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Lots to Like in Preseason Opening Win, Despite Slow Start

Simon Tassy (13) pursues the puck in the offensive zone as Rob Christy (10) tries to slow him down during Friday pre-season action in West Kelowna (Tami Quan Photography).

Salmon Arm, B.C. — There’s no doubt the Salmon Arm Silverbacks had a slow start to Friday’s pre-season road win over the West Kelowna Warriors. The Backs’ gave up the first goal and it took them nearly half the game to find the back of the net themselves.

With a more experienced roster compared to the Warriors (due to the smaller number of players invited to main camp at just 30), the slow start was also a bit surprising. Then again, it was the first official game in quite some time for many Silverbacks players, so even though the start wasn’t of the highest quality, it was the finish that truly mattered.

“A little bit of a shaky start, but guys really meshed together well,” Silverbacks assistant coach Tanner Cochrane said following the 2-1 win, in which the final shots favoured the visitors 37-18. “Even though it was only a 2-1 game, we kept getting chances and had offensive zone time, which is exactly what we want. Any other night, probably two or three more could have gone in. As long as we’re generating those chances and playing good defence, we’ll have success.”

Cochrane said he felt the slow start may have been due to some mental gymnastics.

“Just through the neutral zone guys were trying to do too much, which in this type of setting can happen, right?” he said. “You’re trying to impress the coaching staff and show that you belong on the team and as you kind of settle into the game and remember why you’re here and get back to doing little things right and playing hockey the correct way, good things start to happen.”

Often in pre-season hockey, simple is good. On Friday, making the simple play is usually what led to offensive opportunities, especially in the second and third periods, where the Backs’ outshot the Warriors 29-14.

“I really liked how the ‘D’ walked the line, distributed the puck from the blue line and were able to find ways to get pucks through, getting our forwards second chance opportunities,” Cochrane said. “That’s something we felt as a group we struggled with last year and it was nice to see there’s a big improvement there.”

While lots of new faces stood out in a positive way, Cochrane mentioned the Brett Meerman, Connor Milburn and Josh Zinger line may have been the best all night. That line was the only one that featured zero returning players, with head coach Scott Atkinson instead electing to put a 17-year-old (Meerman) and two 18-year-olds together to see what they could do. They didn’t disappoint, as Zinger had a penalty shot and an assist, while Milburn and Meerman each had chances of their own.

On the blue line, new commit Tony Andreozzi was fabulous too, and Saskatoon native Zach Gabruch also caught the eye of the Cochrane.

Both were part of a penalty kill that was excellent, even though the lone Warriors goal came on a power play. In total, the Backs’ PK went 5-for-6, and the lone goal didn’t come off a high-danger scoring chance.

“I thought the kill was really good,” Cochrane said. “Obviously we had a 5-on-3 for an extended period of time. We blocked a lot of big shots, had good sticks, and I felt like they couldn’t really get anything to the net. That’s exactly what we’re preaching with 5-on-5 defence. We haven’t really worked on our penalty kill yet.”

The Silverbacks may not have had time yet to work on their PK, but it’s those same concepts — sticks in lanes, blocking shots, protecting the crease area — that will need to be replicated on Saturday night when the Warriors come to town for a rematch at the Shaw Centre.

“[On Saturday] we’ve got to make sure that we limit the amount of pucks that end up in front of our crease,” Cochrane said. “We know that West Kelowna is going to come out hard; they always do, especially on the road. I think for us going back home, we’ve just got to stay committed to team defence and stay disciplined with our habits.”

FRIDAY GAME NOTES

  • Goaltenders Tanner Martin and Ethan Langenegger split crease duties on Friday. While both were solid, only one could officially pick up the ‘W’, with that going to Langenegger because he was the man between the pipes when the game-winning-goal was scored — early in the third period off the stick of Jonathan Krahn.
  • As mentioned earlier in this piece, the Silverbacks had a much older roster on Friday, with seven players born in 1999 or 2000, compared to the Warriors playing just one player that age. On Saturday, the Warriors lineup will likely look very different.
  • Newcomer Simon Tassy (pictured) got to play his first game with two veterans: Trevor Adams and Noah Wakeford. The trio combined for the first Silverbacks goal of the pre-season. Cochrane on Tassy: “Tassy fits right in with [them], being a highly offensive guy. He picks his spots well and he’s got a great shot.”

Saturday’s rematch is set for 7 p.m. at the Shaw Centre. For those that can’t make it in person, the game will be streamed live on HockeyTV. For tickets, click here.