I have been chewing on last night’s game for quite some time. Losing doesn’t sit well with any team or any coach and that is especially true with the Vees. This team hates losing, and I do mean HATES losing and they haven’t done much of that in last season and change. Now with back-to-back losses, it might just feel like they got punched in the gut and that feeling is probably still lingering today.
The score was 4-1 for the Chiefs but was it a 4-1 game? I don’t feel like it was, as I thought the Vees played pretty well considering the circumstances that they faced. Any mistake the Vees made was magnified by the Chiefs, who to their credit were an opportunistic bunch when in the Vees zone. They earned all four goals they scored by being a crafty team pouncing on the smallest of mistakes the Vees made. I just had the feeling every time the Vees made an error or had a miscue in their own zone, it was the Chiefs putting it in the back of the net; a sign of a veteran team.
No the Vees didn’t do themselves any favours by surrendering a goal just 11 seconds into the game. A case of “You take it, I got it” in the Vees zone led to Luke Esposito setting up Austin Plevy at the far-post. Quite frankly the Vees just didn’t look comfortable in the first five minutes of the game. That isn’t surprising as players were put into new and expanded roles and it’s only human nature to have some nerves over that. A key shift in the first by Jordan McCallum, which eventually ended with McCallum himself scoring, seemed to put the Vees at ease. Great hustle by McCallum to force his way into the zone and then driving the net to put in the rebound. His last two goals have been big ones for the Vees, a go-ahead goal against Victoria one week ago and this one on Saturday. Jordan is using his size and reach to create space and in turn chances in the offensive zone; nothing fancy to his game just hard work. No secret the power-play is struggling and now is missing key personnel due to the WJAC. Why not put McCallum on one of the units and get him in front of the net? McCallum’s big and can provide a good net-front presence and create space for others.
The key turning point for me in the game was a sequence in the second. Riding a strong finish to the first, the Vees came out hard to start the second. They had some great pace and were creating chances off the rush. That speed gave the Chiefs some issues and drew a power-play off the bat for the Vees. On the ensuing man-advantage Cody DePourcq was stopped point-blank twice by Mitch Gillam, the first save a spectacular pad stop denying DePourcq’s one-timer. If the Vees score there, they would be up 2-1 and in the driver’s seat. However, the Vees are dinged with a penalty minutes later and the Chiefs capitalize to go up 2-1 themselves; frustrating sequence of events for the Vees. Later after the Chiefs went ahead on a Hills power-play goal, Alex Jewell had a great chance to even the game but his back-hand deke in close was stopped by the pad of Gillam; another situation where the Vee shooter had the goaltender at their mercy but failed get the puck up. Not too long after that another Vees power-play and another chance to tie the game. On their fourth man-advantage the Vees worked the puck around, with Mitch Ferguson firing pass across to Ryan Gropp but the 16 year-old rang his wrist-shot off the cross-bar. The Vees third grade ‘A’ scoring chance in a 10 minute window but no dice. The Vees inability to tie the game would come back to haunt them as Jaret Babych made good on his own rebound to put the Chiefs up 3-1 late in the second. The third Chiefs goal coming just minutes after the Gropp chance. A stretch of ten minutes that I felt really changed the game and resulted in the Vees suffering their second straight home loss.
The third period wasn’t the prettiest of hockey as the Chiefs, nursing a two-goal lead on the road, really shut things down. The Vees, try as they might, couldn’t get into any prime scoring areas as the Chiefs sealed off the middle of the ice. Chilliwack’s size on the blue-line proved to be difficult for Vees forwards to break through. Harvey Smyl’s crew collapsed in front of Gillam and were very good at not letting much of anything get through to their goaltender. The Vees only had nine shots on goal in the third and there was only 15 total in the final period.
There were some positives for the Vees, as I thought Sam Mellor played like a leader and that’s why he is wearing the ‘C’ when Troy Stecher is away. Mellor was battling all night long, making plays on the puck, throwing his weight around on the fore-check and pretty much trying to will the Vees to a come-from-behind win. As mentioned Jordan McCallum was one of the Vees forwards who had a motor that didn’t quit Saturday and earned more ice-time as the game wore on. On the blue-line it was encouraging to see the strong play out of Nathan Deyell. The rookie D-man has been a true pro, as he’s been the Vees odd-man out at times on the back-end. He came back into the line-up and after shaking some early jitters, played an effective game on the blue-line; he kept things simple and that was a good thing.
One last comment and that’s on the power-play. Yes, the Vees are missing four key power-play weapons but there is still plenty of talent still around to produce on the man-advantage. Last night was a struggle at times but the Vees did show signs of getting on the right track. It’s not easy trying to put together two completely new units. Everyone can’t expect instant results, as these players will have to get familiar with one another over the next week of practice leading into next weekend. Ryan Gropp looked dangerous on the power-play and the Vees did have some good puck movement but they will need to manufacture a killer instinct with the power-play if they want to start getting results.