It may still be early in the season, but you can’t help but feel good about the way the Warriors have started this season.
On Saturday night, they redoubled the Smoke Eaters’ misery, by riding another strong second period to another comfortable victory. Read the game story on the team’s website.
After having their home opener spoiled by Westside the night before, the Smoke Eaters sure started the game well. The first 5-10 minutes of the game was simply all Trail, and the Orange and Black looked determined to make up for Friday’s set-back. The lone goal of the first was scored by rookie Luke Bertolucci on a Trail powerplay, and the Smokies cycled the puck incredibly well from the opening whistle.
The Warriors began to find their feet late in the first, and they started to get pucks deep, win battles, and create some scoring chances. In the final 5 minutes of the opening stanza Matt Larose looked like the goalie I came to know last year, stopping Richard Vanderhoek from point blank, and Connor Dempsey 2 or 3 times.
But as soon as the second period arrived, the road team took over the game, and Larose couldn’t hold the fort any more. The Tribe’s first goal came from Brayden Sherbinin (just as I had lost my internet connection … grrrrrr) on a Brett McKinnon rebound. Then Dempsey found his way onto the scoresheet, notching two powerplay goals 2:25 apart. Travis Blanleil also got in on the action, converting a nice breakaway move after a Peter MacIntosh clearance. And just like the night before, the second period was enough to decide the outcome of the game.
The third period actually had a great pace, but nothing too noteworthy. Tyson Witala scored the lone goal of the frame on a quick release snapper. I said in my broadcast that it was his first BCHL goal, but he had actually scored one last year as a Spruce Kings affiliate (against Westside as it turns out). Witala had a very strong weekend, but he’s likely to be demoted from the Krause/Lloyd line when Max French returns to the lineup (which is probably on Wednesday).
A lot of credit to both teams for reigning in the bad blood, and not letting things get out of hand late in the game. There were a couple of scary moments, but neither had anything to do with dirty play. For Westside, Tyler Krause used his hand to block a Trail point shot and seemed for a minute like he might be heading right back to the DL. Fortunately his (hot) hand seems ok. For the Smokies, Kyle Horsman had to leave the game after crashing into the boards on a missed hit on Tyson Witala. Horsman was holding his wrist or shoulder as he left, and after his showing on Friday I very much hope he’s ok – for his sake and for Trail’s. But Friday’s game was rough, and we all know the history. So it was good to see (and somewhat refreshing) that things didn’t devolve with time winding down.
And so the Warriors head home with a very successful opening weekend in the books. In addition to the 4 points, there are a lot of things this team can feel good about, and I’ll list a few.
1) Goaltending. Steve Racine looked quite comfortable in net – especially on Saturday night. I spoke to him after the game. Click here for that.
2) Putting up points. I’ve talked a lot about the depth of this team. Coach Rylan Ferster has been saying his team won’t be offensively explosive, and will need to be defensively sound to win hockey games. But a Tyler Krause hat-trick on opening night and goals from every line suggest this team may well be able to put the puck in the net. And the more goals they get from all over the roster, the easier it will be for the top guys when they face the top teams and top checkers.
3) Team defence. As of now, I’ve got the two-game shot total at 71-54. That’s symptomatic of all 18 skaters buying into a system that’s paying early dividends. We’ll see over the coming weeks if this can continue. If it can, watch out for the Warriors.
4) Special teams. The numbers tell the story here. Again taking the two-game total, we have Westside at 5/8, and Trail at 2/12. Add up Westside’s two percentages and you get 145.8%. I know it’s only 2 games, and I know the Smokies weren’t at their best. But it’s a strong start, and the WW PP in particular just looked good.
5) THE ROOKIES. How can you not be excited about these kids? Seb Lloyd’s 3-point night on Friday was outstanding. Brennan Clark, Reid Simmonds, and Tyson Witala also all found the back of the net, kickstarting their Westside careers. Oh yeah, and Connor Dempsey had 2 on Saturday (and could have probably had 2-3 more). This, from a playmaker. Dempsey is adjusting very quickly, and will be a stud this year without question. I also grilled him after the game – click here to listen to that interview.
As a Warriors fan, should you be concerned about Richard Vanderhoek not registering any points? Not really. He had plenty of chances (including a hit-post) on Saturday, and it really is only a matter of time. I’m sure he’d like to have scored. But he will.
Note of caution – I don’t mean to take anything away from Trail. Actually, I was quite impressed with the Smokies’ efforts. But the Orange and Black showed their inexperience at times, and the Warriors were able to pull away. The competition – including Trail – will only get tougher. Now, you can presume that the Warriors will continue to improve as well. The coming week will be a good test, with road games in Salmon Arm (Wed) and Merritt (Sat), as well as the big home opener against Vernon (Fri).
But for now, the Warriors get to enjoy a relaxed bus-ride home, a day off on Sunday, and the added benefits of early success. Early season road trips always help to build camaraderie – especially when they are winning ones.
Full marks to the Warriors … so far.