The long bus ride home from the Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup for the Penticton Vees was made a little easier with an extra passenger.
After defeating the Portage Terriers, the Canadian Junior Hockey League’s top ranked team, 4-3 in overtime May 2, the Vees hoisted the trophy, punching their ticket to the RBC Cup national championships May 9 to 17.
Their prized possession, the WCC trophy, didn’t join the players inside the bus on the way home from Fort McMurray, but laid comfortably in its case in the bus storage.
“We didn’t want to damage it. Just took it out for pictures,” said Vees assistant captain Steen Cooper. “It definitely doesn’t look as sturdy as the Fred Page Cup. We didn’t want to take any risks.”
“It’s an awesome trophy,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson. “All the trophies are special in their own way. This is a pretty neat looking trophy. Something now that is going to be part of our program.”
One of the stops during the more than 15-hour trip home was to snap a team photo in Jasper, which left an impression on a few players.
“It was pretty cool,” said goalie Hunter Miska. “Unbelievable with the view. It was priceless.”
Demico Hannoun, now a two-time WCC champ after first winning the title as a Surrey Eagle two years ago, said it was a great all round feeling.
“It’s unreal,” he said.
When asked about the game, he said they had some bad calls go against them. One included having a goal disallowed after the official blew the whistle early. It would have given the Vees a 2-1 lead. There was also a late holding the stick penalty on Tyson Jost in the offensive zone that allowed the Terriers to tie the game and force overtime.
“We battled through a lot of adversity in the tournament and stuff like that and we ended up on top,” said Hannoun.
“I think we played really well,” said Cooper, adding that their victory still hadn’t sunk in. “Overtime is something that we were not a stranger to in the playoffs. I think we’re ready for the challenge. All the boys came out hard that game.”
The Vees clinched the WCC championship with Connor Chartier’s overtime tally at 2:59. He went to the front of the net as teammate Dakota Conroy fired a shot from the right side that squeaked through goalie Justin Laforest. While being checked, Chartier was able get his stick on the puck to tap in the winner, his fifth of the tournament.
“I just kind of blacked out. It was so exciting,” said Chartier, who finished with five goals and seven points in five games. “When I saw that puck there and was able to put it in, I just turned around and skated and threw my gloves as fast as I could. It was pretty special.”
Chartier was surprised to see the puck sitting in front of a wide open net there for the taking.
“Me and that defenceman kind of both stopped and when I looked back the puck was just sitting there,” he recalled. “I just swung at it and lucky enough it wasn’t a whistle before hand.”
Cooper said since day one it’s been their goal to play for the RBC Cup.
“I think the boys are looking forward to getting out to beautiful Manitoba,” he said.
Hannoun, who is making this third straight trip to the national championship, first with the Eagles two years ago and last year with the Vernon Vipers, said they just have to try and stay calm throughout the whole process. “I’m lucky enough to be going my third time,” he said. “Hopefully third times the charm. We’ve seen a couple teams that we’ve played already. They are all pretty good teams there. Carleton Place is a pretty good team. It’s going to be tough.”
Hannoun said this Vees squad is similar to the Eagles of 2013 because of their depth.
“That’s always good. No one is really tired during the game,” he said.
The Vees open the national championship facing a familiar foe in the host Portage Terriers May 9 at noon PST. On May 10, the Vees will then be the home team against the Melfort Mustangs, west 2, also a noon start. They take a day off on May 11 and return to action on May 12 when they face the east representative, the Carleton Place Canadians, who have seven returnees from the group that lost last year’s national championship to the Yorkton Terriers. On Thursday, May 14, the Vees face the Soo Thunderbirds at noon. The Thunderbirds played for the RBC Cup in 2012 and have one player remaining from that squad.