Vees captain played through injury to help team

Setting up Louie Nanne to tie Game 6 of the BCHL championship at 1-1 was a good moment for Troy Stecher.

Setting up Louie Nanne to tie Game 6 of the BCHL championship at 1-1 was a good moment for Troy Stecher.

The graduating Penticton Vees’ captain used one of his go-to moves as he rushed down the left side, slid the puck between his legs to get by the Surrey Eagles defender, then fed a pass out front as he skated behind the net.

“I saw an opportunity to make a move,” said Stecher on Tuesday as players were at the South Okanagan Events Centre for their exit meetings, and to clear their stalls. “I just made a wishful pass out front and Louie put it in. I think that can be the final cherry on top for myself.”

It was an impressive play by a leader desperately wanting to keep the Vees’ season alive. He did it with a separated shoulder that was hurt in the last minute of Game 1 against Surrey.

“Fred (Harbinson, Vees’ coach-GM) wasn’t going to let me play in Game 2,” said Stecher. “I just told him I’d rather sit on the bench than sit in the stands. I didn’t want to let the guys down. I felt I still had something to give.”

Taking needles before every game to freeze his injury was a sacrifice Stecher, one of five nominees for the Canadian Junior Hockey League Defenceman of the Year award, was willing to make.

Having won last year’s RBC Cup championship with Wade Murphy, Chad Katunar and Cody DePourcq, Stecher said it was disappointing for the team to lose. However, he chooses to look at the positives from a season in which they exceeded fan expectations.

“I just thank every guy in the dressing room for being who they were and making this a great season,” he said.

After Eagles forward Adam Tambellini beat Katunar in double-overtime to win the Fred Page Cup, Stecher sat on the ice against the boards near the Vees’ bench. It was an emotional moment for the Richmond product.

“Before the game I thought to myself, win or lose, I will probably cry,” said Stecher.

During that moment, he was consoled by DePourcq. The Vees’ spark plug told the 19-year-old he had a great three years.

“It was an incredible journey for him,” said DePourcq. “An incredible junior career. He’s been a great player for this organization. He was a great player in the playoffs when he was 16. Someone I looked up to.

“What he went through in that series is definitely amazing to see,” continued DePourq in regard to the shoulder. “That just shows you right there what kind of leadership he has. The stuff he brings to the ice. He brings a lot of energy.”

Asked to talk about some of his career highlights, Stecher said there are too many. His RBC Cup win is up there. He also mentioned being named a captain at 18, sharing playoff MVP honours with Logan Johnston as a 16-year-old is remarkable to him. That led to him talking about teammate Ryan Gropp, who is a nominee for the CJHL Rookie of the Year award.

“I have never seen a player as good as Gropp at 16 years old,” said Stecher. “To think how much better he is now than I was then, I can only imagine the success he is going to find. He’s a lot better player than I am.”

In talking about last year’s playoff run compared to this year, Stecher, who was named Top D-man at last year’s RBC Cup, said that record-setting year was “surreal.”

“This year is more reality,” he said. “This year I learned a lot more about life skills. Being a better human in the community. Better person and teammate.”

Not being able to repeat as B.C. champs was also disappointing to Murphy.

“I was in shock,” he said. “I didn’t want it to be over.”

Being on the ice for the 2-2 equalizer, Murphy said that shift was “the most stressful last two minutes of my life.”

“I was really relieved when that went in,” said Murphy. “After we lost I looked up at the banners and said I won those with my teammates. I was pretty proud of myself.”

Katunar said it’s tough to work so hard at something and have it taken away that quickly.

“I have to give ourselves credit; there was no quit in us,” said Katunar. “We battled to the end even with 30 seconds left and down. No one ever lost faith.”

It never sunk in for DePourcq until BCHL commissioner John Grisdale handed the trophy to Eagles captain Brett Mulcahy.

“It’s definitely tough to watch, especially in that way in overtime when we had so many chances,” said DePourcq. “We wanted to do it again. We really wanted to bring that RBC Cup back home.”

Vees notes: Captain Troy Stecher won three of 15 team awards being recognized with the Robert Skinner Courage Award, Best Defenceman Award and Most Valuable Player. Louie Nanne was recognized as the Most Improved Player and received the Humanitarian Award, while Jedd Soleway was named Best Conditioned Athlete. Same Mellor was given the Academic Achievement Award, Brad McClure was named Unsung Hero. Travis Blanleil picked up the Most Inspirational Award and playoff MVP. Cam Amantea was the Most Sportsmanlike and Vees-on-Vees Most Popular Player. Wade Murphy was the leading scorer and Ryan Gropp the Rookie of the Year. The Fan Favourite Award went to Cody DePourcq.