The Maple Ridge Burrards are set for their second run at an appearance in the Mann Cup, and this year, if they make it, it will be as the hosts.
The Burrards are the reigning WLA champions, and finished one point out of first place after regular season play this year. They were bumped out of first by the Burnaby Lakers, who crushed the Langley Thunder 16-2 on Tuesday to jump into first.
In the first round of the playoffs, the suddenly second-place Burrards will face the third place, but scorching hot, New Westminster Salmonbellies.
Executives on both sides of the series are expecting to see an epic battle.
The Salmonbellies have handled the Burrards will relative ease this season, winning all three games by scores of 10-8, 15-5 and 11-7. Different players have been prominent in each game.
Burrards GM Rey Comeault said the strength of the Salmonbellies is their offensive depth, “they have a lot of weapons,” and the Burrards coaches are warning their players not to focus on shutting down any one threat. Rather, they will play a team defensive system.
“(Head coach) Rob Williams has worked on that – almost preparing us for a team like New West,” said Comeault.
The Burrards have been giving New West too many good looks at the goal, and that is going to change, said the GM. He sees the transition game as key, and has been a focus in recent weeks, to give the offence the time it needs to set up and go to work.
If the Salmonbellies have a high-octane offence, the Burrards are also now entirely healthy up front. Their offence stacks up, said the GM.
“They have scored more goals, but we’re certainly happy with the guys we have.”
If there was going to be a ‘Bellies player to focus on, it might be leading scorer Mitch Jones. He had 62 points this year on 31 goals and 31 assists, and has put up 32 points in leading his team through a five-game winning streak.
Salmonbellies president and GM Dan Richardson said in his 15 years, there have never been four teams at the top of the standings who are so close in quality.
“The league has always wanted parity, and this is the closest top-four finish I have seen in my tenure,” he said.
The league champs will get to host the Mann Cup, and that’s why teams muscled up for the season. The storied Salmonbellies have won 24 Mann Cups, but not since 1995. They last hosted in 2009.
“It’s why we do it,” said Richardson. “We’re all volunteers, and we put in blood sweat and tears for a Mann Cup.”
Although his team has enjoyed regular season success against the Burrards, the team brass is cautioning players not to take them lightly.
“Playoffs is a whole different season. We all start at zero,” he said. “Maple Ridge is not an easy place to play in, and we open there Friday.”
Richardson said the Salmonbellies are looking for payback.
“They knocked us out of the playoffs last year, and our players remember that.”
“There is certainly a rivalry,” said Comeault. No question about it – our teams don’t like each other.”
The Burrards host the Salmonbellies on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Cam Neely Arena. See complete schedule here.