The Junior Canucks have just eight games left to solidify a spot in the top ranks of the North West Junior Hockey League standings before playoffs begin, but it's no easy road from here on out.
Dawson Creek, who is currently in fourth place with 12 wins and 26 points, will end the season with six-of-eight games against arguably the league's best teams at the moment, starting this weekend with matchups versus the Fairview Flyers on Friday and North Peace Navigators on Saturday.
"We've got a six point cushion from the sixth place team so we don't want to lose too many, we want to finish third, fourth or fifth – in that area – so we need to beat them [Fairview] this weekend," stressed Canucks head coach Eric Fulton about facing the Flyers on Friday, currently one of the hottest teams in the NWJHL who are making a late run at passing Dawson Creek in the standings.
The expansion Flyers, who the Canucks will play once more after Friday, have jumped to fifth spot and are tied for points with Dawson Creek after starting January with three straight wins and a 3-2 overtime loss to the league-leading Grande Prairie Kings.
"It's like playing one of the top teams in the league. I figure they [Flyers] are one of them," said Fulton. "We have to play consistent, we have to hit them and we have to stay out of the penalty box."
To start the season, the Flyers more closely resembled an expansion team, winning just twice in their first ten games.
But the addition of forwards Marc-Etienne Giguere and Jean-Marco St. Pierre has ignited the Flyers offence; in just four games the two players have combined for 17 points and eight goals.
As well, Flyers goaltender CJ Wass has been on top of his game.
"They have one of the best goaltenders in the league. He's very consistent and composed and we have to get in his face and make him a little un-composed," said Fulton.
Versus North Peace this season, the Canucks are 1-1 and beat the Navs' the last time out with a 4-3 victory at Memorial Arena on Nov. 3. But North Peace has only lost five times this year and securely hold second place in the NWJHL, seven points back of Grande Prairie who are 25-3-0-0.
Beginning on Saturday, the Canucks will become quite familiar with the Navigators, who Dawson Creek are scheduled to play three of their last eight games against.
Captain Riley Muise says that down the stretch the Canucks will have to begin playing "playoff hockey" if they are to maintain their place in the standings. He says Dawson Creek has to take advantage of teams, such as North Peace and Grande Prairie, clubs that have likely settled into their position and expect to coast into the postseason.
Dawson Creek and North Peace will meet twice more in February when the Navs' visit Memorial Arena on Feb. 1 and the Canucks travel to North Peace for the season finale on Feb. 8.
Throw into the mix a final meeting with the Kings on Jan. 24 in Grande Prairie and the Canucks definitely have their hands full this final leg of the season. They will also face the tenth place Fort St. John Huskies twice, with meetings on Jan. 31 and Feb. 6.