Players battle for final slots

The Salmon Arm SilverBacks have been one of the busiest teams in the BCHL preseason and head coach Troy Mick wouldn’t have it any other way

Rivals: SilverBack Sam Wolfe helps goalie Angus Redmond clear the puck during the team’s 5-1 win over the Vernon Vipers Friday evening.

Rivals: SilverBack Sam Wolfe helps goalie Angus Redmond clear the puck during the team’s 5-1 win over the Vernon Vipers Friday evening.

With three exhibition games already behind them, the Salmon Arm SilverBacks have been one of the busiest teams in the BCHL preseason and head coach Troy Mick wouldn’t have it any other way.

Mick, back behind the bench after moving exclusively to the front office last season, prefers to make roster decisions based on game action. After a 2-1 loss to the Merritt Centennials last Thursday, a 5-1 home win over the Vernon Vipers Friday and a 7-5 loss to Vernon Saturday, he’s been able to pare the roster down to 28. That means six more cuts are needed to reach the mandated 22 for the start of the season.

“I’m not one that likes to have 45 kids hanging around when they may have other options within the league,” said Mick. “When you play games right away, that will cement the roster. We’re putting a lot of heat on our veterans; we’ve got to make some tough decisions pretty quick.”

In evaluating the new faces, Mick opted not to dress many of his returners in the three exhibition games. Forwards Evan Anderson, Alex Gillies, along with defenceman Brett Fagerheim and Mitchell Ferguson have yet to play. Also, Riley Hunt and Brendan Kennedy will be on the long-term injured list to begin the season and won’t count towards the 22-man roster.

Mick was pleased with a good showing for the home fans in the 5-1 triumph over the rival Vipers but overall, he isn’t concerned with exhibition results.

“For the coaches, it’s not about wins and losses in the preseason but about making decisions based on those games,” he said. “We had a different lineup in the first game to the second game and again in the third. Last I checked, they don’t hand out any awards in the preseason.”

One element that has proven cohesive so far is the coaching staff, which welcomed former RBC Cup champion and Vernon Vipers captain Kevin Kraus along with former NHLer Eric Godard to join associate coach Brandon West.

“We all bring something different,” noted Mick. “Last year, I had to make the tough decision to step back and get the program turned around and lo and behold we made the playoffs. It’s a 180 compared to last year; we’re bigger, faster, more skilled than this time last year.

Off the ice, Mick’s focus is not as divided as last year.

“I couldn’t ask for a better setup than what we have right now. Now, it’s a matter of getting the fans back and we’re prepared to work hard to do that.”

The ’Backs host the Penticton Vees Friday at 7 p.m. and then visit the Vees Saturday. They start the regular season at the Bauer BCHL Showcase Sept. 7 in Chilliwack versus Victoria. Their home opener is Friday, Sept. 13 against Vernon.