Heading into the final stretch, the Squamish Wolfpack are last in the Tom Shaw Conference by a margin of six points, with 17 regular season games remaining.
To make the playoffs — which was always a stretch in their first season in the Pacific International Junior Hockey League — the Wolfpack will need to play better hockey than the Delta Ice Hawks, who are currently sitting in fourth with 30 points to the Wolfpackâ€™s 24 and have two more games left on the schedule.
Itâ€™s a tall order for the Wolfpack with three of the strongest teams in the league in their conference, but not impossible — the Wolfpack have won their last two matches against Delta, and have a winning record against teams in the rival Harold Brittain conference.
The turnaround has to start this Friday, Jan. 2, as the Wolfpack play the Port Moody Black Panthers in Whistler — the second of two Whistler games on the schedule for the Wolfpack this season.
Port Moody is currently sitting in third in the arguably weaker Harold Brittain Conference.
Wolfpack coach Matt Samson laid it on the line on Tuesday. â€œRight now weâ€™re six points out of a playoff spot, and Delta has a very good team,â€� he said. â€œWe were fortunate enough to beat them the last two times we went head to head, but we canâ€™t rely on them losing to other teams because I think they are good and that they are capable of beating any team in the league on any given night.
â€œLooking down the stretch, we have 17 games left and I think we need 10 to 12 wins minimum, so itâ€™s going to be tough. But right out of the gate we have Port Moody, a team weâ€™ve beaten before, and a hometown crowd. Itâ€™s pretty much a must-win for us.â€�
The team was playing better in November and December, but injuries sidelined the teamâ€™s top scorer for several weeks. Whistlerâ€™s Josh Schaubroeck, was also part of the turnaround, but will likely be out for another few weeks with a broken collarbone.
â€œWeâ€™d like to have him back, heâ€™s a big part of our offence, but we donâ€™t know how soon he can get back into the lineup,â€� said Samson.
The teamâ€™s MVP so far has been goaltender Graham Hallenbeck.
â€œLast time we played (Port Moody) he had 67 saves, which hopefully we can chop in half for him and give him an easier night,â€� said Samson. â€œHeâ€™s been our MVP all season, and if fans want to see good goaltending theyâ€™ll definitely have something to watch.â€�
As for Port Moody, Samson says fans can expect a fast team that goes end to end pretty quickly, but will give the Wolfpack its chances.
â€œThey are a team we can put the puck in the net against, we scored four against them last time which is quite a bit for us, almost double what weâ€™re averaging,â€� said Samson. â€œThey will give us chances which weâ€™ll need to capitalize on. Weâ€™ll also need to stay out of the penalty box. Our guys took too many penalties the first time we played Port Moody, and Graham bailed us out every time.
â€œIf we come out with a lot of energy, we can definitely skate with these guys. We just need to bury our chances, and make the most of the man advantage on penalities.â€�
The puck drops at 7:15 p.m. at Meadow Park Arena. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children and seniors.