A total of 86 games played this year, and for the Penticton Vees it all came down to the last 51.3 seconds.
That is the precise moment the puck found the back of the net securing the Vees the RBC Cup national title over the Woodstock Slammers on Sunday.
“That’s hockey. The line between winning and losing at this level when you are trying to win a national championship is so fine you can’t even see it,” said Vees coach/GM Fred Harbinson.
Getting there came with adversity. A 25-game suspension at the beginning of the season to their captain, season-ending injury to Connor Reilly, injury to their first-string goaltender just as playoffs were about to begin and losing the opening two games at the national tournament.
“We went through our fair share of stuff and every time there was a big game our guys found a way to get through it,” said Harbinson,
Losses to the Soo Thunderbirds and Humboldt Broncos to start the RBC Cup put the pressure on the Vees. It was something they thrived on. The team went on to beat the Woodstock Slammers and Portage Terriers to advance to the semifinals. Goaltender Michael Garteig made some incredible saves as the Vees punched their ticket to the finals shutting out the Thunderbirds 3-0.
“It would have been very disappointing to come short with all the great things these guys accomplished and I am just really proud of our group,” said Harbinson.
A record-breaking regular season put the coach in a position of confidence in the RBC Cup finals, so much so that in the final two minutes of a tie game for the national championship he ran with four forwards.
“That forth forward was the one that scored ... and it was a heck of a goal to finish the season off,” said Harbinson.
The Vees had jumped out to a 2-0 lead over the Slammers with goals from Travis St. Denis on the powerplay and Steven Fogarty. The Slammers went on a three-goal tear scoring in the first, second and finally taking the lead 3-2 early in the third period. But, the Vees did not give up. Bryce Gervais knotted the game to put the team back into it and with minutes remaining the Vees were like sharks circling on the powerplay.
Benik skated into the slot passing the puck to Gervais perched at the side of the net. Gervais one-tapped it back to Benik across the crease in the give-and-go play. With little hesitation Benik ripped it past the Slammers goalie hitting twine.
“It’s been a dream season,” said Benik. “That’s one of the plays we have on our powerplay. I circled back and saw St. Denis open. I threw it down to him and it opened up so he chucked it back to me. I did a little toe drag shot and thankfully it went in.”
It was a goal that Penticton native and Vees forward Cody Depourcq has witnessed before.
“It was something we have seen a million times from him. I think he’ll score nine out of 10 times from there for sure,” said Depourcq.
After winning 42 straight games, the BCHL Fred Page Cup and the Doyle Cup, the national championship holds a very special piece of history for Depourcq. His father, John Depourcq, was part of the 1986 Penticton Knights squad that won the title.
“My dad always told me great stories of that time. He also told me something his coach said that when they win that championship game they would walk together forever. That is something that stayed with me and with this team we won and now we walk together,” said Cody.