Pod to play in March for first time
CENTENNIAL ARENA – Hopefully the first time’s a charm in the postseason’s second round for the White Rock Whalers, who will lace up against the Delta Ice Hawks.
In the first round, the Whalers defeated the top-ranked North Vancouver Wolf Pack in six games; the Ice Hawks scraped by their long-time foes, the Richmond Sockeyes, in a seven-game classic.
For the Pod, the Ice Hawks will provide the grittiest challenge to date. Delta has quite the scoring punch: captain Alec Scouras notched 75 regular-season points – fourth best in the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL); teammate Dalton MacGillivray was right behind Scouras with 70 points.
“Delta is a good team that can take advantage of turnovers and lazy plays,” White Rock captain Tyler Price said. Proper positioning will be key.
The Ice Hawks thrive on causing havoc in the offensive zone and their speedy forwards have a relentless forechecking mentality of skating hard to every loose puck.
Back to the future
In other words, Delta wants to play firewagon “1980s Oilers hockey – and we won’t,” White Rock head coach Jason Rogers said. Instead, the Whalers must make safe passes and consistently do a “good job of staying above the puck” defensively to stop odd-man rushes.
Rogers has guided the team since the franchise came into the Pacific Junior Hockey League (PJHL) four years ago. He knows this is a golden opportunity to play late into March.
“These opportunities don’t come around very often,” he remarked.
However, the Whalers also have stars who can light the lamp. After winger Zac Sherwin spent a few months earlier this season up in Jr. ‘A’ with the Langley Rivermen, he came back to the Pod with a championship on his mind.
Sherwin has the second-most play-off points in the league after an impressive two goals and nine assists in the opening series versus the Wolf Pack. “Zac’s been dynamite for us,” Rogers said. “Stats don’t lie.”
Teammates Chris Fortems (nine play-off points) and Ewan Rennie (seven points) have also been consistent.
Back on the blue line, rookie Caleb Cruz’s on-ice vision to set up scoring chances has drastically improved. Rogers acknowledged that Cruz had “really come a long way” in his agility.Blueline depth
Ben Righetti, the Pod’s play-by-play broadcaster, agreed. From his press box vantage point, he saw how Cruz fit well on the back end with Price.
Cruz is a “a smart player, not going to go [needlessly] pinch for a puck,” Righetti pointed out.
“His awareness is excellent for a rookie.”
House (hopefully) wins
Righetti noticed that the Whalers received a “sky-high confidence boost” after their upset of the Wolf Pack.
Now, White Rock, the fourth seed, is playing with “house money” versus third-ranked Delta. He pointed out that both teams were even on special teams. In the first round, White Rock had an 89 percent penalty kill rate; Delta’s was 90 percent.
Both Righetti and Rogers said that discipline will be crucial for Pod victories. The Ice Hawks racked up the most penalty minutes in the regular season while the Whalers sat fourth.
In the dressing room, “we talk about discipline all the time,” Rogers concluded. “It’s all-encompassing.”
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