(Chilliwack, B.C.)…It took the Wenatchee Wild until nearly the final game of the regular season to wrap up the best record in the entire BCHL and win the Mainland Division regular season championship. That’s because the team chasing them, the second-best team in the BCHL was the Chilliwack Chiefs. Chilliwack was the only team to have an advantage head-to-head against the Wild in the regular season. So it was no surprise Wenatchee knew it was in for a tough fight against the Chiefs in the Mainland Division finals of the BCHL playoffs.
In the end, it was the team who’d been chasing Wenatchee all season that chased them down in the playoffs. Chilliwack advanced to the next round of the BCHL playoffs with Wednesday night’s 3-2 over the Wild to sweep the best-of-seven series 4-0. But as was the case all season for Wenatchee, it wasn’t for a lack of grit and determination.
Chilliwack earned the early lead Tuesday at the 6:03 mark of the first period on a goal by Cole Poliziani. The goal came in much of the same way as several others for the Chiefs in the series, off a long pass. Aaron O’Neal had tipped a pass at center ice that scooted into the boards behind the Wenatchee net where Ben Fanjoy chased it down and backhanded it perfectly to Poliziana for his second goal of the series.
Wenatchee got the equalizer in the second after a slap shot by Chris Jones got knocked down in traffic, Colin Burston was there with the backhander to tie the game at 1 with 9:02 remaining. It was Burston’s second goal of the series and seemed to shoot some life into the Wild in this elimination game.
The Wild took its first lead of the night at the 9:09 mark of the 3rd when AJ Vanderbeck flashed some intense brilliance once again. The 6-foot Forward from Monument, Colorado reached out for a loose puck in the Wenatchee zone, flicked it forward off the wall while dancing around a Chilliwack defender. With another Chief in his face, he drug a skate and slapped a shot that bounced off the blocker of goalie Mark Sinclair. Vanderbeck, still skating forward, reached across to his left and deftly backhanded the puck into the net, giving Wenatchee fans one more look at his hustle and his teammates hope of another night of hockey in a Wild uniform.
The lead was short-lived, however. Burston was called for hooking a little more than a minute later putting Chilliwack on the power play. 21-seconds into the man advantage, the Chief’s Kohen Olischefski somehow poked a dangling puck in the crease between four Wenatchee players and goalie Anthony Yamnitski to tie the game at 2. 44-seconds later, it was Olischefski’s turn to counter the brilliant play of Vanderbeck as he stole the puck from Burston near Wenatchee’s blue line, niftily dribbled past three Wild defenders, crossed to his right and flung a shot into the net for a 3-2 lead Chilliwack would never surrender.
Over the final eight minutes, Wenatchee could never really mount a serious threat, even when they pulled Yamnitski for an extra skater late in the period. As it had been throughout the first three games of the series, Chilliwack seemed to have all passing lanes covered and a defender on every pass and every shot attempt. Vanderbeck wound up for one final attempt in the closing seconds but as he made contact with the ice in front of the puck, his stick broke into three pieces. And with it, the hearts of Wild fans as the Chiefs closed the door on Wenatchee’s amazing season.
Wenatchee finished the season 49-15-4. Chilliwack awaits the winner of Powell River and Victoria, which series is tied 2-2.