Is it fair to call a BCHL game in late September a big one?
But a case could be made that Saturday night’s battle between Chilliwack and Penticton at Prospera Centre was a crucial game for the Chiefs. Consider that the 2018 Royal Bank Cup hosts were 1-2-1-1 coming in, facing the defending champions, a Vees team that has never lost a game at the Bauer BCHL Showcase.
Consider that Chilliwack heads out on a tough two-game road trip through Trail and West Kelowna and comes home to face Wenatchee Oct. 6.
And consider that after Saturday night the team is already over 1/10th of the way through their 2017-18 schedule.
So how should fans feel about a 6-3 loss to the Vees that dropped the Chiefs to 1-3-1-1? Time to panic? Maybe not. But you’re excused if you’re starting to feel a tiny bit anxious.
The Chiefs got the start they wanted just 161 seconds in when Michael Lombardi opened the scoring. Powell Connor put a quarter-slapper on net from the right point and Penticton netminder Nolan Hildebrand let the rebound drop in the goal-mouth. Lombardi charged into the blue paint and lifted a shot under the cross-bar for his second of the season.
The Vees got that back at 12:31.
On a Chilliwack power play, defenceman Bryan Allbee bobbled the puck at the right point. Owen Sillinger pounced, stepping past him for a breakaway.
Chiefs netminder Daniel Chenard stopped him. Chris Klack followed the play and Chenard stopped him too, sticking out his right leg to make a big save. But Klack had one more try and this time the goalie couldn’t stretch out far enough to prevent the 20 year old from sliding the puck inches inside the left post.
Chilliwack took less than two minutes to regain the lead on Ryan Miotto’s first BCHL goal.
Credit Powell Connor with another assist as the big blueliner took off on a solo rush up the right wing. Penticton defender Joseph Leahy did his job, riding No. 27 into the right corner. But with one hand, Connor was able to sweep the puck on net, where Miotto was waiting to squeeze it between Hildebrand’s left skate and the right goal post.
Shots on goal through 20 minutes favoured Chilliwack 13-9.
But Penticton erased the one goal deficit and blew the game open by scoring four goals in 4:32 late in the middle frame.
Ryan O’Connell started the deluge with a four-on-four snipe at 14:53.
A couple shifts later defenceman Nicky Leivermann picked up his first BCHL goal. The 98-born defenceman sidestepped a Chilliwack defender at the right point and was able to walk into prime shooting position before firing a water-bottle popper over Chenard’s shoulder.
Thirty four seconds after that it was Jared Nash speeding down the right wing and beating Chenard with a low short-side shot.
And finally, on a Penticton power play, Massimo Rizzo beat Chenard from the high slot with a shot the screened goalie never saw, sending the Vees to the final frame with a 5-2 lead.
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Penticton 23-19.
The Vees added one more goal in the third period, a power play strike from Owen Sillinger.
The Chiefs wrapped up the scoring on a late power play, with Skyler Brind’Amour burying the rebound of a Harrison Blaisdell shot for his first junior A goal.
The game had its positives and you can see glimpses of what the Chiefs may become.
It’s only a matter of time, for instance, before Corey Andonovski becomes a dominant force for Chilliwack. He shows flashes of an impressive power forward skill set that will make him too much for most BCHL D-men to handle.
Harrison Blaisdell looks outstanding for a 16 year old and Connor appears to have taken a significant step forward as a 17 year old defenceman, at both ends of the ice.
As for the rest? The Vees are the dragon the Chiefs will likely have to slay to get where they eventually want to go, and now they know how good the dragon is.
The three stars were Sillinger (first), Leivermann (second) and Blaisdell (third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Michael Lombardi.