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Victoria Grizzlies, Bulldogs prepare for first-round BCHL playoff series

Series begins Friday night in Port Alberni

Cleve Dheensaw

It could come down to the crease. So look for Hobie Hedquest, committed to traditional NCAA Div. 1 power North Dakota, in the Alberni Valley net and season-revelation Oliver Auyeung-Ashton in the Victoria goal as being key to the first-round B.C. Hockey League playoff series between the Bulldogs and Grizzlies.

“The playoffs often come down to good health, good luck and good goaltending,” said Grizzlies GM and head coach Rylan Ferster.

“And also special teams.”

The Bulldogs (31-19-4) are the third seed in the Coastal Conference and get home-ice advantage in the best-of-seven series and will host the first two games Friday and Saturday nights at the Alberni Valley Multiplex, nicknamed the Dawg Pound. The venue shifts to The Q Centre, home of the sixth-seed ­Grizzlies (26-20-8), for the third and fourth games next Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I’d be lying if I said home-ice wasn’t important,” said Ferster.

“Their building is fun to play in and we know we have to win at least one there. But in most playoff series, you know you will have to win some games on the road.”

That was not something the Grizzlies were able to do in a regular-season closing 4-0 loss to the Bulldogs over the weekend in the Dawg Pound as Hedquist made 32 saves for his third shutout of the season, and eighth of his career, for his franchise-record 54th career victory.

The Bulldogs had the edge in the season series between the two clubs, but not by much. Alberni Valley won four times — once in a shootout and once in overtime — and Victoria won three games.

“I’d like our team to get more goals,” said Ferster, of the low-scoring Grizzlies.

“But we are defence-first and have played in a lot of tight games this season and are comfortable in them. The playoffs are not run-and-gun. They are more tightly-played.”

In the other Coastal ­Conference first-round ­playoff series, the conference ­top-seed Nanaimo Clippers (37-14-3) play the eighth-seed ­Langley ­Rivermen (16-33-5) with ­Clippers head coach Colin Birkas still suspended, pending a third-party investigation of an unspecified issue, and Dave ­Liffiton named interim coach for the playoffs. The second-seed Surrey Eagles (35-16-3) meet the seventh-seed Powell River Kings (20-26-8) and fourth-seed Coquitlam Express (28-19-7) play the fifth-seed Chilliwack Chiefs (28-22-4).

The Interior Conference playoffs, headed by runaway BCHL regular-season champion ­Penticton Vees (50-3-1), also open Friday and Saturday.

LOOSE PUCKS: The league announced Monday that ­Grizzlies forward Cam Smith has been suspended two games for a blow-to-the-head penalty he received during Saturday night’s game against Nanaimo.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com