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Backs’ Penalty Kill Shines in Season Opening Win

Drew Bennett of the Backs checks Declan Douthart of the Warriors during Sunday's home opener at the Shaw Centre, which Salmon Arm won 4-1 (Pure Life Photography).

Salmon Arm, B.C. — The Salmon Arm Silverbacks penalty kill wasn’t just good in Sunday’s 4-1 victory over the West Kelowna Warriors: it was tremendous, and, perhaps, the biggest reason they won.

The PK wasn’t just 5-for-5, 6-for-6, or even 7-for-7. No, for this season opening matinee at the Shaw Centre, the penalty killers put on a clinic to the tune of 8-for-8, something the club did only twice all of last season (Jan. 4 versus Penticton and Nov. 24 versus Merritt).

“Any time you can go 8-for-8 on the penalty kill, obviously you’re doing something right,” Silverbacks assistant coach Tanner Cochrane said following the win. “Really liked our enthusiasm, liked the energy on the bench. Thought we were maybe not getting the calls that we deserved tonight and a couple calls went against us, but we found ways to bury and get some pretty big kills.”

So, what was it exactly that led to so much success?

In essence, it goes back to the two areas of focus for off-season recruiting: getting bigger and getting faster.

“Our defence has really long sticks so we’re able to break up opportunities really good. I thought the guys did a good job of collecting sticks in front of the net,” Cochrane said. “Sticks were good and then I just think we didn’t really give them any chances. They didn’t really have a lot of zone time. We kept the puck to 200 foot clears. Everything just worked in our favour tonight and…When your team speed is better it makes killing penalties easier. There’s a lot of options.”

Another key to a strong penalty kill — something that goes without saying — is goaltending. Ethan Langenegger was more than up for the task, particularly in the third period when he stopped all 12 shots he saw.

“He’s just so calm that you forget how big the moment is with him sometimes,” Cochrane said. “He just makes the save easy. He made the one really big glove save in the third there on the backdoor play. That’s a save that if he doesn’t make, it’s a 2-2 game. Good for him. He shows up all the time. He’s a competitor and he’s just calm.”

Langenegger credited his defenders for blocking plenty of shots on Sunday.

“That obviously helps me out a lot if we’re getting in lanes and blocking shots, it limits their chances and second chance opportunities,” Langenegger said, who picked up his 20th career victory. “What I try to do is just keep a calm demeanour and not freak out too much in the net, and I think it worked out pretty well tonight.”

While the PK and goaltending was strong for the Backs, something else that impressed Cochrane was not letting the big moment get to the team, as 11 players were making their junior debut. While the team’s play did dip in the second period, he felt it was more due to all the special teams situations, which didn’t allow the team to get into any kind of rhythm 5-on-5.

“It’s easy to get up for these games, but it’s also easy to be up with your energy and then get kind of caught watching with your first game at home, with the crowd,” Cochrane said. “The moment can kind of get to you, but I don’t think it got to our guys at all. I’m really happy with the way they dug in.”

Next up for the Backs is a two game double-header on the road in Trail against the Smoke Eaters, set for Friday and Saturday night. The Smoke Eaters will be looking to bounce back from two consecutive losses on home ice to the Penticton Vees, by scores of 4-1 and 7-1.

“That’s one of the toughest buildings to win two as a road team,” Cochrane said. “Obviously looking forward to the trip. Looking forward to the challenge at hand. Trail has got a really good team this year. We know they’re well coached and they’re going to be well prepared, so we’re going to have to do the same to get our guys ready.”