Illness and a maddening tendency to discover new ways to lose games led to another frustrating weekend for the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
The flu has been going through the team with Morgan Zulinick, Bryce Gervais and Devin Muller all taking sick over the weekend. Zulinick was so sick he couldn’t even dress for Saturday’s game, a 3-1 loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs. That came a night after a 6-5 overtime loss to the Merritt Centennials where he managed three assists but the team couldn’t hang on to a lead all night.
Muller scored the first two goals of Friday’s game with Merritt but despite intermission leads of 3-1 and 5-3, Salmon Arm let points slip away as the Cents tallied twice in the third and got the overtime winner less than two minutes in.
“Our starts both nights were good; it hasn’t been an issue coming out of the gate this year,” said ’Backs head coach Colin O’Hara. “It’s just that we find ways to play differently when we have leads.”
And by “differently,” O’Hara doesn’t mean “better.” The team is still wandering from its structure when in front and it’s coming back to bite them. It’s a poor approach that has prevented the team from both putting opponents away and showing that killer instinct.
“Definitely,” agreed O’Hara, adding it was an issue even with last year’s team. “That’s exactly it; this year, it’s more our second periods and for me it’s been frustrating. We find ways to let teams back in.”
These continued trends prompted the team to hold a closed-door meeting Saturday before the Chilliwack game that allowed players to voice their concerns. It didn’t translate directly into positive results as Harvey Smyl’s team came into Sunwave Centre and grinded out a 3-1 win.
“Harvey’s been around a long time and everyone knows his clubs are going to work hard whether on the road or at home,” said O’Hara. “They’re physical on the puck and keep you to the outside.”
After Muller scored his third of the weekend just 38 seconds in, the SilverBacks were unable to put another puck past goalie Mitch Gillam. Chilliwack tied the game in later in the first, got a pair in the second and played lock-down defence after that.
With Zulinick sidelined, Gervais filled in as the first-line centre and Muller moved up to the wing on the top line. While the absence of Zulinick, who is the team’s leading scorer with five goals and 14 assists, was a detriment, Muller’s play was a positive development.
“He’s playing well right now,” said O’Hara of the Zug, Switzerland native. “He’s got a ton of confidence; this is a kid that has a high skill level. He’s a European kid so he likes to see the pretty goal… he needs to shoot the puck more.”
This week at practice, O’Hara and assistant coach Dan Cioffi addressed the issues raised during Saturday’s meeting in preparation for hosting Merritt tonight at 7 p.m. They travel to Merritt Friday for a 7:30 p.m. start and host Trail Saturday at 7 p.m.