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Ice Hawks open tourney with big test

Pacific International Junior Hockey League champions begin play at Cyclone Taylor Cup tomorrow against Beaver Valley Nitehawks

The Delta Ice Hawks won't have to wait long to gauge their chances of winning gold at the Cyclone Taylor Cup provincial junior "B" hockey championships.

The Pacific International Junior Hockey League champions open the four team tournament tomorrow afternoon (3 p.m.) in Abbotsford against the Beaver Valley Nitehawks.

The Fruitvale based team was a dominant force in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League, cruising to a 42-7 regular season record then capturing the playoff banner, capped by a four game sweep of Kelowna in the finals. The Nitehawks averaged nearly six goals per game during the regular season, led by 20year-old Chris Derochie who had 101 points in 52 games. Two other players were also near the century mark while nine averaged a point per game or more.

The Ice Hawks will then face the host Abbotsford Pilots on Friday (7: 30 p.m.), in a rematch of the PIJHL finals, before closing out round-robin play Saturday (3 p.m.) against Vancouver Island champion Victoria Cougars. The provincial capital squad rolled through the Island playoffs, winning eight on nine games, after going 36-5-0-1 in the regular season.

The teams with the two best round-robin records will meet in the gold medal game Sunday afternoon (3 p.m.). All games will take place at MSA Arena.

Since winning the PIJHL title, the Ice Hawks coaching staff have been busy breaking down game film of their two unfamiliar opponents, knowing there is no room for surprises or slow starts in this kind of format.

Head coach Dave McLellan says he will be leaning on his experience when he helped guide the Burnaby Express to the RBC Cup national junior "A" championship back in 2006.

"You can't go into it with a seven game series mentality or thinking you are just going to run and gun your way past every team," he said. "We are making sure the boys will be prepared for each opponent. Beaver Valley looks impressive and all these teams play a different style and we will be ready for it."

Delta's run to the PIJHL title saw different players step up at critical times in each of its three series wins, something that should bode well in a tournament format.

"I do think we set up well for this," continued McLellan. "We are not really counting on two or three players that other teams can key on and shut down. I do know we will keep playing a physical brand of hockey and hopefully the break that we have enjoyed will benefit that part of our game."

The Ice Hawks will be back at full strength for the tournament with 20-year-old power forward Mitch Pacey now eligible to return after serving a two week suspension for a hit to the hit the head that cost him most of the finals.

The winner of the Cyclone Taylor Cup will represent B.C. at the Keystone Cup Western Canadian Championships, slated for Saskatoon, April 19-22. The Ice Hawks lone Cyclone Taylor Cup win was in 2006. They went on to finish third at the Westerns which were hosted by Campbell River that year.

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