Salmon Arm, B.C. — It’s finally here — what fans have long been waiting for: the 2019-20 regular season!
While 15 of the league’s 17 teams have played at least one game and nine have played twice as of Saturday night, the Salmon Arm Silverbacks (and Chilliwack Chiefs) have been patiently waiting to make their debut. That debut is now just hours away for the Backs, and comes against a team that will be playing their third game in three days: the West Kelowna Warriors.
The Warriors lost 4-2 to the Vernon Vipers on home ice on Friday (with an empty-netter) and then came up just short again on Saturday against the Wenatchee Wild, falling 5-4.
Although it’s the very first game of the regular season for the Silverbacks, this will be the third time some version of these two teams have met in the past two 16 days, as they clashed in exhibition season on Aug. 23 and 24. The Backs took the first of those games on the road by a score of 2-1 and then fell in overtime at home the next night 6-5. Salmon Arm also lost in overtime to Vernon 5-4 and then rebounded for a 4-2 road win on Aug. 28 and 30, to finish up their pre-season with a 2-0-2 record.
1) Roster Turnover
By far the biggest storyline for the Silverbacks as a new season gets underway are the many, many roster changes. Only four forwards, one defenceman and one goaltender return from last year’s squad.
Of those returning forwards, three finished in the top-5 in team scoring in 2017-18: Nick Unruh (23G, 18A), Trevor Adams (17G, 23A) and Noah Wakeford (8G, 24A). The fourth returning forward is Logan Shaw, who notched seven points in 56 games as a rookie last year.
The lone returning defenceman is newly named captain Akito Hirose, who is coming off back-to-back seasons of 30 or more points — the only current d-man in the BCHL with that on his resume. In goal, starter Ethan Langenegger is back and looking to build on his impressive rookie year. He’s also fresh off an NCAA scholarship to Lake Superior State University, which was announced last week.
With so many new faces, the first thing that will become clear is how the Backs’ scouting and coaching staff made it their priority to recruit bigger and faster players. On the blueline, 6-foot-6 Kieran Ruscheinski, 6-foot-5 Noah Lugli, 6-foot-5 Zach Gabruch and 6-foot-4 Ben Hamilton will be particularly noticeable, simply because of their sheer size. The smooth-skating Tony Andreozzi, fiercely competitive Hunter Sansbury and sturdy Devan Newhook round out the d-core.
Up front, the most noticeable new face from the pre-season was undoubtedly Daniel Rybarik, signed out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League after the Calgary Mustangs announced they wouldn’t be operating this season. Rybarik netted three goals in three exhibition games and scored 25 even-strength goals in each of the past two AJHL seasons.
Another new forward who impressed in pre-season is Jayden Price, who comes to the northern Shuswap from the prestigious Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School in Minnesota, where he tallied 52 points in 52 games in 2018-19.
The newest face is Quebec native William Poirier, who spent the past four seasons in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, split between the Drummondville Voltigeurs and the Saint John Sea Dogs. In 2018-19, he had a career year with the Sea Dogs, posting 16 goals and 15 assists for 31 points in 62 games, while also serving as an assistant captain.
The other new forwards, most of whom will be making their Junior A debut on Sunday are (in alphabetical order): Drew Bennett, Domenic Garozzo, Holden Knights, Connor Milburn, Sam Schofield, Jarrod Semchuk, Simon Tassy, Coalson Wolford and Josh Zinger.
There are already significant injuries for both sides, despite it being opening weekend.
Garozzo, one of the Back’s biggest off-season recruits (who broke a single-season high school goal scoring record previously held by NHL all-star Johnny Gaudreau), is sidelined with an upper-body injury. Same goes for Shaw and Milburn. A lower-body injury suffered in the pre-season will also hold out Newhook for roughly a month.
As for the Warriors, captain Jake Harrison left Friday’s home opener after taking a hard hit from Viper forward Logan Cash. Also not available for the Warriors is top-line forward Parm Dhaliwal, who put up 50 points in 50 games last year. This puts more pressure on veterans like Lucas Cullen, Mason Richey and Levi Stauber to provide the scoring for West Kelowna, as they are the only forwards on the roster other than Dhaliwal who are 19 or older.
3) Will Schedule Affect Play?
As mentioned, the Backs have been waiting to get going, while the Warriors will be playing their third game in as many days. How will the Silverbacks look out of the gate? Starts for them weren’t particularly good in the pre-season, but improved from games one and two to games three and four.
Will the Warriors be fatigued, particularly as the game goes on? Only time will tell, but it can’t be easy to play your third game in under 50 hours.
If you can’t make it out to the Shaw Centre, Sunday’s game will be aired on 91.5 EZ Rock, starting roughly 15 minutes before 3 p.m. puck drop. It will also be streamed live on HockeyTV. Be sure to check out our YouTube page the tomorrow morning for all your Silverbacks highlights.