3 Thoughts: Centennials @ Warriors Game #3

The West Kelowna Warriors rebounded in a big way on Saturday night at Royal LePage Place, getting back into the win column with a 3-1 victory over the Merritt Centennials.

WARRIORS WEBSITE RECAP

RYLAN FERSTER PRE GAME

JOE MARTIN PRE GAME 

NATHAN REILLY

Game photo from Saturday night provided by Wayne Moore of Castanet:

3 THOUGHTS:

1) THE GOAL

First off, I’d like to thank Matt Kowalski for making me Twitter famous for the night after sending out a tweet of his ridiculous lacrosse-style goal. In all seriousness, it’s likely the goal of the year in the BCHL this season as he tucked the puck up and over the shoulder of Vincent Duplessis in the Merritt goal and stunned the 906 fans in attendance at RLP leaving the Warriors faithful oh-ing and ah-ing for a minute and three seconds until Jared Marino added a second goal for West Kelowna and gave the fans something more to cheer about. It’s undoubtably the nicest goal I’ve seen live and having a chance to call it was something special. But instead of just typing about it, and seeing the fantastic visual evidence provided by Wayne Moore, here’s a look at what should be bound to receive some national attention this upcoming week:

2) THE BOUNCE BACK

Lost in the hoopla of Kowalski’s goal was the fact that the Warriors came to play on Saturday night and forgot all about their home opening performance disappointment one week ago. There was a bit of a sense of urgency and pep in the Warriors game on Saturday and that came to a head when Kowalski did what he did. Marino’s goal shortly after was another wave of pressure and a 2nd period goal from Chase Stevenson was all the scoring the Warriors needed. Cole Demers was outstanding in the crease, making 31 saves in his first start of the 2017/18 season and looked cool and calm with every save he made. Putting the trio of Chase Dubois, Parm Dhaliwal and Stevenson seemed to rejuvenate that line as all three looked in-sync and were tough to handle. Every line was rolling for the Warriors with each having good looks for offensive chances and one thing was noticeable from everyone in white: compete. Something that lacked in last Saturday’s game was made up for on Saturday and the Warriors outcompeted their opponent and came away with the victory.

3) MY TAKEAWAYS 

My takeaways from the Warriors 3-1 victory over the Centennials on Saturday night is that there were a lot of things done right from West Kelowna who got back to a way of Warriors hockey we are accustomed to seeing. Working hard, competing on every shift and playing a speedy game that was tough for Merritt to contend with. Full credit to Cents netminder Vincent Duplessis who had himself a night. 33 saves and absolutely robbed a couple of sure goals that could’ve made the score much worse than the eventual 3-1 final. Cole Demers matched him save-for-save and bettered him with just allowing one goal, a strange bouncing puck that ruined the shutout bid for the 18-year-old crease keeper. It was an effort the Warriors needed after a long week of practice and made all the time worth while with a solid victory on home ice, their first win at RLP in the 2017/18 regular season.

The Warriors, like the other 16 teams in the BCHL, are set to head to Chilliwack for the Bauer BCHL Showcase taking place at Prospera Centre. The Tribe matchup against the Coquitlam Express Wednesday night before concluding their Showcase schedule on Thursday evening against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Wednesday night’s contest is slated for a 7:30 PM puck drop with special guest on the broadcast Warriors chaplain Pastor Don Richmond and myself setting the table at 7:15 PM on the Warriors Internet Network and HockeyTV.com. As a note for anyone who will be watching the game on pay-per-view, the Warriors are designated as the road team on Wednesday night so click the “AWAY AUDIO” feed in the HockeyTV player to catch Don and myself with the call.

Advertisements

3 Keys: Centennials @ Warriors Game #3

 vs. 

The West Kelowna Warriors look to rebound and get back in the win column when they host the Merritt Centennials for the first time this season on Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.

WATCH

LISTEN

Warriors vs. Centennials 2016/17:

Tuesday, September 27th @ Royal LePage Place (5-1 Centennials) (BOXSCORE)

Friday, December 9th @ Royal LePage Place (3-2 Warriors/OT) (BOXSCORE)

Saturday, December 10th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (4-2 Warriors) (BOXSCORE)

Friday, January 6th @ Royal LePage Place (4-1 Warriors) (BOXSCORE)

Saturday, January 7th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (4-1 Warriors) (BOXSCORE)

Friday, February 6th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (6-2 Centennials) (BOXSCORE)

Friday, February 24th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (8-3 Centennials) (BOXSCORE)

Warriors vs. Centennials 2017/18 Schedule:

Saturday, September 16th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

Sunday, October 29th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (2:00 PM)

Friday, November 24th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

Friday, December 1st @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)

Saturday, February 3rd @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

Friday, February 23rd @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)

3 KEYS:

1) MOVING ON

It was a night of hockey to forget for the Warriors one week ago as they fell by a 4-0 score in their home opener against the Trail Smoke Eaters at RLP in front of 1,266 fans on First Responders Appreciation Night. The hockey gods weren’t very appreciative of the Warriors on that night, with West Kelowna only firing 11 shots on goal in the final two periods of play in what was, frankly, one of the worst games I’ve seen a Warriors team play. But The Tribe can forget all about that if they park that effort from last week and come out in search of a victory. Warriors bench boss Rylan Ferster was quoted in the Kelowna Capital News with Warren Henderson as saying it was an “embarrassing” effort on September 9th and I think most would agree with that statement. It’s something that is rarely seen is a Rylan Ferster coached team come out looking as flat as they did on Saturday and I can imagine that one week later, we will see a completely different Warriors team. With only one game on the schedule for the weekend, the Warriors can empty the tank and give it their all on order to get back in the win column and try to put a ‘W’ on the board in front of their home fans. So the message, which I’m sure it has been all week long, is remember the feeling from last Saturday and make it something you never want to feel again. You always have to hate to lose more than you like to win. The Warriors have to park last week’s game and come out with a fresh mindset tonight. The good news of this is that the season is still in it’s very early stages and there’s plenty of time for the Warriors to round their game into form, something that obviously will take time to do.

2) SPECIAL TEAMS

Another key that can be a key every night but could have added significance on this occasion as the Warriors, who struggled with this last season, had all week to practice and prep their special teams and will need to clean that area of their game up as the season rolls along. Both the Warriors and Cents have struggled on the power play with West-K 2/11 in their first two games (but haven’t had a pretty power play by all means) while Merritt has really had problems up a man as they are 0/13 through 3 games on the PP, including an 0/7 last night against the Vernon Vipers. Both teams will be looking to turn around not just their man powers but also when they are down a man. West Kelowna has given up three goals on ten attempts when on the penalty kill and again was a struggle for them a season ago, a but of a shock when it comes to how good this team has been in the past when on the PK and with the defensive players that the Warriors possess. Merritt has allowed four goals on thirteen attempts so far this season and are in the top 5 in the early going of the season in regards of penalty minutes while sitting at 42.

3) CAN’T STOP WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE

Something I thought the Smoke Eaters (and looking at some video the Centennials) do very well is getting to the front of the goal and creating havoc for the opposing netminder. The Warriors, in my opinion, could use some of that muscle to get in front of Jacob Berger and make his life difficult to track pucks. In the end of it all, you can’t stop what you can’t see and the Warriors could look to set up a permanent office at the top of the crease of the 20-year-old and block his sight of finding the little black rubber biscuit. Big bodies like Jared Marino, Bennett Norlin and Willie Reim along with the gritty play of Cavin Tilsley can work their way to front of the net and make life harder on Berger. The Warriors have had plenty of success last season when they got to Berger and will look to do that again to try and pick up their second victory of the season. Traffic at the front of the net is never a bad plan and for a team that in the past has had plenty of success with it, why not give it a try and work on getting some offense back after being shutout one week ago.

The Warriors and Centennials are slated to drop the puck at 7 PM. As always, I will have the call beginning at 6:45 PM with the pre-game show on the Warriors Internet Network and www.hockeytv.com.

 

3 Thoughts: Smoke Eaters @ Warriors Game #2

The West Kelowna Warriors didn’t give their crowd of 1,226 much to cheer about on Saturday night as they were shutout by a 4-0 score to the Trail Smoke Eaters in their home opener at Royal LePage Place.

WARRIORS WEBSITE RECAP

RYLAN FERSTER PRE GAME

CAM KEITH PRE GAME

MATT KOWALSKI

Game photo tonight courtesy of Wayne Moore of Castanet:

3 THOUGHTS:

1) HOME OPENING DUD

I don’t really know if there is a way to sugarcoat or mince words about this one tonight other than saying the Warriors were not very good at all in their home opener on Saturday night. RLP was packed thanks to the additions of a new VIP section and beverage servers and created a fantastic atmosphere pre game that all culminated with the Warriors honouring the brave men and women battling the BC Wildfires with their First Responders Appreciation Night. After that, there wasn’t a whole lot of cheering going on from the Warriors faithful. From top to bottom, the Warriors just looked flat on a night that was filled with plenty of excitement prior to puck drop. I don’t think I’ve ever really seen anything like it, to be honest, as the Warriors were just did not look like themselves on this night. A 10-shot opening period and a 1-0 Trail lead after one frame wasn’t anything out of the ordinary and certainly was a feat the Warriors could overcome. The problem was that the Warriors only had 11 shots in the next 40 minutes and I think maybe one or two of them were really trying for Trail netminder Brandon Wells, who had a pretty easy night in the crease for the Smoke Eaters.

“I’ve coached a long time, and there are times you look at your team and there’s things you like and things you don’t like, but there wasn’t very much to like tonight” Warriors bench boss Rylan Ferster was quoted as saying to local Castanet reporter Wayne Moore after the game and there’s not much arguing with the coach on that point. There wasn’t a whole lot of things the Warriors did right on this night and I don’t think it’s unfair to say, especially on a night with so many fans in the stands and the amount of excitement for the evening, the game was a bit of a letdown from the home side. I don’t know if the late night of travel and getting home around the 3 AM mark effected these guys tonight but things looked sluggish and miscommunicated from the Warriors side and an unusual off-night for this team when you can’t really find any bright spots in the game.

2) THE VISITORS CAME TO WORK

Obviously because this is a Warriors blog, we’re going to talk a lot about what the Warriors didn’t do but credit also has to be given out to the Smoke Eaters on this night, who came to play right from the second the puck dropped. Ross Armour and Kale Howarth looked like completely different players than they did a night ago in Trail and, along with linemate Andre Ghantous, singlehandedly were able to outscore the Warriors on their way to victory. I really liked the play of 19-year-old forward Spencer McLean as well in this one, a smaller forward who has great speed and not afraid to battle in the corners for loose pucks while Troy Ring and Jeremy Lucchini again held down the fort on the back end before Brandon Wells was the final wall against offense tonight and didn’t really have to face much, outside of a big save in the first period on a Max Bulawka breakaway, on the very first shift of his BCHL career. Smokies head coach Cam Keith told me before the game, I’m paraphrasing when I say this, but things don’t need to be sexy and they couldn’t get caught in a way they did a night before when you’re trying to spruce things up in front of the home crowd. I thought the Smoke Eaters came out and executed their gameplan well and were the much better team on this night and deserve to go home with two points in their back pocket.

3) MY TAKEAWAYS 

My takeaways from the Warriors disappointing 4-0 shutout loss to the Trail Smoke Eaters on Saturday night in their home opener is that when a 16-year-old playing his first game of Junior hockey is one of, if not the, best player on the ice for your squad, the night was not much of a success. I liked the way Max Bulawka looked and talking with assistant coach Shae Naka after the game, he agreed saying he worked hard all night long, one of the few players on the Warriors who did so. I really don’t have an answer for what took place on Saturday night but we all hope it was one of those things that is good to get out of the way early in the season and the only way is up from a performance like that one. I don’t mean to rag on the team too much but it is difficult to find positives on this particular night and hopefully this is a good learning test for this team and can come back after a week of practice and use this night as motivation to try and defeat the Merritt Centennials who roll in West Kelowna next Saturday night.

3 Thoughts From Game #1/3 Keys For Game #2 vs. Trail

The West Kelowna Warriors picked up their first victory of the season in a hard-fought 4-3 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Friday night at Cominco Arena.

WARRIORS WEBSITE RECAP

RYLAN FERSTER PRE GAME

CAM KEITH PRE GAME

MAX FRENCH

JARED MARINO

Game photos from last night taken by the always awesome Randy Emery who works with the Smoke Eaters:

3 THOUGHTS:
1) MATTY WITH THE HATTY

It’s not often that on opening night you find a hat trick, it’s even rarer to get TWO in the same night but that’s what happened on the opening night of the BC Hockey League on Friday (but we will only focus on one). Yes, Will Calverley tallied a hat trick for Chilliwack in Prince George but Matt Kowalski was impressive to watch in his Warriors debut after the club acquired him in the offseason from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Although it wasn’t the prettiest of hat tricks, three goals is still a feat no matter how you do it and Kowalski was one of, if not the strongest, reasons why the Warriors came away victorious on Friday. Trail netminder Brandon Wells helped out Kowalski on the first goal, banking it off of the forward’s right thigh and into the back of the net but the 18-year-old forward showed his skill in his final two goals of the night. He used his great speed to push the puck into open ice with his second goal and carry into the Trail zone and wire a wrist shot past Wells and his blocker before capping off the “hatty” with a low pad shot from the bottom of the right face-off circle and sneaking the puck past Wells for his third of the night. An impressive debut for the Warriors offseason add and certainly displaying what he is capable of given a top six forward role.

2) STAYING OUT OF TROUBLE

Special teams was a problem for the Warriors in the 2016/17 season with ranking in the bottom five of the BCHL in both power play and penalty kill percentage. West Kelowna helped their power play percentile on Friday while going 2/6 (33.3%) while being up a man but the penalty kill, just as it did in the final preseason game against the Silverbacks, struggled going 2/4 on the night. The power play was a bit of a funny one as well, not actually getting a shot on goal in their first three attempts but getting a goal (off the strange bounce off of Kowalski’s thigh). The Warriors dodged a couple of bullets on this night when it came to giving up opportunities and had to rely on their 20-year-old netminder to help them out. But as a good goaltender does, Amundrud was there to make the necessary saves and keep his team in the game. For the most part, I thought the game was pretty evenly played but  the Warriors are going to want to stay out of penalty trouble, as does any team, if they want to continue their winning ways.

3) MY TAKEAWAYS

My takeaways from the Warriors 4-3 victory over the Trail Smoke Eaters on Friday night are that the team did a good job of shutting down the offensive catalysts of the Smokies in the likes of Ross Armour and Kale Howarth and slugged their way to an impressive road victory. There wasn’t anything really fancy that stood out on this night (except of course the hat trick) but road wins never exactly are a Picasso. The Warriors did exactly what they needed to do to earn the victory in Cominco on Friday, shut down the top line of the Smokies, handle the first ten minutes and not allow the crowd and Trail to dictate the pace and play your game. All three I thought the Warriors did well on this night and deservingly come away with the victory and look to make it back-to-back on Saturday night at RLP on First Responders Appreciation Night.

There will be a courtyard party outside of RLP starting at 4 PM on Saturday with ball hockey, beverage tents, music and much more so it is encouraged that fans get to the rink early to partake on the festivities. If you can’t make it to the rink on Saturday, I’ll have the call as always on the Warriors Internet Network and HockeyTV.com.

 vs. 

The West Kelowna Warriors look to make it back-to-back victories to open the 2017/18 season when they open up their home schedule on First Responders Appreciation Night on Saturday night against the Trail Smoke Eaters.

WATCH

LISTEN

3 KEYS:
1) THE FIRST 10 MINUTES (IN A DIFFERENT WAY)

Yesterday I talked about the importance to shut down the first 10 minutes while             playing on the road and the Warriors did that and even scored a goal in the opening 10 minutes to boot. Tonight will be a different story as the Warriors will need to harness the energy from what is expected (and always is but more so than usual) to be a ruckus crowd at Royal LePage Place for First Responders Appreciation Night. West Kelowna will need to get the crowd on their side early, possibly with a couple of big hits or maybe even a goal. To get the fans into it and make life hard on the Smokies. I thought the Warriors did a great job in shutting down that part of the game from Trail one night ago in Cominco Arena and will need to up the ante here tonight when playing in front of the home crowd. Playing in RLP is such an advantage when you’ve got the Warrior fans behind you and Kris Platzer blasting music from the media booth to keep the energy up that the Warriors will have to harness that and use it to their advantage to try and gain an early edge on the Smokies, who you know will be looking to come out and avenge Friday night’s loss at home.

2) WAVES OF PRESSURE

This one can go with the first ten minutes but will be key to sustain waves of pressure, shift after shift, and not allow Trail to get into a groove and take over the game with their pace. Om Friday night, the Warriors got their waves of pressure with the Dubois-Dhaliwal-Kowalski trio followed by the Campese-Murphy-Stevenson line and things rolled smoothly. This factor will be even more paramount when on home ice to try and keep the energy in the building alive and electric. The line of Marino-Tilsley-Norlin was effective on Friday and will need to show more of their grittiness and willing to cycle the puck to extend shifts and generate offense as they did a bit in glimpses on Friday night. The Warriors have always had dangerous top lines to bring the initial pressure but sometimes would fall short of having another line or two to have after that to keep the pressure on high heat. This year’s squad is configured in that way and will need to do more of the same on Saturday night to keep the winning feeling going through out the whole weekend.

3) H0WARTH & ARM0UR

That was my very lame attempt at saying the Warriors need to shut down Kale Howarth and Ross Armour by putting zeros where O’s would usually go in their names. Okay, at least I thought that was a clever line to come up with a 1:30 AM on a trip back from Trail. Regardless of whether my lame attempt made you laugh or stop reading this blog, the point remains the same, the Warriors need to shut down the offensive catalysts that are Kale Howarth and Ross Armour. The way the Warriors did that on Friday was excellent, and an all-out effort from the defense all the way to the back-checking forwards. Howarth is a big body who loves to drive wide to the outside and go to the goal, something the Warriors denied on Friday and will need to again on Saturday as I’m sure they will be looking to breakout and get some offense for their team. Armour also isn’t afraid to push the middle of the ice and the Bemidji State commit really didn’t factor much into Friday’s outcome, something West Kelowna would take over and over again.

There will be a courtyard party outside of RLP starting at 4 PM on Saturday before the Warriors home opener with ball hockey, beverage tents, music and much more so it is encouraged that fans get to the rink early to partake on the festivities. If you can’t make it to the rink on Saturday, I’ll have the call as always on the Warriors Internet Network and HockeyTV.com.

 

3 Keys: Warriors @ Smoke Eaters Game #1

 vs. 

The West Kelowna Warriors begin their 58-game regular season with a home-and-home against the Trail Smoke Eaters starting at the Cominco Arena in Trail on Friday night.

WATCH

LISTEN

WARRIORS WEBSITE PREVIEW

WARRIORS 2017/18 ROSTER

SMOKE EATERS 2017/18 ROSTER

If you’re new to the blog or are still in a summer haze and spending time out in the 30 degree weather, I usually post a “3 Thoughts” after each game, which will continue throughout the course of the 2017/18 Warriors season. I thought that the pre-game reading could use a touch up so, starting with the opening game of the regular season, I’ll be doing a “3 Keys to Victory” for the Warriors on each night (or day), which of course are my personal opinion on what the Warriors can do to win on a certain night.

3 KEYS TO VICTORY:

1) THE FIRST 10 MINUTES

This is a key that I will try not to use repetitively but is always important, especially when playing on the road and in a hostile environment like Cominco Arena. The Smoke Eaters are expected to get a big crowd and if their playoff run was any indication, Friday night could be a loud one inside the building just off of Main Street in downtown Trail. The Warriors will have to be sure to weather the storm early on as you can imagine the Smokies will be coming out guns ablazing in the early going to get the crowd on their side and get the building energized. It could be a feeling out process for both teams as well with new players playing with one another for the first time in the regular season and trying to remember where and when to be in a certain area. The Warriors have plenty of experience when it comes to playing in Cominco and will need to rely on that to help out some players like RJ Murphy, Bennett Norlin, Willie Reim, Nathan Reilly among others playing in Trail for the first time. West Kelowna will have to be opportunistic in a way as they will have to do the most they can with the chances they get and special teams will play a big factor for either side, a category that the Warriors will have to improve upon from a season ago.

2) IN BETWEEN THE PIPES 

It’s been no secret that the Warriors have had their fair share of goaltenders in between the pipes for the last two seasons or so with 2017/18 being the season in which West Kelowna looks to turn that around. The goaltending matchup for tonight would assumingly be a battle of 20-year-old netminders as Nik Amundrud and Smokies goaltender Brandon Wells will likely get the starts in goal for their respective squads and both could have a big impact in their team’s overall success. The Warriors got Amundrud back after the Melfort, Saskatchewan native left the team for personal reasons last season and has come back with a good mindset and looks like he is ready for opening night. Amundrud has proven to be a difference maker (go back to a game against Wenatchee on Nov. 19th last season at RLP) and will need to add some of his veteran presence and calmness to help some of the youngsters along in the opening game of the season.

3) STAYING EVEN STRENGTH

This is no slight against the Warriors penalty kill but with guys like Kale Howarth, Ross Armour, Andre Ghantous and a host of others stacked up offensively for Trail, keeping the man power even will be a big key as things happen quickly in Cominco and the score can get out of hand in a hurry if the penalties get lopsided and you lose your cool. The Warriors play their best hockey when they keep things at 5-on-5 and can generate chances with the best of them when playing with even man power. This key can go hand-in-hand with the first key in playing the first ten minutes as the Warriors can’t get caught chasing the play, which would force penalties and possibly getting behind in a game that could be tough to come back in so playing one step ahead of the Smokies and keeping things even could help the Warriors pick up an opening win.

There’s lots of promise for this year’s squad with 14 players coming back for the Warriors from 2016/17 and with some good looking rookies through preseason, this team could turn some heads and make some noise in the Interior Division this season. The Smokies also have 14 players back on their roster from last season, making for 28 players involved tonight that wore either burgundy and black or orange and black last season. 2017/18 looks to be a good one with plenty of challenge in a tough division and will be fun to watch all season long!

3 Thoughts: Centennials @ Warriors Round #1 Game #1

The West Kelowna Warriors were in a tug of war all night but couldn’t find a way to pull through as they fell to the Merritt Centennials by a 6-5 score at Royal LePage Place on Friday night.

BOXSCORE

WARRIORS WEBSITE RECAP

RYLAN FERSTER PRE GAME

JOE MARTIN PRE GAME

STEPHEN KLEYSEN

Game photos from tonight’s game provided by Ken Reid with Greystoke Photography

1 2 3 4 5

3 THOUGHTS:

1) EARLY JITTERS

It was noticeable the Warriors were a bit taken back by the early feelings of playoff hockey and the Centennials certainly jumped on that with two goals in the opening eight minutes of the game. Goaltender Cole Demers was susceptible to some early game jitters as he fought the puck a bit at times in the early going and gave up a couple of goals that he would want back. A media timeout at about the halfway mark of the 1st period gave the Warriors some calmness and they capitalized on their only power play of the game and turned the tables, making the Cents look nervous in the later part of the period. Give credit to the Centennials, despite players that have not been on this kind of a stage before in their junior hockey careers, they rose to the occasion and guys like Zach Risteau and Tyler Ward were the driving forces behind a big opening game victory for the Centennials. The Warriors rebounded nicely from their sluggish start in a highly-entertaining Game #1 but couldn’t get a sixth goal to force the game into extra time, despite their best efforts late in the game. There were a few goals that I’m sure Demers would like to have back and some sloppy play by the Warriors that needs to be cleaned up, especially on a night that the offense produced the way they did from a team that normally has a hard time scoring three goals in a game, nevermind five. It’s a learning experience for everyone in the locker room and something they can carry with them into Game #2 on Saturday night.

2) MOMENTUM SWINGS

You’re going to hear it a lot during the course of this series (and playoffs in general) but the way that momentum swings are handled will be crucial and I thought the Warriors did a good job of managing the crazy swings of momentum that were seen in a game that had a lot of them. Getting down by 2-0 and 3-1 scores right off the bat is never an easy task but the Warriors dug deep and dug themselves out of an early hole in the game and got to back at even after two periods. Even with getting down by two late in the game, the resilience of this club got them to within one goal but just unable to find the equalizer. Certainly a momentum swing to watch will be Merritt’s top two lines as Ward with Michael Regush and Brett Jewell were flying tonight and Risteau’s line was doing the same as he was all over the ice during the duration of the game. With Merritt winning the opening game of the series, it’s just another momentum swing in what will be a long, grueling series and the Warriors will have to come out with some jump in their step on Saturday night to try and get this series knotted at one heading back to Merritt early in the week.

3) TAKEAWAYS

My takeaways from the Warriors 6-5 loss to the Merritt Centennials to open their playoff series is that the Warriors had a few mistakes that cost them and will need to shore up a bit in their own zone, along with getting more consistent goaltending, to get themselves level in this series. Merritt played a very strong game (although I thought Jacob Berger could’ve had a better net in between the pipes as well) and the Warriors will need to stay out of the penalty box in order to keep the game 5-on-5 and an even playing field. Now the penalties were 5 to 1 in the end of it all in favour of the Warriors, something I thought was a bit off, especially since the Cents were certainly no saints either. No time to dwell on that subject however as Game #2 is just around the corner and a chance for the Warriors to even the series at one.

I would like to mention the great news the franchise received in the 1st intermission as Director of Business Operations Alex Draper relayed on a message from Warriors owner Mark Cheyne that the team will remain in West Kelowna for next season as a group of local investors has purchased the team. Details on the deal are a bit scarce at the moment (at least no one has told me) but will become available in the upcoming future. I have to give a huge hand to my partner in crime, Sheldon Bank, for his emotional reaction to the news. I haven’t been with the organization a long time but to see someone like Sheldon, who has been with the franchise since it’s upbringing, brought to tears at the news is such a special moment and I’d like to commend him for his thoughts and remaining on the broadcast and bringing insightful information even with the hysteria around him. Seeing his reaction along with others from around the arena is the sole reason why this team needed to stay in West Kelowna and it wouldn’t have gotten there without the timeless efforts from the Warriors staff and their fans. Rest up, because Game #2 promises to be another thriller.

Playoff Preview: Warriors vs. Cents

west-kelowna-shield-logo vs. merritt-centennials

The West Kelowna Warriors and Merritt Centennials will meet in the postseason for just the second time in the Warriors franchise history. The first was a series win in the 2013 playoffs that saw the Warriors take the series in five games. West Kelowna will be looking to mirror their playoff run that was had last season as they captured their first Royal Bank Cup National Championship in Lloydminster, Alberta.

Playoff Series:

Game #1: Friday, March 3rd @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

Game #2: Saturday, March 4th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

Game #3: Monday, March 6th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)

Game #4: Tuesday, March 7th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)

*Game #5: Thursday, March 9th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

*Game #6: Friday, March 10th @ Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (7:00 PM)

*Game #7: Saturday, March 11th @ Royal LePage Place (7:00 PM)

(*- If necessary)

Instead of doing little previews before every game, I thought I would do one big series preview, especially with the little time in between games in this series. I also thought I would give an edge to a certain side when it came to forwards, defense, goaltending, special teams and playoff experience and pick an overall winner of the series. Without further adieu…

OFFENSE

Who’s got the edge: Centennials

When looking on paper you wouldn’t think much of the Cents forward core (and that’s not dig at them at all) but upon further review, this team has a pretty deep group that has scored 14 goals in their last two meetings against the Warriors. Zach Risteau and Cade Gleekel have paced the offense for Merritt this season but the reason I give Merritt the edge here is the depth of forwards they have. Most of Merritt’s forwards are just hard working and tough to play against with guys like Brett Jewell, Zach Zorn, Stephan Seeger, Henry Cleghorn and Nick Fidanza who are all very good 200-foot forwards. They’ve added skill to help out the likes of Risteau and Gleekel with young forwards Tyler Ward and Michael Regush. The Warriors have young skill as well in the likes of Chase Stevenson, Parm Dhaliwal and Chase Dubois not to mention Connor Sodergren and Quin Foreman pacing the offense all season long. West Kelowna also have their players that are tough to play against with Cavin Tilsley and Peter Tomaras but the Warriors will have to score some goals and have their offense come through in order to try and come away with a series win.

DEFENSE

Who’s got the edge: Warriors

Even without their captain Nick Rutigliano, who is no doubt the Warriors best defenseman, I give the Warriors the edge when it comes to the defensive side of the puck. The Warriors have playoff experience in the likes of Scott Allan and Jake Harrison plus the stability of a guy like Stephen Kleysen, who has been very good in the month of February when the Warriors have needed him the most with all the injuries coming. Tyler Jutting has made big strides in becoming more of a complete defenseman since his arrival in West Kelowna and Michael Ryan adds offense from the blueline with Jonas Gordon adding a grit factor. Merritt have good puck moving defenders in the likes of Mike Faulkner and Zach Metsa and have a bit of grit in the way of Tyrell Buckley and Zachary Bleuler but I’d give the Warriors the advantage in this series on the blueline.

GOALTENDING

Who’s got the edge: Centennials (slightly)

Out of each of the five categories I’ve decided to cover here, this one is probably the closest. The Warriors goaltending will have to be as good as it ever has and it will fall on the shoulders of 17-year-old Cole Demers as Gabriel Morency is unlikely to dress in at least the first two games of the series. Demers has the ability to steal a game or two and the Warriors will need him to do that in order to come away with a series win. Jacob Berger, who I believe will see most of the crease in the opening round series, has been good this season but has been susceptible to some rough stretches of play against the Warriors this year and that’s why this subject is tight. One thing is for sure and that’s that this series is going to be as tight as it gets.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Who’s got the edge: Centennials

This one is probably the one category that is farthest apart as the Warriors know their special teams has to be better. A 16th ranked PP and a 14th ranked in PK will not cut it and will need to improve. Merritt had the 3rd ranked PP in the regular season and, especially playing at the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena, it will be important to keep the penalties on a low and play smart, hard hockey. I don’t really know how else to explain this in depth outside of the Warriors needing a better effort when it comes to special teams and need to stay disipline against a strong power play. I only have one other tidbit to add and it comes courtesy of the Merritt Herald’s article on Thursday previewing the playoff series, and one particular excerpt. The full link is HERE (thanks to Sharon Tomaras for pointing this out to me) but the real interesting piece to this is calling the Warriors play “stupid” and letting them “self-destruct”. A little emotional for a newspaper article, don’t you think?

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-8-09-44-pm

PLAYOFF EXPERIENCE

Who’s got the edge: Warriors (by quite a bit)

I think this key carries more weight than most people understand as the ability to have six players who played over 30 playoff games last season is a big one and the Warriors will have to use every bit of playoff experience they have to get an edge on the Cents. Those six players who made the RBC run last year (Connor Sodergren, Quin Foreman, Jake Harrison, Scott Allan, Jared Marino and Nicholas Rutigliano) amass 210 of the 250 career Junior ‘A’ playoff games the Warriors have as a team total. Playoff knowledge is everything at this time of the year and the Warriors will lean heavily on their veterans to use that. Merritt has not been to the playoffs since 2015 and has only 31 games of Junior ‘A’ playoff experience on their roster with three players (Tyrell Buckley, Nick Fidanza and Stephan Seeger) playing with the club the last time they reached the postseason.

FINAL TAKE:

Warriors win series in seven games

Even though I gave Merritt the edge in three of the five categories, I think that playoff experience will play a big factor into the series and I see the Warriors coming away with the series win. It’ll be a tough, physically demanding series no doubt, but I think the Warriors have enough in the tank to defeat the Centennials. As mentioned, the Warriors will have to get more scoring and be more productive on their PP while limiting PK chances, but guys like Sodergren and Foreman, who had big playoff runs last season, are capable of that again. Merritt isn’t an easy place to play and that’s why home ice was a big advantage and will play as a big factor in this series.