Travis St. Denis remembers the losing feeling from last year’s World Junior A Challenge.
“Last year was definitely tough for myself and the other players on the team losing in the bronze medal game,” said St. Denis, who finished the 2011 tournament in Langley with one goal and two points in five games. “I think this year getting the second crack at it I just wanted to do anything I could to win the gold medal.”
Now St. Denis can’t wipe the smile off as he enjoyed helping Canada West win gold with his Penticton Vees teammates Curtis Loik and Troy Stecher.
Loik was a factor in a do-or-die game during the quarter-final against the Czech Republic. He scored twice, including the game-winner, to pace them to a 4-1 win and a semifinal meeting with Sweden.
“It was a great experience,” said Loik. “Had a lot of fun. Playing the other countries was really interesting. Seeing their different skills and how they played.”
Stecher called it an honour to represent his country and felt fortunate to get the opportunity. He admitted to feeling nervous because of the jersey he was putting on.
“It was the first time I ever threw on this jersey and probably the last, but I mean you get out there and all the nerves go away,” he said.
Stecher described winning gold as a relief after Canada West went winless in four games (exhibition and in preliminary).
After 18 days of being together, the chemistry started developing and positive encouragement from coach Kent Lewis helped the team hit their stride.
“We are so proud that we could represent our country and win a medal for them,” he said.
Vees coach Fred Harbinson is pleased for his players that succeeded in helping Canada West win gold and Team U.S.A. take bronze.
“I thought they all contributed in their own way,” he said. “Proud of Mike and Mario getting the bronze medal. Probably not the medal they wanted but to have all five of our guys come home with medals and just as important, they played at a high level, a very important tournament and a tournament that pushed their talents to the best competition in North America and abroad.”
Mario Lucia and Mike Reilly said it was a good experience helping Team U.S.A. capture bronze.
“I thought we had a good team and a lot of depth so I guess we’re happy we at least got a medal,” said Reilly.
For Lucia, ending the tournament on a winning note was positive. He finished the tournament with four goals and five points in as many games. Two of his goals came against Canada West.
“I got a little bragging rights with Loik, St. Denis and Stecher,” said Lucia, who was named to the tournament all-star team. “They ended up winning it all so they got the last laugh.”
Lucia said he expected the trio to show off their gold medals but that hasn’t happened yet.
“We will wait a few days and then hit them with the gold medal,” said St. Denis.
With five key players missing, the Vees collected nine of 12 points on their BCHL schedule, which left Harbinson extremely happy. Joey Benik, Steven Fogarty as well as Ryan and Connor Reilly, Nick Buchanan and Kyle Beaulieu stepped up to fill the void. They also received offensive boosts from their affiliate players.
“Now that it’s all said and done it was real good for our team,” said Harbinson. “It forced other guys to step up. It allowed us as a coaching staff to make decisions on affiliate players.”
Those who impressed were Alex Jewell, Dexter Dancs, Zachary Lindsay, Cameron Marks and Jordan McCallum.
“Those guys did extremely well,” said Harbinson. “Jewell, McCallum and Lindsay all scored goals and chipped in to help us win games.”
On Friday, the Vees hammered the Smoke Eaters 7-2 in Cominco Arena. Affiliate player Ryan Gropp popped in the winner. Against the Westside Warriors, Connor Reilly beat the home team on his own collecting five goals and adding a helper in a 7-4 win.
“His two linemates leave and he goes and puts in some of the performances that he did, and we’ve had some pretty dynamic players here in my time, nobody has scored five goals,” said Harbinson. “That’s a pretty special evening. You could just tell it was one of those nights.”
“I came to the game just telling myself I have to start shooting the puck better,” said Reilly. “The night before against Trail I missed a couple back door one-timers. I was lucky to get those opportunities to shoot the puck and the puck just kept going in.”
Scoring five in a game was a first for Reilly, who said he might have done it in mites hockey.
“That doesn’t really count because those games get to 20-15,” he joked. “Some guys were giving me a hard time. Kind of making fun of me. At the end of the day I couldn’t have done it without my linemates and teammates. It was a lot of fun seeing pucks going in and it was an even bigger win for us over Westside.”
On Wednesday, the Smoke Eaters come to the South Okanagan Events Centre to try and steal two points. Harbinson said during their 7-2 win, they found ways to score. He wants to see his team continue putting pucks on net. When asked what difference he noticed from the Smoke Eaters under coach Bill Birks from Jim Ingram, Harbinson said it’s essentially the same.
“This year they have to do things more by committee,” said Harbinson. “I think the one thing with coach Birks is he demands a work ethic that is second to none. He demands that out of every one of his players. The players that can’t do that won’t last with him and that’s a good thing.”
“When we played them (Penticton) here Friday, for the last half of the game we outplayed them, we outchanced them but we had a really below average start with the goaltending,” said Smoke Eaters assistant coach Bob Dever. “We have to come out and go after them instead of sitting back.”
Prior to the weekend, the Vees moved forward Garrett Hendrickson to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks. Hendrickson scored two goals and four points in 17 games.
Harbinson said the move will give Hendrickson a chance to be a go-to-guy with the SilverBacks.
“It’s a good fit for them,” he said. “They are trying to get themselves back in the race. We don’t want players to come back to haunt us but at the same time we wish him the best of luck.”
The Vees also moved forward Myles McCauley to the SilverBacks. Things for the former Vees player didn’t work out with the Omaha Lancers in the United States Hockey League and Harbinson did what he could to get McCauley back in the league as it is where the 20-year-old wants to play. The Vees couldn’t fit him into their roster as they are already have six 1991-born players.