West Kelowna dug deep on Saturday night, to prevail over a very skilled Chilliwack squad in one crazy hockey game.
The barn was energized for ‘Faith Night’ but things sure looked bleak early on. With two key guys still injured and four more on the shelf due to suspension, the Warriors lost Mitch Nardi four minutes in when he was given 2+game for a (fairly mild, in my opinion) hit from behind on former teammate Philip Zielonka. The Chiefs would score on the powerplay when Austin Plevy jammed in a Zielonka rebound.
Plevy would notch a second PPG a few minutes later and the Warriors were in trouble. At the time, beyond the diminished lineup it really just didn’t seem like the Warriors had it. They couldn’t seem to string passes together, fanned on a ton of defensive zone clearances, and generated very little in the way of offensive pressure or threat.
Chilliwack would go up 3-0 early in the second when Josh Hansen knocked in an Alexandre Perron-Fontaine rebound. But then things started to fall apart for the Chiefs. After playing sharp hockey and dictating play early on, the Chiefs soon began to struggle with the puck themselves. Chilliwack also got into some penalty trouble – but I would suggest that in the second half of the game the visitors really got away from the ‘Chiefs hockey’ that had served them well earlier on.
At the same time, the Warriors began to surge. David Pope showed some outstanding patience and finished with class on a Warriors’ powerplay midway through the second to finally get the hosts on the board. Five minutes later, a Brett Zarazun snapper found its way through a bunch of traffic and bounced off the bar and in. Then Danny Gayle set up Pope to knot the game up.
Just 28 second after Pope’s second, Tanner Cochrane tallied an unassisted goal for Chilliwack, giving the Chiefs a 4-3 lead heading to the third.
But in the final frame, the Warriors came on while the Chiefs fell apart. David Pope’s third of the night (and second PPG) made it 4-4 a couple of minutes in. Chilliwack would take yet another lead when Spencer Graboski blazed down the left wing and hammered one off the post and past Tyler Briggs.
Finally, with just ten minutes remaining, West Kelowna turned up the heat and got paid off. Brent Lashuk made it 5-5 after an awesome shift from him, Reid Simmonds and Matt Anholt.
The Warriors then got their first lead of the night when Max French banged in a Marcus Basara rebound. The insurance came from Seb Lloyd on a goal-mouth scramble.
It wasn’t the prettiest game or the prettiest win for West Kelowna. The Warriors fought the puck all night and had a tough time clearing the defensive zone. But the Tribe also showed a lot of character to battle back despite a bunch of adversity. The Chiefs may have gotten off their game-plan a little in the second half but that’s still a darn good team, The Warriors can feel awfully good about coming back from 3-0, 4-3, and 5-4 deficits to earn the win.
Beyond skill and opportunism, the Warriors know this victory came thanks to hard work and determination. In my post-game interview with Rylan Ferster, the Warriors’ Coach singled out Marcus Basara and Brennan Clark as two guys he thought really stepped up. I couldn’t have agreed more. Basara did a great job of winning battles in Chiefs ice and he forechecked with vigour. #10 also had four assists to his credit to lead the way offensively. Clark on the other hand, while being held off the scoreboard, was a one-man wrecking crew late in the game. Clark can be a real handful for opposing teams and was at his powerful best in this one.
With a pair of victories for Salmon Arm, the win feels a little more vital. West Kelowna only played once this weekend but holds serve on home ice with a character win. It’s also a great start to the ‘suspension-stage’ the Warriors need to fight through here.
It’s one of those nights I catch myself feeling proud of this team. And cautiously optimistic…