It’s the marquee match-up of the Pacific Junior Hockey League’s quarter-finals with no introductions required.
The Richmond Sockeyes and Grandview Steelers will begin their best-of-seven series on Thursday night (7 p.m.) at Minoru Arenas — meeting in the opening round for the fifth time in six years. They were actually the second and fourth best teams in regular season play respectively but collide early thanks to the PJHL reverting back to the conference format in the playoffs. The winner will meet defending champion North Vancouver or White Rock in the semi-finals.
The Sockeyes have an intriguing mix of experience and youth that they hope adds up to a lengthy playoff run.
The veterans are led by Ryleigh Anderson who has enjoyed a breakout year in his final season of junior hockey with 25 goals. Sophomore Craig Schouten and rookie Garrett Wicks are a pair of productive 18-year-olds that have had excellent campaigns.
It gets even younger at the back with five rookie blueliners, while 17-year-old Vancouver Giants prospect Braedy Euerby gets the call in net.
The team is as a healthy as it has been all season and the rash of injuries have at least developed added depth. Head coach Brett Reusch is looking forward to seeing his team at or near full-strength.
“I think we have played with a full line-up two or three times this year. We have battled our way through some adversity. I think it has made us tighter as team and we have can rise our game to the next level too. You haven’t seen us at our best yet.”
The Steelers won last year’s series in six games behind the standout goaltending of Cale Dolan. The 21-year-old has had another stellar season with a league-leading eight shutouts.
“He is a good goalie. If he seeing the puck, he is going to stop it. It’s important for us to go to the net, shoot low snd go for the rebounds,” continued Reusch.
“There is a rivalry there. They are physical and play us tough, no question. We need to play as a team, use our speed and play to our strengths. Don’t get sucked into anything and don’t back down to their physicality either. We also need to do the small things it takes to win a playoff series like blocking shots and finishing checks. I think we are going to be okay.”
Game two of the series is Sunday (7:15 p.m.) at the Burnaby Winter Club and the teams return to Minoru next Monday at 7:30 p.m.