Scott Conway doesn’t think the Penticton Vees could have played any better against the Vernon Vipers in their home-opener Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees forward earned first-star honours on banner raising night as he scored twice, his second helping his team dispatch the Vipers 3-2 in front of 2,318 fans.
“We have been working hard all week. It paid off tonight,” said Conway.
Mitch Brooks scored the other Vees goal, while captain Tyson Jost collected a pair of assists and was named the second star. Anthony Brodeur turned aside 23 shots in his first win as a Vee.
Odeen Tufto, named third star, and Steven Jandric scored for the Vipers as they were handed their second loss in three games.
Conway opened the scoring 42 seconds into the first after he squeezed a low shot past Vipers starter Andrew Shortridge at the near-post. Shortridge finished with 25 saves. It was Conway’s first goal and point as a Vee.
“It was my best game for sure. I can’t thank my line mates enough,” added Conway. “They all worked hard out there. We had a lot of zone time. It’s hard to beat us when we’re like that.”
Vernon matched Conway’s opening goal seven minutes later when Tufto shoveled a rolling puck across the goal-line. Jandric’s shot was stopped by Brodeur, but it squirted underneath his arm and Tufto tapped it in at 7:45.
The Vees continued pressure paid off later in the opening frame. Brooks put the Vees back out ahead on a solo effort down the left wing. Jason Lavalée found a streaking Brooks and took the pass in stride before flipping it over Shortridge at 11:12.
Easton Brodzinski had a great chance at the end of the period to put the Vees up by two. He found himself behind the Vipers defence on a breakaway but he was stuffed by the long leg of Shortridge.
Conway’ second goal came early in the second when he cleaned up his own rebound. Shortridge stopped his first attempt from along the goal line but Conway found daylight at the post at 4:32.
After killing off a Vees two-man advantage in the third period, the Vipers cut into the 3-1 lead with their own power-play six minutes in. Jandric blasted a one-timer underneath the crossbar after a couple of quick passes out of the corner. Vernon pressured in the final moments with the extra-attacker and came close to tying with a point shot that was redirected but, smacked the cross-bar and stayed out.
“We knew that was going to be a big factor in the game if we’re up,” said Conway. “We just played some good defence at the end. We’re all a little bit nervous. That was our first one of the year. I think good teams win with pressure.”
“I thought we packed in. They got the one deflection that went off the bar,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson. “Other than that, I thought we packed in really well and kind of kept them to the outside.”
The Vees coach said his team took a step in the right direction not only with the result, but how they got the win.
“I thought the process, we were much better tonight than we were last Friday,” he said. “Third period they started coming back a little more. I thought we tightened up a little in the third. It’s early season. I think we wanted so badly to win at home.”
Colton McCarthy, the Vipers captain, said they came out slow in the opening period saying it might have had to do with the Vees’ home-opening introductions.
“We came out hard in the second and even harder in the third. We had a pretty solid third period and we will probably use that to build into the next game,” he said.
McCarthy said the pressure they put on the Vees in the final minute was one of their better shifts. He was also happy with their play in the final 10 minutes. They outshot the Vees 7-5 after the home team had the second period advantage, 13-8.
“We were pushing the Vees back in their defensive zone, creating lots of scoring chances,” he said, adding that he felt the Vipers competed hard. “We just couldn’t beat Brodeur in net. I thought he was a little shaky. Came up with some big saves that kept them in the game and … we kept shooting pucks on him and he ended up making saves he needed to make. It was a tough loss and we will rebound for next game.”
The Vipers went one-for two on the power-play, while the Vees went 0-for-four. With the win, the Vees improve their record at the SOEC to 158-30-4-11. They are 1-1-0 on the season.
It was the first game the Vees played without goalie Brendan Barry, who they sent home to Kelowna for violating a team policy.
“We’re trying to make a move. Make a trade that makes sense for our hockey club and for the players that are here,” said Harbinson. “Once we do that, then we’ll be able to I guess move on.”
Harbinson wouldn’t comment further on what led to the club making that decision.
Barry, 17, started in the season opener in Salmon Arm against the Silverbacks on Sept.11, but was relieved after two periods as he allowed four goals on 23 shots in a 4-2 loss. Barry won 10 of 14 games as a rookie last season putting up two shutouts with a 2.06 goals against average and .912 save percentage. He is committed to join Clarkson University Golden Knights for next season.
Backing up Brodeur on Wednesday was affiliate player Nolan HilderBrand. Emilien Boily’s name was also announced during the player introductions.