The Mission City Outlaws stumbled this past weekend, but head coach Brad Veitch said there’s still plenty of time for everything to come together for the defending Pacific Junior Hockey League champions.
Mission dropped round one of the battle of the Fraser River against the Abbotsford Pilots on Friday in a 7-2 setback, and then fell 4-3 in overtime to the Grandview Steelers in Mission on Saturday.
Friday’s game saw the Outlaws have a decent start, but then saw the game slip away.
Mission opened the scoring early in the first when Baylee Wright gave the Outlaws their only lead of the game. Abbotsford added two in the first period, one in the second, and exploded in the third for five to bury Mission. Justin Bowerman added a late goal for Mission.
“I thought we were OK in the first period but a little flat,” said Outlaws head coach Brad Veitch. “Once they got up on us we stopped moving the puck.”
Veitch pointed out the loss was the first time Abbotsford has defeated Mission dating back to early last season.
“It’s tough to beat a team seven times in a row,” he said, noting that Mission had beaten Abbotsford the previous six times the clubs had met. “Guys maybe thought it would be easier than it was, but this is a group that needs to be woken up sometimes.”
Saturday’s game was a see-saw battle that saw Mission have 1-0 and 2-1 leads, only to have the game tied with 13 seconds remaining. The Outlaws couldn’t continue the momentum in overtime, as the Steelers scored at 2:28 of the extra frame.
Sammy Zeinab, Ryan Sharma and Michael Sande scored for Mission.
Despite picking up just one out of four possible points, Veitch said his team will be fine once they gel.
“I like the group we have,” he said. “I think we’re going to be a strong team again this year, but the [Harold Brittain] conference will be really tight. I expect us to come out and battle every night. We need to show more than what we did tonight [Friday], that’s for sure.”
The Outlaws’ top two scorers on the championship team, David McGowan and Bryce Pisiak, have played their final games in junior, but Veitch said there is talent ready to step up.
He said he expects forwards Wright, Sharma and Bowerman to pick up the load offensively this season. After 30 points last season, Wright already has six points in Mission’s first four games.
“Wright is definitely going to be an offensive catalyst for us,” Veitch said. “He’s doing a lot of things right with the puck for us so far this season. Sharma is going to be a big factor for us going forward, and Bowerman is going to be a leader for us.”
Veitch said he has a young blueline, with three rookie defenceman on the roster. Goaltending is another early question mark, as three keepers are vying for the starting job. The spot came open when Veitch’s son Jeffrey Veitch joined the Kirkland Lake Gold Miners in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Rookie goalies Matthew Truisen and Payton Gibson, along with former Port Moody Panther goalie Joshua Barrett, are the trio battling for playing time in the crease.
The Outlaws play tonight on the road against Ridge Meadows and then host the Richmond Sockeyes on Saturday. Puck drops at 6:45 p.m. at the Mission Leisure Centre.