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Coquitlam’s season draws to a close as the Alberni Valley Bulldogs pull through in Game 7

Coquitlam battled right to the very last whistle but came up short in Game 7 on the road. Full credit to the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, this series was spectacular. The defending conference champions move on to round 2 while the Express head home and contemplate the season that was and what is next for the 20’s.

The Express knew they needed to take the early start away from the Bulldogs if they had a chance at taking Game 7 of the Coastal Conference Quarterfinal. Alberni’s quick starts had been a thorn in the side of Coquitlam for multiple games in the best of seven. The Express held them off early and built a solid foothold in this game through the first 20 minutes.

The opening frame was entertaining on all fronts and saw Coquitlam earn a 16-10 shot lead while spending a decent chunk of the puck possession time in the Alberni end. The return of Sam Frandina was a game changer as the fast, puck-moving defender was a catalyst for the breakout, generating offence left and right. A few minutes into the game as well, Adam Manji inserted himself into the conversation, snatching a high glove-side attempt from Hayden Stavroff to keep the game scoreless.

The second period is where the wheels started to detach from the bus for the Express. The Bulldogs held the line defensively and it opened up chances for the counterattack. In a big game, one mistake can prove costly and Alberni capitalised when off a faceoff draw, Coquitlam lost Braxton Buckberger. The veteran from Saskatoon spun to the right side of the offensive zone and walked right in on Adam Manji, beating him with a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle just inside the far post.

Alberni added to their total about 12 minutes later off the stick of Grayson Badger. Hayden Stavroff broke into the Express zone on the left wing and feathered a pass through traffic to a streaking Badger on the right wing who let a perfect shot go that went over the shoulders of Manji and popped the water bottle to ignite the Dawg Pound and realise a 2-0 lead.

Nate Crema got one back for the Express a minute later and was it ever a timely goal to lift the spirits of the road team. The pride of North Vancouver chipped the puck off the boards and raced around the defender to pick it back up and had a straight line to the front of the net. One quick backhand-forehand deke got him around Callum Tung to slide it into the back of the cage. His first BCHL playoff goal could not have been prettier.

Just under a minute after Crema brought Coquitlam within one, Alberni was awarded a powerplay when Luke Vardy and Matt Kursonis got tangled up in front of the goal following a jam play as the Bulldogs tried to get the puck past Adam Manji. On the ensuing man advantage, Alberni worked the puck around the zone well and found Hayden Stavroff on the right side. The regular season goal scoring leader added his fifth of the playoffs on a rocket of a shot that snuck between the arm and chest of the Express netminder.

The second frame ended 3-1 and Alberni was solidly in the driver seat for Game 7. One period of regulation remained to either extend the season or leave it all out on the ice one last time.

The Bulldogs found the dagger at the 4:47 mark of the third thanks to Brady McIsaac. The Prince George product was parked at the netfront when Nicholas Beneteau ripped a shot from the left wing and the rebound went right to McIsaac. He swiped at it a few times and on the second try, propelled it over the line.

The Express didn’t tuck their tails between their legs and run, they got to work and played hard for the remainder of the game. Shots for the third went 11-7 Coquitlam and they generated quality chances in the offensive zone. Alberni wasn’t afraid to sacrifice the body and get into the shooting lanes on the regular. Tung was instrumental in helping hold the line as he stopped 36 of 37 overall to secure the victory. Overall the Bulldogs were exceptional at holding the Express to the outside for the majority of the contest and that proved a big difference maker.

Once the final buzzer sounded the emotions in the building were at an all time high. The Bulldogs immediately went to the glass to celebrate with the fans, the Multiplex was unbelievably loud, and the Express banded together around their 20-year-olds who had just played their last junior hockey game.

A classy gesture from the Express coaching staff was the final play before the game came to its conclusion. Manji was pulled to the bench for the extra attacker for the final few minutes but for the closing play he was sent back to the cage and joined by the five other 20’s. Bonkowksi, Rubin, Vardy, Gabrielson and Melady.

Every year Junior teams lose a solid group of players that age out or move on to great opportunities. This group is no exception. Manji, Vardy and Rubin spending their careers with the Express and then Bonkowski, Melady and Gabrielson concluding their final year as a part of this family. We’ll talk more about each of them in some upcoming articles.

Coquitlam had an up and down season in 2023-2024. A slow second half of the schedule made many count them out for the opening round, only to turn around and provide one of the best series of the Quarterfinals. From the trades, to coaching staff changes, big goals, huge hits, special community nights, humbling defeats and cheer-inducing wins, Coquitlam gave its community a little bit of everything. With the Express family getting even bigger next season with the addition of the full JPHL hub, the sky’s the limit for what this organization will provide for the community it loves to represent.

A regular season of highs and lows capped off with an incredible seven game series to finish the rollercoaster off. The Express will be back better than ever in the 2024-2025 campaign.

Thank you for reading, watching, cheering and following along with the Express this season. This great sport wouldn’t be where it is without the support of the amazing fans, family, friends and communities. It has been an honour and privilege this season to write these articles and to voice the team for their home games. These stories are so important and to help tell them is something I will never take for granted. Thank you for sharing in them with me.



3rd – AVB – Jacob Terpstra – 2A

2nd – AVB – Grayson Badger – Game Winning Goal

1st – AVB – Callum Tung  – 36 Saves on 37 Shots


– Ian Wilson