One of the questions early in every season is “who will be the first coaching casualty”? The Salmon Arm Silverbacks answered as President/GM Troy Mick fired Brandon West after the Apes were embarrassed 10-3 by the Smoke Eaters in Trail Tuesday night. It wasn’t a surprising decision with the Silverbacks then sitting at 8-14 and in dead last in the Interior division. What was a bit surprising about it was that West was signed to a contract extension mere months ago so this decision could have significant financial issues associated with it as the club would be on the hook to pay him out.
Either way, the Silverbacks did respond with a pair of weekend wins sweeping the Merritt Centennials in a home-and-home set. Salmon Arm took Friday’s game in Merritt 3-2 in regulation before needing OT on Saturday for the 5-4 win at home. Just today the Silverbacks announced former assistant coach Misko Antisin will take over the head coaching reins on a temporary basis for the rest of the season. There had been speculation Mick himself would step back behind the bench but as I understand it, current BCHL rules forbid a governor or alternate governor from doing so. The Silverbacks’ rebound weekend now has them ahead of the West Kelowna Warriors by a single point for fifth in the division, just one back of fourth place Merritt and two behind third place Vernon.
The Warriors sure did look like they were crawling out of their early season funk but have now dropped two in a row. Head Coach/GM Rylan Ferster also miscalculated by trading away ’97 goaltender Xavier Burghardt after adding 20 year-old WHL veteran Trevor Martin. The former Saskatoon Blade and Red Deer Rebel played in three games for the Warriors with an impressive 2.35 GAA and a .936 save percentage. But just days later after clearing WHL waivers, Martin signed on with the QMJHL’s Baie-Comeau Drakkar. So just when it seemed West Kelowna had once again solved a goaltending issue they were handed a whole new set of problems. The Warriors are now back in the Interior basement at 9-11-1 but remain just three points out of third place. Don’t blink or you may miss a colossal power shift.
They’re still right in the thick of it but the Centennials have now lost nine straight. After a difficult Island road trip that ended with a 7-0 loss in Nanaimo the Cents followed that up with back-to-back losses to the Silverbacks. I still believe the Centennials are a decent team but it’s clear Joe Martin needs to shake things up a bit in order to get things back on track in Merritt.
The Vernon Vipers proved this past weekend just how strange junior hockey can be. After an 0-3 trip concluded with an 8-4 loss in Surrey the Vipers completely turned the tables with a 3-2 win in Penticton Friday night. It was just the Vees’ fourth loss of the season and the first time Vernon had posted a win at the SOEC since February 2015. No doubt Mark Ferner worked his team hard in practice all week and it sure paid off with arguably their biggest win of the season especially given their recent results. The Vees returned the favour, however, the following night in Vernon with a 3-1 victory at Kal Tire Place. Penticton is entrenched at the top of the division, a full 13 points ahead of second place Trail.
The Smokies have now left little doubt that they are, in fact, for real. After dispatching the Silverbacks 10-3 on Tuesday, Trail dispatched the visiting Warriors 5-3 Thursday night. The Smokies were dealt a bit of a dose of reality Saturday in Wenatchee suffering a 6-1 loss. But Trail still boasts an impressive 12-10-1 record led by veteran forward Luke Santerno who is having one hell of a season. The 20 year-old Smithers native has already set new career highs in goals (17), assists (18), and points (35) through just 23 games and is third in league scoring. Santerno has one of the best wrist shots in the BCHL and given a new lease in a leadership role in Trail is taking full advantage.
The Wild certainly impressed in their first BCHL season last year but have so far managed to top themselves. At 17-2-1 the Wild remain undefeated at home and boast the league’s top win percentage with .875. The Wild stumbled in mid October with back-to-back losses in Surrey and Coquitlam but have since rolled off seven straight wins. They came away with a 5-3 win in Langley Thursday night before crushing Trail Saturday at home. The Wild do get a bit of a test this week with four straight on the road in Chilliwack, Merritt, West Kelowna, and Salmon Arm all within a five-day span.
There may be no team breathing a bigger sigh of relief right now than the Langley Rivermen. After a disappointing start to the season that saw the Rivermen in a battle with Coquitlam and Surrey a the bottom of the Mainland division, Langley has now strung together three wins in their last four games. The Rivermen earned a 4-1 win in Nanaimo Saturday night before embarrassing the Bulldogs 7-0 Sunday afternoon in Port Alberni. At 8-11-3-1 the Rivermen are far from out of the woods but it’s a huge confidence booster to have the kind of weekend they just produced.
Almost getting lost behind the Wild are the impressive Chilliwack Chiefs who have put together five wins in their last six games. The beneficiaries of a light early November schedule, the Chiefs only had one game last week and took full advantage of their rest thrashing the Express 9-1 at Prospera Centre Saturday night. The Chiefs are just four points behind first place Wenatchee and may just have something to say about the Wild’s place at the top as Chilliwack searches for a third consecutive division title.
Don’t look now but the Surrey Eagles have now won four in a row. It seemed to be an Island division feast for the rest of the league over the weekend as the Eagles earned 6-2 and 7-3 wins in Alberni and Cowichan Valley on Saturday and Sunday respectively. With 90 goals scored so far this season only Powell River and Wenatchee have more while Surrey has the league’s top ranked power play at 30.1%. At 9-12-2 the Eagles have matched the total number of wins from the 2013-14 season and have two more than they did all of last year. The Eagles are currently tied with the Rivermen for fourth place in the division.
Going back to teams with troubling losing streaks, the Express haven’t posted a win in eight straight and have been outscored 33-11 through five games in November. The Express lost 6-3 at home to Prince George Saturday before getting rolled in Chilliwack Sunday afternoon. The Express open up a three-game home stand Friday night but they’re likely in for a rough weekend hosting the Vees followed up by a visit from the Chiefs Saturday.
The Spruce Kings have been a bit streaky so far this season but are certainly a tremendous improvement over 2015-16. Prince George picked up three of a possible four points last week with a 2-1 overtime loss in Surrey on Thursday followed by that 6-3 win in Coquitlam Friday. The Spruce Kings are about as mediocre as it gets right now with a 10-10-1-2 record (good for third in the Mainland) with a goal differential of plus five.
Over on the Island the Powell River Kings and the Victoria Grizzlies were the only teams not pulverized by the other two divisions over the weekend and that’s because they were playing each other at Hap Parker Arena. The top two teams in the division split the weekend set with the Grizzlies earning a 5-2 win Friday night before the Kings answered back with a 5-2 win of their own Saturday. The two are tied for first place as both have 33 points while the Grizzlies hold a pair of games in hand on the Kings.
The Capitals are six points back and had a mixed bag of weekend results, much like the weekend before. The Caps earned a significant 6-3 win over the visiting Clippers Friday night but were then dispatched 7-3 by the Eagles Sunday afternoon. I still don’t really know which Caps team is for real other than to say they are consistently inconsistent which tends to be a recurring problem for many junior teams.
As for the Clippers, they are a far cry from their division dominance of the recent past. Currently holding down the fourth and final division playoff berth, Nanaimo is two points back of Cowichan Valley and since slamming Merritt 7-0 on November 6th they have lost three in a row. The Clippers can no longer score at will and have some defensive issues as well. No surprise but the Clippers currently lead the league in penalty minutes. I have been critical of them before for this and there is no doubt that their propensity for dirty play costs them games. Perhaps they could get away with it in the past when building up three or four goal leads was fairly common, but no longer.
Then there’s the Bulldogs. Ten points out of a playoff spot in November and Alberni Valley is going to need one hell of a turnaround to make the post-season. The thing is, this isn’t unchartered territory for the Bulldogs who overcame a massive deficit in the standings three years ago only to edge out Cowichan Valley for the Island’s final playoff berth on the last day of the regular season. But things now seem more dire than ever. Alberni has dropped 13 of their last 15 games falling 6-2 to visiting Surrey Saturday night before Sunday’s 7-0 disaster at the hands of the Rivermen. It’s only mid November and I’ve been proven wrong many times before but my decision desk is about to call an Alberni playoff miss.