The Chilliwack Chiefs have faced a lot of strong opponents lately, playoff bound squads loaded with talent.
The Salmon Arm Silverbacks are not such a team.
The Silverbacks, Chilliwack’s home-ice opponent on Tuesday night (7 p.m. start at Prospera Centre) are in the midst of the worst season they’ve ever had.
With just four teams from the Interior conference making the playoffs, and five teams well in front of them, Salmon Arm will be missing the dance for the first time in franchise history.
That’s a decade of postseason hockey.
The Silverbacks have gone 2-8-0-0 over their last 10 games, acting very much like a team that knows it’s done.
“I think that’s a huge factor,” head coach Colin O’Hara told the Salmon Arm Observer after a recent three-loss weekend. “Guys know there’s no chance of them being in it (the playoffs). Some guys, I think, have checked out but they’re not the type of guys we’re going to accept having here next year.”
Harsh words from the bench boss, who has seen his team take some brutal beatings in recent times.
The Prince George Spruce Kings whalloped them 8-2 on Feb. 12 and the Westside Warriors handed them a 7-2 loss Feb. 8.
“It was just a lack of compete,” said O’Hara of those losses. “We question whether guys want to play right now or not.”
The Silverbacks came into the season with modest expectations and a far better roster than they sport now.
Salmon Arm thought they could nab a playoff spot with guys like Bryce Gervais and Brett Knowles leading a potent offence.
But the offence couldn’t out-score Salmon Arm’s defensive deficiencies.
As the Silverbacks started to fall out of the race, they started to deal away their big guns.
Gervais went to the Penticton Vees.
Knowles went to the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
Salmon Arm now has two threats up front (Morgan Zulinick and Devan Muller) supported by a cast of youngsters not quite ready for prime time.
O’Hara levelled some pointed criticism at Zulinick and Muller after that lopsided Prince George loss.
“It’s the guys we think should be our difference makers. The Morgan Zulinicks, Devin Mullers, Travis Stephens’, Myles McCauleys – guys that get the bulk of the ice time aren’t doing enough with it in a positive way,” he said. “We want the players to dig deep and find out why they’re quitting and then take that excuse away from them.”
The Chiefs will look to keep Salmon Arm down whilst improving their own lot in the Interior conference. After weekend losses to Merritt and Prince George, Chilliwack now appears destined to battle Vernon for the fourth and final playoff spot — and the honour of playing Penticton in the first round of the playoffs.
The Chiefs visited Salmon Arm Wednesday night (after Progress press deadlines).
Chilliwack took all four previous head-to-head meetings with the Silverbacks.