Dubbed Captain Clutch by Penticton Vees broadcaster Fraser Rodgers, Brad McClure continued to deliver for the Vees as they swept the Merritt Centennials in the BCHL’s opening round.
In Game 3 on Friday at the Nicola Valley Arena, McClure ended the 4-4 deadlock by beating Centennials goalie Devin Kero midway through overtime. He was at it again after the Vees tied Game 4 at 3-3. McClure setup defenceman Brett Beauvais for the game-winner and what the defenceman said ranks as one of his biggest goals of his junior career. The assist gave McClure two for the series and six goals. Beauvais said McClure is a great leader.
“He showed that all year. We have had a lot of guys step up in our lineup. We know that Brad is going to bring it every night,” said Beauvais. “He’s definitely a good role model for a lot of the younger guys.”
Vees coach Fred Harbinson said with that play to Beauvais, McClure has lived up to his nickname.
“He’s been a clutch player all year, but especially in the last month,” said Harbinson.
Following Game 2 in which he scored twice, while assisting on two others in a 6-3 win, McClure said his play is a result of the time of year.
“I’m a 20-year-old, last opportunity to try and win something,” said McClure. “Every game is special to me. I consider that before every game.”
What impressed McClure about the series win over the Centennials was the performances of the veteran players. He praised Cody DePourcq, Chris Rygus, Patrick Sexton and Travis Blanleil.
“Those guys deserve a lot more credit than they get,” he said.
To take Game 4, the Vees had to erase the Centennials’ third one-goal lead of the game. That happened with Jack Ramsey’s equalizer with six minutes remaining. Beauvais’ winner came 3:19 later.
“It was a great feeling,” said Beauvais of his series-clinching goal. “Going into Merritt, a pretty hostile environment. It was really nice to get that.”
Beauvais said the deciding game was competitive as the Centennials fought for their season. The Centennials threw everything they had at the Vees.
“We really proved to ourselves that we could shut a team down,” said Beauvais. “It was really intense. We play our best hockey in those situations.”
Harbinson described that final game as frantic, but he didn’t see panic in his group and their depth came through.
“There’s no room to make plays in there,” he said.
Harbinson said Ramsey’s equalizer was huge, while “a great play with Beauvais jumping into the rush to win the game.”
“Same situation from a day earlier with (Paul) Stoykewych jumping into the play,” continued Harbinson. “Our guys competed extremely hard. It was nice to get the sweep.”
Centennials coach Luke Pierce said the Vees had a couple of lines that defended well and the whole team bought into a style hard to play against.
“They backcheck hard and don’t give you a lot of time and space with the puck,” said Pierce to the Merritt Herald. “What we lacked against Penticton was a real shutdown line that we could match up against their best.”
The Centennials also dealt with injury problems. Leading scorer Diego Cuglietta was sidelined the entire series. Defenceman Dane Birks, drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round of last year’s NHL Entry Draft and Jason Bird, a trade-deadline acquisition from Vernon, played little in one game, and Rhett Willcox played two.
“Given the circumstances, with the number of injuries that we had and what not, there’s a level of pride in the way we played, especially in Games 3 and 4,” said Pierce, who had Jeff Wight playing with bruised or cracked ribs, Sebastien Pare with torn ligaments in his hand and Gain Gould was throwing up on the bench. “We had every excuse and reason in the book to not compete that hard, but we did.
“It was a gutsy effort,” he added. “The bad luck and unfortunate circumstances just conspired against us.”
The Vees will face the Vernon Vipers on Friday at 7 p.m. in the South Okanagan Events Centre. The Vipers defeated West Kelowna 5-0 in Game 6 in Vernon.
Vees notes: Forward Jack Ramsey is on TSN’s Craig’s List, but dropped from 54 to 65. Future Vees Warren Foegele, who plays for St. Andrew’s Ontario High School team is ranked 69. Foegele, who committed to the University of New Hampshire, scored 14 goals and 23 points in 14 games in the Conference of Independent Schools Athletic Association. Vees goalie Hunter Miska was featured in a video by TSN about how he became a goalie.