Chilliwack Chiefs try to solve overtime/shootout puzzle

The junior A BCHL club has mysteriously struggled when play goes beyond 60 minutes this season.

Chilliwack Chiefs defenceman Cooper Moore has a rare distinction this season as the only member of his team to win a game in extra time this season.

Six times the Chiefs have gone to overtime. Moore’s goal on Nov. 28 gave them a 4-3 home ice win over the Powell River Kings.

Otherwise, it’s been five losses. When games get past OT into a shootout, Moore’s crew is 0-4.

It’s the kind of stat that might be meaningless, easily written off as small sample size noise.

“We are definitely aware of that, and we’ve worked on our overtime play a lot at practice, actually doing a three-on-three tournament,” Moore said. “At the beginning of the year we didn’t have any strategy heading into three-on-three and it was more, ‘See what you can do.’

“Now, I think we understand that puck possession is the number one thing. We’ve found that overtime is not about ‘sitting back’ so much as waiting for your opportunity. You’ve always got to be on your toes and ready to go, but you can’t force the issue because if you do that then the other team is coming back at you two-on-one.”

It’s hard to grasp intuitively.

With four less skaters on the ice (two per side) and a bunch of teenage boys who are never short on confidence, it’s hard to temper those ‘go-go-go’ instincts.

“And that’s where you see the difference and how we’ve improved the last couple times in OT,” said Chilliwack head coach Brian Maloney. “It’s not attacking one-on-one. What you’re trying to do is create odd-man rushes, but it is tricky. You have to change properly so you don’t get caught out there tired, and you have to change when you have possession of the puck because you’re briefly down a guy.

“It’s become an art. More of a chess match and less playing shinny hockey. It’s definitely entertaining and I’d rather that than go into a shootout.”

With smart and talented players up and down the lineup, Moore says it’s an unsolved mystery why Chilliwack isn’t better in OT. Same with the shootout.

“We have so many skilled guys, and you’d think it’d probably even out over time, but for some reason right now we can’t get it done in the shootout,” Moore noted. “The difference between one and two points (in the standings) can be so big, so it’s something we definitely need to get better at.

“I don’t know. On breakaways our guys go down there and undress goalies, but shootouts are a whole different animal. It’s you versus the goalie in a one-on-one battle and it’s a way different mindset.”

Moore’s participated in one shootout this season, and it didn’t go well. It’s not something he thinks about a lot, because he’s usually well down the list when Maloney looks for shooters. Most nights that leaves him in the role of observer.

“The shootout is exciting, but as a hockey fan, I’d rather see overtime,” he said. “Maybe a longer overtime and then a shootout, or maybe a longer overtime followed by another overtime.

“But shootouts are at every level, so it’s a thing that’s not going away and something we have to get better at.”

The good news for the Chiefs is that come playoffs, none of this three-on-three and shootout nonsense will matter. It’ll be as it should be, five-on-five until someone scores a winner, and Moore feels good in that scenario.

“I think it’s going to help our team because our roster is so deep,” he explained. “The longer the game goes on, we’re going to be able to keep coming at you. We can play four lines in any situation, and that plays into our favour.”

Only 18 games to go until the postseason begins.

After splitting weekend games against at Surrey (3-1 loss) and home to West Kelowna (3-1 win), Chilliwack is locked into second place in the Mainland division.

They’re 14 points ahead of fifth place Prince George, so it seems safe enough talking about the playoffs.

While the Chiefs have yet to string together a long winning streak or look terribly dominant, Moore said everything’s starting to come together.

“Our last few games we’ve been battling in every area, and we blocked 30 shots in one of our recent games (against Coquitlam),” he said. “We have some things we’re working on – get 30 shots a game. Win the blue lines and crease. At the beginning of the year we had a lot of blue line turnovers, but we’ve started to get rid of all that bad stuff in our game.

“We’re playing more consistently at a team and it’s good that we’re starting to hit our stride as playoffs approach.”

l Surrey’s Kieran O’Hearn scored twice Friday in a 3-1 home ice win for the Eagles, with Peter Reynolds scoring the lone Chilliwack goal.

Mathieu Caron was in net for the Chiefs, stopping 34 of 37 shots. Cal Schell got the win in the Surrey cage with a 29 save effort.

l Kolby Thornton got the call in the Chilliwack net Saturday, stopping 20 pucks in a 3-1 win over the league-worst West Kelowna Warriors.

Nikita Nesterenko scored a power play goal in the first period and Tommy Lyons scored an even strength maker in the second. After West K’s Holden Kodak scored at 17:42 of period three, Chilliwack’s Xavier Henry iced the win with a empty netter.

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