Thursday, January 14, 2010

CNC Challenge Cup, the Playoff Race and Magic Numbers

It comes down to this weekend to crown a champion in the CNC Challenge Cup Series between the Quesnel Millionaires and the Prince George Spruce Kings. Over the course of the nine year history of the championship between these two long-time rivals, it is the Spruce Kings that have enjoyed the bragging rights seven times including the last six in a row. Seventh heaven hasn't been nearly as easy to secure as the early championships and it could very well come down to the final game and some quick tie-breaking calculations.

This season the CNC Challenge Cup Series is based on the ten regular season matchups between the two teams. Through eight games, the Quesnel Millionaires have a slight 9-8 lead in points awarded through head-to-head wins. The Spruce Kings have a record of 4 wins and 4 losses with one of those wins coming in overtime which gave the Millionaires the one extra point with a record of 4-3-0-1.

The simple scenarios is a pair of regulation time games where four points would be split up. If the Millionaires split a pair of regulation time games, they will hoist the Cup at centre ice in the Coliseum on Saturday night. For Prince George to hold onto their title and extend it to an unprecedented seventh consecutive time, they have to pick up a minimum of one more point than Quesnel.

The scenarios of overtime, including a no-decision tie, could leave both teams with the same amount of points leading to the first tie breaker of goals for and goals against. The Spruce Kings have the edge in that stat heading into the weekend thanks to one game in particular that saw the royal ones break the bank with an 11-4 victory back on November 21st. Hang on though, don't get ahead of yourself as the differential is closer than you might think. The Spruce Kings have scored 30 goals through the eight games while the Millionaires have tallied 28 times.

Should make for an interesting couple of games from a couple of teams that have everything to gain at the other's expense. Of course there is the CNC Challenge Cup itself, but there is also the points in the Interior Conference where four teams are battling for three playoff spots. The Quesnel Millionaires head into the weekend with 17 games remaining sitting in fifth spot with 34 points. The Merritt Centennials have a share of that fifth spot with 34 points, but only have 16 games remaining. The Trail Smoke Eaters are right behind those two with 33 points and a game in hand on the Spruce Kings.

The Quesnel Millionaires and the Prince George Spruce Kings have almost identical schedules to the end of the regular season with both teams still to make the Island road trip as well as host Nanaimo, Victoria and Burnaby. Both teams have a pair of games against the Penticton Vees and a single with the Merritt Centenials. The only difference is that the Millionaires have to play the Westside Warriors, while the Spruce Kings have to go into Vernon still to play the Vipers. The extra game for Quesnel will be against Williams Lake as they still have four games remaining against the Timberwolves while the Spruce Kings only have three.

The Trail Smoke Eaters have arguable the toughest remaining schedule with a total of eight games against the top five Coastal Conference teams including two against each of the top three teams from the other division. The Smokies also have to contend with the Penticton Vees four times before the end of the season as well as a pair of meetings with both the Salmon Arm Silverbacks and the Westside Warriors. There is also a single against the Merritt Centennials that could become the decisive game for a playoff position.

The Merritt Centennials don't have a much easier schedule with the exception of not having any real Coastal Conference road trips remaining. The Centennials will play in Surrey and will host Nanaimo and Cowichan Valley. Where it becomes tough for Merritt is their three game sets against Penticton and Salmon Arm. The Cents also have a pair against Vernon and singles against Westside, Quesnel, Prince George, Williams Lake and that season ending home date with Trail.

It isn't fair to completely rule out the Williams Lake Timberwolves in all of this either as they have the most games remaining at twenty. The T'wolves do have one four game Coastal Conference road trip with two on the island and two in the Lower Mainland. The remaining sixteen games feature three against Coastal teams and four against the upper Interior Conference teams. It's the other nine games that are the most interesting as the Timberwolves could play the role of spoiler or even propel themselves into the hunt for one of the bottom three playoff spots.

It's still too early to be counting magic numbers but if you are wondering, the Spruce Kings magic number against the Quesnel Millionaires is 41. That's any combination of points gained by the Spruce Kings and lost by the Millionaires. It is that magic number that puts so much importance on the games this weekend as the magic number has the potential to change by eight points. The other magic numbers are 40 against Trail, 39 against Merritt and 32 against Williams Lake.

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