PLAYOFF PREVIEW

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Season Series

Sep 21st 5-0 Vees (Shaw Centre)

Oct 19th 3-2 Vees (Shaw Centre)

Nov 16th 3-2 Vees (SOEC)

Nov 28th 3-0 Vees (SOEC)

Dec 1st 3-2 (OT) Silverbacks (Shaw Centre)

Dec 12th 2-1 Silverbacks (SOEC)

Feb 15th 2-1 Vees (SOEC)

Playoff Series Schedule

Game 1 Mar 15TH (SOEC)

Game 2 Mar 16th (SOEC)

Game 3 Mar 18th (Shaw Centre)

Game 4 Mar 19th (Shaw Centre)

Game 5** Mar 21st (SOEC)

Game 6** Mar 22nd (Shaw Centre)

Game 7** Mar 24th (SOEC)

All games are at 7pm

** If necessary

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The Vees begin their national title defense on Friday when they host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in game one of the Interior Division Semi-Final. The last time the Vees met the Silverbacks in the playoffs was just two years ago, when the ‘Backs took out the Vees in five games in the second round.

One season ago, the Vees were the  team to emerge from the 133 clubs across Canada and be crowned RBC Cup Champions in mid-May. Now they look to climb back to the top and defend their National Junior ‘A’ Championship; no easy task.

In the history of the Centennial / RBC Cup there have only been back-to-back winners three times and only two franchises have done it. The Vernon Lakers / Vipers defender their titles in 1991 and 2010 and the Orillia Travelways defended their national crown in 1985; beating the Penticton Knights 4-2 in the final no less. So, as you can read, it’s no easy feat and the Vees will have their work cut out for them.

The Salmon Arm Silverbacks join the post-season party after taking a one year hiatus from the Fred Page Cup Playoffs. It’s been quite the turnaround for the Salmon Arm franchise, as just one season ago they set a dubious franchise mark, as they finished with their lowest point total since the franchise came back into the BCHL fold in 2001.Fast-forward a year and the Silverbacks have had a bit of a makeover. Troy Mick came on board as a part owner, Head Coach and General Manager. Now, Mick’s tenure lasted all of two games behind the Silverbacks bench BUT he made one of the best moves by a GM this season; bringing in Scott Robinson. The former Cowichan Valley Capital bench boss guided this team to the post-season and easily could have been named Interior Conference Coach of the Year. Not a bad 54 game run.

This will be the fourth meeting in the playoffs between the two franchises, well since the Silverbacks began in 2001; good luck finding history on the Knights-Totems/Tigers. As mentioned, the two last met in 2011, with the upstart Silverbacks, riding the stellar goaltending of Kris Moore, knocked out the higher-seeded Vees in five games. Before that, the Vees swept the Silverbacks in the second round in 2007 and bested the ‘Backs in five games in 2006; again in round two.

There are three holdovers from the last playoff meeting two springs ago. Troy Stecher, Steven Iacobellis and Brandon Mistal were involved in the series; Stecher and Iacobellis as 16 year-old Vees rookies.

Oh, and yeah, there is that storyline of seven players playing against their former team in the playoffs. Sean Flanagan and Brock Balson face-off against their old mates and five Silverbacks play the team they broke into the BCHL with; Steven Iacobellis, Shane Hanna, Evan Anderson, Mitch Ferguson and Alex Jewell. Add in Brandon Mistal, who actually played one, yes one game as a Vee in 2008-2009; an AP I believe. But that’s the last time I will talk about this as this story has had it’s run.

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Vees Scoring vs. Salmon Arm

Sam Mellor 2-7-9 Troy Stecher 2-6-8

Wade Murphy 3-3-6 Brad McClure 3-3-6

James de Haas 0-5-5 Ryan Gropp 2-0-2

Jedd Soleway 2-0-2 Mike Rebry 1-1-2

Cam Amantea 1-1-2 Travis Blanleil 1-0-1

Jordan McCallum 1-0-1Brock Balson 0-1-1

Sean Flanagan 0-1-1 Louie Nanne 0-1-1

Bryan Sinz 0-1-1

Vees Goaltending vs. Salmon Arm

Chad Katunar GP 7 5-1-0-1 .944 SV % 2 SO

Vees Leaders vs. Salmon Arm

Goals: (3) Wade Murphy + Brad McClure

Assists: (7) Sam Mellor

Points: (9) Mellor

+/- (4) Brad McClure

Points Per-Game Average: (1.3) Sam Mellor

Power-Play: 8-33 (Home: 3-18)

Penalty-Kill:  28-30 (Home: 18-19)

Power-Play Goals: (3) Wade Murphy

Power-Play Assists: (3) Sam Mellor+ Troy Stecher

Power-Play Points: (5) Wade Murphy

Short-Handed Goals: —

Hits: (25) Travis Blanleil

Face-Off Percentage: (75%) Jedd Soleway (only one game played) Mike Rebry (63.6%)

Last 10 Vees Games (Excluding GM #56)

John Siemer 3-11-14 Wade Murphy 3-10-13

Jedd Soleway 6-5-11 Louie Nanne 6-5-11

Brad McClure 2-5-7 Sam Mellor 1-6-7

Troy Stecher 0-7-7 Mike Rebry 2-3-5

Brock Balson 1-4-5 Ryan Gropp 2-2-4

Sean Flanagan 0-3-3 Cody DePourcq 2-0-2

Travis Blanleil 1-1-2 Cam Amantea 1-1-2

Bryan Sinz 1-0-1 Jordan McCallum 1-0-1

James de Haas 0-1-1

Players to Watch (Three to keep tabs on throughout the series)

Sam Mellor: A player I expect big things out of when this series starts tonight. Mellor was pretty quiet, by his standards, down the stretch, with only one goal in his final 10 games. However, Salmon Arm might just be the perfect remedy for what ailed Mellor’s offensive production. He has victimized Salmon Arm throughout his career, amassing eight goals and 23 points in 20 games and led the Vees in scoring against the ‘Backs this season; he likes playing these guys.

To Mellor’s defense, he’s been moved around in the last two months, moving up and down the first three lines trying to cover for injuries and or suspensions. That’s one underrated ability Mellor possesses and that’s his adaptability. Mellor is the type who can play both on the wing and down the middle, on the power-play and penalty-kill; he can do it all. Now it seems like he has found a home with Ryan Gropp and Brock Balson on a “third-line” and the trio has shown some promise. Mellor employs a physical, in-your-face style of hockey which gels nicely with the skill of Gropp and size of Balson. The three have shown they can dominate shifts and eat up time in the oppositions end.

Bottom line, this is the last “kick at the can” for Mellor in junior hockey and he has not got out of the second round of the BCHL playoffs in his career. He’s hungry to go out as a winner and his ability to lead by example should not be overlooked or undervalued.

Wade Murphy: Another player who’s gone through some peaks and valleys this season for the Vees. Murphy did have a banner year, finishing first in team scoring with 70 points which was good enough for top-five in the BCHL. He was named a First Team All-Star in the Interior and led Team Canada West in scoring at the Word Junior ‘A’ Challenge, yet I still think he has more to offer.

Remember, he was the Vees co-playoff MVP last spring, leading the BCHL in playoff scoring with nine goals and 18 points in 15 games. He also led the RBC Cup in goal scoring and did burry a few “big ones” in the playoffs. This is why I think we have yet to see the best from Murphy, as he loves the big stage and pressure situations. His quote in the Hockey Now magazine recently says it all, “I definitely love the big stage and those important moments…I love the game, the crowd; I take the fans’ energy for momentum and try to get a big hit or a big goal.”

Murphy hasn’t been playing at a sub-par level by any means, as he is one of the Vees best defensive and most trusted players. Fred Harbinson doesn’t hesitate to have him killing penalties, he’s one of the league’s best and he’s usually out on the ice defending a lead late in games. The coaching staff preaches about having their players play a “200 foot game” and he certainly does. When he doesn’t show up on the score-sheet, Murphy is still a factor and a difference maker in a game by being a defensive stalwart. Though he’s a great player without the puck, I want to see “Murph” be an even better player with it this spring.

Chad Katunar: A developing theme, as Katunar is another player who’s had his ups and downs in recent weeks. In the last 10 games, Katunar sports a save-percentage of .884% which isn’t good at any level. I have no problem saying this, as Chad would bluntly tell you the same thing; that’s what makes him great. He’s a competitor in every sense of the word and, like Murphy, seems to enjoy the pressure moments. Remember his remarkable transformation last season, from 18 year-old backup to unsung hero in the Fred Page Cup Playoffs. If it wasn’t for his unheralded performance the Vees wouldn’t have won the Cup over Powell River.

Katunar’s struggles maybe have been magnified because the timing of it all. It just so happens his challenges came at the time the entire team had an up and down last couple of weeks. When your team is fighting it, snake-bitten, not bagging goals, the netminder needs to come up with large performances; Katunar was inconsistent with that. Now, his track record speaks for itself and his playoff resume can’t be questioned so there are lots of positives heading into the weekend. Also, Katunar has this ability to not let much get to him, as he seems to have a short memory and that will come in handy in the playoffs.

Again, like Murphy, it seems like the bigger the stage the better Katunar plays. If it wasn’t for a nagging lower-body injury in the Doyle Cup, Katuanr would have gave the Vees coaches a tough decision the rest of the way. Back to this year, it’s a different story as he is in the driver’s seat. They call the playoffs a new season and that’s the mentality the Vees number one goalie needs to have; the slate is wiped clean.

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As mentioned earlier in this preview, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks are back in the playoffs after missing out on the party last season. This is a team with an entirely new look from the front office right down to the ice. This new-look Silverbacks team caught fire at just the right time, winning five of their final six games to snag the fourth and final playoff spot in the Interior.

Looking at how they matchup with the Vees and it’s closer than the regular season record would indicate. Yes, the Vees won five of the seven meetings but three were decided by one goal. The Vees did outscore the ‘Backs 19-10 but the very first meeting was a 5-0 whitewash for the Vees. In games the rest of the way the Vees did win four of the final six but only outscored Salmon Arm 14-10. My point being is the season series wasn’t that one-sided and the ‘Backs were a handful to say the least.

Also the ‘Backs were a better road team this year, winning four more games away from the Shaw Centre. Those five wins in their final six games of the regular season were all on the road too. Playing catch-up hockey didn’t bother this team down the stretch either, as they came back from deficits of 3-0 twice, 4-1 and 5-2 AND won all three; all in overtime. That’s pretty remarkable if you think about it. With their season on the line and playing away from home, going down big in three games usually is death sentence, but they somehow manufactured wins. They were down 5-2 in Powell River on March 1st only to win 6-5 in overtime. Skip ahead a day and a half later in Coquitlam, the ‘Backs were down 4-1 in the third period but rallied to win 5-4 in overtime. Most recently, Friday in Merritt, only needing a point to clinch fourth place, the Silverbacks didn’t start well going down 3-0. BUT they rallied, again, and wait for it, won in overtime 5-4 to clinch a playoff spot in style. This team has been in playoff mode for the last two months and now is riding an emotional high heading into the post-season; a dangerous recipe.

One area the Silverbacks will be tested and some might have questions is their depth up front. The ‘Backs were the third lowest scoring team in the BCHL but the sticks did heat up when it mattered most. No question they have some natural talent in the top-six. Steven Iacobellis has been there best player of late, collecting 15 points in the last 10 games and was named the BCHL Player of the Week for the week ending March 3rd. Iacobellis is paired up with Alex Gillies and Brandon Mistal on a pretty formidable top line. After that it was a new look line due to some injuries, as Jordan Levesque, Ryan Schwalbe and Harlan Orr were put together. The three are hard-working types that can pop in some goals, as the line has 24 goals. However, for some perspective, Brad McClure had 27 goals himself on the Vees second line. Now, the ‘Backs were missing Evan Anderson recently, who usually anchors their second unit. This team is young upfront, they’re hard-working and relentless but can they get enough secondary scoring?

A coach will never say they have too much secondary scoring and Scott Robinson would be the first to tell you that. The ‘Backs have something going with that top trio but they might have their challenges in this series if that line can’t produce. What if the Vees can keep their top unit isolated and off the score-sheet, do the ‘Backs have enough on the other three lines to make a difference? Again this team is very industrious and never really quits from the opening face-off to the final horn. But, there will be pressure put on others if Iacobellis can’t carry the mail.  A variable is Evan Anderson, who’s missed a good chunk of time with that upper-body injury. He had his struggles however before his injury, as he was goal-less in 11 games prior to being forced out of the line-up. If Anderson is cleared to play, he will only help out their top-six and has been effective against his former team. Anderson leads the ‘Backs in scoring against the Vees with three goals and four points. If he is playing he will help take off some pressure on Iacobellis and company.

Scoring vs. Vees

Evan Anderson 3-1-4 Harlan Orr 2-1-3

Mitch Ferguson 0-3- Shane Hanna 0-3-3

Jeff Kennedy 1-1-2 Steven Iacobellis 0-2-2

Alex Jewell 0-2-2 Brendan Kennedy 0-2-2

Bryden Marsh 0-2-2 Brandon Mistal 0-2-2

Alex Gillies 1-0-1 Brayden Sherbinin 1-0-1

Blake Box 0-1-1 Anthony Croston 0-1-1

Ryan Schwalbe 0-1-1

Salmon Arm Goaltending vs. Vees (Four different Goalies started the seven games)

Adam Clark GP 4 1-3-0 .906 SV%

Angus Redmond GP 1 0-1-0 .917 SV%

Dustin Nikkel GP 1 1-0-0 .941 SV%

Colin Dzijacky GP 1 0-1-0 .933 SV%

Salmon Arm Leaders vs. Vees

Goals: (3) Evan Anderson

Assists: (3) Shane Hanna

Points: (4) Evan Anderson

Power-Play: 2-30 (Road: 1-19)

Penalty-Kill:  25-33 (Road: 15-18)

Power-Play Goals: (1) Brayden Sherbinin + Mitch Ferguson

Power-Play Assists: (1) 4 tied

Power-Play Points: (2) Mitch Ferguson

Short-Handed Goals: —

‘Backs Scoring in Last 10 Games

Steven Iacobellis 7-8-15 Alex Gillies 5-8-13

Shane Hanna 2-9-11 Brayden Sherbinin 4-6-10

Harlan Orr 5-4-9 Mitch Ferguson 3-3-6

Anthony Croston 1-4-5 Brandon Mistal 1-4-5

Brett Fagerheim 0-5-5 Ryan Schwalbe 2-2-4

Josh Bowes 2-1-3 Carter Lukenda 2-1-3

Blake Box 0-3-3 Evan Anderson 0-3-3

Alex Jewell 2-0-2 Jordan Levesque 1-1-2

Jeff Kennedy 0-2-2 Spencer Loverock 0-1-1

Bryden Marsh 0-1-1

Salmon Arm Playoff History

2002/03: Defeated QUE 4-3 in Round 1, lost 4-1 to TRA in Round 2

2003/04: Defeated PG 4-0 in Round 1, BYE Round 2, defeated WLK 4-1 in Round 3, lost to NAN in BCHL Final 4-1

2004/05: Defeated MER 4-1 in Round 1, lost to PG 4-2 in Round 2

2005/06: Defeated VER 4-1 in Round 1, lost to PEN 4-1 in Round 2

2006/07: Defeated PG 4-3 in Round 1, lost to PEN 4-0 in Round 2

2007/08: Defeated PG 4-1 in Round 1, lost to WK 4-3 in Round 2

2008/09: BYE Round 1, defeated WK 4-1 in Round 2, lost to VER 4-2 in Round 3

2009/10: Lost to QUE 4-1 in Round 1

2010/11: Defeated MER 4-0 in Round 1, defeated PEN 4-1 in Round 2, lost to VER 4-2 in Round 3

2011/12: Did Not Qualify

All-Time Playoff Record: 53-48 (.525 winning %)

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About frodgers

Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Penticton Vees
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