The last time the Penticton Vees trailed after two periods, they lost.
That was in the season-opener against the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Wednesday night at the South Okanagan Events against the Trail Smoke Eaters was a different story. After a scoreless opening period, the Vees were down 2-1. The seventh ranked team in the Canadian Junior Hockey League scored four unanswered goals in the final frame to earn a 5-3 victory that pushed their win streak to eight.
“Honestly it wasn’t our best effort. We all know that we have more,” said captain Tyson Jost, who is ranked by International Scouting Services (ISS) as the 18th best prospect for the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. “We can say we did a good job again of pulling through, but I know I’m not happy with my own play. I know that I could have done a lot better in the first 40 minutes.”
The comeback started after Vees forward Demico Hannoun was sent off for slashing. Twenty-five seconds later, Jost levelled the game at two when he wired a shot over Bailey MacBurnie’s shoulder, glove side. During the penalty-kill, Vees goalie Anthony Brodeur dumped the puck into the Smoke Eaters’ zone. Jost was able to get to the puck first, curling out front and firing a shot.
Roughly nine minutes later, Scott Conway went to work. Speeding down the middle of the Smoke Eaters zone, Hannoun carried the puck on the right wing, then fired a shot on MacBurnie, who gave up a rebound to his right on the blocker side. Conway was in position to bat the puck in. Jacked up from the goal, Conway spread his arms out like wings to the crowd of 1,999.
“Obviously it was a big goal, right. We had to have someone to step up,” said Conway. “We were always working hard there. We were moving the feet. We didn’t have the brains tonight. You got to have both to win games. I think the hockey gods were in our favour tonight.”
Less than two minutes later, on a play started by Seamus Donohue, Sam Jones fed Conway the puck and he bulldozed his way through Connor Brown-Maloski and Cooper Leitch to beat MacBurnie a second time.
“I had that lane so I just flipped it over his stick and just made a nice shot on the goalie,” said Conway.
“That second one was unreal. I was just on the bench kind of chuckling to myself how nice that one was,” said Jost.
Owen Sillinger was credited with the Vees’ fifth goal after losing the faceoff to Max Newton, who tried passing the puck back to the point, but missed his teammate and it rolled into the empty net. Shortly after that goal, Newton set up Ross Armour on a power-play after he chipped the puck over Brodeur, who finished with 24 saves to improve his record to 6-0. The other Vees goal was scored by Jason Lavallee.
Smoke Eaters assistant coach Craig Clare said they were happy with the effort stating its hard to get points in the SOEC.
“We were 10 minutes away, taking the team to overtime,” he said. “They capitalized on a couple of opportunities at the end. They know how to win. Right now we don’t. That’s the difference in the game.”
Clair added they are looking for consistency in their play and said if they can bring the kind of effort they showed against the Vees, they will be fine.
“We need to build off this,” said Clare, adding it was disappointing not to come away with a point at least.
Jost said the Smoke Eaters outworked them and were wiling to win more battles. He said they have to take time to think about their performance and move forward.
The Vees were without defenceman Gabe Bast for the third straight game with a lower body injury and he was joined by Dante Fabbro. Fabbro also made the ISS ranking, listed at eighth.
The Vees host the West Kelowna Warriors on Friday at 7 p.m., then travel to Chilliwack to face the Chiefs. Jost said he expects a good battle.
“Westside is going to be a lot harder task. It’s going to be a tough weekend,” said Jost. “Two really good teams. Chilliwack is a hard place to grab a few points. We were fortunate enough to do that last time.”
Off the ice, Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson, also the organization’s president, said they are a few weeks away from submitting their proposal to win the bid for next year’s Western Canada Cup. One area he stressed importance on is attendance to Vees games.
“Getting big crowds right now would be important to try to secure votes when the other governors look at the different aspects right now. That’s a big piece of it,” said Harbinson. “Hopefully we continue to draw well over the next few weeks before that bid goes in.”
After three games, the Vees have attracted 6,572 fans for an average of 2,191. The Chilliwack Chiefs are averaging 2,254. Harbinson said winning the bid would be great for more than just hockey as it would have an economic impact on the city. The winning bid will be announced on Nov.14.
“It would be great for the organization, great for the fans, it’s kind of the next step in our organizations process,” he said.