The captain for the Penticton Vees stepped up when they needed him most.
Denver Manderson helped the Vees stave off elimination during Game 5 of the Interior Conference Final in Vernon Friday as he was patient before rifling the puck upstairs on Vipers goalie Graeme Gordon for the 3-2 triple overtime victory. Vees players erupted onto the ice at 7:14 of the third overtime and cut the Vipers series lead 3-2 returning it to Penticton for Game 6 today at 7 p.m.
The opportunity for the overtime winner came as the Vees cycled the puck near the goal and Beau Bennett made a crafty move to set Manderson up.
“I think I’m almost too tired that I don’t remember,” Manderson joked of going over the play. “We were just coming off a power play. Myself, Milan and Bennett were cycling it. They had the long change so they had some guys out there still penalty killing. I think they were a little tired and Bennett did his little pretend to go behind the net and throw it back. Luckily I put it in. I almost screwed it up.”
The Vees started putting fans on the edge of their seat after Bennett scored his first goal of the series two minutes into the third when Vipers defenceman Curtis Gedig gave away the puck. Bennett then fired a shot from inside the blueline, which found a hole through Gordon’s legs. After the shot clock showed the shots being 25-10 for the Vipers after two periods, the Vipers led the Vees in shots 11-10 in the third. With 4:34 remaining in regulation time, Vees forward Joey Holka scored his first of the series behind the net near the right corner. He put the puck on net and it managed to bounce in behind Gordon.
“We were all pretty shocked I think,” said alternate captain Logan Johnston, whose line with Eric Filiou and Ryan Viselli had another solid game and generated quality chances. “We were kind of worried and that was a big relief. I don’t know. It was kind of a blur.”
In overtime, both teams generated chances that left 2,815 fans at the Wesbild Centre “ooing” and “aaahhing.” The extra stages of the game also became the stage for Vees goalie Sean Bonar to put on a show as he finished with 61 saves.
“He stopped a lot of big shots early on. I think that kept us in it,” said Johnston, adding that they ate power gels, such as Gatorade and salts to keep them energized.
Among Bonar’s 60 saves was one on a shot from Sahir Gill in the second overtime, which he flashed the leather. As the Vees’ netminder put in his game of the season, the Vees, going with three lines, continued to push. The Vipers nearly put the Vees’ season to bed in the second overtime when a shot nearly went in off of Bonar and Vees defenceman Matt Paltridge.
Manderson said that he didn’t feel that they played bad in the first two periods and added to come back in the third was no easy task, especially against the best team in Canada.
“We finally got a break which we needed on the Holka goal,” he said.
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said it was exciting to see his players get the win.
“I thought it was a really gritty performance,” he said. “Filiou suffered an injury (he blocked a shot killing a penalty and limped off the ice) during the game and fought through it. Being down 2-0 in Vernon against a great Vernon team and our guys didn’t quit. I thought we got better in the third period and beyond. Sean Bonar was outstanding and our best players made some big plays. Our captain finished it off with a great overtime goal.”