Goaltending is likely to be the key position if the Northwest Giants hope to get past the Greater Vancouver Canadians in the B.C. major midget hockey semifinal playoff this weekend.
The Canadians have been a constant burr under the saddle of the Giants in the past five seasons of playoffs. All of the best-of-three series between the two clubs, four semifinals and one playoff championship, have gone the distance.
Fortunately, the Burnaby-based Giants have won all five of the series, which date back to the 2008/09 season, including last year's playoff semifinal that was settled by a 3-2 score in extra time.
In fact, of the 15 playoff games against Greater Vancouver, 11 of them have been settled by a single goal, with five of those games going the Canadians' way.
That's where the Giants' outstanding goalie tandem of Liam Smith of Burnaby and rookie Bo Didur comes into play.
Against a playoff pest like Greater Vancouver, clearly defence is going to be a huge factor.
Smith and Didur posted the top two goals-against-averages in league play this season. Didur led the league with a 1.84 average, while Smith, who was injured for much of the season, posted 10 wins and a 2.08 mark.
Didur, just 15 years old, has been a particularly pleasant surprise, standing in for the injured Smith and fashioning a near-perfect rookie-of-the-year 23-0-3 season for the league champion Giants.
"It's a pretty big accomplishment. We gambled on a '97 (born player) and he's paid off," said Giants head coach Clint Thornton. "It's a big step up for a first-year goalie."
As one of just three 15-yearolds on the Giants' squad, Didur had a steep learning curve ahead of him.
An early road trip to Prince George ended in a 6-5 win against the Cougars and the understanding that his teammates were there to support him.
"I have a great team in front of me. Sometimes I have an off game, but happily they have been there to back me up when I do," said Didur, who always shared the goaltending duties at the North Shore Winter Club through his minor hockey career.
"It was a huge step," Didur said, regarding being the sole No. 1 between the pipes. "But I wanted to be a goalie for this team. . I just tried to take it weekend by weekend."
Perhaps the most memorable weekend to date for the Rockridge Secondary school student came in the gold-medal final at the Mac's AAA midget tournament in Calgary over last-year's Christmas break.
There, Brandon Del Grosso sent the game into overtime against the Carolina Junior Hurricanes with a goal just 12 seconds full time.
In OT, Didur did the rest, shutting out the U.S. club for almost 15 minutes before teammate Jackson Cressy slotted the tournament-winner.
"It was one of those games, (my teammates) had my back, and we learned how to win," Didur said.
For Thornton, Didur's performance week-in and week-out is a microcosm of what the Giants are all about.
"That's just our team. They can't quit," Thornton said. "They know if they keep pushing and pushing, things will go their way."
And for the most part things have gone the Giants' way this season. The club won an unprecedented sixth consecutive regular season title, with a second-best-ever 34-2-4 record.
And Didur has been one of the most avid exponents of that never-give-up adage.
"His competitive level is through the roof. He never stops," said Thornton. "I asked him to take time off at practice and he said, 'Nope, nope. I'm going to be there.' He refuses to give in. It's a good attitude to have."
Didur isn't really sure where his inner drive came from.
"I don't know," he said. "I love to play hockey. It's my dream to play hockey. When I get out on the ice, I don't like to lose."
The Giants open its semifinal playoff series against Greater Vancouver today (Friday) at the Burnaby Winter Club at 7: 30 p.m. Game 2 is at 7: 45 p.m. at the winter club.
If necessary, a third game will be played Sunday at 9: 30 a.m.