Everything was looking bright going into last weekend for the Express. They were getting 2 new faces in the lineup with Dylan Herold and Cam Brodie coming over in a trade with Merritt. The injuries were starting to heal up. And the Express had the island and mainland division cellar dwellers Alberni Valley and Surrey on the schedule.
Saturday the Express welcomed the two win Alberni Valley Bulldogs to the Bill Copeland Sports Centre. The Dogs were playing their third game in 3 nights to wrap up their mainland division road trip.
The Express injury problems appeared to be a thing of the past with Max Grassi, Brodie Reid, Garrick Perry, Anthony Collins and Jacob Verheyden all back in the lineup.
During their time away, the team lost 6 straight games, the special teams took a beating and the identity of the team was lost.
Another, bright spot for the Express was getting to face Bulldogs goaltender Matthew Wong. Last season when he was a member of the Victoria Grizzlies. The Express torched him in the regular season and playoffs for a 2-4 record, 6.14 GAA and a save percentage of 79.69%
So going into the weekend there were no excuses for the Express.
Well, things started to change when the puck dropped Saturday night. The powerplay got back on track when Mike Leidl scored his first goal of the season firing a wrist shot past Dogs goaltender Matthew Wong 2:33 into the game.
Less than 4 minutes later the Express power play struck again. And one of the new faces Dylan Herold got on the score sheet for the first time as he played it down low to Brodie Reid who put in front for Max Grassi to put home for a 2-0 Burnaby lead.
Great start for the Express. But, the Express coaches knew for as poor as the Dogs record is, it wasn't going to be an easy game. The head to head matchups last season between the two teams was all the proof the Express needed as a reminder the game wasn't going to be a cake walk.
Even though the Express swept all 4 games last season, the Bulldogs made the Express earn everything they got.
Same could be said for Saturday night. The Dogs didn't get rattled by the quick start by the Express and rallied to tie the game on goals by Mark Morikawa and Chris Moulson before the first 20 minutes was done. The Dogs had outshot the Express 14-11 in the first period.
The Express power play went to work again in the second when Brodie Reid found Grassi back door and he picked the top corner for his second goal of the game to restore the Express lead. The goal was Burnaby's 3rd powerplay goal of the game. A far contrast from the struggles the PP had in recent games when it went 3 for it's last 58 opportunities in the last 11 games.
The penalty killing also had a bounce back game. The opposition was 11 for 30 on the power play during the Express 6 game losing streak. That's a percentage of 36.6%. The PK also contributed offensively when Max Grassi poked the puck of Eliot Raibl's stick at the Express blueline and had all day to bury his third goal of the game on a breakaway to restore a two goal Express advantage.
Hear Grassi's hat-trick here.
It was Grassi's first career BCHL hat-trick.
One of the most encouraging signs from an Express point of view was seeing the hard working aggressive forechecking style of play return thanks to all the healthy bodies.
Despite falling behind by two for the second time in the game, the Dogs still didn't quit. In the third, the Dogs were building momentum after 2 power plays. They didn't score on the 5 on 4 advantages, but moments after a Mike Leidl penalty expired, Eliot Raibl took a cross ice pass and blasted home a one timer to make it a one goal game midway through the third.
It would set up a dramatic finish to the game. Anthony Collins had a chance to put the game on ice but could score when he shot wide on a breakaway. Burnaby also couldn't take advantage on the powerplay with Jackson Garrett sitting in the box for high-sticking.
That takes us to the final minute. The Dogs pulled Wong for an extra attacker. Then the Express got into penalty trouble with Mike Leidl being called for high sticking at 19:27. Followed seconds later by a Brodie Reid tripping penalty at 19:44 giving Alberni Valley and 6 on 3 advantage.
Alberni Valley won the faceoff in the Burnaby zone and put the puck in front creating a mad scramble that seemed to last an eternity before finally the puck was cleared to the corner and the horn sounded giving the Express the 4-3 victory snapping their 6 game losing streak.
Having a healthy roster and the new faces certainly made a big difference for the Express. Herold skated along side Grassi and Reid on the top line. That trio combined for 3 goals and 4 assists.
Grassi had the hat-trick in his return and Brodie Reid had 3 assists in only his 5th game of the season. Herold had one assist in the win.
The power play finished 3/6 and the penalty killing was a perfect 10 for 10.
Zack Mazo had 3 assists in the loss for Alberni Valley.
Alberni Valley 27
3-Eliot Raibl (1G)
2-Mike Leidl (1G)
1-Max Grassi (3G)
Sunday the Express were off to Surrey for an afternoon affair. The game was huge for both clubs in the standings. The Express were looking to open up a 8 point lead on the Eagles for 3rd place in the Mainland division. Surrey came in riding a modest 2 game winning streak. Including a dramatic 6-5 win on the road in Victoria. Handing the Grizzlies their first home ice loss of the season.
The Eagles took the last meeting between the two clubs at South Surrey Arena by a score of 6-1. The Eagles struck 4 times on the power play. They had more jump and simply outworked the Express from the drop of the puck.
The day had a casual lassiez faire feel to it. The sun was shining. The people I talked to at the rink had the same feeling. And it carried over to the game.
The game was scoreless after a rather uneventful first period. The shots were only 7-7 after the first period. The highlight of the period coming when Ryan Pajimola leveled Express rookie Gavin Hohl at the blueline. That would be the end to the Express rookie's night. The Express were also without defenceman Greg Bay with an injury.
The game wasn't full of great scoring chances. Burnaby had their best chance to open the scoring when Simon Denis fired a one timer, but Eagles netminder Tommy Tartaglione came to his left to make a spectacular old school two pad stack save.
Mike Krgovich finally opened the scoring midway through the second when former Express Spencer Bennett weaved his way through the Express defence and put a pass on the tape of Krgovich in the crease who re-directed it home.
The Express would lose another defenceman when Colin De Jersey was hit hard in his own zone. It was the second straight game the second year d-man was shaken up. It was pretty scary because the night before he left after a hit in his own end and was pretty wobbly as he made he was back to the bench. It would be deja vu all over again for De Jersey who again was very wobbly going back to the Burnaby bench.
Another former Express was vital in playing a role in helping the Eagles add to their lead. Steve Ceccanase scored on a one timer with a minute and a half left in the 2nd period. Adam Hartley and Chris Santiago got the assists.
Ceccanase who was sent to Merritt as part of the deal that brought Herold and Brodie to Burnaby was quickly shipped to the Eagles. The former Villanova Knight has now put up 4 goals and 9 points in 9 BCHL games.
So the Express were in a hole going into the third. Up until this point, they really haven't tested the Eagle netminder. The energy level wasn't up to par. And again the Express just weren't sharp. Much like the last time the two teams met.
Adam Hartley rounded out the scoring on a power play tipping a Doug Marshall shot through the legs of Richie Virtanen with 5 minutes to go.
The only thing left to decide was if Tartaglione was going to get the shutout. At this point, it was just a matter of running out the clock. Tartaglione wasn't overly tested in the first 55 minutes. Same could be said for the final 5 minutes. The Express sent 30 shots Tartaglione's way and he had little trouble stopping them all en route to his first shutout of the season.
Final score Eagles 3 Express 0.
The win pulled the Eagles within 4 points of the Express for 3rd place in the mainland division with the Eagles having 3 games in hand on Burnaby.
3-Steve Ceccanase (1G,1A)
2-Mike Krgovich (GWG)
1-Tommy Tartaglione (30 saves, shutout)
The Express have just one game on the schedule this week. They will host the defending BCHL champion Penticton Vees on Saturday.