Playoff push raising game for rookies

Star players raise their game to another level but its also those who are in the shadows that help lift teams to victory.

Byron Sorensen

Star players raise their game to another level but its also those who are in the shadows that help lift teams to victory.

Byron Sorensen and Stefan Nicholishen are prime examples of players escaping the shadow for the Penticton Vees.

In 57 regular season games, Sorensen scored once and added seven assists. In three playoff games against the Merritt Centennials in the opening round, the blueliner scored two goals and five points.

During a Coach’s Corner segment last Thursday, Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said the rookie is benefiting from more game experience and has shown the ability to compete against the stronger players in the league.

“Pucks are going in for him,” said Harbinson of Sorensen, who makes few mistakes.

The Kyle, Sask., native said he felt good during the Vees’ four-game sweep of the Centennials. With each game he became more comfortable.

“I just kept shooting on net,” said Sorensen, adding that the puck wasn’t bouncing in for him during the season. “I was pretty happy with that (in the playoffs).”

The 19-year-old feels he has the ability to be a threat offensively but has been focusing on his defensive game, which is part of his role. Learning the defensive part of the game has brought a sharp learning curve for Sorensen who played midget in Saskatchewan.

“I wanted to step up my game,” added Sorensen. “We have to perform in the playoffs. It’s do or die in the playoffs so you have to get it through.”

Derik Johnson, a leader on the Vees’ blueline, said that Sorensen hasn’t done anything different and constantly works on his shot.

“He is still steady,” said Johnson. “He’s getting bounces and works really hard. It’s great to see. He stays after practice and does the little things and watches film.”

With the Westside Warriors being the next opponent in the second round, Sorensen expects it to be an exciting series.

“It should be a good test for us,” he said.

It’s one that Nicholishen is looking forward to also. The six-foot-two, 215 pound forward is feeling confident after scoring two goals, both in the final game against the Centennials.

“I felt I played well,” he said of that opening round. “I moved my feet and had luck in the series, especially the last game.”

Nicholishen said scoring boosted his confidence but he’s not about to let it get to his head. Though he has been used as the go-to-guy throughout minor hockey, Nicholishen has been adjusting to the quickness of the league and facing stronger foes. Nicholishen said the first couple of games he felt a bit over his head but the confidence has always been there.

“I feel more relaxed and the brain just adjusts to the quickness (of the league),” he added. “I’m hoping the luck will be with me this series.”

As the Vees began their battle with the Warriors on Tuesday and play again today at 7 p.m., Harbinson said guys are excited to play after having a week off. The Vees coach made the trip to Westside last Thursday to watch the Warriors dispose of the Trail Smoke Eaters in five games. In the final game he said Warriors goalie Kevin Jebson played well. The Warriors shuffled their lines giving them a balanced attack with (Alex) Grieves (four goals, six points), (Grayson) Downing (five goals, seven points) and (Tyler) Krause (five assists, seven points) playing well.

“Their big guys, (Cam) Reid (one goal, four points) and (Trevor) Bailey (one goal) were quiet,” said Harbinson. “I’m sure they will be dangerous against us.”

Because both teams are familiar with each other, there won’t be many surprises. While there is potential to be a goalie battle between Jebson and Sean Bonar, Harbinson said there were plenty of goals scored. Penticton outscored Westside 34-30.

“It wouldn’t be a shock to me if that’s (goaltending) key in the

series,” said Harbinson.