GM 14 Preview: Vees @ ‘Backs

Vees: 10-2-0-1 21pts 1st Interior Division (Away: 5-2-0-1)

Silverbacks: 4-6-0-1 9 pts 5th Interior Division (Home: 1-4-0-1)

Season Series: September 21st @ Shaw Centre: 5-0 Vees

The Setup: The Vees are back in Salmon Arm tonight to face the Silverbacks. This is the second of seven regular season meetings between these two divisional foes. The Vees blanked the Silverbacks 5-0 back on September 21st; almost one month ago. Just like in their first encounter, the Vees are coming in to tonight’s game on the heels of a loss. Last month  the Vees lost to PG 4-2 one game prior to meeting Salmon Arm. Tonight the Vees are coming into Salmon Arm on the heels of a 4-2 loss to Nanaimo; see where I’m going with this?

The Silverbacks are a much improved team since their last encounter with the Vees. Salmon Arm has won three of their last five games, two of those three coming on the road. They are however coming off a hard-fought 4-3 loss at home to the Coquitlam Express last Saturday; the Express are atop of the Mainland Division. Their resurgence might be led by some roster retooling, most notably getting Brock Balson back from the Kamloops Blazers; I delve more into the ‘Backs down the page. After tonight, the two teams don’t lock horns again until November 16th.

The Vees Beat: You won’t catch the Vees feeling sorry for themselves or licking their wounds after their island road trip. Three out of six points wasn’t the ultimate end-goal but they can take solace in the fact they were a bounce here, or there, from having four or even five points.

I’m not going to start going down the “Team’s got no puck luck” or “Unlucky not to win” path. Did the Vees play well enough to grab two points Sunday? Most Likely. Could they’ve played better? Most certainly. What plagued the Vees on Sunday was a lack of consistency throughout the contest with the Clippers. At times the Vees looked really strong; moving their feet and getting after the Shipmen. At other times they looked tired and had trouble with getting the puck up ice. There are extenuating circumstances, such as playing three games in two-and-a-half days; two in less than 24 hours. However, this is a young team and they will have their struggles at times.

For a good reflection from the captain himself, click here.

Turning the page to tonight, the Vees have an opportunity to get back on the wagon. Four full days between games and this is the only game of the weekend. The team doesn’t have to concern itself with their energy level or stamina; empty the tank tonight. Sometimes thoughts of conserving or balancing your energy can creep into your head when you play a full slate of games on a weekend. The Vees won’t have that issue tonight and will have to go at the Silverbacks and wear them down.

One area I will be keying on is the first goal. Who will get it? The Vees have only scored first in five of their 13 games and only once in their last five games. Good news is the Vees have found ways all season to battle back from deficits, as they’ve won five of the eight games the opposition scores first. However, why make it hard on yourself? When the Vees DO score first, they’re an impressive 5-0-0. Any team plays different when they have the lead; more confidence and something extra in their step. It will be more scrutinized tonight, as the Silverbacks have only scored first twice in 11 games; 4-4 when the opposition does. When these two played one month ago, the Vees scored first, then again, and again, building up a 3-0 first period lead. Curtains.

Penticton will have their challenges, as speedster Louie Nanne won’t be in the lineup for tonight and Tuesday, and maybe a few more after that. Nanne sustained an upper-body injury Saturday in Cowichan Valley. The frustrating part is the timing, as Nanne was just taking off. Going into Saturday, Nanne had nine points in his last six games and was “feeling it” playing alongside Wade Murphy and Mike Rebry. Speaking of Murphy, he’s riding an 11 game point-streak heading into tonight’s action. Murphy and Rebry will be leaned on that much more but in saying that, there is plenty of talent on this roster to pick up the slack.

I suspect Chad Katunar will get the nod in-goal and he will be a motivated goaltender. By his own admission, Chad had an “off” game on Sunday. Two of the three against I would venture to say he would like a do-over on. It appears an off game isn’t all that bad, as he was named 2nd star in the loss.  Chad will be hungry to get back in the win column tonight.

Mellor scored against SA last month. More to come tonight? / Photo: Garrett James Photography

A few Things I will be Following Tonight:

  • As mentioned, can the Vees score 1st? The ‘Backs are the lowest scoring team in the BCHL.
  • Face-Offs. This team has been strong all season at the dot but had some struggles on the weekend.
  • Transitions. The bread and butter of the Vees game. This team can create chances by quickly going the other way and trapping their opposition.
  • Speed. Playing off the previous point. When the Vees have their legs moving, they’re tough to stop. I’m sure the Silverbacks will want to slow down the Vees through the middle of the ice. Key is how the Vees navigate the neutral zone.
  • Power-play. With speed come penalties. If you’re moving your feet, the opposition can be forced into penalties trying to slow you down. If the Vees can get the ‘Backs into penalty trouble they will need to make the most of their opportunities.

The Other Guys: This is not your September Silverbacks. October has brought new optimism and better results for Salmon Arm. This month the Silverbacks have won three of their first five games, including a dramatic come-from-behind OT win against Vernon last Friday. Salmon Arm is coming off a loss Saturday to Coquitlam but the ‘Backs were with them step-for-step. In that game, the ‘Backs were up 1-0 after one and were just one goal down after forty. Scott Robinson club is proving to be a tough one to play against.

Troy Mick has tinkered with his line-up and the results are starting to come. Since last month, the ‘Backs have got Brock Balson back in the fold after he was a cut from the Kamloops Blazers. Balson only has come back to amass six points in six games. The forward provides the team with some legit scoring ability for their top-six. The biggest news though comes from the blue-line.

Shane Hanna, former Vees rear-guard, leads the team in scoring with four goals and nine points. Hanna forced OT last Friday against the Snakes when he scored with just 10 seconds left. For an encore Hanna fed Jason Trott for the winner in four-on-four overtime to cap off the comeback. What makes the Salmon Arm native so dangerous is his speed and vision. Hanna has no corrals about rushing the puck himself to lead the attack. He also rarely makes a bad pass when coming out of his own zone. Hanna, paired with another defenseman, Sean Flanagan, makes a formidable duo on the ‘Backs power-play. The Vees will have to be weary of the fleet-footed pair. Another piece to the blue-line puzzle is newly signed Blake Box. The Plano, Texas product comes over from the NAHL, where he started the season with the Wichita Falls Wildcats. Box has some good size (6’1 / 194) and his played at the blue-line Friday, was the reason why the ‘Backs tied the game against Vernon last week; as you can tell, it was a big win. With Box in the fold, it appears the ‘Backs have a very sound D-core. Hanna, Flanagan, Box to go along with BCHL-vets Brayden Sherbinin and captain Bennett Hambrook; don’t forget about returnee Brendan Kennedy.  The key going forward won’t be keeping pucks out but getting some to go in at the other end.

Salmon Arm’s 21 goals through 11 games is the lowest total in the BCHL. Their average of 1.91 goals-per game is a league low as well. This team has some capable hands up front, in second year product Alex Gillies, Balson and veterans in Brandon Mistal and Jason Trott. This group will be tasked with getting the offense kick-started heading forward. Newcomers Anthony Croston, Ryan Schwalbe had their moments against the Vees last month and should get more comfortable as the season moves forward.

If this team can supply more run support for the dynamic-duo of Adam Clark and Colin Dzijacky, the Silverbacks won’t be far off from making some noise in the Interior Division.

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About CBeauchemin

Director of Broadcasting & Communication for the Penticton Vees
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