I had the opportunity to take in Sunday’s Surrey Eagles game as they hosted the Vernon Vipers for the only time this season. And while I have opined on the improvement shown by this Eagles team previously I was even more impressed by what I saw.
There is no doubt I did not witness the Vipers’ best, in fact not even close. Vernon had a horrendous first period and played the “tired road team” to a T. That is until they were down 3-buzz and needed to do something about it. The Vipers had a much better second period and even though they allowed three third period goals were certainly the better team in the final period aside from penalty troubles that ultimately cost them. But the Eagles are a good skating, quick puck moving team that can score. Add in a quality goaltender in Michael Botiz and you have a recipe for some success. Botiz will certainly be giving the Vipers flashback nightmares as his play in large part contributed to the Eagles sweeping the season series with the Vipers (when was the last time that happened?!)
Splitting their Thursday-Friday home-and-home with the Rivermen, the Eagles have won two of their last three to start the month of November and now sit tied with the Express for fifth in the division, just two points back of the fourth place Rivermen. It’s been a few years since the Eagles have been in contention for a playoff spot this far into the season and it’s good for everyone to see it.
The Express, meanwhile, had a nightmare of a weekend in Wenatchee falling 10-2 and 6-0 Friday and Saturday respectively. The Express haven’t won since, ironically, October 21st when they beat Wenatchee in Coquitlam. Since then the Express have picked up one point by way of a 3-3 tie in Prince George while getting shut out twice and being outscored by a combined 28-9. The Wild do have a tendency to beat up on their weaker division opponents (see Prince George to start the season) which exaggerate the numbers but there is no doubt Coquitlam is in some trouble.
The Rivermen won the second half of that home-and-home with the Eagles, a 6-3 victory at George Preston on Friday. It was a pretty important victory for Langley who really must win their season series against both the Eagles and Express if they want to make the post-season for a fifth straight season. At 6-10-3-1 the only reason Langley is currently in a playoff position in the Mainland is because of the equally poor records of the Eagles and the Express. It’s a surprising first third of the season for the Rivermen who need to significantly pick up the pace. They did swing a deal with the Cowichan Valley Capitals last week acquiring agitator Darren Hards for fellow ’98 forward Trevor Ayre. Perhaps that will give a bit of a spark to their lineup going forward but their schedule doesn’t get any easier with a home date Thursday against Wenatchee followed by a weekend Island trip.
The Chilliwack Chiefs had quite the weekend across Georgia Strait going a perfect 3-0 in dominating wins in Nanaimo and Cowichan before gutting out an OT win in Powell River Sunday in a crazy 7-6 barn burner. What the Chiefs accomplished on the weekend was no easy feat, especially coming away with that OT win at Hap Parker Arena to close out the weekend, in my opinion the toughest building to play in. It was just the second home ice loss all season for the Kings who saw their seven game win streak come to an end. But by picking up that single point the Kings pulled into a tie with the Grizzlies for top spot in the Island. Since starting 0-4 the Kings have been spectacular. I fully expect them, as I predicted before the season began, to finish alone in first in the division by the time all is said and done.
But the Grizzlies may very well have something to say about the Kings. Afterall, Victoria has started the month of November posting back-to-back shutouts against Alberni and Vernon. Matthew Galajda was in net for both making a combined 42 saves. Galajda sits third in BCHL save percentage at .922, just ahead of Cowichan’s Lane Michasiw who has had an equally impressive start to the season.
The problem for Michasiw’s Capitals is he does not get enough support in front of him. The Caps did break out of a three-game skid with a 5-2 win over visiting Vernon Friday night but then fell 3-1 to Chilliwack on Saturday. The Capitals have allowed a division-worst 77 goals against and if not for Michasiw’s stellar play there is no chance Cowichan remains a point ahead of Nanaimo for third place. The Caps do have a trio of solid defencemen in Chris Harpur, Ben Verrall, and Josh Owings, but there is not a lot of depth beyond that on the blue line.
The Clippers had about a polar opposite pair of weekend games as you can possibly have. They started out by getting slammed 6-1 by the visiting Chiefs Friday night but responded in fine form Sunday afternoon with a resounding 7-0 victory over the Merritt Centennials. I think it’s safe to assume Saturday was hardly a day off for the Clippers after being embarrassed by the Chiefs the night before but the team responded just the way they needed to. Going 3-2-1 in their last six games, the Clippers certainly aren’t as strong as they were the last two seasons but have evened out after a rocky start.
The Alberni Bulldogs pulled out a win for the first time in over a month Saturday, defeating the Centennials 3-1. The win ended an 11-game losing streak which has the Bulldogs a whopping 11 points behind fourth place Nanaimo. At this point in the season that is a massive deficit to overcome in order to reach the post-season.
While the Chiefs had a memorable weekend on the Island the Cents had one to forget picking up just a single point in Friday’s OT loss in Powell River. The Centennials have now dropped seven in a row and now sit tied with Vernon for fourth in the Interior division. Amazingly the Cents are still just a point behind second place Trail so while Merritt did a lot of damage to themselves it could have been a whole lot worse.
Speaking of teams who had a horrible weekend road trip we have to go back to the Vipers who lost 8-4 in Surrey Sunday to finish an 0-3 weekend that included losses in Cowichan and Victoria. Poor special teams play and penalty troubles have plagued the Vipers of late who have lost four of their last five. And with a home-and-home series with the Vees this weekend things don’t get any easier.
The Penticton Vees rebounded nicely from just their third loss of the season back on October 29th with a pair of weekend wins. The Vees beat the Silverbacks 4-1 in Salmon Arm on Friday then edged the Spruce Kings 3-2 at home Saturday night. Penticton has a very comfortable 13 point lead over second place Trail in the Interior. That’s right, the Trail Smoke Eaters are in second place. In November. It’s a very good thing for the team and the BCHL to see the Smokies above .500. Trail opened the weekend with a comeback victory over visiting Prince George Friday night before falling 5-3 in West Kelowna Saturday.
The Warriors have certainly come out of their early season slump with a four-game win streak that ended Sunday at home to PG. West Kelowna is now just two points out of second in that tight Interior and have started to string together wins when they needed them badly.
The Spruce Kings’ 6-1 victory in West Kelowna Sunday was notable for a couple reasons. Firstly, it salvaged two points from what was otherwise not a terribly successful weekend. Secondly, they got some tremendous performances from a couple of former Warriors in now PG captain Brett Mennear and defenceman Tyler Anderson. Mennear scored the eventual game winner and added an assist while Anderson had a pair of goals while earning the game’s first star. Never underestimate the emotional impact of a player going up against his former squad for the first time.
If there’s cause for concern among any of the Interior teams it’s easily the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. After starting the season 2-6 the Apes had a pretty decent October but have now dropped four in a row and sit three points back of West Kelowna for last in the Interior at 8-13. They’re definitely not out of it yet but wins better start coming with regularity pretty quick.