The Salmon Arm SilverBacks coaching staff was on a fact-finding mission this past weekend and, despite a pair of exhibition losses to the Trail Smoke Eaters and Westside Warriors, they accomplished exactly what they set out to do.
Head coach Colin O’Hara and assistant coach Dan Cioffi have pared the roster down to 24 after releasing six players Sunday. Dressing predominantly rookie lineups in the two recent contests, the SilverBacks learned a great deal about what they have on their hands after dropping a 5-2 decision to the Smokies and a 3-2 game to the Warriors.
“We used the weekend as a measuring stick for the compete level and to see if guys grasp what we’re trying to teach here,” said O’Hara. “We saw some stuff out of kids that surprised us in a good way and some stuff that disappointed us too.”
The positive is, at five-on-five, the ’Backs handled the opposition just fine, surrendering only a pair of goals in the two games at even strength. The penalty kill, which O’Hara hasn’t really gone over in depth yet with the players, was another matter. Trail scored four times with the man advantage and two of Westside’s three markers were with a ’Back in the box.
The only veterans to dress against Trail were Morgan Zulinick and Bryce Gervais. The two forwards had to leave shortly after the game to attend the
Team Canada West evaluation camp in Canmore, Alta. in preparation for the World Junior A Challenge which takes place Nov. 7 to 13 in Langley.
No player scored more than once for Salmon Arm on the weekend though O’Hara was impressed with the sense of attack of his young charges. Adjusting to the size and speed of the opposition in the BCHL is all that remains.
“Guys just have to get used to time and space being taken away; it’s just quicker than they’re used to.”
Another pleasant development was the showing put in by the defencemen, most of whom are in their rookie BCHL seasons.
“Defensively, we’re going to be OK,” said O’Hara. “They’re receptive and eager to please; as a whole they’re doing a good job of execution. It’s a good start defensively.”
O’Hara inserted some more experience on Saturday with defencemen Matt Brown and Klay Kachur impressing the head coach.
Kachur scored in what was his first action with the team but Westside wound up getting the winner with 45 seconds left in the game.
Blueline newcomer Brendan Kennedy, whose identical twin brother Jeff is a forward (O’Hara insists he can now tell them apart), opened some eyes with his advanced play. The 17-year-old had been pegged for one of the lower defence pairings originally.
“Probably the biggest surprise for us has been Brendan Kennedy on the back end,” said O’Hara. “He’s probably ready for a bigger role than we had thought.”
Goaltending duties in the games were split down the middle between Adam Clarke and Aaron Brandoli with the former starting Friday and the latter starting Saturday. O’Hara says it will be more of the same this coming weekend as Salmon Arm hosts Westside Friday at 7 p.m. and closes the preseason Saturday with a 7 p.m. start in Vernon.
“We need to come to a conclusion on who’s going to be here and who is not,” said O’Hara of the goalies who are vying for the backup spot.
There will be much more veteran presence in the final two exhibitions and Saturday’s game in Vernon should see Salmon Arm ice a lineup close to what they’ll have opening night Sept. 23 in Vernon.
“We’re happy with the pieces,” said O’Hara. “Now it’s just getting those pieces to work.”