Fred Harbinson admitted it was a tough year for the Penticton Vees’ special teams.
“It has come on at the right time. You can probably draw a direct correlation on the power play to when Gabe Bast came back,” said Harbinson, the Vees coach-GM, shortly after the regular season ended. “It definitely helps. We have changed our units a little bit. Our penalty kill has been really solid.”
The power play went 38-for-217, a 17.5 per cent execution rate ranking 13th in the 17-team BCHL. The penalty kill was stronger at fifth, going 37-for-203 chances, a rate of 81.8 per cent. Bast permanently returned to the Vees lineup on Feb. 8 after recovering from the lower body injury that kept him from playing all but eight games last season.
“I can’t complain about my health right now. I know I’ve had some problems in the past,” said Bast. “I’m just looking forward to the future with no problems, knock on wood.”
In the first half of the season the Vees power play executed at 15 per cent. In the second half, that rose to 18 per cent, the same efficiency with Bast in. In the 13 games Bast played in, he collected a point on five power play goals. Bast agreed that his presence has helped improve their special teams. So why is he so good on special teams?
“The poise I have with the puck. Using my ability to skate and make plays,” he said. “I think that has helped us when I got back in the lineup there.”
In February, the power play executed at 17 per cent, while the penalty kill was at 85 per cent. The Vees didn’t allow a power play goal in their final three games on eight chances.
Vees captain Nicholas Jones agreed with Harbinson’s comment.
“He runs the power play from back there. He can run the power play really well,” said Jones. “He’s got a great offensive mind. He’s got a good shot, a heavy shot. He can move the puck well.”
Jones added Bast’s sense of when to shoot is key. However, Jones said Bast is also calm with the puck and can hand it off to any shooter putting them in good situations.
Bast said he isn’t sure if it was just one thing that caused the Vees special teams to struggle without him and he can’t pin point one area.
“I can’t say I came in and made all the difference,” said Bast. “We got a good group going on right now. We got some chemistry going.”
Jones said special teams will be a big part of playoffs, which for the Vees begins March 17 at the South Okanagan Events Centre against the Merritt Centennials. With scoring opportunities harder to come by in the playoffs, Jones said they have to be able to score when chances arrive. Bast agreed as well that special teams are huge in the post-season.
“That can make or break your season. We took some time in these two weeks off to bear down on that power play and get things going,” said Bast. “One goal can be either going up 3-1 or being tied 2-2. It’s those types of swings in the playoffs. It’s those little bounces and everything matters. One blocked shot. One missed net. Just little things like that. That’s the difference in the playoffs.”
The Vees have taken advantage of their bye-week getting healthy and refreshed. Away from the rink, Jones said the players have hung out going bowling and playing the video game Call of Duty. He said the break was good to refresh their mind as the regular season schedule is a “mental battle.”
“Reset the batteries and know that the second season, the real season is starting up,” said Jones. “It’s nice to get a bit of a break from that.”
When it came to assessing his own play last month, Bast said he felt pretty good, getting better each game. As the month progressed, he got in better shape, back into game condition.
“My timing was better. I just wish the playoffs were right now,” he said.