Today is the Vees annual Teddy Bear Toss and is sponsored by Costco Wholesale. More info here: Teddy Bear Toss
Game Time: 3pm
Listen: EZ Rock AM 800
Season Series: Dec 14th at Penticton (3pm), February 6th at Chilliwack (7pm)
Vees Home Record: 13-2-0-0
Vees Record vs. Mainland Division: 6-0-0-0
Vees Leading Scorer: Riley Alferd 17-17-34
Chiefs Road Record: 9-8-0-1
Chiefs Record vs. Interior Division: 5-1-0-1
Chiefs Leading Scorer: Craig Puffer 19-16-35
Marquee Match-Up: The two best teams in the BCHL go head-to-head at the SOEC this afternoon, as the first place Vees face the second place Chiefs. The Vees have 26 wins and 53 points and the Chiefs have 22 wins and 45 points. The Vees have the league’s best winning percentage at .844 and the Chiefs are second-best humming along at .703.
The Vees are undefeated in their last four (3-0-1-0) and have won nine of their last 11 (9-1-1-0). They’re coming off a rare 2-2 tie with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday night and were idle on Saturday.
Chilliwack is wrapping up a grueling scheduling this week, as today marks their fourth game in the last five days and third in two and a half. Last night the Chiefs picked up a 7-4 road win in Trail. They’ve now won fourth straight, which is the longest active winning streak in the BCHL entering today’s slate of games. In fact, since their humbling 10-2 loss in Nanaimo on Nov 16th, the Chiefs have won 10 of their last 12 as they’ve built a seven point cushion on second place Prince George in the Mainland Division; today they burn the game in hand they have on the Spruce Kings.
Today also marks two of the top three scoring teams in the BCHL squaring-off. The Vees have scored the second most goals in the league with 129 in 32 games and the Chiefs have bagged 124 which is third-best; Nanaimo has a scored a league-best 130. Maybe today might not be a good day to be a goalie.
Righting the Ship: The Chiefs appeared to have turned a corner since the middle of November and the turning point was a road trip to Vancouver Island. The Chiefs were in Powell River, Port Alberni and Nanaimo from November 14th-16th and lost all three and handily. In the three losses over two and a half days, the Chiefs were outscored 20-5, including a 10-2 spanking at the hands of the Clippers on November 16th. The Chiefs were short-staffed during that trip but that thumping by Nanaimo appears to have set them straight, as they’ve 10 of their last 12 since.
Their defensive play has tightened up too, as they’ve only surrendered 31 goals in their last 12 games, since being shelled for 20 on that three-game Island road trip; an average of 2.58 goals-against in their last 12. They’ve only surrendered more than three goals just twice in their last 12 and only one of those games was a loss.
New Head Coach Jason Tatarnic is in his first season as the new bench boss for the Chiefs, after taking over the long tenured Harvey Smyl. Tatarnic is new to the BCHL but not new to Junior ‘A’ Hockey. Tatarnic was behind the bench for eight seasons with the Woodstock Slammers of the Maritime Hockey League, where he won three league championships. Yes, Tatarnic was the coach of the Slammers when they finished as runners-up to the Vees in the 2012 RBC Cup.
Tatarnic has his fingerprints all over this Chiefs squad, as only five players returned from last year’s squad that finished in the basement of the Mainland Division.
Get a Jump on the Competition: The Vees should be the fresher of the two teams when the puck drops this afternoon. As mentioned, this is the tail end of a busy four-game week for the Chiefs, who are playing their third game in just two and a half days. The Vees are playing just their second game this week and were idle Saturday after Friday’s tie in Salmon Arm.
The Vees obviously want to have a good start and get a jump on the Chiefs as the first goal means a bit more today. Yes, it’s the Vees annual Teddy Bear Toss and they hope they can get the fans to chuck their stuffed toys nice and early.
Despite all the hoopla with the Teddy Bear Toss and trying to score first, the start might not be as critical as the second half of the game. Sometimes tired road teams start well, running on emotion and adrenaline but that can run low when the game moves past the halfway mark. The Vees don’t need to stress about coming out guns a blazing but need to focus on keeping up a high tempo level throughout all three periods. That consistent approach may lead to a breakthrough in the last 25-30 minutes of the game. Remember, the Vees are 21-2-1-0 when leading after two periods. The biggest concern is carrying a lead into the third period and forcing Chilliwack to play catch up hockey; don’t let the visitors get comfortable.
Line-Up News: The same five that were out Friday are once again out of the line-up today. The Vees are missing four regulars due to the World Junior ‘A’ Challenge and Matt Serratore is now on the Injured Reserve. Heading into the weekend, the Vees were working on trying to get Tak Anholt (98) into the line-up today. The Vees prospect plays with the Yale Hockey Academy in the Fraser Valley.
No confirmation on who starts this afternoon at the time of publishing this preview. Hunter Miska was excellent on Friday in Salmon Arm and no one would bat an eye if he did start today. His team-mate Brendan Barry simply won’t lose, as he’s 9-0-0 to start his BCHL career. Either way, can’t go wrong with your choice of goalie.
For the Chiefs, they played without Mark Esposito, Liam Ferguson and Olivier Arsenau on Saturday in Trail. Recently acquired goaltender David Poirier got the win in goal and is now 5-0-0 with the Chiefs, since coming over via a trade from Ontario in late November; Poirier has started two of the last three for Chilliwack