Two games into the regular season, the Chilliwack Chiefs are looking like an offensive powerhouse reminiscent of the 1985 Edmonton Oilers. The home team scored six Saturday night in a 6-4 win over the visiting Salmon Arm Silverbacks, improving to 2-0.
On the heels of a 7-1 win over Penticton last weekend, the Chiefs are averaging almost a touchdown per game.
They have some defensive issues to clean up, but this team bears little resemblance to the Quesnel Millionaire squad that was an Interior conference pushover last year.
The Mills scored a whopping 140 goals in 60 games, and while much of that Quesnel roster was lost in the transfer to Chilliwack, few expected these Chiefs to score as they are currently scoring.
“If we keep our energy up and keep our level of execution, and we play it simple and get pucks deep, we’ll continue to see good things happen,” said veteran forward Kit Sitterley of the offensive explosion. “We have that blue collar work ethic and we like to get pucks on net and see what happens.”
Salmon Arm’s lethal power play took 84 seconds to open the scoring in this one, with Saskatchewan native Bryce Gervais pulling the trigger. Morgan Zulinick started the play on the left-wing boards, passing the puck to Brett Knowles below the left faceoff dot. Knowles went cross-ice to Gervais, and Chilliwack goaltender Bryton Udy couldn’t get post-to-post fast enough to keep Gervais from netting his first of the season.
Sadly for the Silverbacks, that was the high point of their night.
Chilliwack answered at 6:02 on a goal by Shay Laurent. The Chiefs controlled play for the duration of a two minute Matt Brown tripping minor, and scored two seconds after the penalty elapsed. With a mob gathered in front of the Salmon Arm net, Chilliwack captain Ty Miller wristed a hope-for-a-rebound shot towards the goal.
Laurent snuck down from the left point, grabbed the loose puck as it squirted out of the crowd and potted his first of the year.
Trevor Hills gave Chilliwack the lead with 6:48 remaining in period one, scoring on a shorthanded breakaway.
The New York native forced a turnover at the Chiefs blueline and was off like a shot. With a Silverback defender in hot pursuit, Hills’ first shot was stopped, but the rebound went off his skate and into the net. Salmon Arm netminder Kurt Williams was livid, but the officials deemed it unintentional and a good goal.
Hills second of the season gave Chilliwack a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes.
The goals came quick in period two as the Chiefs broke a close game wide open with three strikes in two minutes and five seconds.
Sixteen-year-old rookie Garrett Forster got the first at 6:09, chipping a rebound past Williams after defenceman Mike Berry took the puck hard to the net.
Sitterley scored on a power play at 7:42 and Gould finished off a three-on-one feed from Stefan Gonzales at 8:14.
“We don’t have a first or second line really, or one or two guys doing the job,” Sitterley said of the top-to-bottom scoring balance. “We like to play with four lines, and it’s all 21 guys doing the job.”
Penalty woes helped the Silverbacks come roaring back in the final minutes of period two. Laurent picked up two minutes for instigating at 17:29 after pummeling Salmon Arm’s Jeff Kennedy, and Spencer Graboski got two minutes for kneeing at 18:43 to put Chilliwack two men down.
The Silverbacks took 17 seconds to cash in on a goal by Knowles, who roofed a wrist shot from 10 feet out.
Gervais sniped his second of the game 25 seconds later to make it 5-3 heading to the third.
“Chiefs hockey is a little nitty gritty, but I certainly think we can do a better job staying out of the penalty box,” Sitterley said. “On the power play goals, bounces go your way or they don’t, and when they don’t you just have to keep your head up and move on.”
Shots on goal through 40 minutes favoured Chilliwack 23-21.
The Silverbacks got within one late in period three on yet another power play goal. With David Thompson serving a weak two-minute tripping minor, Silverback blueliner Klay Kachur uncorked a point shot that hit the end boards and bounced out the other side. Zulinick collected the puck and slid a sharp-angle backhander past Udy for his third of the year.
But the Chiefs had the last laugh with 5:14 left as Sitterley blasted a slap-shot past Williams, restoring the two-goal lead with his second of the game.
“It felt good and it was certainly a monkey off the back for me,” Sitterley said with a smile. “I could really feel the energy in the building when the puck went in.”
The three stars were Jeremy Gossard (first), Sitterley (second) and Gervais (third).
Announced attendance was 2,059.
The Chiefs are on the road next weekend, taking on two tough opponents in the Vernon Vipers (Friday) and the Westside Warriors (Saturday).
Between them, they sport a record of 4-1-0 and figure to be among the top dogs in the competitive Interior conference.
The coming weekend could be a reality check for the Chiefs, or it could be another chance to let the rest of the league know they are for real.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Sitterley said. “Playing teams like that is exciting for us.”
Chilliwack’s next home game is Friday, Oct. 14 when they welcome the Vipers to Prospera Centre.
Puck drop is 7 p.m.