That was quick. The Penticton Vees have advanced to round two of the British Columbia Hockey League’s playoffs after sweeping the Salmon Arm SilverBacks.
The Vees are one step closer to playing for the Fred Page Cup again.
A question looming in my mind after listening to Game 4 on the radio as the Vees defeated the SilverBacks 5-1 in the Shaw Centre was how much of a test did they get compared to what the Merritt Centennials and West Kelowna Warriors are going through now.
Heading into their series with the SilverBacks, the Vees faced the lowest scoring team with 151 goals for an average of 2.7 per game. Once the four-game tilt was over, the Vees outscored the SilverBacks 16 to 6.
Vees forward Brock Balson and goalie Chad Katunar both said the SilverBacks were a good test.
“I thought it was good,” said Balson of their series. “We both battled hard. They fought pretty hard right to the end. They are a young team but they still battled hard. Threw everything they had at us.”
Balson said the rest of the way in the playoffs he expects close games. The better they play defensively now increases their chances of going deeper into the playoffs. As obvious as that statement sounds, sometimes it’s easier to say it than do it. In the first three games of the series, the Vees margin of victory was two goals. If you don’t include empty net goals, then Game 2 was a 3-2 final.
Balson said the SilverBacks, whose average age is 18.39 years according to www.eliteprospects.com, could have easily been in the game at any point.
“We just kept battling,” said Balson. “It was really closer than the 4-0 sweep suggested.”
Katunar, who allowed six goals on 100 shots, said it was good for the Vees to have early success.
“It’s going to give us a ton of confidence in next series,” said Katunar, who posted a 1.50 goals against average and .940 save percentage. “Salmon Arm was a good test, they battled really hard.”
During Game 4 on Tuesday night, the SilverBacks were given a chance early to take the lead with a 5-on-3 man advantage for 1:31 but failed largely because of Katunar. Of the 26 shots he faced in the game, Katunar said 10 were really good.
“They were buzzing,” he said.
In that final game, in which the Vees lit up Adam Clark for four in the opening frame, Katunar said his teammates played a strong game.
“We were very strong as a team the whole series and I felt good personally,” he said.
SilverBacks GM Troy Mick said jitters got the best of his players who had little to no playoff experience. He added that Penticton came out hard in Game 1.
“Third and fourth game, we were in it pretty much all the way minus the fourth game a little bit,” he said. “We give up a couple weak goals there. They are the national champions for a reason. We can hold our head up high. We played a great team. A team that is very well coached and has a lot of depth.”
Mick said a turning point for them was when they led 2-1 with 11 minutes remaining in the second period. That lead lasted until the eight minute mark of the third, when the Vees scored three unanswered to win.
“We are proud that we were able to stick with them for what we did,” said Mick, adding that they will have 19 returning players. “They are just an excellent hockey club.”
When asked about last year’s playoff experience, Katunar said it’s a huge benefit to him. When Michael Garteig went down with an injury with six games remaining, the young rookie became the man between the pipes and flourished. He won 12 of 15 games in the playoffs and helped the Vees win the Fred Page Cup and Game 1 of the Doyle Cup against the Brooks Bandits. The six-foot-six, 218-pound goalie knows exactly what to expect. That will be an advantage he has on Merritt Centennials goalie Tyler Steel, who entering this season had seven playoff games on his resume or West Kelowna Warriors netminder Tyler Briggs. He had four games experience with a goals against average of 7.97 and 4.00 in two separate seasons with the Lloydminster Bobcats. As of Wednesday, he had a 2.17 goals against average and .945 save percentage against the Centennials.
“I know what type of hockey is going on,” said Katunar. “There are always nerves in the playoffs but it’s very manageable for me since I have been there.”
In the other BCHL playoff action, the Victoria Grizzlies eliminated the Powell River Kings 3-2 in overtime of Game 5 to clinch their series.They will face the Alberni Valley Bulldogs, who overcame a 2-0 deficit in their series against the Western Canada Cup hosts Nanaimo Clippers to take that series in five games. The Bulldogs won the final game 2-1. The Surrey Eagles needed just four games to dispose of the Langley Rivermen and will now face the Chilliwack Chiefs, who defeated the Prince George Spruce Kings 5-2 to take the series in five games. Round two of the Coastal Conference will begin March. 22 and is to concluded March 27 the latest. UPDATE — The Warriors defeated the Centennials 7-4 to win their series in five games and will now face the Vees.