The newly-adopted Pacific Junior Hockey League playoff format adds more intrigue to this weekend’s Winter Classic at Minoru Arenas — just ask the Abbotsford Pilots.
In previous years, the Pilots would be cruising into the league showcase event with a five-point cushion atop the Harold Brittain Conference and in good shape to secure home ice advantage potentially through to the championship series. Now, there is no certainty they will even have it for the opening round.
When PJHL expanded to 12-teams with the addition of the White Rock Whalers this season, league governors also approved to change the conference playoff format to the top eight overall teams advancing. Making the decision easier is a balanced 44-game regular season schedule that sees every team play each other four times.
As somewhat expected, the new version is poised to benefit the Tom Shaw Conference that currently features four of the league’s top five teams.
Instead of them colliding in the quarter-finals, the North Vancouver Wolf Pack, Delta Ice Hawks, Richmond Sockeyes and Grandview Steelers all would be opening against Brittain Conference opponents if the playoffs started tomorrow.
The Pilots would enjoy home ice in a potential 4/5 seed match-up with Grandview but, with still 13 games remaining, there is still plenty of time to improve their position. It starts Friday night (7 p.m.) with a key encounter against the host Sockeyes who sit three points above them.
Richmond takes a five-game win streak into the Classic and is just two points back of second place Delta and eight back of front-running North Vancouver. They enjoy one and two games in hand respectively on those teams and have a key home-and-home series at the end of the month with North Van.
The Sockeyes will close out the Winter Classic against Aldergrove on Sunday (7 p.m.). In total 12 games will be played at Minoru over the three days. Here is the entire schedule:
Friday, Jan. 4
10 a.m. Ridge Meadows vs. Langley. 1 p.m. Surrey vs. Mission City. 4 p.m. Port Moody vs. North Van. 7 p.m. Abbotsford vs. Richmond.
Saturday, Jan 5
10 a.m. Mission City vs. Grandvew. 1 p.m. North Van vs. White Rock. 4 p.m. Abbotsford vs. Ridge Meadows. 7 p.m. Delta vs. Aldergrove.
Sunday, Jan. 6
10 a.m. White Rock vs. Port Moody. 1 p.m. Grandview vs. Surrey. 4 p.m. Delta vs. Langley. 7 p.m. Aldergrove vs. Richmond.