The Burnaby Express knew their 3 game island road trip wouldn't be easy. The opposition would be a formidable challenge for the Express. What they didn't know was the men in stripes were going be formidable as well.
The trip opened up with a Friday visit to Nanaimo's Frank Crane Arena. That barn hadn't yet to see the home team walk away defeated in the regular season when the Express came to town.
It was a rematch of last Saturday's game when the Express prevailed in double overtime with Reid Edmondson scoring the game winning goal en route to the 4-3 win.
The Express had a new face in the lineup. Steve Ceccanese was making his Express debut after being acquired earlier in the week from the Villanova Knights of the OPJHL.
It was Ceccanese's 5th team since the start of the 06-07 season. He'd seen time in the QMJHL, OHL, Greater Ontario Hockey League and the OPJHL before coming to the Express.
It wouldn't take long for Ceccanese to contribute to his new club as he scored on his first shot on his first shift just 53 seconds into the game to open the scoring.
Heading into the road trip, the Express knew that for them to pick up some points, they would need their goaltending to steal them a game or two. That put a lot of pressure on Mike Chan.
Nanaimo's never an easy place to play and a teams goaltending always plays a key role if road team is to come away with two points.
As the first period progressed, the pressure began to mount against Chan. The Express penalties began to pile up. And the Express PK which was so strong this season, was tested. They would bend, but Mike Chan was the difference from it breaking. He was outstanding seeing shots through traffic and finding loose pucks first in his crease and making sure the Clippers wouldn't bang in loose pucks in front.
The Express weathered the storm, and were in fact able to add to their lead. Jordan Soquila took advantage of a Nanaimo turnover his shot was initially stopped, but former Clipper Tim Holloway banged home the rebound past Evan Smith for his 3rd goal of the season and his second shorthanded marker of the year.
Nanaimo would get a taste of their own medicine in the final minute of the first as Luke Challier scored his first goal of the season after Steve Ceccanese's shot would bounce off him and in the net to give the Express a 3-0 lead after one period.
Last week, Nanaimo scored goals in the final minute of the first, second and third periods to tie the game.
That would be the end to Evan Smith's night as Bill Bestwick pulled him after allowing 3 goals on 7 shots in the first 20 minutes.
Not all was great for the Express in the first. Rookie Garrick Perry was leveled by Clipper defenceman Tyler Mah with a big hit in the neutral zone. He was considerably shaken up, made his way back to the bench but didn't return to the game.
The 2nd period would be a similar story to the first with the Express parade to the penalty box continuing. And the story of Mike Chan's outstanding night would continue.
When the Express got back to full strength, the game's most controversial play would occur.
Greg Bay backhanded the puck from his own blueline. No icing was called on the play when one should have been. So when the play wasn't whistled down, Alex Valenti picked up the puck and walked out front and scored what he thought was the Express 4th goal of the night.
Nanaimo cried foul, pleading the icing should have been called. Then after some discussion with his linesmen, referee Steven Bratt waved the goal off and the icing that wasn't initially called, was ruled.
Well, of course that drew the ire of the Express. They certainly had a good case for the goal to stand after the icing initially wasn't called, they expected the play should continue and let the goal stand. But the final decision had been made. The puck was dropped at centre ice, but the score remained 3-0 Burnaby.
If you ever wondered if hockey gods existed, they certainly were watching over the Express on this night. Later in that second period, Alex Valenti scored the goal he should have been given credit for minutes earlier. He pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and walked in alone on the breakaway and made no mistake going to the backhand making the score 4-0 Burnaby.
That would pretty much be your hockey game. The only thing left to decide was if Mike Chan would get the shut out. Nanaimo sent 6 tests his way in the third and he passed them all. Chan finished the night with a 31 save performance for his first BCHL shutout. And he was outstanding in doing so. Especially with the Express on the penalty kill. He was their best penalty killer all night long.
The win was the Express first ever regular season win in Nanaimo. But most importantly, they had gotten off on the right foot for their 3 game island road trip.
3-Tim Holloway (SHG)
2-Reid Edmondson (2A)
1-Mike Chan 31 saves for his first BCHL shutout.
Saturday took the Express down the Island to the provincial capital to take on the league leading Victoria Grizzlies. The RBC hosts had gotten off to a great start at 10-2 and were riding a 6 game winning streak heading into the game.
It was the first time the teams met since last years first round series when the Grizzlies prevailed 3-2 in OT in the decisive game 5.
That game ended in controversial fashion and had a tie in to Saturday's affair.
The Grizzlies advanced just moments after a questionable penalty to Brad Hunt had expired when Jonathon Milhouse scored the game winning goal in overtime. That was a game that didn't see the Express get one single power play. The Express thought one was coming when Carlo Finucci was tripped up by a Victoria defencenan going after a loose puck but none was called.
The referee that night was Sean Raphael. And the referee on Saturday was... Sean Raphael.
It was the first Express game he worked this season. And it just happened to be the first meeting of the season between the Express & Grizzlies.
When that information was known, you didn't want it to be a story line. But you had a feeling officiating might be a factor again.
The game also featured Lee Baldwin playing against his former team for the first time. He would be instrumental in Victoria's opening goal of the game. He picked up the puck deep in the Express zone in the corner and fired it across to another former Express Justin Courtnall who put it past Mike Chan.
Shortly there after the Express parade to the box started again. And the Grizzlies would make the Express pay. Evan Pighin put home a Cam Reid rebound to make it a 2-0 lead on the power play. The two goal lead would be cut in half 2:23 later when Steve Ceccanese blasted home his second goal in as many games.
It appeared as the first period progressed that the Express had weathered the early storm. But in the final 3 minutes, Sean Raphael came into play. Myles MacRae took a run and left his feet to hit Simon Denis,Denis' partner Mike Leidl came to his defence and MacRae went down like he was shot and Raphael took the bait and the Grizzlies went back to the power play. And when it was said and done, the Grizzlies had re-stored their two goal lead when Justin Courtnall scored his second goal of the game on a feed from Pighin from behind the net.
The Grizzlies success with the extra man would continue with power play goals by Tyler Matheson and Pighin's second of the game. One of the goals came after Anthony Collins got into a scrap with Justin Courtnall but came away with a double minor for slashing.
MacRae made it a 6-1 game when he came down the right wing and took advantage of Mike Leidl blowing a tire and he blasting a shot top shelf from the right wing.
Mike Chan's night came to an end after 40 minutes after allowing 6 goals on 23 shots.
Richie Virtanen mopped up in the 3rd period stopping all 9 Victoria shots.
The disappointing aspect of this game was due to all the Burnaby penalties, they weren't given much of an opportunity to truly measure themselves against the Grizz. They had a good idea of their game plan, but obviously it changed with all the power plays. Victoria finished 4/10 on the power play. Burnaby meanwhile was 0/3.
Final score, Grizzlies 6 Express 1.
2-Justin Courtnall (2G)
1-Evan Pighin (2G, 2A)
*Derek Lee finished the game with 4 assists.
Sunday afternoon, the Express made the trip back up to the Island for a return visit to Nanaimo.
Injuries started to take their toll on the Express, already without Garrick Perry, Brodie Reid and Jacob Verheyden, Max Grassi joined the walking wounded after getting hurt the night before in Victoria. Other members of the Express came away needing a few ice packs.
The Express were hoping for a repeat performance from Friday night.
Nanaimo showed early they learned a thing or two after being blanked 2 nights earlier. One of the changes was their attack on the power play. Friday, they were going for the big shot and hope to create second chance opportunities. But Chan was strong and aggressive in his crease limiting the second chance opportunities.
Sunday, the Clippers took a page from the Victoria play book and went for the pretty play and it worked for the opening goal of the game. Tyler Pistone found a pinching Iain Thistlethwaite back door and he banged home the perfect pass.
This game really began to expose the Express lack of talent out of the lineup with injures. Most notably on the power play. This game wouldn't be one where the Express couldn't say they didn't get their fair shake of the calls. The Express had a total of 3 two man advantages. Including one shortly after the Thistlethwaite goal.
Boivin made it a 2-0 game late in the first after firing a wrist shot that beat Chan low to the stick side.
In the second, the score remained a two goal deficit, Jordan Soquila had a chance to cut the lead in half with a breakaway, but Evan Smith made the save as he stopped Soquila's attempt to go to the backhand. This game would be a bounce back effort for the Clippers netminder who was pulled after the first period on Friday.
That would turn out to be the turning point in the game as the Clippers would turn the momentum from that save into two quick goals to blow the game open when Tyler Pistone and Steve Mason scored ten seconds apart.
With a 4-0 lead going into the third, the only thing left to decide was if Smith would get the shutout. His bid would be broken by Greg Bay with 6 minutes left in the 3rd period.
The injuries would continue for the Express as Luke Challier left the game in the 3rd period after suffering an ankle injury.
Final score Clippers 4 Express 1.
3-Micheal Boivin (GWG)
2-Evan Smith (20 saves)
1-Tyler Pistone (1G, 3A)
The Express finished their road trip at 1-2.
As I mentioned in an earlier posting, the Express schedule doesn't get any easier. They begin a home and home series with the Langley Chiefs tonight at the Bill Copeland Sports Centre. The Express will eventually end up playing 4 games in 5 nights. Following Friday's game in Langley, the Express have home dates Saturday vs. Cowichan Valley and Sunday with Powell River.