James de Haas was announced as the overtime hero for the Penticton Vees, but it was Brock Balson who ended the West Kelowna Warriors season Thursday night.
Game 5 of the BCHL Interior Conference final was decided by Balson, who Fraser Rodgers reported on his Three V’s blog, tipped de Haas’ shot 1:44 into overtime for a 2-1 final. The play was set up by Sam Mellor from the right wing. The goal sent the crowd of 1,601 in the South Okanagan Events Centre into a frenzy, minus the group of supporters for the Warriors.
Balson was the hero in Game 3, scoring in double-overtime at Royal LePage Place to put the Vees up 3-0.
“You have to give Sam Mellor a ton of credit with the play he made to James,” said Vees captain Troy Stecher following the game with noise flooding from the dressing room.
Giving that trio a chance to send the Vees to defend their Fred Page Cup championship was affiliate player Josh Blanchard, who played major midget this season with the Okanagan Rockets. After some hard work from Cody DePourcq in the corner, the five-foot-eight, 155 pound forward scored his first BCHL goal to make it 1-1.
“I didn’t know it was mine first and then I see it go off my skate,” said Blanchard. “It was the most exciting moment just to get it for the team. I just saw a puck go in deep and I was just trying to go to the net hard and it just happened to go off a skate.”
“He’s going hard to the net, that line with Depourcq and Blans, they just work, work, work,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “For me, it’s exciting to see that when you recruit a kid, you see him in midget and you hope his game translates to the higher level. He clearly showed that tonight that he can play at this level playing at the biggest stage of the year.”
After the first period, the game remained scoreless as the Vees outshot the Warriors 13-7. The Vees had some good chances including one from Mellor, who was denied by Warriors goalie Tyler Briggs in close. The Warriors had their own chance as Max French hit the cross bar eight minutes into the period. The Warriors defence was hard at work blocking several Vees shots.
In the second period, Briggs made an unbelievable toe save on Jedd Soleway, while Chad Katunar made a key save shortly after. Briggs finished with 32 saves. Reid Simmonds opened the scoring for the Warriors on a play that Harbinson said they made a mistake on with one of their players without a stick.
“They got a lot of momentum from that,” said Harbinson. “They pushed back real hard. That’s when we talked about going into this game that there has been a little trend going where they would score one and they’d find another way to score two right away. That is West Kelowna over the years.”
Harbinson said he talked to his players about having to win one period. They did that in the third. Outshooting the Warriors 8-5, Blanchard’s goal came three minutes into the frame.
“It’s a great hockey team over there,” said Harbinson. “It was a tight series, tighter than it looks. It was a lot of hard fought games. Just real proud for the organization and the city to be going to the final for the third time in six years.”
The Vees exploded onto the ice following Balson’s goal. Katunar said he absolutely freaked out.
“I was really excited and our whole team was,” said Katunar. “That was a good team we played against. We got to give those guys credit, they battled their tails off, even when their backs were against the wall. There was no quit in that room.”
Warriors coach-GM Rylan Ferster said he couldn’t ask more from his players.
“I thought our guys left it all out there tonight and played hard,” he said.
While Katunar gave the Warriors their due, he said they deserved just as much and praised their play.
“We hadn’t played some of the best hockey coming into playoffs,” said Katunar. “I really think we found our groove.”
The Vees captured their second consecutive Ryan Hatfield Memorial Trophy as Interior Conference champions and will play the Surrey Eagles in the 2013 Fred Page Cup final starting April 12. It’s the Vees 17th appearance in the league’s final, the fourth for the Eagles, who last won the league in 2005. The Vees play Games 3 and 4 at the SOEC on April 15 and 16. Due to a scheduling conflict at the SOEC, the two teams will announce a schedule for Games 5 through 7 in the coming days.
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