THERE'LL be a lot of firepower on the ice when the North Van Wolf Pack takes on the Delta Ice Hawks in their opening round series in the Pacific Junior Hockey League playoffs starting this week.
The Pack finished third in the league's Tom Shaw conference this season, earning a best-of-seven date with the second-place Ice Hawks. The action started last night in Delta following North Shore News deadline and will now come to North Van for Games 2 and 3 this Friday and Saturday at Harry Jerome Arena.
The series features a battle between two of the top lines in the entire league. The Ice Hawks feature a top unit that includes Mak Barden, the league leader in points with 72 in 44 games, along with Aaron Merrick and Anthony Brito who finished first and second in the league in goals scored.
"Merrick can shoot the puck, he can hurt you," said North Van head coach Matt Samson while sizing up the Delta roster before the series began. "Brito is a big body, goes to the net, can shoot the puck hard. And then you've got Barden who's just really fast, sets up guys and he can bury it too. You're looking at three of the most dangerous guys in the league up front, no question."
The Pack will counter with their own power trio that includes Spencer Quon, Marcus Houck and Quin Buckellew who all ended the season ranked top-10 in the league in points. Quon's total of 65 points in 43 games set a new club record and placed him behind only Barden in the league.
"We counter with three of the top guys in the league as well," said Samson. "It's a good matchup for sure."
The teams met six times in the regular season with Delta scoring four wins, including a 6-1 victory at Harry Jerome Arena to end the regular season Saturday. That game, however, meant nothing in the standings and the Wolf Pack held out several of their top players. Samson said the Wolf Pack will basically forget all of their regular season results heading into the fresh start of the postseason.
"You kind of throw everything out the window," he said. "We know what we're going to get when we face these guys and I think I know from our group what we're going to give. We've definitely been one of the hottest teams down the stretch so I think we're playing good hockey at the right time. I really think it's going to be a good series."
The Pack won nine of their last 11 games to jump over the North Delta Devils to finish in third place. Their only two losses in that stretch, however, were to the Ice Hawks.
"They're a skilled team," said Samson. "I think we have a little more depth up front with our forward group. At the back end they've got a pretty good goalie and defence group. They're definitely a top team, they won 30 games for a reason. They're a physical team, they've got some big bodies - but we can play that physical game as well. We're looking forward to the challenge, we've just got to keep things simple, match them physically, move our feet and make sure we're aware when those dangerous guys are out there because they're a threat every time they're on the ice for sure."
Games 2 and 3 of the series will take place Friday at 6: 45 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. at Harry Jerome. If necessary, the teams will return to North Vancouver for Game 6 Saturday, March 2 at 7 p.m.
"In a perfect world we'd have a chance to close out at home in Game 6," said Samson, adding that he's hoping North Shore hockey fans will come have a look as the Wolf Pack tries to advance past the first round for the first time in franchise history.
"We really feed off of a good crowd so if people have been wanting or waiting to come to a game and see what it's about there's no better time than a playoff game."