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SilverBacks wrap up season
Last season, the Salmon Arm SilverBacks met the Merritt Centennials in the first round of the BCHL playoffs and, if this year’s format were the same, they’d be preparing to meet the Cents again.
But just four Interior clubs make the playoffs and Salmon Arm finished seventh. For the first time in franchise history, there is no postseason to look forward to. The Gorillas dropped a 5-2 decision to Merritt, a 4-3 overtime decision to Vernon and a 10-1 drubbing from the Vipers to close the campaign.
“They were up early and kept rolling,” said head coach Colin O’Hara of Saturday’s finale. “Devin Muller scored to make it 4-1 but that was as close as we got; it was one of those nights where everything was going right for (Vernon).”
The night marked the final Junior A game for defenceman James Friedel, forward Myles McCauley and goalie Kurt Williams.
The netminder didn’t receive much support on the evening facing 51 shots but, to his credit, chose to remain between the pipes.
“I asked him after the second period (if he wanted to come out) but he said he wanted to finish on the ice,” said O’Hara. “It’s definitely not the way we wanted to go out but it’s the way it happened.”
The previous night in Vernon was the ’Backs best effort of the week. Trailing 1-0 going into the third, Salmon Arm got power-play goals from McCauley and Travis Stephens to briefly take a lead and after the Snakes rallied to take a one-goal lead into the final minute, McCauley tied the game with 21 seconds to go and goalie Williams pulled. Colton Cyr got the winner at 3:35 of the first overtime.
“We got back to some (good) habits and things we’re looking to build on for next year,” said O’Hara. “We limited (Vernon’s scoring) opportunities; it was definitely our best effort of the three games.”
March 6 in Merritt, a Stephens goal tied the game late in the first but that was the last time Salmon Arm was on equal ground. Morgan Zulinick had the other ’Backs goal.
In a disappointing season, bright spots included the play of leading scorer Morgan Zulinick, who is off to the University of Wisconsin next year, and defencemen Sean Flanagan and Shane Hanna who are both slated to return.
“Without a doubt, Morgan Zulinick with what he did this year as a 17-year-old was kind of overlooked in our league,” said O’Hara. “Shane Hanna, we had to have him from the (Bryce) Gervais trade. I figure he’ll be a #1 or #2 defenceman and a puck-moving guy on the back end and Sean Flanagan is excited to be back next year.”
Another positive was the response of some top players who had been unproductive in the season.
McCauley and Stephens each had points in four of the last five games. Devin Muller went from a fourth-line skater last year to a point-per-game player this season.
O’Hara is now preparing for May’s spring camp, scouting Junior B hockey and recruiting. He’ll attend April’s Junior B showcase event in West Kelowna and then go scout the Telus Cup midget tournament in Leduc, Alta.
Scholarships have been awarded to four SilverBacks players: Garrett Hendrickson – St. Cloud State; Stefan Nicholishen – University of Nebraska at Omaha; Kurt Williams – Manhattanville Valiants and Morgan Zulinick – University of Wisconsin.
The SilverBacks’ Booster Club hosted the 2011/2012 Awards Banquet on Sunday Night. A packed house was in attendance to congratulate the teams’ award winners and to give a proper send-off to the three 20-year old players who will be moving on with their hockey careers. Eleven awards were handed out to 12 players: MVP - Morgan Zulinick; Best Defenceman - Sean Flanagan; Academic Player of the Year - Brendan Kennedy; Rookie of the Year - Alex Gillies; Fan Favourite Award - Adam Clark and Jeff Kennedy; Most Improved Player - Alex Gillies; Most Dedicated Player - Bennett Hambrook; Unsung Hero – Bennett Hambrook; Top Scorer - Morgan Zulinick; Hit Man - Jeff Kennedy and Most Sportsmanlike - Myles McCauley.