“This was a big statement game to our guys,” said Penticton Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson, following his team’s 3-1 victory over the Vernon Vipers Wednesday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees played without Gabe Bast, who is again out indefinitely with a lower body injury, as well as forward Jamie Armstrong, who has mono, and defencemen Griffin Mendel, Jonny Tychonick and James Miller. That trio was in Leduc, for the Canada West camp. Mendel and Tychonick were selected to the team, while Miller did not make the team and is out with an injury sustained in the Vees last game on Dec. 3.
Harbinson said it doesn’t matter who is in or out of the lineup, they just got to go out there and play the way they are taught to play and execute and he thought his players did that.
Grant Cruikshank sniped the winner and Mat Robson turned aside 28 shots. It’s the Vees’ third win in four games against their Interior Division rival and improve to 25-5-1-0 and the Vees did it with three new additions on their blue line in Penticton native Greg Brydon and affiliate players (AP) Konsta Jaske of the Summerland Steam and Jackson Van de Leest, 15, of Kelowna, who plays for the Okanagan Hockey Academy midget prep White team.
“I liked that we had basically half a new D-core and a tough situation for them to come in. In my 10 years here, probably the best AP performances I’ve seen,” said Harbinson, whose team is ranked No. 4 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League. “They hung in there and battled hard.”
Brydon said it was electric playing in the SOEC and felt he played well.
“A couple of mistakes but that’s going to happen when it’s the first game with a new team,” he said. “My game is simple and if i go away from it, good things don’t happen. Just meat and potatoes kind of guy.”
The Vipers had chances in the final frame to get back in, but the Vees did what they needed to in blocking passes, clearing the puck or sacrificing the body, especially captain Nicholas Jones who blocked a shot in the final minute.
“I thought our whole group played a real smart game. That’s what we challenged our guys to win battles. I thought we won just as many battles or more than the team that we played against and I thought special teams were good and most importantly we played really smart.”
Vipers captain Riley Brandt put himself in position for a shorthanded breakaway, but he was turned away by Robson. Ryan Brushett had a chance on a one-timer that Robson made a right pad save.
“It wasn’t a bad effort, but it’s tough off the start there getting that penalty (a bench minor) but, I thought it took us a while to get our feet into it. Other than that it wasn’t too bad of a game. Their goalie played well and we just didn’t put the pucks in the net when we needed to.”
The crowd of 2,725 were given one final piece of action to talk about going home. Jones got into a heated exchanged with Cooper Watson, while Ryley Risling and Niko Karamanis rolled around on the ice trying to land shots on each other. Nicholas Rasovic was assessed a misconduct penalty at 19:59 while Jones received two for roughing.
Outshot 12-8 by the Vipers in the middle frame, the Vees had the better chances. Five minutes into the period, Duncan Campbell fired a shot off the post with the side open. At 6:51, Matt Gosiewski intercepted the puck, raced into the Vipers zone and fired a wrist shot with precision high blocker past Darion Hanson, who finished with 20 saves. It was Gosiewski’s first goal as a Vee in 13 games. The Vipers responded immediately at 7:30 on a goal by Brett Stapley, who fired a shot from the slot area. Near the midway mark of the period, Jimmy Lambert had a partial breakaway going hard to the Vees net, but as he got close, Campbell knocked him off his skates and he went crashing hard into the net. It took him some time to get up as he looked to have hurt his left arm.
The intensity between the sides started in the second period as Risling exchanged words with Rasovic and Gosiewski got involved in shoving with Connor Clouston and Austin Adamson. Taylor Ward was involved as well. He and Risling received two minutes for roughing after the whistle, while Clouston and Rasovic received the same penalties.
“Both teams battle hard against each other,” said Brandt, whose team dropped to 15-13-3-0. “It’s been a culture like that for God knows how long. It’s a physical game and it was fun to play in.”
In the opening period, the Vees outshot the Vipers 9-6 and got goals from Risling his 10th of the season, two minutes in just as the Vipers penalty expired, and Grant Cruikshank. Cruikshank’s 19th tally came on the power play via a nice wrist shot in the high slot area.
Vees defenceman Mitch Meek returned to the lineup after missing two games with an injury.
Video below courtesy of Jayson Moonie.