It is the first time the two clubs will face each other in the playoffs.
This series features two teams that are quite the contrast to one another. On one hand you have an Express team that needed all 10 goals in their season finale vs. Chilliwack to finish as the highest scoring team in the BCHL this season with 226 goals. They also saw that many go in their net this season which is the 4th most of any team in the BCHL. Only the Surrey Eagles gave up more goals than the Express among the 12 playoff teams.
The Express offensive attack was spread around pretty well this season for the Express especially among their first two lines. The Express had 5 players with 20 or more goals this season. And defenceman Marc Biega wasn't too far behind setting a new franchise record for blue liners with 17.
5 players also had 50 plus points this season led by Adam Rockwood who finished 5th in BCHL scoring with 74 points and was the top play maker 61 assists in 57 games.
The Express top line of Adam Rockwood, Corey Mackin and Captain Ryan Rosenthal will get plenty of attention combining for 79 goals and 188 points. This Express team has proven that they're more than just a one line team.
The Pieper brothers Bo and Canon also had a very solid first season in the BCHL. They may have been the most consistent point producing forwards for the Express this season. Canon only once this season went more than two games without a point and they came back in late October. Bo and Canon had a rotation of wingers on their line throughout the course of the season. Most of the year Joey Santucci played on the right side with them.
Canon finished 2nd on the team in goals (33) and points (66) this season finishing one goal behind captain Ryan Rosenthal for the team lead. He also had 6 shorthanded goals to lead the BCHL one ahead of teammate Ryan Rosenthal.
As the season went along, the Express third line had become a very valuable unit. It was bolstered with the addition of Brendan Lamont from the Penticton Vees in early January. Jace Hennig spent some time on that unit. And also moved up to the top 6 a few times later in the year. Hennig is coming off his most productive BCHL season in his third year. Cody Boyd provided plenty of grit for the Express all season long forcing opponents to play with their head up when he is on the ice.
The Express for the most part rotated 4 forwards on their 4th line. First year players Jackson Cressey, Nic Rasovic, Daniel Lange and Josh Smith all quickly earned the trust of Express Head Coach Barry Wolff. They provided solid workman like energy for the Express whenever they hit the ice despite being first year players. And they were able to chip in offensively from time to time.
From the blue line on back the Express took their lumps from time to time this season. And their 226 goals against reflects that.
The top pair of Zach Hodder and Marc Biega became a very dynamic duo when they were put together once Hodder returned for a second stint with the Express early in the year from the WHL. It gave the Express a defense pair that can both skate, see the ice, move the puck well and have no fear when it comes to joining the offensive attack. They combined for 25 goals and 74 points between the two of them.
In addition to the acquisition of Lamont, the Express needed to address some needs on the blue line at the January 10th trade deadline. They did exactly that by picking up a couple of 20 year old stay at home defencemen. BCHL veteran Mark Whitely was acquired from Salmon Arm. And JD Cotroneo a veteran of the NAHL and USHL came to the Express from NCAA Div. III University of St. Thomas. They gave the Express a much needed stabilization on the blue line.
In the first four months of the season the Express were very grateful to be as explosive offensively as they were. They at times needed all they goals they got with as many that were going in at the other end. Veteran Gordie Defiel and rookie Pierce Dushenko had their ups and downs this season. But their play did start to turn in the right direction post January 10th. How much of it was improvement in their games individually? and how much of it was the improvements made on the blue line? It was probably a combination of the two.
Entering this series with Prince George it is encouraging to see that there was improvement over the course of the final two months of the season in the most important position. The Express improved game defensively will be put to a good test in a series that will likely see some low scoring and one goal games.
Travel will most certainly play a role in this series with a 10 hour bus ride required between Coquitlam and Prince George. Having home ice advantage certainly does benefit the Spruce Kings early in the series with the Express needing to make the initial trek up north Monday. It will also come into play later in the series once games 5, 6 and 7 roll around if necessary all being played on three consecutive nights with games 5 and 7 in Prince George.
The Spruce Kings with their second place finish in the Mainland division didn't score as often as they Express this season with their 9th ranked offense with 192 goals supported by the 4th best defensive mark with 158 goals allowed.
Head to head the Express had a record of 1-6-1-1 vs. Prince George this season the lone victory being a 6-3 decision in Coquitlam on December 6th. This series has the potential to be closer than what the head to head record between the two clubs may tell you. They did meet 5 times this season following the January 10th trade deadline with 4 of those games coming in Prince George. The Express went 0-4-1 in those 5 games, but mitigating factors of travel and suspensions also played a role in the outcome of those 5 games.
In 2012 the Express were 6-1-1 vs. Powell River only to be eliminated in 6 games. So don't always let the head to head records tell you how a series may play out.
Down the stretch neither team was heading into the playoffs on a roll. They had similar marks in their final 10 games. The Express were 4-6 while Prince George was 4-5-1. The Express split their final two games of the season with Chilliwack losing the opener 6-5 then lighting it up in the finale winning 10-5. The Express scored 15 goals while allowing 10.
Who ever prevails in this series will likely be sick of all the time spent on the bus when it's all said and done because both teams may see a lot of the cozy confines of the iron lung in the next 10 days. There may be multiple trips between the south coast and the northern provincial capital for a series that may need 6 or 7 games to decide it.