Benik a driving force for the Vees

Joey Benik continues to play strong for Vees in quest of national championship

Penticton Vees forward Joey Benik is having a strong playoff performance

Penticton Vees forward Joey Benik is having a strong playoff performance

When Joey Benik fanned on an open net chance in Game 2 of the BCHL championship, it’s one of the few times he didn’t look that good.

Benik, who will suit up for the St. Cloud State Huskies next fall, looked up in disbelief. Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson couldn’t believe it, either. Fortunately for Benik and the Vees it didn’t come back to haunt them as they defeated the Powell River Kings 2-1 and took a 2-0 series lead into the Sunshine Coast.

“That’s tough,” said Benik after the game as the puck slid away from the back of  his blade. “The ice is chippy and there’s lots of snow.”

The other reason Benik wasn’t a goat is because he erased the Kings’ 1-0 lead when his wrist shot deflected off Sean Maguire’s glove and in midway through the second period.

“I used a guy as a screen,” said Benik, talking about the play.

Benik has felt good about his play this season, which began to take off at Christmas break. He credited his linemates Bryce Gervais and Steven Fogarty for their strong play.

“The chemistry just started to go,” he said. “We’ve been on fire. We are matching the offence of the top line and shutting down opponents. It’s great.”

After being knocked out in the second round of the playoffs by the Salmon Arm SilverBacks, Benik returned with a hunger to go deeper in the playoffs. The Andover, Minn. resident was named an assistant captain at the end of training camp as he impressed Harbinson. Benik leads the Vees with eight goals in 13 games and wants to win a national championship. Harbinson said Benik has had a great second season and has carried it into the playoffs. Harbinson described Benik as a top performer in all aspects.

“He’s a big reason why we are in the finals,” said Harbinson. “He has been consistent all year. Coming back, he improved his strength and speed. His goal the last game was from creating a turnover and then he breaks away.”

Harbinson also said the five-foot-11, 170-pound forward is taking advantage of opportunities when he’s in position for a shot. He sees a competitive kid that wants to win extremely bad.

“He leads by example,” added Harbinson.

With practices being shorter during the playoffs, Benik focuses on touching up his skills and keeping his feet moving. He and his linemates are focused on being strong in the defensive zone. If they do that well, Benik knows they can get the puck and things will happen.

Ice chips: Vees goalie Chad Katunar is the BCHL’s Player of the Week ending April 8. Katunar collected three wins, including the first two in the BCHL championship for the Fred Page Cup. Katunar stopped 99 of 103 shots and had a .961 save percentage. The NHL Central Scouting Bureau released its final rankings in advance of the 2012 Entry Draft and seven BCHL players are included. Among the seven is Victoria Grizzlies/Penticton Vees forward Wade Murphy at 142.