Despite the cold weather outside, it was heating up in the Shaw Centre last Friday evening as the Silverbacks battled the visiting Vipers.
Vernon flipped the game on its head in the final five minutes, coming back from two down, and scored four unanswered goals to win the game 7-5, stunning the Silverbacks and 990 fans in attendance.
“We didn’t compete in the last five minutes, it’s as simple as that,” said Brandon West, the Silverbacks’ head coach.
’Backs captain Bryden Marsh opened the scoring for the home team, 48 seconds into the contest, snapping a shot from the high slot past Vernon’s starting goaltender, Danny Todosychuk, for his sixth goal of the season.
Returning to Salmon Arm was Colton McCarthy, the Vipers latest signing and product of Salmon Arm Minor Hockey, who scored the third goal of the game for the snakes.
The Silverbacks latest signing, Joshua Laframboise, answered back soon after scoring his first goal for the gorillas, knotting up the game at three before heading into the third.
Taro Hirose and Ross Heidt gave the Silverbacks a two-goal lead in the opening four minutes of the final frame, forcing the Vipers to pull Todosychuk in favour of Jarrod Schammerhorn.
“I thought we executed the game plan for the first 55 minutes, it was a real chess match until those final moments,” said West.
Vernon’s Mitch Meek scored two goals just under two minutes apart from each other to tie the game at five a piece.
“I told the guys to stay focused, and stay in the moment,” West said.
With two and a half minutes remaining in the game, Vernon found the go-ahead goal and then put the game on ice scoring an empty net goal in the final minute. However, through the collapse came a moment of inspiration.
Carson Bolduc blocked a shot while on the penalty kill and appeared to be in so much distress, he could not make his way to the players bench, essentially giving the Vipers a short five-on-three man advantage.
In a strong fit of character, Blanchard intercepted a pass, dumped the puck down the ice and dragged Bolduc by the jersey on to the bench, allowing two fresh players to come on and finish the kill.
West said he had never seen anything like that before.
“It was a really inspiring moment, even when things may not be going our way we will stick together as a team.”
West said the factors that led to the collapse were addressed and put into action in Saturday’s game in Merritt.
“We knew we had to respond and we did the things that make us successful,” said West.
“Offensively, we were very tough to handle, and we also defended really well, which I think gave us the confidence to attack.”
The Silverbacks scored three goals in the opening frame courtesy of Colton Thibault, Joshua Laframboise and Thomas Plese.
Laframboise has two goals in his last two games, and looks to be establishing his role in the Silverbacks roster as an offensive provider.
“Our coaching staff have given Joshua more minutes, and he has taken full advantage,” West said.
Logan Mick scored the lone goal in the middle frame giving the ’Backs a four goal cushion heading into the final 20 minutes.
Merritt answered back with two goals of their own in the third cutting the Silverbacks’ lead to two before Josh Blanchard put the game out of reach, ending in a 5-2 Salmon Arm victory.
West said fans only want to talk about the collapse to Vernon, but they should instead focus on the result in Merritt on Saturday night.
“Most importantly, now we have to string together some wins and move forward.”
Before the season started, West praised the level of character in the locker room and emphasized the importance that the character would provide for the ’Backs to be successful this season. This past weekend West named two key examples of said character, resulting from one play.
Blanchard’s incredible play to haul the injured Bolduc off the ice was talked about in great length after the game.
The following day, Bolduc travelled with the team to Merritt and was a game time decision.
“Carson couldn’t even walk off the bus, but he stuck in there and played an important part of the game,” West said.
The acts of character displayed by Blanchard and Bolduc this past weekend will have to become more prevalent in the Silverbacks second half of the season if they want to have a shot at post-season hockey.
“We don’t want to leave the end of the year to a coin toss; we want to be able to make the playoffs comfortably,” said West.
On a more positive note, Silverbacks rookie Taro Hirose was named to the Team Canada West selection camp roster for the 2014 World Junior A Challenge. Hirose is one of 25 players from across the western provinces to be invited to the camp, which runs from Dec. 7-9, in his home town of Calgary.
“It’s a tremendous honour. Taro is a player who earns his success every night, and really earned this chance to play for Canada,”said West.
West believes Hirose’s chances of making the squad are very high.
“He is a player that you fall in love with coaching,” West said.
The Silverbacks next game is in West Kelowna next Friday. They return home on Saturday to complete the home-and-home series.