Season-saving stop leads to Vees win

Penticton Vees goalie Michael Garteig make crucial save that helps push team into RBC Cup semifinal round

Penticton Vees forward Bryce Gervais fires a shot to the stickside of Portage Terriers goalie Shea Cooper. Gervais didn’t score on the play

Penticton Vees forward Bryce Gervais fires a shot to the stickside of Portage Terriers goalie Shea Cooper. Gervais didn’t score on the play

Penticton Vees goalie Michael Garteig was three years old when Kirk McLean made a season-saving stop against the Calgary Flames in 1994.

The Vees goalie knows about the big pad stack save on the goal line the Vancouver Canucks goalie made. Now he has his own stop he can talk about too.

Midway through the second period, with his team trailing the Portage Terriers during the RBC Cup Wednesday, Garteig made what Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson described as the “save of the season.”

“We’re down 1-0 and minute or so later they had a chance to make it 2-0,” said Harbinson. “He made a desperation save. He dove back and got his paddle on it and froze it. They make it 2-0, in these tight games, that might have been a tough one for us to come back on.”

Saves like that are why the Vees acquired the former Powell River King from the Victoria Grizzlies. Garteig said it was “one of my biggest saves in my career, I guess.”

The Vees had to wait until the third period to get the equalizer, scored by Curtis Loik two minutes in. The North Vancouver resident pounced on a loose puck and shovelled it past Terriers’ goalie Shea Cooper. Vees captain Logan Johnston potted the winner in similar fashion. Johnston stuffed a loose puck into the open side, then Vees defenceman Mike Reilly sealed the game on the power play after taking a feed from Travis St. Denis, who was named the Vees’ Player of the Game, and wired a shot past Cooper.

“He competed real hard,” said Harbinson of St. Denis, who has three assists in the tournament. “Biggest thing with Travis is trying to compete to the level where you’re not taking penalties. I thought the last few minutes of the third, he was unbelievable protecting the puck. He’s an emotional leader. He’s a small guy that plays like he’s three feet bigger than he is (five-foot-eight).”

Harbinson, selected as the FortisBC Fan Favourite Coach in a poll by the BCHL, asked his players to win one period. He could see the frustration in his players, who fired 18 shots on Cooper without reward.

“It’s been tough to score over the course of the last few games,” said Harbinson. “We have won so many periods this year. If we just win the period by a goal then we go into overtime. It’s really not that big of a mountain to climb. I think we felt pretty good that if we kept pressing we’d find a way to score a goal.”

Harbinson saw the players’ energy level shoot up on the bench after the first goal.

“They played hard,” said Harbinson of Portage, who he said is an older team that is more mature in certain areas. “With the exception of a 10-minute spell in the second, I thought we carried the play. They are a heck of a team.”

Should the Vees win their semifinal match Saturday against the Soo Thunderbirds, the South Okanagan Events Centre will be open to the public to watch the RBC Cup final for free. This game is tentatively scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on May 13.  Doors will open half an hour prior to puck drop.

Ice chips: Check www.pentictonwesternnews.com for Connor Reilly’s blog. St. Denis leads the team with three points in as many games. Joey Benik and Wade Murphy are tied for the team lead with two goals.