Epilogue

Competitive sports make for tough business.  In Canadian Junior ‘A’ hockey, there are 130 teams across the country.  Only one wins its final game.  The rest come up short.

And even for a group that wins everything, there is still an ending to the story.  That quiet ‘day after’ that no-one ever seems ready for.  Clearing out stalls.  Saying heartfelt farewells.

In a lot of ways, it does feel like the curtain feel on this year’s Warriors season a little early.  Many of us were thinking the ride might last until May.  Some feel cheated.  Others unsatisfied.  Be it nostalgia or regret, it’s certainly sad to see this chapter end.

File photo by John Hebert

File photo by John Hebert

The 2013-14 West Kelowna Warriors may not have lived up to hopes and expectations in terms of banners and staying-power.  Search the history books, and this club won’t jump out at you right away.  Second place in the division.  A first-round playoff exit.  Ignored all year (as usual) by the CJHL and still overshadowed by the giants to the north and south.

Look a little closer though, and there are still all kinds of compelling stories to tell.  Guys earned scholarships to prestigious universities in the USA.  Lifelong friendships were forged.  Boys took searching steps towards manhood.  A community was not just entertained, but uplifted.

When I was in journalism school, an instructor told me that “the best stories often come from the losers’ locker rooms.”  The adage has stuck with me all these years later, as I try to do justice to a team that deserves so much more than footnotes.

Second in the division?  Like Jack Nicholson’s gauzy eye in the movie ‘Chinatown’ it’s a plot-point that will sting for a while.  Of course, this team wanted to win banners in the playoffs, not the regular season.  But to come so close (zero points back, as it turns out) only to be left empty-handed was not only frustrating, it was a concrete blow.  Wayne Moore is right in some ways.  The Warriors built a team to beat a Penticton club that had been its undoing the past few seasons.  But finishing second meant a much harder first-round opponent, and one it turns out West Kelowna just wasn’t calibrated for.

The Warriors were unhealthy going into the Vernon series, of course.  And as things went from bad to worse you could see the dreams unravel.  Conjure up whatever ‘if only’ situations you want, this club really needed one more point during the regular season.  Things may well have turned out differently.  But them’s the breaks, and that’s the way sports go.

This is also the nature of life in the Interior Division.  I talk about it all the time, but how can you not?  The Salmon Arm Silverbacks were an RBC contender this year, but never even got to play in the post-season.  Life is tough in this division and this league.  It’s what makes it the best place to be.

And we can’t talk about the playoff loss without paying tribute to all the good things this team has done.  I’ve already mentioned scholarships, and they’re a high-profile example of what the BCHL does so well.  But how about the schoolchildren inspired to play and to learn by visiting groups of West Kelowna Warriors?  How about the charities supported?  How about the fans touched by individual moments of grace and humanity?

And how about the simple entertainment value?  I mean, this team played some outstanding hockey – in many ways a pure and beautiful form of the great frozen game.  I found myself spellbound at times, watching such crisp passing and such fast-paced poetry.  What a treat.

Greystoke Photography

Greystoke Photography

For me though, this time of year is never about the games won and lost or the championships celebrated on TV screens.  Playing hockey in spring is awesome, but it’s also the season of change.

I look at this group of graduating players, and I can’t help but feel a pang of sorrow to see these young men moving on.

20 year-olds:

                * Tyson Dallman

                * Reid Simmonds

                * Taki Pantziris

                * Ryan Fraser-Lee

                * Braden Pears

Committed players

                * Carl Hesler

                * Seb Lloyd

                * Adam Plant

                * David Pope

                * Ben Tegtmeyer

Brennan Clark: Retired, but not forgotten.

Brennan Clark: Retired, but not forgotten.

Now, this list could change a little.  I could be wrong already.  I’m under the impression right now that both Jordan Masters and Jason Cotton are heading back for another year.  They could tear this league apart, if so.  Ryan Ivey, as well.  But summer can be a vortex, and we’ll wait until the fall to see just what shakes down.

I’ll miss these guys, especially those moving on.  That’s an impressive list of talented hockey players and awesome young men.  I wish these guys the very best.

Thanks to the 2013-14 Warriors.  Thanks to the coaching staff for providing such excellent hockey and for the support along the way.  Thanks to the organization for giving me this chance.

And thanks to you for reading.

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Warriors hit the wall

The Vernon Vipers advanced to the second round with a 5-0 game six win on Tuesday.

After scoring the first goal midway through the first, Vernon just slowly pulled away, using strong special teams and continued physicality to clinch the series.

Pic by Andrew Deans

Pics by Andrew Deans

Starts have been an obvious key in this series, and the Warriors really did have an outstanding start to this game.  Re-injected into the lineup, Seb Lloyd had a couple of wonderful chances, including one that caught the outside of the post.  West Kelowna forced the issue for the first 6-8 minutes of play, but was unable to score that all-important first goal.

Vernon would soon take over, and the Vipers dominated the second half of the opening period.  Brett Mulcahy (who else) then opened the scoring when drove to the goal-mouth and seemed to chest a Colton Sparrow rebound past Cody Porter.

Midway through the second period, the Warriors got their first chance to go to work on the powerplay. However, the Vipers were solid on the PK and scored soon after when the Warriors made a bad line change and Michael McNicholas fed Brendan Persley for a tap-in.

And give Vernon credit, as the Vipers continued with the elements that had earned them a series lead – like physical play, aggressive forechecking, and smart neutral-zone posturing.

The Warriors had some good traction.  They worked hard, and strung together some strong shifts.  They had a few good scoring chances.  They kept battling everywhere on the ice and never gave up.  However, the Snakes gradually pulled away.

A tally late in the second period from TJ Dumonceaux put Vernon up 3-0, and third period strikes from Liam Coughlin and Persley (his 2nd) gave Vernon an insurmountable lead and a countdown to the second round.

The Vipers also protected Austin Smith as vehemently as they had all series, earning a game six shutout for their netminder and a comprehensive series-clinching victory.

photo 3

Congratulations to the Vipers on an extraordinarily hard-fought series win.  That really was something else to watch.  The Mulcahy/Sparrow/Persley line deserves a ton of credit for their play all series long, while Vernon’s blueliners lived up to every inch and pound of their hulking reputation.  The Vipers are the definition of ‘tough to play against’ and will be a handful for Penticton and anyone else they face this year.

As for the Warriors, the group continued to battle despite injuries, fatigue, and all kinds of adversity.

And call them excuses if you want, but injuries were unquestionably a big story of this series.  Lloyd checked back in for game six, but Ryan Ivey was back on the shelf.  Adam Plant, Taki Pantziris, Jordan Masters, Andy Desautels – all out of action.  And others, like Jason Cotton and Ryan Fraser-Lee (the list is long) were playing when they really shouldn’t have been.

I have so much I want to say about this group – so I’ll just leave it at that.  For now.

At some point in the next couple of days I’ll return to recap the season and offer some final thoughts on what I saw from this club this year.

But it sure was tough watching some incredible young hockey players and outstanding young man play their final shifts as Warriors.

*** It’s tough to interview these guys after their final games, and even tougher for them to try to articulate how they’re feeling.  But – click here to listen to my post-game interview with Reid Simmonds.  Click here for Ben Tegtmeyer.  As well, I ran this pre-game interview with Seb Lloyd during the first intermission of game six.

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Game five highlights

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Warriors stare down elimination

This entertaining series looks like it’s right back on.

Facing the end of their season, the Warriors rode a couple of powerplay goals and a dominant second period to a 4-1 game five victory on Monday.

Vernon here we come.

David Pope scores! Pic by John Hebert

David Pope … scores!

West Kelowna’s hopes took an early boost with Ryan Ivey and Jason Cotton both on the bench to start the game.  It still left Desautels, Plant, Pantziris, Lloyd and Masters in the bleachers, and Ryan Fraser-Lee soon to join them.  But the two played a full shift, and actually both played very well.  Cotton had the puck on a string and made a great feed on Hope’s goal, while Ivey played big minutes on the PK, blocked shots, and added a good physical element.   The whole club really did step up, with everyone doing their own thing about as well as they possibly can.

It was a very even first period, and while the refs called some chincy stuff, they called it consistently and both ways.  Cody Porter gloved one that looked behind him early on preventing the Vipers from grabbing that all-important first goal.  There were a couple of chances and some looks both ways on early powerplays.  But we ended up watching our first scoreless period of the series, and probably the most peaceful so far too.

In the second period, however, the Vipers got in penalty trouble.  Just like in game one, it cost them.  A great hold by Ben Tegtmeyer allowed Jason Cotton to set up Kylar Hope six minutes in, and the Warriors had the all-important first goal and also a massive injection of momentum and belief.

Soon after Hope had slipped his PPG past Austin Smith, David Pope walked in front and snuck a backhander through the wickets.  Pope notched his second on another powerplay, with one of those clever shots of his using pace, accuracy, and the screen.  Before the period was done, Matt Anholt jammed in a Reid Simmonds feed to make it four unanswered from the Tribe and a raucous second period overall.

Vernon stormed out of the gate in the third and seemed to keep the pressure on for the majority of the period.  Brendan Persley converted one of the crazier scrambles you’ll see 1:27 in.  The Vipers huffed and puffed a bunch more.  The Persley/Sparrow/Mulcahy unit led the charge once again and really has been terrific.  But despite three powerplays and 15 shots on goal, the Vipers just couldn’t get to Cody Porter.  The shot blocking was awesome.  Gap control was like a blanket.  The whole team dug deep to hang on, and in doing so earned the right to play another day.

Pics by John Hebert

Pics by John Hebert

There are guys to single out, like Ryan Ivey, who looked remarkably similar to a healthy Ryan Ivey.  I also loved Mac Ferner, and thought he elevated his game to a whole new level.  Reid Simmonds and Tyson Dallman were separated for much of the game but both brought that rock solid presence to the table.  The team was like a freight train, and Matt Anholt looked every bit the engine.

Lastly, Cody Porter was outstanding in his first career playoff win.  When he’s playing well, he’s way out on top of his crease.  On this night, he was in orbit.  He made the saves he had to and he outplayed the guy at the other end.  In fact, he might have even had the game of his life.  I guess the question is; can he be even better on Tuesday?

They say the fourth win can be the toughest to get, and Vernon certainly ran into a stubborn West Kelowna group in game five.  But the Vipes will redouble their efforts in game six and Kal Tire Place remains an unwelcoming place for the Warriors.

The Warriors now have momentum though.

Belief can be a powerful thing.

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Dancs gets three

Confirmation this afternoon that Vernon’s Dexter Dancs has received a three-game suspension for his collision with Andy Desautels in game four.

The ruling states that Dancs made no attempt to avoid West Kelowna’s goalie, which is his responsibility.

You aren’t supposed to just crash into goalies.  ‘Incidental contact’ doesn’t cover this.

The news is, I’m sure, a bit of a consolation to Warriors fans.

But it’s also even more frustrating.  I won’t share the email that was sent out, but Trevor Alto makes it very clear that a major for goalie interference should have been called on the play.  For a powerplay cooking at 35%.  During a key game four that was 1-0 Vernon at the time.  That’s a tough admission for WK fans to swallow.

Of course, it’s salient to note that Desautels spent a lot of time earlier that game and all series long talking to the refs about getting run.  And the officials were instructed to make calls on precisely these types of plays (as I noted in the previous entry).

But Dancs and Dez are now both done for the series.  It sure has been emotional!

See ya tomorrow.

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Vipers knock Warriors to the mat

Vernon’s bruising play is paying off.

The Vipers got another strong start in game four and played well enough to hang on for a 4-1 victory.

And while the Warriors showed a ton of character and again outplayed the Vipers in the third, there simply wasn’t enough depth on the WK bench.

Pic by Alex Draper

Pic by Alex Draper

The Vipers took a lead 22 seconds into game three and outplayed the Warriors for the first 35 minutes of the game.  In game four, the Snakes surged early once again and cranked the post about half a minute in.

The Warriors this time withstood the pressure and killed off an early penalty, but fell behind eight minutes in when Colton Sparrow knocked in a rebound.  The team to score first has won every game this series (in fact, there still haven’t been any lead changes through four games).

The Warriors began to find some stability, but fell behind 2-0 right at the end of the period (6.7 seconds left) when Mac Ferner got caught pinching at the VV line and Brett Mulcahy fed Sparrow for a 2-on-1 tally.

It may have been Vernon retracting into more of a defensive shell or it may have been the Warriors improving and forcing the issue (or both).  But things slowly began to look better for the Warriors on the ice, despite a timeclock that gradually ebbed away.

The Snakes also picked up a key insurance marker when Liam Coughlin finished off some wonderful passing on a Vernon powerplay midway through the second.

Once again facing a sea of adversity, the Warriors brought another outstanding third period to the table and made a game of it.  There were some great chances and some strong saves from Austin SmithKylar Hope got the Warriors on the board with a nice backhander for his first BCHL playoff goal with four minutes left.  Seconds later, West Kelowna forced another one to the goal mouth, only to see Smith fish the puck right off the goal line.

And as it turned out, that was as close as the Warriors would come.  David Pope struck iron, and there was some terrific desperation shown from both teams.  However, with Cody Porter on the bench, TJ Dumonceaux hit the empty net to clinch Vernon’s massive home victory. 4 4

I haven’t mentioned it yet, but it’s certainly a big elephant in the room and also a key part of the game story.

I’ve written something about the Dexter Dancs collision with Andy Desautels a bunch of times.  I can’t seem to word this correctly.  I’m also waiting to see what the league does here.

But here’s the thing; Playing tough is one thing.  I like hard-nosed puck.  I always have.  And when I watched this collision live, I felt like it was just a strong power-forward move from Dancs.  However, watching it again on the video, I don’t think this is simply ‘incidental contact’ nor is it a ‘hockey play.’  Dancs backs into Desautels without any attempt to do otherwise.  And here’s what’s truly exasperating.  BCHL Executive Director Trevor Alto sent out this memo, just yesterday:

“After the first 2 games of each series we feel it is important to re-emphasize 3 points of play. The officials will be reminded of the 3 points below and made aware that they have the support of the league office to assess penalties for violations.

1.       Emphasis to be placed on protecting the goaltenders

  • Officials will be notified that they have the full support of the league office and given the direction to protect the goaltenders. Furthermore they will be reminded that they do have the discretion to assess a major penalty for Goaltender Interference to any player who makes intentional contact with the goaltender. A Major penalty for Goaltender Interference comes with it an Automatic suspension.

2.       Dangerous and Violent Checks

  • We have seen an uptick in violent checks recently. The officials will be instructed to put emphasis on assessing a checking from behind penalty over a boarding call in certain circumstances where both these penalties come into question. A reminder of strict standards on Blows to the Head and high hits will be made. Both teams have players in accumulation problems in this area and should advise their teams accordingly.

3.       Stick work / Roughing after the Whistle

  • This has not developed into a major issue as of yet however game 2 did see an increase in stick work and extracurricular activity after whistles. Teams are to remind their players to play clean and between the whistles or risk being assessed a penalty putting the other team on the powerplay

Moving into game 3 and 4 we expect nothing but fast, clean, yet physical BCHL Hockey.  I trust both coaches with the job of relaying this notice to your players.”

I try my best to be professional in this job and as fair as possible to all parties.  I hope that’s my reputation in this league.  But for this email to go out on Friday, and then for this to happen on Saturday with no result, seems truly egregious.

But c’est la vie for this club, and the Warriors will now be playing the rest of the series with a 16 year-old in net, half a bench of affiliates, and not even enough man power to seek retribution or justice on the ice.

Given the heart this team has shown, however, I still have a hard time writing off West Kelowna.

Game five goes Monday at RLP.

Click here to listen to my post-game interview with Cody Porter.

As well, I spoke with former Warrior Marcus Basara earlier in the day.  Catch up with the University of Alaska, Fairbanks sniper here.

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One of my favourite Marcus Basara moments.

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Mulcahy shines (again) as Vipers take game three

The Warriors improved as the game wore on and showed a ton of heart in game three in Vernon.

Unfortunately for the Tribe, the Vipers had an awesome start and held on for a 6-4 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

Pic by Andrew Deans

Pic by Andrew Deans

It really was a disastrous start for the Warriors.  Matt Anholt won the opening faceoff but Mac Ferner fumbled the puck at his blue line.  The play drifted into the Warriors zone, the Vipers won a battle, and Brett Mulcahy converted the ensuing scramble for a 1-0 lead just 22 seconds into the game.  The first playoff action in Vernon in three years and the game had swung before most guys had taken a shift.

Vernon got a second when Demico Hannoun buried a Josh Bryan rebound nine minutes in.  The Vipers also did a great job of containing West Kelowna early on, and led 2-0 after the first.

The hosts kept the pressure on for the first part of the second period and put the game seemingly out of reach.  TJ Dumonceaux pounced on a big rebound to make it 3-0 Vernon three minutes in, and Brett Mulcahy made it 4-0 a couple of minutes later after Brendan Persley had cranked the bar.

The Vipers were the better team for the first 35 minutes or so, however the Warriors really turned things around late in the second and forced the issue throughout the third.

A determined finish from Reid Simmonds got West K. on the board late in the second.  The pressure really began to mount early in the third and suddenly the Warriors were all over it.

The puck spent a ton of time in the Vernon end in the final period, and while the Vipers did a good job of keeping much of the pressure to the outside, Austin Smith was also forced to make some really good saves (his glove stop on David Pope with five minutes left was a total gem).  Carl Hesler jammed one in just 90 seconds into the third though, and collars in Vernon began to tighten.

Vernon desperately hung on to the nervous lead for most of the period.  Andy Desautels, for his part, made the stops he needed to, including a savvy save on a Michael McNicholas penalty shot.

With four minutes left, Liam Blackburn potted his first of the playoffs to make it a one-goal game.  Momentum was swinging hugely in West Kelowna’s direction, but the comeback train was derailed when Mulcahy ripped home a professional finish on a Vipers 2-on-1 just 13 seconds later.

Refusing to go quietly, the Warriors got back on the front foot and earned another greasy goal – on Blackburn’s second of the night after an aggressive Ryan Fraser-Lee pinch led to a Persley slashing minor.

The Warriors were within one again and had some hope (if not much energy) left for one last gasp.  Unfortunately for the visitors, Brett Mulcahy found the empty-net for his fourth of the game to seal Vernon’s victory.  Nice deadline acquisition, Vipers.  Nice win too.

Pic by Alex Draper

Pic by Alex Draper

Overall, it was another epic hockey game between these rivals, and arguably a more focussed game all around.  It was still bruising, playoff-type hockey, but this time without any nasty injuries or hugely controversial plays or calls.

The Vipers were the better team in the first half of the game, and took a big series lead as a result.

The Warriors, however, can feel very positive about doing a lot of things well on the road (despite all the key injuries).  And after a showing like that, even if it did end in a loss, there can be no question that this series is far from over.

***I spoke to Andy Desautels BEFORE the game and ran this windy interview in the first intermission of the broadcast, if you’re curious.  I also had this conversation with Brett Mulcahy for the second intermission.

Afterwards, I spoke with Liam Blackburn and ‘AP’ Michael Winnitoy.  Listen to Blackburn at this link and Winnitoy right here.

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