries,” he said. “It’s been a bit of a revolving door (with affiliate players). I’ve never used so many in a season before.”
Leung was happy with the recent play of his goaltenders, both Luding and Reece Klassen.
“Both our goalies can steal games for us, and in a playoff series, you only have to win two out of three,” the coach said.
“Anything can happen… and this year, the league is as wide open as I’ve ever seen it.”