After watching their 3-0 lead slip away Wednesday night, the Penticton Vees clamped down defensively to hold off the Merritt Centennials for a 4-2 victory.
Along with moments in which the Vees blocked shots with desperation and worked to clear pucks, goalie Hunter Miska stepped up, making half of his 23 saves in the third period.
“Miska played unbelievable, especially making some huge stops in the end,” said Vees assistant captain Jack Ramsey of the goalie’s 10-save performance in the final frame.
“When you’re playing against a good team, you’re not just going to steam roll over them,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson. “There is going to be a little back and forth. When they got their push in the third, I thought we bent a little bit but we didn’t totally collapse.”
Turnovers gave the Centennials chances, while a mistake defensively and a power play helped the Centennials get within a goal in front of 2,114 fans for the first Wicked Wednesday at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Despite the errors and power play given up, the Vees coach said it was a solid performance by his team.
“I thought the first two periods might have been two of the better periods we have played all year,” said Harbinson.
The fired 26 shots in the first two periods at Anthony Pupplo, who finished with 30 saves.
Harbinson said the group talked about protecting their lead when playing a good team, such as the Centennials, ranked 10th in the Canadian Junior Hockey League.
Ramsey admitted the turnovers were a problem but said they will have slip-ups in games.
“When that happens you have to stay strong,” he said. “Guys could easily crack under pressure out there with one goal up. We have a lot of young guys on our team and the older guys show we can deal with adversity.”
In the first and second period the Vees created several chances and could have had more goals. In the first period, Demico Hannoun slithered his way into the Centennials zone, getting past a defender, and nearly slid the puck past Pupplo. Patrick Newell, who scored the winner, nearly finished in front of the crease but failed to get his stick on it.
The power play units were also buzzing and went one-for-four.
Next up for the Vees is a home-and-home matchup with the West Kelowna Warriors that begins Friday at the SOEC. On the weekend, the Warriors lost to Merritt 2-1, then bounced back to defeat Cowichan Valley 5-3 on Sunday. Ramsey said just like their recent series against Salmon Arm, the players love facing division rivals.
“Hopefully we will keep the hot streak (three wins in a row) we got going,” said Ramsey.
Along with the Vees’ power play starting to click more, Ramsey, who assisted on Dante Fabbro’s first-period power play tally, likes the chemistry of the lines the coaches have put together.
“Guys are getting good with each other. We are working on stuff,” said Ramsey. “We are only going up from here.”
Vees notes: The players looked sharp debuting their Cantex Construction third jersey, which will be worn for all Wicked Wednesday games at the SOEC. “Yeah, pretty nice,” said Harbinson. “Great look. It’s nice to win in them.” The creative minds behind the sweater was the Vees staff who discussed ideas over the summer … Vees co-captain Patrick Sexton is out indefinitely with an upper body injury suffered during practice … Cody DePourcq, the Vees’ other co-captain, was helped off the ice in the second period after taking a hard hit against the Centennials. His status is unknown.