Thursday, June 14, 2012

PG Citizen: BCHL Decides 2012-13 Playoff Format

[Spruce] Kings GM Hawes likes his club's chances of joining post-season party

by Sheri Lamb, Citizen staff

Mike Hawes had some satisfaction after the British Columbia Hockey League's annual general meeting.

The Prince George Spruce Kings general manager was content with the decisions made at the meeting in Richmond, June 7-9, including the decision on the new playoff format. Hawes said there was some arguing as each general manager tried to finagle the best for his team but in the end there was compromise.

Tyson Witala leaps to deflect a shot against
the Merritt Centennials during the 2011-12 playoffs

"Everybody knows they need to bend a little bit to help their partner out in the league," said Hawes. "At the end of the day everybody ends up getting a schedule they're fairly content with."

At meetings earlier this year, the BCHL decided to return to three divisions, with the Coastal Conference being split into the Island and Mainland Divisions. The Kings were also transferred from the Interior Conference to the Coastal Conference and will play in the Mainland Division.

No playoff schedule was decided upon until last weekend. In the two Coastal divisions, four of the five teams will qualify for the playoffs, with the top seed facing the fourth seed and the second and third seeds facing off. In the Interior, the top four of the six teams will qualify for the post season.

The two Coastal Divisions will play a best-of-five series in the first two rounds, switching to a best-of seven in the conference final. The playoff between conference winners for the Fred Page Cup will also be a best-of-seven series.

The Interior Conference will have two best-of-seven rounds with the winner advancing to the final.

"We did that just to make sure the number of games potentially played are about the same as what will potentially be coming out of the Okanagan so that the two teams that play in the league finals will have played approximately the same number of playoff games," said Hawes.

If all series were to go the distance, the Coastal finalist would play 17 games with the Interior finalist having played 14.

The league also decided on its 56-game schedule - four less games than last season - including two games that'll be played in Chilliwack at the BCHL's inaugural Showcase Weekend, Sept. 7-9, at Prospera Centre.

"I was happy with the way ours turned out to be honest," said Hawes. "Our home schedule looks really good. We're going to have three Thursday games and three Sunday games and aside from that the rest of our games will be on Fridays and Saturdays at home this year. For us, that's quite a good schedule."

The schedule, pending governor's approval, should be released by the end of June.

Hawes said he also likes the fact the Kings will see more than one team in Prince George on a number of weekends.

"There will be some doubleheaders with the teams from our division coming up, but they'll be a lot of weekend games where we'll get two or three different opponents in," said Hawes. "I prefer it that way.

"I'm not a huge fan of the doubleheaders," he added. "It's always hard for the home team to win both ends of a doubleheader."

The Kings will face their fiercest rival, the Merritt Centennials, when they open the season at the showcase at noon, Saturday, Sept. 8 and then their face new division rival, the Langley Rivermen, in the final game of the event Sunday at 6 p.m.

"That couldn't have worked out any better for us," said Hawes. "If we're going to play anybody it might as well be Merritt, who we had some real tough battles with last year and the team that knocked us out in the playoffs. We shouldn't have any trouble at all getting up for that game."

The Centennials earned a 4-0 sweep of the Kings in the first round of the playoffs in March.

Against their new division rival, the Kings will be looking to get the upper hand on the Rivermen early in the season.

"Not only is it going to be a big event for our players individually, it's also a big event for our team," said Hawes. "Those two games are definitely going to help to get us going and get us ready for our home games the following weekend."

As for the showcase weekend, Hawes said it's been a long time coming for the BCHL, as the other three western leagues have staged the event for several years.

"It's something that I'm definitely happy our league has gone to," he said. "We probably should've gone to it before now."

By having all 16 teams play two games in a single location, it allows scouts from various NCAA schools, and NHL teams, easy access to watch multiple players.

"Our league is heavily scouted as it is so prior to this year we didn't think it was a necessity but moving forward it is definitely something we can use to our advantage," said Hawes about why the BCHL waited so long to implement the showcase. "It maybe took us a little longer to realize that."

Other decisions the GMs made during their weekend get together included scrapping the 15-year-old player rule, increasing the roster from 21 to 22 players, adding a 30-day injury list in addition the the 60-day injury list and continuing to implement Hockey Canada's junior A supplement initiative for another two seasons.

Hawes said last season the league added the 15-year-old draft to gain more exposure for for the young players and the league, but it didn't seem to have the desired effect in drawing more attention.

"We decided, for this year, that we would scrap it and put some thought towards trying something different," said Hawes.

Two years ago, BCHL teams carried 23-man rosters, which was reduced to 21 last season but much to Hawes' delight teams will have an additional body to play with in the 2012-13 season.

"Definitely a good thing," said Hawes. "To me, [21] wasn't a good number to function within. For most teams in the league when you run into injury problems and stuff like that it definitely creates some hardship for teams trying to find players trying to fill their roster."

Hawes said with 22 players teams can each carry an extra forward and an extra defenceman.

The GMs also tweaked the wording on an old rule, which stated each team in the league had to have one 16 year old and one 17 year old player on their roster. The new rule states, "Every team is required to have two players 17 or under."

It gives teams the opportunity to carry two 17 year old players, two 16 year old players or one of each. Hawes said the Kings have traditionally carried at least one 16 year old and he doesn't see that changing.

Already signed by the Kings is 1996-born goaltender Liam McLeod of Kamloops. Hawes said as the Kings' roster sits presently McLeod would work in tandem with 20-year-old veteran Kirk Thompson in the net.

The BCHL board of governors has until June 25 to vote on the 2012-13 schedule.

Hawes doesn't count out Kings hosting Showcase Weekend

The B.C. Hockey League's decision to implement the showcase weekend where scouts from around the NCAA and various professional teams have a one-stop shopping trip to view prospective players could open up opportunities for the Prince George Spruce Kings.

The inaugural showcase weekend will take place in Chilliwack, Sept. 7-9, with each of the 16 teams playing two regular-season games each.

Kings general manager Mike Hawes said he's open to putting in a bid to host the event in the future.

"It's something we can consider but, obviously, being geographically challenged would create a bunch of extra costs within the league for teams to have to travel up," said Hawes. "That being said, I wouldn't rule it out. Who knows? We'll see what the future brings."

The Kings showed they could host multi-team events in 2007 when the Royal Bank Cup was staged in Prince George. In order to host the showcase, a team would need two ice surfaces - preferably at one location.

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