It was perhaps a bit of foreshadowing on his own part last week when the Penticton Vees head coach spoke of the importance of finishing in first overall.
“The regular season for us was to try and get that extra home game, if needed, as far as home ice advantage, which we got,” said head coach, general manager and president Fred Harbinson days before the second round of the BCHL playoffs started against the Trail Smoke Eaters.
Fast-forward a week later and the Vees and Smokies have only won on their home barns, the best of seven series is deadlocked 2-2.
“We fought all year to make sure we get home ice, and now it is a best of three with an opportunity for that third game, if needed, to be in our own building. But for now we are concentrated on (Friday),” said Harbinson.
The Vees cruised to 5-2 and 7-2 wins last weekend in the friendly confines of the South Okanagan Events Centre. The Smoke Eaters picked up back-to-back wins in their own arena, with a 4-3 overtime win on Tuesday and a 6-3 win on Wednesday.
“This series has been about discipline, or a lack of it. There were 11 power play goals scored. We scored a handful, then they did. We have to make sure we stay out of the box and do a better job containing their top guys,” said Harbinson.
Evident in Wednesday night’s loss for the Vees when top goalscorer Owen Sillinger was served an interference penalty and a game misconduct in the first period for an altercation at the bench. The Smoke Eaters tallied two goals in the second, were backstopped by some great saves by their goalie Adam Marcoux and the Vees went into the third period in a 3-1 hole.
“It was a huge blow to lose our captain and our leading scorer on a pretty chintzy situation, a tough situation. They (Trail) were also getting some timely saves. It could have been 2-1 but Marcoux makes one heck of a save instead. We scratch, claw get to back into it and Marcoux makes an amazing save on (Chris) Klack,” said Harbinson. “But that is behind us now. They won, the series is now 2-2, and neither team has won in the opposition’s building.”
Both cities have packed their rinks, with Trail averaging 2,300 people and Penticton 3,200. A little bit different than the Vees’ first round road trip to Coquitlam where you could hear a pin drop in front of the 250-ish fans.
“One thing I will say is that the fans there make it a difficult environment to compete in. It is one of the loudest buildings I have coached in, outside of our building. They have 2,500 fans jammed in with orange towels waving and pushing their team. I hope our fans have the same response on Friday,” said Harbinson.
Now down to a best-of-three, Harbinson said it comes down to execution. With forward Nicky Leivermann sitting out for the rest of the series and Jack Barnes, who was injured in Game 2, not returning either, it gives affiliate players like Cole Shepard (Delta Academy Prep/CSSHL) a chance to step up.
“Last year we had (Cassidy) Bowes do it. We had (Massimo) Rizzo do it. Cole is an elite player, and it is no surprise he brought a lot of energy and spark to our offence for us (Wednesday) night. That’s why it is exciting to have him with us for the rest of our games this year,” said Harbinson.
Game 5 of the series takes place at the South Okanagan Events Centre on March 23 at 7 p.m. The teams then head back to Trail for Game 6 on March 24. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. If necessary, Game 7 is back at the SOEC on March 26 at 7 p.m. For the latest Vees news and playoff game scores visit www.pentictonwesternnews.com.
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