Yukon forward Lukas Jirousek handles the puck during a match against P.E.I in 2015. (Yukon News file)

Plenty of Yukon talent in KIJHL playoffs

8 Yukoners playing on teams in the big dance

The Kootenay International Junior Hockey League starts the postseason Feb. 23, and as a popular destination for Yukon hockey players, there are more than a few matchups worth keeping an eye on.

Divided into two conferences and four divisions, 16 of the league’s 20 teams make the playoffs.

All the playoff series are a best-of-seven format.

Kootenay Conference, Eddie Mountain Division

The top-ranked Kimberley Dynamiters take on the fourth-ranked Fernie Ghostriders in the first playoff matchup.

The Dynamiters were the top team in league this year, finishing with 78 points and 38 wins.

The Ghostriders, on the other hand, had just 34 points in the regular season and made the postseason based largely on being in the same division as the league-worst Golden Rockets.

Rookie Mathew Cooper is a player to watch in this series as the Yukon-born defenceman has 13 points in 42 regular-season games.

The other divisional matchup pits the second-ranked Creston Valley Thunder Cats against the third-ranked Columbia Valley Rockies.

The Valley Cats have to be the favourite with 13 more regular season wins and the highest goal differential (+105) in the league.

Kootenay Conference, Neil Murdoch Division

The first-place Nelson Leafs take on the fourth-place Grand Forks Border Bruins and with twice the points in the standings, the Leafs look like the smart pick.

Rookie forward Riley Smoler and his Grand Forks teammates will look to play spoiler.

Whitehorse’s Smoler has 11 points in 10 regular-season games for the Border Bruins after starting the year with the Summerland Steam. He’s got 36 points in 37 KIJHL games this season.

The second-ranked Castlegar Rebels are up against the third-ranked Beaver Valley Nitehawks in the other divisional matchup.

These two teams finished with just four points between them and on paper look evenly matched.

Whitehorse’s Brett Walchuk played a pair of games for the Nitehawks this season, but isn’t on the playoff roster.

Okanagan/Shuswap Conference, Doug Birks Division

The Revelstoke Grizzlies take on the Kamloops Storm in the one versus four matchup.

The Grizzlies were the top team in the conference this season and the Storm come into the series having lost four in a row.

Storm captain Kaine Comin, the lone Yukoner in the series, has 17 points in 36 games for the team. The 18-year-old is finishing his second season in Kamloops.

The second-place Chase Heat take on the third-place 100 Mile House Wranglers in the other division series.

With just a point between them in the standings, the Wranglers may have the slight edge in momentum having won four games in a row.

Whitehorse’s Mackenzie Benn-Wipp played 17 games for 100 Mile House but isn’t on the playoff roster.

Okanagan/Shuswap Conference, Okanagan Division

The division-leading Osoyoos Coyotes take on the Princeton Posse in the first divisional series.

With 15 more wins this season, the Coyotes finished 28 points ahead of the Posse in the division standings.

The second-place Kelowna Chiefs are up against the third-place Summerland Steam in the final divisional series.

Another matchup between two evenly matched, at least on paper, teams should be one to follow.

The Steam have a large contingent of Whitehorse players, as Gavin Lawrie, Niall Lawrie and Lukas Jirousek all cracked the playoff roster.

Contact John Hopkins-Hill at john.hopkinshill@yukon-news.com

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