Cheers exploded from the South Okanagan Events Centre as Michael Rebry scored the 2-2 equalizer over the Surrey Eagles Sunday evening.
It just wasn’t the final sound that night. It went from constant oohing and aahhing to silence as over 3,100 Penticton Vees fans had their hearts broken. Adam Tambellini beat Chad Katunar over his glove 2:34 into the second overtime for a 3-2 Eagles win in the BCHL Final.
Vees defenceman James DeHaas turned the puck over to Demico Hannoun who then skated towards the net and fed Tambellini out front as he waited in the slot. The championship goal was Tambellini’s first of the series and helped the Eagles clinch the Fred page Cup in six games.
Following the game, an emotional Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said his players laid it all on the line.
“They have nothing to hold their heads down about,” he said. “They battled right to the end. It was a heck of a series, two great teams. The last two games we had multiple chances to get it done.”
Late in the second period, John Siemer had a glorious chance to tie the game at one. He kept his eye on the puck that bounced off the back wall to the net. His backhand shot towards the gaping cage bounced off the cross bar. The Vees did eventually tie on a goal by Louie Nanne at 12:07 of the third. He trailed the play as captain Troy Stecher carried the puck into the Eagles zone then passed it out front to Nanne as he skated behind the net. Rebry’s goal came on the power play with 24 seconds remaining in regulation time.
In overtime, neither team held back. There were more scoring chances for both sides that had fans in awe and the atmosphere was electric as Santaguida and Katunar made miraculous saves to keep their teams in it. Katunar finished with 35 saves. Sam Mellor had a chance to even the series as he waited patiently to get Santaguida out of position. His shot was batted away by Tambellini. On another chance, Siemer made a slick move as he slid the puck between his legs to get past an Eagles defender then made a pass out in front of the crease. Wade Murphy got the puck but couldn’t put it past Santaguida, who dove out and appeared to make the save with his blocker and stick.
Harbinson credited the Eagles with the way they played.
“They are a great team,” said Harbinson. “It’s a great accomplishment for them.”
Harbinson added that there was nothing more his team could do as they fired 46 shots Santaguida’s way.
“Their goalie played outstanding,” he said.
Harbinson then talked about the effort of his captain Troy Stecher, who played the series with a separated shoulder that happened during Game 1 of the BCHL championship.
“I have never seen a kid play with a separated shoulder before,” said Harbinson. “We were led by our captain. He had a lot of courage to play with that kind of pain throughout the series. He was only able to shoot the puck a couple of times. You look at our guys, I’m really proud of them. I’m as proud of them as any other team we’ve had here. Obviously we’ve had some great teams. I think these guys wore the jersey and did it proud.”
Nanne wasn’t able to finish the game as he crashed hard into the boards battling with an Eagle for the puck. Harbinson said he suffered a knee laceration.
Eagles coach Matt Erhart said to win as a coach is almost more satisfying when he was as a player with the Eagles.
“A little more work when you’re a coach,” he said. “When you’re a player you show up and play. We have a great bunch of guys that want to work hard every day. Makes it easy as a coach.”
Erhart said he felt his players came out strong in the opening period. Brett Mulcahy opened the scoring at 1:55.
“In the third we got a big power play goal. Knowing the way the Vees are, we knew they were going to put a press on,” said Erhart. “We took that penalty, I kind of had a bad feeling. Just knowing the amount of fire power they have, character and heart they have in that dressing room. They made it tough.”
As for overtime, Erhart felt his team dominated the opening 10 minutes.
“The last 10 we somehow found a way to hold on and get the goal in double overtime,” he said. “I think a lot of the fans got their monies worth from this whole series. It was great series.”
Former Vee Brady Shaw said the winning feeling still hadn’t sunk in. He achieved his goal of sticking it to his former team after experiencing the disappointment of being released last season.
“I had a pretty tough series myself, points wise,” said Shaw, who had given the Eagles a 2-1 lead on a power play. “I didn’t produce as much as I’d like. It was important for me to get the goal there. Overall, I got a team win against them.”
While the teams shook hands, Shaw and Harbinson had a brief chat.
“He just said he is proud of how I came along,” said Shaw.
As the Eagles celebrated their win, Vees fans made sure they let the players know their efforts were appreciated. They stood and applauded them and chanted “Go Vees Go.”
The Eagles now move on to represent the BCHL at the inaugural Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup in Nanaimo, starting April 26. The championship marks the first time since 2007 that a team other than the Vees or Vernon Vipers has been crowned league champions.