Never say never.
That’s the opinion of Coquitlam Express head coach Barry Woolf when asked how two third-place teams in the B.C. Hockey League’s regular season ended up meeting in the best-of-seven Fred Page Cup final.
It’s the first time in league history that two third-place clubs will play for the post-season title.
Woolf’s Express take on the Vernon Vipers tonight at Kal Tire Place. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. Game two is Saturday in Vernon (7 p.m.) before the series shifts to Coquitlam for Games 3 and 4 Monday and Tuesday.
“It just goes to show, it doesn’t matter where you finish in the regular season,” said Woolf of the 2014 finalists. “For us, we’ve peaked at the right time and I think the same goes for Vernon. To me, they’ve continually gotten better over the year and they’re in the final for a reason, they’re a good hockey team.”
The Vipers have home ice advantage in the final because they finished with a better regular season mark of 30-18-4-6 in the Interior Division, compared to 27-26-2-3 for the Mainland Division’s Express.
Both teams are 10-5 in the post-season. The clubs split their two regular season meetings – each winning at home – and the Vipers won the only meeting of the two clubs in the semi-final round-robin, a 6-1 romp at Kal Tire Place March 30 which came after the Express had nine days off.
Both teams have relied on one goalie in the playoffs. Austin Smith of the Vipers has a goals against average of 2.67 and a .917 save percentage. Gord Defiel of the Express (2.65, .922) has played every minute for his club.
Both teams are well-rested entering Game 1 with a combined 19 days off.
“They’re bigger and stronger than us, they’re going to want to hit us and make life difficult through the neutral zone for us,” said Woolf on what he expects in the final. “We just need to make sure our eyes are up and stay disciplined, suck it up and score on our opportunities.”
Where the Vipers may have an edge, besides home ice, is experience. Four players – captain Ryan Renz, Colton Sparrow, Brett Mulcahy and Demico Hannoun – all have Fred Page Cup experience.
Renz and Sparrow were with the Vipers when they last won the title in 2011.
It means a lot to be back in the final,” said Renz. “It was one of the best moments of my hockey career, winning the Fred Page that year. To get back there and come as far as we have with this team, the strides we’ve made lately, I’m just happy to be back in it. I can’t wait to get started after these two weeks off.”
Mulcahy and Hannoun were with the Surrey Eagles when they won the title last season, defeating the Penticton Vees.
“It’s pretty exciting (to be back in the final),” said Mulcahy. “Most guys don’t even get one chance, so to have an opportunity to get another crack at is is pretty special.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have some guys that have been there, and the guys who haven’t been to the final will get some insight into it. Playoff hockey is a whole different kind of hockey, and we expect this final is going to be a tough one.”
Woolf, 44, has coached in the BCHL with Quesnel, Langley, Chilliwack, Surrey and Coquitlam. He was an assistant coach on the 2005 Surrey Eagles that beat the Vipers in five games in the league final.
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