Three out of a possible six points was all the Silverbacks needed this weekend in order to lock down an all-important playoff spot.
The ’Backs lost on the road to Trail on Tuesday, Feb. 2, then returned to the Shaw Centre to split a home-and-home series with the Merritt Centennials.
For the first time since the 2012-13 season, the Silverbacks will be playing in March and that has head coach Brandon West excited.
“We’re very proud of the guys for accomplishing our number-one goal at the start of the season, but now we have to reset our goals and try to get back into second place,” West said.
Trail’s Jake Kauppila and Kale Howarth bookended the Silverbacks’ goals scored by Chase Zieky and Ross Heidt, ending the opening frame tied at two.
Heidt’s goal was his 30th of the season, assisted by Josh Laframboise and Kodi Schwarz.
In the middle frame, Kyle Star, the game’s first star, scored a go-ahead goal before Max Newton grabbed the game’s eventual winner.
Zieky would add his second of the evening and 24th of the season before the end of the period, but that’s as close as the ’Backs would get as Trail scored a late goal in the third for extra insurance.
Brandon Kegler made his 16th appearance in goal for the gorillas making 25 saves on 30 shots.
Joining Ryley Booth, Carson Bolduc and Cam Coutre on the sideline before the game on Friday evening against Merritt was Heidt, who was suspended for hitting from behind in the game against Trail.
Quality scoring chances were hard to come by in the opening period as both side’s defence played well.
The offence didn’t start rolling until the second period when the Cents’ Mitch Lipon found time and space on a breakaway, but was turned away by the game’s first star, Angus Redmond.
The Silverbacks took over control of the game midway through the period when Mitch Skapski scored the first of the game, and his first as a Silverback, on a delayed penalty.
Schwarz shook off a Cents defender with a fake shot before firing a low shot on goal, where Skapski deposited the rebound.
Just about five minutes later, Elijiah Barriga made a deceptive slap pass to Nick Hutchison in the slot, who simply redirected the pass past Cole Kehler for his 14th of the season. Damian Chrcek saved a sure goal late in the period when he cleared the puck off the goal line after it trickled through the pads of Redmond.
Heading into the final period, the ’Backs had a two-goal lead, but goals by Lipon and Zach Court cancelled out the goal advantage.
Skapski didn’t wait long to score his second of the game, again collecting a rebound at the side of the net, giving his side a one-goal advantage.
With their goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, the Cents managed to tie the game with a mere 12 seconds remaining in regulation, forcing overtime.
Nick Fiorentino scored 52 seconds into overtime, the only shot in extra time, giving the Cents the 4-3 come-from-behind win.
“There was a defensive miscue on the tying goal and the same for the overtime goal,” said West.
On Saturday, in the back half of the home-and-home series, the ’Backs travelled to Merritt. A five-goal haul in the first led the ’Backs to a 7-3 win, securing a playoff spot.
Goals for the ’Backs came off the sticks of seven different skaters including Blanchard, Trott, Jared Turcotte, Skapski, Barriga, Chrcek and Zieky.
“Of course the guys were disappointed after the loss on Friday, but we’re not a team that feels sorry for ourselves. I give the guys full credit; we went into a tough building on Saturday and came back with a big win,” said West.
The ’Backs are well below .500 in the new year and West says his coaching staff has addressed the recent inconsistent play.
“There is nothing of major concern. We need to be more consistent on defence and settle down and close out more games,” West said.
Five of the ’Backs eight remaining games are on the road, including a road trip this weekend where they will play three games in three days against Coquitlam, Alberni Valley and Powell River.
West says they will be getting some bodies back into the lineup very soon.
Bolduc is expected to return to game action any day, while Booth remains the only player not able to return to the ice.
The ’Backs’ next home game will be against Penticton on Friday, Feb. 19 at 7 p.m.