This Friday night at Royal LePage Place, the West Kelowna Warriors and Salmon Arm Silverbacks will meet in a game of limited importance to close out the B.C. Hockey League’s regular season.
A week later, there will be infinitely more at stake when the longtime Interior rivals face off again to kick off round one of the playoffs.
The Warriors (37-17-2-1) and Silverbacks (29-17-5-4) will open the best-of-seven division semifinal series on Friday, March 4 in West Kelowna.
In a tightly contested season series to date, the Warriors have won three of five games while outscoring the ‘Backs by the slimmest possible margin, 16-15.
Warriors head coach and GM Rylan Ferster is expecting both teams to bring their best to the postseason.
“The ice gets smaller, the battles get bigger and the intensity level goes up,” Ferster said of the playoffs. “The (Silverbacks) are a really good team. You look at their lineup and they’re solid right from their goaltender (Angus Redmond) all the way out. Their defence is strong, they have size and skill, and they have a very good group of forwards. They really have no weak spots.
“You can throw the regular season out the window, those records mean nothing,” he added. “Both teams will be ready to go.”
With the playoffs closing in, the Warriors have saved their best hockey of the season for the last month.
West Kelowna has won 11 of its last 12 games, stretching its lead over Salmon Arm to 10 points and solidifying second-place finish in the Interior Division.
While he cites a team effort as vital, Ferster said the Warriors’ recent prosperity all starts in goal, with the play of both Matthew Greenfield and Keelan Williams.
“I think our goaltending has given us a chance to win pretty much every night,” Ferster said. “Both guys have played well down the stretch and we all know how important goaltending is to any hockey team’s success.”
The Warriors have had some notable contributions from other areas of the club, perhaps none more impressive than the exploits of Jonathan Desbiens.
The 19-year-old forward from Montreal has an eye-popping 15 goals in his last 12 games and a club record 44 this season.
“JD has been great,” Ferster said of Desbien’s play. “He’s obviously scored a lot of goals, but on top of that so many of them are big goals and timely goals.
“He cares so much about his game, he works really hard at it and he’s getting rewarded for it.”
Desbiens and his Warriors teammates will have had plenty of rest by the time the playoffs begin, having played just twice in 13 days prior to Game 1.
“It’s a long season, you prepare to make the playoffs and be ready to play, so it will be good to have the rest and get ready,” Ferster said. “Playoffs is such a fun time of year for everybody. Once it starts, there’s a lot of hockey to play in a short time, so you need to be prepared for that.”
In addition to being familiar rivals on the ice, the Warriors and Silverbacks have a connection behind their respective benches.
Salmon Arm head coach Brandon West worked as an assistant to Ferster with the Warriors during the 2011-12 season.