Split puts perspective in Chiefs' chase for first

Michael Harroch and Quinton Hill may do their best work at opposite ends of the ice, but it’s often been that when both are working well, everything comes together.

The duo were big reasons as to why the Vancouver North East Chiefs clipped the first-place Fraser Valley Thunderbirds 2-1 on Saturday to pull them briefly into a tie atop the B.C. Major Midget Hockey League standings.

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On Sunday, the T-birds set the tone and reclaimed first with a 4-0 shutout.

Although the loss was a reminder on how quickly things can change if you don’t come out hungry, it couldn’t dampen the feeling from the previous day.

“We feel good about the split, although obviously we were aiming to sweep,” remarked Chiefs coach Jeff Urekar. “(Saturday in Langley) we were able to generate some good scoring chances, while (Sunday the T-birds) kept us to the outside. We had trouble getting beyond the perimeter.”

In the win, New West’s Dante Ballarin and Hill, from Coquitlam, put North East ahead with tallies midway through the first and second periods, respectively. At the other end, Harroch, a Burnaby native, was standing on his head in keeping Fraser Valley at bay.

The T-birds scored early in the third and had a number of glorious chances for the equalizer, including a breakaway midway through the period, and a couple of powerplays. The last penalty, to Maple Ridge’s Cody Hough, came with 58 seconds remaining, after Harroch had already blocked a handful of excellent shots. He would stand his ground and finish the day with 37 saves as the Chiefs registerd their 18th win of the season.

“(Harroch) had a very strong game. He played very well and really made the win possible,” said Urekar. “Sometimes we’ve seen it where you get a lead and in the third get complacent. I thought we did a very good job of holding the fort and generating some pressure in their zone.”

For Hill, it was his team-leading 18th goal of the season. The team captain, Ballarin finished with a goal and an assist.

Unfortunately it didn’t carry over when the scene shifted to Burnaby’s 8-Rinks a day later.

The T-birds led 1-0 after 20 minutes and 2-0 after 40 minutes, and finished off the Chiefs with a pair of markers in the third. Netminder Logan Terness did a solid job of keeping the score close over the first two periods.

“We were a little flat to start. I think it served as a good lesson, a reminder that you have to buckle down and play hard right from the start. Our success has come from being a hardworking team, but when we don’t do it we have problems.”

The Burnaby-based Chiefs sit second at 18-6-4-2, two points back of the T-birds, who hold two games in hand. The North East team also leads the Carboo Cougars by three points.

Harroch, who is affiliated with the BC Hockey League’s Coquitlam Express, holds a 13-2-3-1 record and 2.75 goals-against average.

It came on the heels with the team’s two-game visit to Fort St. John, where they played in the league’s first-ever outdoor game. Both contests ended in a draw – 4-4 and 2-2 against the third-place Cougars – and gave the team a major boost in confidence.

“We just got through a tough stretch in the schedule, where we played the some of the tougher teams,” noted Urekar. “(The outdoor game) was a great experience for the kids, there was a great crowd at both games and just a terrific environment.”

The Chiefs head up to Kelowna for the league’s Spotlight weekend, where they’ll play the North East Hawks for a pair of games.

The Chiefs draw players from east Burnaby, New Westminster, the Tri-Cities and Ridge Meadows.

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