Down on one knee, Ryan Reilly pumped his fist in the air as his goal earned the Penticton Vees a 3-2 win against the Vernon Vipers.
The crowd of 1,587 at the South Okanagan Events Centre cheered the goal that came with 4:25 remaining to extend the Vees’ win streak to 10. Vees defenceman Troy Stecher started the play as he fed the puck to captain Logan Johnston. His shot was deflected by Reilly, who pounced on his own rebound moving to his left slightly before burying the puck by an outstretched Vipers netminder, Kirby Halcrow, who made 35 saves on the night.
“I was pumped,” said a gleaming Reilly. “We had a lot of chances obviously. It wasn’t going in but we never gave up.”
While the shots were 11-7 in the Vees’ favour after the first period, the score was 2-1 for the visitors. Peter McMullen opened the scoring. The lead was brief as the Vees had the Vipers in a frantic mode in Halcrow’s crease. The Vees thought they had a goal, but the Vipers did anything, including putting their hand on the puck to keep it out. A penalty shot awarded to Connor Reilly, the Vees’ and league-leading scorer, made no mistake netting his 23rd goal in 27 games. Three minutes later, the Vipers newcomer Ben Gamache redirected a shot past Gartieg, who lifted his head in disbelief.
“I watched warm up and I thought we looked really good in warm-up,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “They seemed almost a little off. All of a sudden it was kind of different in the first period even though we only held them to seven shots. I thought we didn’t play with much of an inspired game.”
A pep talk from Harbinson got his troops going. On the Vees’ third and final power play, Connor Reilly made a cross ice pass to Mario Lucia, who made no mistake beating Halcrow.
“They made a pretty good play on the power play to tie it up,” said Vipers coach-GM Jason Williamson. “Their momentum probably changed after that.”
It was also a physical game with two fights. In the second period, Johnston and McMullen exchanged punches.
“He high-sticked me and I just went after him,” McMullen said to the Vernon Morning Star. “I didn’t really think about it. I didn’t realize at the time he was one of the tougher guys in the league.”
As for the closeness of the game, Harbinson said that is how they will be nearing the end of season.
“We needed to show everybody that we can win close hockey games and not panic,” said Harbinson. “It was obviously big getting our 10th win in a row.”
Now the Vees prepare to play their next six games on the road starting with two in Westside on Friday and Tuesday, Victoria, Alberni Valley, Nanaimo and finishing in Merritt.
“That is going to be a tough task,” said Harbinson.
The Vees only two home games this month are Dec. 16 and 17 against Westside and Powell River.