Maybe, just maybe, the Richmond Sockeyes might actually break a sweat on Thursday night.
The defending Pacific International Junior Hockey League champions have made it look way too easy in opening the 2011-12 regular season campaign with six consecutive shutout wins. The Sockeyes blanked the North Delta Devils 4-0 last Thursday then blasted the Port Moody Black Panthers 9-0 on Saturday.
Tomorrow, they renew their rivalry with the Delta Ice Hawks who are also off to a fast start with five wins in six games. Richmond needed seven games to eliminate its cross-river rivals in last year's conference finals and both teams have plenty of returning veterans. Adding more intrigue to the match-up is Delta's line-up featuring several Seafair Minor graduates, including goalie Doug Birks, forwards Cody Fidgett, Aaron Merrick, Kody Botterhill, David Kemp, and defencemen Ryan Cuthbert and Taylor Kislanko.
"It's a game we are definitely looking forward to given the bitter pill we swallowed last year, said Ice Hawks head coach Dave McLellan. "They are the best team in the league and we will see how we match-up."
As much as McLellan is pleased to see his team producing lopsided wins, he wonders how the gap between Richmond, Delta and the rest of the league has grown even wider.
"We are trying to figure out why," he added. "The disparity is just too great. It's a little scary this kind of separation and it's not good for the league. It makes it tough on everyone."
The Popoff brothers led the way for the Sockeyes against Port Moody as 16-year-old Carter scored three goals and added an assist, while 17-year-old Turner notched a pair. Keenan Webb, Michael Ball, Sam Chichak and Dean Allison also scored. Kootenay Alder made 22 saves for the shutout.
Game time Thursday is 7: 30 p.m. at Minoru Arena.