The Chilliwack Chiefs have two extremely tough tests ahead as they try to get 2012 off to a good start.
The local BCHL team faces the league’s top team, the Penticton Vees, on Friday night before taking on the Coastal conference leading Cowichan Valley Capitals Saturday.
Having lost two straight coming out of the Christmas break, and three straight overall, the Chiefs are in tough to end the slide.
“We’ve got two first place teams coming in, and it is certainly going to be tough,” Chilliwack head coach Harvey Smyl said on Wednesday.
Smyl’s Chiefs are coming off a disappointing 1-0 shutout loss at the hands of Merritt last Friday.
Before that, they dropped games to Prince George (4-2, Dec. 28) and Vernon (6-3, Dec. 18).
Chilliwack has maintained their hold on third place in the Interior conference standings, but they trail Merritt by five points and have Prince George and Vernon breathing down their collective necks.
The top four in each conference make the playoffs, making it a guarantee that one good team will eventually be left on the outside looking in.
Chiefs head coach Harvey Smyl doesn’t intend to miss the postseason for the first time in his BCHL coaching career, making two points now just as crucial as two points in mid-March.
In their most recent game, Brent Fletcher had the only goal and Lino Chimienti stopped 20 shots as the Cents recorded the road shutout.
It was the second straight flat effort for the Chiefs coming out of the holiday break, but Smyl expects a far more energized effort following a good week of practice.
“I thought we were flat for the most part, although I thought we played fairly well defensively,” Smyl noted. “The difference was that we had no penetration in the offensive zone. We didn’t get rebounds and second opportunities. But we’re hoping that with a good week of work, we’ll be able to get things done.”
The last meeting between the Chiefs and Vees is one that Smyl and company would love to forget, a 9-0 loss Nov. 26 in Penticton.
Chilliwack will have do a lot of things right to get a win against a Vees team that has taken just three regulation time losses this season.
“We certainly need to slow them down in the neutral zone, and we can’t give them space because they’ve so much got speed and skill,” Smyl said. “We definitely can’t let them get power play opportunities. There are a lot of things we need to make sure we do properly to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Saturday night pits the Chiefs against another nationally ranked team as the Cowichan Valley Capitals visit Prospera Centre for the only time this year.
The Caps lead the Coastal conference with a record of 21-9-1-4, combining stingy defence with an explosive offence.
Only Penticton and Powell River have surrendered fewer goals than Cowichan Valley, with goaltenders Derek Dun (starter) and Brady Rouleau (backup) doing good work between the pipes.
Offensively, the Caps boast four point-per-game players, including 20-year-old Matt Brown. The talented Nova Scotian leads the team with 24 goals (and 41 points) in 34 games.
Kamloops native Devin Gannon leads the team in points with 48 (17 goals), with Jacob Charles and Richard Vanderhoek also provide ppg production.
“They’re not quite as skilled as Penticton, but they’re very solid because of the team- first concept they’ve got going on,” Smyl said. “They’re big and strong. They work hard and they’ve got the true identity of a team. That alone can give you a lot of success.”
The Caps made a move earlier this week to add more firepower up front, picking up Brent Knowles from the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in exchange for Travis Stephens and future considerations. Knowles had 37 points in 34 games and rejoins former Salmon Arm teammate Gannon.
The two were a dynamite combination in last season’s playoffs for the Silverbacks and Caps associate coach Jim Ingram expects to put them together and see what happens.
“We didn’t expect to be here,’’ Ingram said of the team’s placing atop the Coastal Conference. “We wanted to put the effort in. If the opportunity to improve wasn’t taken, then what are we doing?’’
With the BCHL trade deadline fast approaching, Smyl may be next in line to bolster his lineup.
The Chiefs are currently running with four 20-year-olds (Ty Miller, Kit Sitterley, Michael Spring and Matthew Hutchinson).
That leaves Smyl with the option to add two more.
“There’s an appetite on our part to add to our club, but not by taking away from our club,” Smyl said. “We’re in position now to make the playoffs and we want to be in the same situation next year, so we’re not going to sell the farm and sacrifice the future for the present.”
l Tis the season for scholarship announcements.
Several BCHLers committed to NCAA programs over the last two weeks, including one Chief.
Pennsylvania native David Thompson has signed on at Penn State, and will skate with the Nittany Lions starting in the 2013-14 season.
“He’s just settling in to become a nasty player to play against with all kinds of ability,” Smyl said. “He’s very deserving of this scholarship. It’s nice to see him rewarded for all his hard work.”
Thompson (19 years old) leads all Chief blueliners in scoring with four goals and 16 points in 33 games.