I have a blog. That’s right.
Spring Camp is coming up next week, and as I said in the season-end post, the coaching/scouting staff has some work to do in building next season’s roster.
They’ll have to find another centre, as Spencer Graboski is off to D1 Sacred Heart University in Connecticut for next season.
I caught up with the four year BCHL vet from his hometown of Quesnel on Friday afternoon.
‘Grabber’ was one of a kind. He’ll be missed.
Just some scattered thoughts that I’ve managed to string into sentences following last night’s season ending defeat:
1. After the building had cleared out, the ice was cleaned, and the team came out together in uniform for one last skate together as a group. Many players from this team will not be back next season, and that’s the dark side of Junior A hockey – a particular group of players usually only has one year together to try and accomplish something great. As much as I’d like to sit here like an NHL scribe and wax on about Esposito, Plevy, Zielonka getting one more year together, the D-core continuing to grow as a seven-man unit, and the steady goaltending of Mitch Gillam – the bedrock for everything this year – I can’t. And that’s tough. That’s junior hockey. Next man up. The Chiefs’ coaches and scouting staff have work in front of them this summer, but I have no doubt that they’ll ice a very competitive team for you again next season.
2. It was bittersweet for me to thank the guys that I had covered for two seasons – since I had arrived in Chilliwack – Mitch Gillam, Trevor Hills, Alexandre Perron-Fontaine, David Thompson, and Josh Hansen – These guys had arrived when I did. Difficult to see that group especially, play their last games in a Chief uniform.
3. For a guy with a broken ankle, Tanner Cochrane was in pretty good (painkillers) spirits on Monday night after the game. He’ll be re-evaluated, and should make a full recovery. Unfortunate to see him go down in the first period like that on Monday night. Good guy.
4. People have brought up the officiating from Monday to me. In my position, I’ve always thought it’s tacky to rip officials. Especially now that the Chiefs have lost, and the season’s over. I’ll say this though – The gentlemen in charge of officiating Monday night’s game 3 – They had a tough day at the office. No different from you or me.
5. Harvey Smyl reiterated this before game 3, and I belive it – This defeat wasn’t due to a lack of effort. You could see the desire, the try from the Chiefs in this series. It was clear. Surrey was just a little bit better. That overtime Monday night showed a lot. I think Chilliwack went into that OT hoping they would win. The Eagles? They knew they would. You could also see that. I like Surrey over whatever emerges from the Island in the Coastal Final. Congratulations, and hats off to them on a great series. That’s a good team over there.
6. I still can’t believe the league all thought that this playoff format on the Coastal side would be a good idea, with the Interior teams just sitting back and clipping their toenails for eight days waiting for the conference final to get started. In fact, it’s so popular, that they’re changing it again for next season with Wenatchee entering the fray in the Mainland Division! Yay! Continuity and competitive balance for everyone!
(Chilliwack may not have been worn out physically due to this nutty format, but they were tired mentally. It cost them in game one, and they never really recovered. They don’t get enough credit for winning Game 5 of that Prince George series after spending all night on a bus. That was incredible. This format, though. What a joke. Ask me how I really feel.)
7. This concludes my first season with a blog to worry about. Thank you to everyone who reads this thing – It’s a tremendous feeling to know that I don’t write it for my health. Thank you to everyone who tuned in during the year on 89.5 The Hawk to hear Cam and myself – We all know you listen intently as well. Soupy gets an inordinate amount of in-game texts. Thank you to the office staff with the Chiefs – Glen Ringdal, Barry Douglas, Andrea Laycock, JB, Moray Keith, Jim Bond, the Hasselmans – for allowing and trusting me to do what I do – the best part of my gig here in Chilliwack.
8. Thank you to the fans – There are a lot of you. More on average, in fact, than any team in the BCHL. You should be proud of that, and your contributions make my job feel just a little bit more significant.
9. Thank you again to Cam Campbell. The only colour man I need in this City. He provides a ton of colour, too. On the mic and off. One of a kind.
10. Thank you to the coaching staff, and the trainers – Harvey Smyl, Doug Ast, Brandon Fleenor, Rob Bruni, Paul Nicholls, Cam Janzen, Jason Denham, Colten Mawhinney – During the season, I see these eight more than I do my own family. Thank you fellas for making me feel like a part of the family from day one. It’s highly unlikely I could find a better crew somewhere else.
11. Special thanks to Harvey, Doug, and Brandon – for answering re-worded versions of the same questions before and after every game. You could all go John Tortorella on me, and you never do. Makes my job so easy.
12. To the players – I got to all of you last night, but I’ll say it again – Calling your games is fun because you guys make it that way. What a blast. Thank you.
There will be plenty of news throughout the summer surrounding the team, i’m sure. I’ll do my best to keep you updated as the days pass.
Until then, thanks for staying with me, and enjoy the off-season.
Game Three – Prospera Centre – 7pm – 89.5 The Hawk – Eagles Lead Series 2-0
Title of this post notwithstanding, I hope it’s not the last one for this group. They can point to at least four periods in the first two games and definitively say that they’ve been the better team. Chilliwack has outshot Surrey in each of the first two games. If you eliminate the odd-man rushes they’ve squandered, this series is pretty dead even.
It should be tied at 1.
But it’s not.
1. Chilliwack could stand to use a little early game momentum. They’ve surrendered the game’s first goal the last four times out, winning just one of those games – last week’s game 5 against Prince George. The Chiefs have all the motivation in the world to come out strong in this one now that it’s shifted back home. As they can attest, a closeout game is the hardest to win, especially on the road. It will benefit the Chiefs to give the Eagles that kind of doubt early.
2. Mentioned this on Saturday night, but I’ll bring it up again – too many odd-man rushes for the Eagles in this series. Give Surrey credit, as their execution with those chances has been terrific, but the Chiefs can’t allow that to continue.
3. Coming into the series, I brought up players like Drew Best, Nic Pierog, Trevor Cameron, Tanner Burns, Tanner Cochrane, Brodyn Nielsen – which of that group can make the difference tonight? Trevor Hills can be one of those players, as well. Hats off to Trevor Cameron, but nobody could have seen his game 2 hat-trick coming. A Chief will have to have one of those nights (or something similar) for this series to be extended.
4. (Cliche alert!) Chilliwack’s best guys have to be their best guys. Goaltender on out. They’ve looked the better team for stretches in this series. Sixty minutes of being the better team will go a long way towards getting people around here to think about a comeback.
I hope not.
Eagles 5, Chiefs 4 (Eagles lead series 2-0) Game 3 Monday night at Prospera Centre
Tough one Saturday night for the Chilliwack Chiefs. The effort was there, and there were things to like – but that’s not what the name of the game is in March.
Here’s what stood out:
1. The atmosphere at the South Surrey Arena was awesome. Really enjoyed…just…being there on Saturday night. Felt like a playoff game. Strong turnout from the Chiefs fans, as the fan bus was sold out in a day. They were loud, too. Really made a difference at times. A nod to them.
2. Chilliwack finally solving Michael Santaguida after being shut out for four periods. Santaguida wasn’t going to be perfect forever, but I started to think for a little bit there. Santaguida is also one of the only goaltenders I’ve seen to make a save with the glove standing up, drop the puck at his feet, and play it outside the blueline from a standstill. Unique.
3. So unique, it was Santaguida’s puckhandling gaffe that allowed Ryan Donohoe to score the first Chilliwack goal of the series. I didn’t actually see Donohoe’s backhander cross the line, as he stuffed it between the left post and the goaltender. Had to go on the reaction of the Chiefs fans on that side to know it was in. Nod to them again.
4. The Eagles’ Trevor Cameron, who pretty much had the game of his life with a hat-trick. That’s the playoffs. Nod to him. It doesn’t have to be Shaw/Tambellini/Hannoun all the time. That’s why the Eagles are so dangerous, and such a good club.
5. One too many odd-man rushes given up by the Chiefs in this game. The first one cost the Chiefs the opening goal on a bad line-change. The 5th goal was a killer with five minutes left – Chilliwack had opened things up pressing for the tie. David Thompson’s pinch from the left point wasn’t successful, and Adam Tambellini took off the other way, feeding Michael Stenerson for the goal. Ill-timed pinches and line changes hurt the Chiefs in the first period of game one, and it stung them again. That’s very frustrating when it happens in October, let alone late March. Game of inches, hockey is. It doesn’t take much.
6. Moments before the 5-3 goal, Luke Esposito just missed on a chance in front. Looked like the puck hit both the crossbar and the post, and was waved off very quickly. Looked like it was in from my angle. Inches.
7. 6 on 4 power play late, down a goal, Esposito wins a faceoff cleanly – Perron-Fontaine creeping in towards the circle, and the puck shot right past him out to centre. The Chiefs would not threaten again. Inches.
8. No fights, but plenty of scrums, wrestling matches, cross-penalty box chirping, fans getting into it with players and coaches – You know, a Chilliwack-Surrey playoff game. What a blast.
There have been stretches where the Chiefs have looked like the better team in this series, no question about it. The desire to win is clearly there, as anybody at the South Surrey Arena on Saturday night can attest.
Now – the right way to look at this from a Chilliwack standpoint is this: Surrey did what they were supposed to do in the first two games at home. The Chiefs have to do the same upon the series’ return to ‘The Hood’ on Monday night, and then again on Tuesday to give themselves a chance in game 5 – where anything can happen.
Otherwise, it’s an offseason.
Maybe an offseason talking about inches.
This post could be one sentence long. It really could. Chilliwack wasn’t ready to play in the first period, and it cost them. Simple as that.
I’ll give you some more, though.
It’s apparent that the Eagles are a different beast than the Prince George Spruce Kings. There’s far more skill (and more importantly, finish) up front for this talented Surrey group. That group took it to Chilliwack in the opening minutes, scoring 46 seconds in as Brady Shaw converted on a 2 on 1 from Michael Stenerson. It marked the third straight game that the Chiefs had given up a goal in the first two shifts. A disturbing trend if there ever was one.
Chilliwack topped themselves by allowing a goal shortly after that. Demico Hannoun’s shot was well placed to beat Gillam, but the bigger story was the zone entry afforded the Eagles throughout the first period of the game – it was far too easy.
After Trevor Cameron made it 3-0, the Chiefs got a late period power play, and despite not scoring, appeared to generate some momentum.
All that momentum went to die when four Chiefs were caught in the neutral zone, leading to a 3 on 1 where Brady Shaw made no mistake.
Chilliwack did get 35 shots on Michael Santaguida, but the Surrey ‘tender was square to the shooter almost all night long. Phil Zielonka just missed on an opportunity in the third, and there were a few goalmouth scrambles that didn’t bounce the Chiefs way, but that was about it.
There were a few questionable calls from the zebras, but Chilliwack didn’t do themselves too many favours with penalties born out of frustration. A positive – they killed off all eight powerplays they faced. Surrey really didn’t generate much with the man advantage tonight.
Much like the 10-1 win over PG in game 2, this is just one game. Chilliwack knows their start simply wasn’t good enough on Friday night, and they will be better at the SSA on Saturday evening.
Game One: Chilliwack Chiefs At Surrey Eagles
South Surrey Arena, 6:45 pregame, 7:15pm faceoff on 89.5 The Hawk
- I opened the preview of the last series talking about the supposed ‘lack’ of advantage the higher seed had in the best of five format. The Chiefs are on the other side of that now, and while the goal is to win both at the SSA, all they have to do is take one to give themselves home ice advantage beginning Monday night at Prospera Centre.
- The Chiefs have won in this building twice this season, including a 4-3 overtime triumph on September 30th, which was also Josh Halpenny’s first career BCHL victory. Luke Esposito scored the winner that night. There was also a 2-1 victory on the 16th of November. Surrey did have the upper hand over the second half of the season, winning three of four to close out the regular season series.
- As you might expect, special teams will be huge in this series. There’s plenty of skill on the ice for both sides – Zielonka, Plevy, Esposito, Hansen, Tibbet, Graboski, Donohoe, Hills, Tambellini, Hannoun, Shaw, Stenerson, Klimek – the team who is more disciplined throughout will win this series. Given the history between these two franchises, you can bet the officials will let them play – If you’re going to take a penalty, make it a smart one – The Chiefs enter the matchup with the league’s best powerplay percentage in the postseason at 30.4%, after going 7 for 23 in the Prince George series. Surrey connected at a 25% clip in their four game victory over the Langley Rivermen.
- I’ve talked about the depth on the blueline for Chilliwack all season – that will be put to the test against the Eagles in this series. All seven blueliners have gotten time in the postseason. Ben Masella has been playing his best hockey to this point. David Thompson and Shay Laurent will have their hands full as the top pairing against Tambellini and Shaw. Alex Perron-Fontaine, Keifer McNaughton, Cooper Rush, Eric Roberts – the Chiefs will need everybody in this one, as the Eagles do have a lot of depth up front.
- Those ‘depth’ forwards could make a difference for Surrey in the series. For everything that Shaw, Hannoun, and Tambellini have done – It’s Colton Mackie, Drew Best, and Brett Mulcahy that have given the Chiefs troubles at times. I’m interested to see which group of foot soldiers wins the battle in this series. Tanner Cochrane, Brodyn Nielsen, Tanner Burns, and Jaret Babych will have to be at their best.
- The Gillam/Michael Santaguida matchup in goal will be terrific. Both have proven they can win games by themselves.
Too close to call, this series. I’ll say Chiefs In Five because I certainly believe they can win, but the Eagles were the best team over the last half of the season.
Surrey has a slight edge up front. The Chiefs are stronger on the back-end. The goaltending matchup is even. Special teams are strong on both sides.
Who’s ready for another five-game-in-six-day stretch?
That was a fun six days. In those six days, there were five games played. This two week break before the start of the Surrey series is going to be just what the doctor ord….
The next round starts in less than two DAYS? We’re going to Surrey on Friday? Really?
Here’s some leftovers:
1. Forget the players and coaches for two seconds. You all know by now about my broadcast partner Cam Campbell. High energy, great personality, very passionate about the game. I’m fortunate to work with him every night, as you are all to listen to him.
I thought his energy after sleeping on a bus for eight hours, and then working all day before coming to the rink for Game 5 was terrific. In fact, maybe he was a little TOO tuned up. I tweeted after the first period that he would burst into flames after this one ended win or lose. I’m happy to report that he did not burst into flames. I was worried for awhile there, though.
2. Prince George scored on their first shot again, cashing in on a 2 on 1 after Shay Laurent got tangled up with one of the officials along the boards. I’m just glad for the sake of everyone involved that that play happened in the game’s opening minute, and not the final minute. What an unfortunate break early.
3. Chilliwack had 58 minutes to recover from that. They did. Started with a good net drive by Luke Esposito. Josh Hansen went to the net and buried the rebound. Looked a lot like Mathieu Tibbet’s 3-1 goal in the third after Spencer Graboski had danced around Kevin Guiltinan to get the puck on goal initially. I’ll bet that felt good for Tibbet, popping in a rebound while Guiltinan, the player who gave him a tough time earlier this year, could only watch.
4. Phil Zielonka just scores goals, bro. Seven in the series. Great cross-seam look from Graboski to set him up on the power play as well.
5. The sequence before that power play goal: David Thompson took a bad penalty, getting away with two cross-checks on Chad Staley down low before being whistled for a third one. It was a bad penalty, and he probably knew it. Upon stepping out of the penalty box, he called for the puck, and with urgency, took it across the blueline and towards the net. He was hauled down – drawing the power play that yielded the Chiefs a goal and a lead they would not relinquish.
6. Prince George didn’t quit in the third after Austin Plevy made it 4-1. They battled ’till the end. Give that team and staff credit for a hard-fought series.
7. In the 12 hours between getting off the bus in the morning, and the puck drop on Wednesday night, I thought to myself -
It can’t end like this for this team. Not now.
I had the sense that there was more in store for this group. I wasn’t ready to see players like Thompson, Perron-Fontaine, Hills, Gillam, Hansen – players that arrived in Chilliwack the same time I did for the new incarnation of the franchise – play their last game in a Chiefs uniform. I wasn’t ready to see that.
8. One thing I did learn about very quickly upon arriving in Chilliwack back in September of 2011 – the rivalry with the Surrey Eagles. It is an absolute honour to play a very small role in a Chiefs-Eagles playoff series, which will start this Friday night at the South Surrey Arena.
Can we petition the League to change it from a best of five series to a best of seven? If they did, would the league schedule seven games in eight days just for good measure? Five high intensity playoff games in six days between teams a nine hour drive apart was an incredible idea, I’m sure they’d go for that one too, right?
A nod to this Chiefs team for refusing to die Wednesday night. I don’t know how long this run will last, but it just wasn’t their time to do so in this series. They were better.
The Eagles will be an absolute monster.
I’m going to bed. See ya Friday.