The results between the Cariboo Cougars and Okanagan Rockets this weekend could ultimately determine which club finishes second in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League.
The Cougars and Rockets will play today (1 p.m.) and Sunday (10:15 a.m.) at CN Centre. They enter the doubleheader with the Cats holding second place in the 11-team league and the Rockets sitting third. Just two points separate the teams, and Okanagan has two games in hand.
The Cougars (24-7-1) are coming off a sweep of the Kootenay Ice last weekend in Nelson, where they posted 8-2 and 8-3 victories. The Saturday contest ended in a brawl, which resulted in a string of suspensions that will leave the Cats short on bodies this weekend. Cariboo forwards Braiden Epp, Eli Jarvis, Tyler Povelofskie, Tre Potskin and Ryan Forbes will all miss today's game, and the latter three will also be spectators on Sunday. Because of the events in Nelson, head coach Trevor Sprague is also serving a suspension and won't be on the bench for either game.
Epp's offence in particular will be missed. In the league scoring race, he currently sits third with 24 goals and 53 points in 31 games. Epp's linemate, Liam Blackburn, is the league's second-leading scorer, with 22 goals and 61 points in 32 outings.
The Rockets (21-4-5) are being led by Josh Blanchard, who is fourth in MML scoring with 49 points (26 goals, 23 assists) in 29 games.
Earlier this season in Kelowna, the Cats and Rockets split a doubleheader. The Rockets won the opener 5-1 but the Cats bounced back in a big way with an 8-0 victory the next day.
After this weekend, the Cougars will have six regular-season games left to play.
The top eight teams will make the playoffs. In the opening round, the top seed will face the eighth, second will play seventh, third will take on sixth and fourth will meet fifth. All series will be best-of-three affairs.
The eventual champion will face the Alberta winner in a regional playoff that will serve as a qualifier for the Telus Cup national championship, set for April in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.
The Vancouver Northwest Giants are favoured to advance out of B.C. They have a solid grip on first place, with a record of 28-2-2, and won the prestigious Mac's Midget Tournament in Calgary during the Christmas break.
The Giants are four-time defending playoff champions.