The Okanagan Rockets aren't short on firepower, a fact the Cariboo Cougars will have to keep front-of-mind as they continue their quest for a playoff title.
Today at CN Centre, the Cougars and Rockets will play the first game of a best-of-three semifinal series in the B.C. Hockey Major Midget League. The winner will advance to face either the Vancouver Northwest Giants or the Greater Vancouver Canadians in the championship round.
Today's face-off is at 5 p.m. Once the game gets going, Cariboo head coach Trevor Sprague will expect every one of his guys to play with equal intensity in all three zones of the rink.
He didn't always see that in last weekend's quarterfinal sweep of the South Island Royals.
"We had two or three guys throughout the weekend that had no interest in looking after our end," Sprague said. "Sure, we score a lot of goals but we're going to get a lot of goals against us.
"It's going to get harder for us, not easier. So one guy takes a shift off on a backcheck -- if all three forwards aren't helping out -- then teams score goals."
The second-seeded Cougars beat the seventh-ranked Royals, a team nowhere near as potent as the Rockets, 4-3 and 5-1. South Island scored just 108 goals during the 40-game regular season while the third-place Rockets struck for 190 -- fourth-most in the 11-team league. Only the Cougars (211), Giants (208) and Vancouver Northeast Chiefs (198) were deadlier on offence.
Some of the most dangerous Rockets are forwards Branden Wagner, Josh Blanchard, Brett Mennear and Liam Finlay, all of whom recorded 50 or more points during the regular season. Then there's defenceman Alex Gran, who had nine goals and 40 points in 39 games.
Last weekend, the Rockets eliminated the Valley West Hawks from the playoffs when they sandwiched 6-4 and 8-3 wins around a 4-1 loss. In that series, Okanagan forward Cortlan Procter stepped up with a team-leading four goals and five points.
In their first-round series, the Cougars were led by their top line of Braiden Epp, Liam Blackburn and Logan Styler, who combined for six goals and 17 points in the two games.
When the Cougars and Rockets went head-to-head during the regular schedule, the Cats won three of four games. After a 5-1 loss Nov. 3 in Kelowna, they responded with an 8-0 trouncing of their hosts the next day. On Feb. 2-3 in Prince George, the Cougars skated to 5-3 and 8-4 decisions. In the 8-4 game, Sprague said his team paid "no attention to detail" in its own end.
For this playoff series, the 16-year-old Styler said everyone in a Cariboo jersey will have to play the right way.
"Everybody's got to buy in a little bit more, just certain things," he said. "Behind the play you're going to get hacked and whacked and certain kids have got to be mentally strong and be able to battle through stuff like that."
In Styler's opinion, if he and his teammates follow the lead of 17-year-old grinder Tre Potskin, positive results should follow.
"He's a good role model for other guys on the team who get to play a lot," Styler said. "He doesn't play that much but he still goes out there and works his butt off every game. If everybody buys in as hard as him, we should prevail."
Game 2 of the series is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday, also at CN Centre. If a third game is required, it will start at 10:15 a.m. on Sunday. Admission is by donation.
If the Cougars win, they will skate in their fourth consecutive championship series.
The top-seeded Giants and fifth-ranked Canadians will play Game 1 of their semifinal tonight in Burnaby.
In the first round, the Giants swept the North Island Silvertips, while the Canadians downed the Chiefs in three games. The final game of that series went to overtime and the Canadians emerged with a 5-4 victory.