Awesome night – tough ending.

Max French leaps over Kirby Halcrow after scoring on Friday night. This killer photo courtesy Andy Holmes

An hour after the game I’m still having a hard time processing everything that went on at Westside’s Home Opener on Friday night.

It really was an awesome evening.  From a bitchin’ tailgate party to the awesome energy in the crowd, all the pieces seemed to come together for a wonderful night of hockey and fun.

And when all the festivities were over and the puck was finally dropped, the players on the ice did not disappoint, providing a very fast-paced and incredibly entertaining game of puck.

Knowing they had their hands full, the Warriors seemed to really bring their A-game, and I think played their strongest game of the season.

In the first period, the Warriors earned three powerplays, and really seemed to work the puck well.  The only problem?  Kirby Halcrow, who was both lucky and incredibly good.  The Warriors created a lot of good chances in the first, including a handful of goal-mouth scrambles, but just couldn’t get the puck over the goal line.  It was the visitors who scored first when Mike Zalewski sped into WW territory, and beat a few Warriors, including the goaltender Steve Racine.  BUT – just 39 seconds later, Max French smacked home a Tyler Krause rebound to tie the score up, and re-energize the sizeable crowd.

The Warriors looked pretty good in the second as well, but the lone goal was scored by Vernon.  On this one, Marcus Basara caught Racine cheating away from his post on a VV odd-man rush.  It was one that Racine should have had, and Coach Ferster quickly gave Racine the hook and sent Brandon Lane into the net for the first time this season.  Shots on goal after 40 minutes of play?  37-18 Warriors.  Score?  2-1 Vipers.

And in the third period, disaster struck, and the Vipers did what they do best.  After surviving the Warriors attack in the first two periods, Vernon took full advantage of its chances and quickly won the game.  When the Warriors were served three successive penalties (McKinnon then MacIntosh then Berglund all within 2 minutes of each other), the Vipers struck twice (Hetnik then Tambellini) and suddenly it was 4-1.  Then Tambellini cashed again – banging in his own rebound, and the game was out of reach.

I really liked the way Westside finished the game, despite a heavy serving of adversity.  In the final minutes the Warriors sent out some role guys, and they seemed absolutely determined to find the back of the net, which Travis Blanleil eventually did.  Ben Betker also showed some spunk by flipping the mitts with Turner Lawson, and Betker looked good early in the tilt, before Lawson won it late.

I mean to take nothing away from Vernon here, as the Vipers played a great road game.  Some of their stars (Zalewski, Knisley, McGillis, and in particular Adam Tambellini – who’s a serious gamer) played excellent hockey games, and the Vipers won the battle of special teams – which is always important.  Vernon cycled the puck beautifully on the night.  And even with the game in the bag, Vernon players were sacrificing their bodies to block shots, and it really was a pretty complete effort from the defending champs.

The frustrating thing for Westside is that the home team really did play well, and probably deserved a better fate.   Westside had some impressive looking powerplays (despite the lack of success) and worked down low quite well.  The team didn’t give up despite some terrible adversity, and the players gave their fans a really good show.

But in the end, a scoreline that could easily have been reversed looks like a comfortable Vernon win for probably one reason.  Vernon simply got better goaltending.  In the VV end, Kirby Halcrow was unreal, facing 49 shots and letting just 2 past him.  In the WW end, neither of the two really got the job done.  I thought Lane made a few strong saves in the third, but by then the damage was done.  I hate to harp on goaltenders, but on this night the guys in masks were the difference, for better or for worse.

Rylan Ferster was also pretty clear how he felt about his team’s goaltending, which you can see in Wayne Moore’s post-game wrap.  I also don’t want to hang this game on the netminders, as that wouldn’t be giving enough credit to Vernon.  Westside also got in penalty trouble in the third, and you can’t blame that on the ‘tenders.  But they say it’s the toughest and most important position in hockey.  We saw that tonight, for sure.

 

Of course, there’s one big thing that I haven’t mentioned yet, and that’s the injuries.  In the second, Westside forward Reid Simmonds went down with an apparent knee injury.  I spoke to Simmonds afterwards, and it’s apparently an ankle, but not very serious.  He might not play Saturday in Merritt, but he’ll be back very soon.  Which is good.

Much more serious was the injury to Westside’s Captain and unquestioned leader.  I didn’t see the hit, but Izaak Berglund took one up high midway through the third, and had to be stretchered off the ice.  It was really tough to see for everyone, and undoubtedly a real blow to the Warriors.   It was also put a real downer on what had been such an exciting night.

As of now, I don’t have much of an update on Berglund, except to say that he is in stable condition.  I will make sure to pass on updates on this blog – so check back tomorrow afternoon for that. I know everyone joins me in wishing ‘Bergy’ well, and we can only hope that it’s not too serious.

 

I did post-game video interviews with both Rylan Ferster and Max French and (thanks to our great broadcast crew) I’m hoping to be able to post those, as well as video highlights of the game, on Saturday afternoon.  Check back here for that.

The Warriors return to action on Saturday night, as they head to Merritt for their first matchup of the regular season against the Centennials.  Merritt beat Westside in their one pre-season matchup, although Westside dressed a lot of guys who aren’t still around.  Catch our broadcast from Merritt starting at 7:15 at this link.

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