Last time they met, the Coquitlam-based Vancouver Northeast Chiefs were handily spanked by the Greater Vancouver Canadians.
Outscored 13-4 over two games, the B.C. Major Midget hockey Chiefs saw an eight-game win streak snapped in decisive fashion in losses of 7-4 and 6-0.
It was a reversal of fortunes after the Coquitlam squad had rolled up early season decisions of 4-1 and 5-1 over the Richmond-based Canadians.
Wipe the slate clean, as both teams enter their best-of-three playoff series this weekend looking at starting afresh.
"I like the matchup, honestly," said Chiefs head coach Doneau Menard. "I don't really care who we play in the first round but the Canadians give us a good test going in. They've got some good skill on their team."
The best-of-three series starts today, 4: 15 p.m., while Game 2 goes tomorrow (Saturday) at noon. A third game, if necessary, would go Sunday, 1: 15 p.m. All games are at Coquitlam's Planet Ice.
Having closed the regular season last weekend with a split against the Cariboo Cougars - who sit second overall - the local squad seems to have rebounded after a disappointing sweep at the hands of the Fraser Valley Hawks two weeks ago.
The Canadians won their final three games of the regular season to finish three points back of the fourth-place Chiefs.
At first glance the Chiefs rely upon the scoring talents of league scoring champ Mathew Barzal, a Coquitlam native who tallied 29 goals and 74 assists over 34 games, and PoCo's Colton Kehler, who established a new league benchmark with 41 goals in 40 games. Rounding out the top line is high-energy winger Connor Burk, who tallied 42 points over 40 games.
"Me and [Kehler] have had real good chemistry all year," said Barzal. "He's blessed with a touch around the net that I wish I had... [Burk] has joined our line the last three weeks and he's just a little guy but he skates like the wind."
Barzal, who was selected first overall by the Seattle Thunderbirds in last year's Western Hockey League bantam draft, set a new B.C. major midget record with 74 assists, surpassing the old mark set by New Jersey Devils' draft pick Alexander Kerfoot.
Posting a 23-13-4 record required a lot more than one red-hot line, Menard notes.
"I think we have some good scoring on our second line," he said. "It's hard to shut Barzal down but if they were to do that we're deep enough and have the pieces to counter that."
The second line of Tim Chow, Boston Colley and Brandon Volpe has developed good chemistry, with Chow posting the club's second-most offensive numbers.
The PoCo native netted 16 goals and 42 assists over 39 games, while Pitt Meadows' Colley tallied 41 points in 33 games. Volpe, of PoCo, was also limited to 33 games but chipped in 16 goals and 22 assists.
The netminding tandem of Maple Ridge natives Nick McBride and Jeffrey Smith have been rock-solid all year, and give Menard an Alain Vigneault-like confidence in whoever is between the pipes.
It's the support between the two goal lines that will make the difference, he added.
"There's less room for errors when you're in the playoffs, with one game being the difference-maker," said Menard. "(The Canadians) are very disciplined and that's one area we've been trying to address. Putting them on the powerplay is something we have to avoid, and when we get our opportunities we need to make them count."
In the two losses to Greater Vancouver, Barzal was effectively shadowed by former Burnaby Winter Club teammate Adam Musil. The club didn't make the adjustments to compensate for that, but will have something lined up this time around.
"We just didn't flat out play well and they did," Menard said of the January contests. "Defensively we weren't very responsible, and we have to make that our focus."
In that way, a heavy mantle falls on blueline leaders Lucas Mercer and Michael Willms, who lead a puck-savvy defence.
Although they finished fourth overall, the Chiefs surrendered 135 goals over 40 games - 30 more than the Canadians. That gap doesn't reflect the strides the club had established prior to February. Since February, they have given up more than four goals per game.
Last weekend, however, the Chiefs showed signs of past successes when they upset Cariboo 6-3, as Burk scored twice and Barzal collected five assists. While they dropped the rematch 5-3, the players displayed the determination that had been lacking the previous week.
"We have to make sure we don't get outworked," said Menard. "We need to be aggressive and go to the net, but be disciplined about it. If we win - and I expect us to - this will give us the confidence going into the next round against a team like the Cougars."