Vees hold off Smoke Eaters’ late push

Bad bounces and mistakes in the defensive zone led to 13 goals between the Penticton Vees and Trail Smoke Eaters.

DESPITE HIS acrobatics

DESPITE HIS acrobatics

Bad bounces and mistakes in the defensive zone led to 13 goals between the Penticton Vees and Trail Smoke Eaters.

Leading 2-1 after the first period, the Vees hung on for a 7-6 win at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Wednesday.

Adam Todd got yanked by the Smoke Eaters, while Chad Katunar was chased from his crease when the Smoke Eaters made it 7-5. Most of the five goals that Katunar allowed were not the net minder’s fault. There was no blame directed his way from Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson.

“It was crazy,” said Harbinson. “I thought we played extremely well most of the game. I don’t want to make it sound like I’m making excuses for my team, but I thought we had some weird bounces go against us. Their first goal, we had a guy drop his stick and the puck comes right to him. The third goal, that kind of got their momentum going. There was an errant stick just laying on the ice. (James) de Haas goes to turn back to get behind the net, it goes to their guy and they score.”

The Smoke Eaters, played a hard, physical style and struck first 1:21 into the first period, when Jesse Knowler fired a wrist shot past Katunar. Late in the period, the Vees made the Smoke Eaters pay as they couldn’t clear the zone. Mellor snapped a shot high over Todd’s blocker. The Vees then took the lead when Cam Amantea scored on a backhand after he pounced on a puck that ended up in the slot from behind the net.

The second period was forgettable for the Smoke Eaters. It started with Wade Murphy stealing the puck behind their net, then circling it untouched and burying a shot past Todd’s glove. Louie Nanne scored the first of his two that period, Ryan Gropp made it 5-1. Murphy’s second goal made it 7-2. He started the play by stripping Poulsen of the puck. After the Smoke Eater fell, it left a large space for Murphy to deke out Lyndon Stanwood and bury a backhand.

Smoke Eaters coach Bill Birks liked his team’s start.

“We didn’t show up for the second at all,” said Birks.

The roles reversed in the third as Trail outscored the Vees 4-0. Penticton’s Tyler Berkholtz engineered comeback as he set up Ryan Edwards. He then scored the Smoke Eaters’ sixth goal after Mellor overskated the puck near his crease. That allowed Berkholtz to beat Nic Renyard with a backhand shot.

“We totally dominated the third,” said Birks, who admitted to his team the chances of coming back were zero. “(We) made it interesting. You tell these kids all the time, you take five minutes off in this league, it’s pretty tough to come back. We’re a better hockey team than that.”

Harbinson was pleased with how his team handled the Smoke Eaters.

“We were playing a lot of our young guys in the third period to give them experience,” said Harbinson, who dressed affiliate Graham Millar, who played well. “I’m not upset with our guys. I thought our compete level was good. We didn’t give up a lot of chances.”

Murphy, who has yet to be kept off the scoresheet, said they took their foot off the gass in the third and it’s something they can’t do.

“It’s unacceptable obviously, especially here at home,” said Vees captain Troy Stecher. “There’s not much you can really say. We have to have that killer instinct.”

Now the Vees shift their focus to a home-and-home battle with rival Vernon Vipers. The first game is at the SOEC Friday at 7 p.m. Murphy described it as a big game and expects the Vipers to be hungry. Forward Dexter Dancs will be back in the lineup. He didn’t see action against Trail and Michael Rebry is still out with an injury.

Harbinson said Friday should be a fun night, then travel to Vernon on Saturday. With it being parents weekend, the Vees coach said there should be “a lot of excitement.”

Earlier that day the Vees announced that defenceman Bryan Sinz has committed to Clarkson University for the 2013-2014 season. Sinz will join fellow Vees defenceman James de Haas as a Golden Knight.

Harbinson said Sinz is a player whose skill can’t be judged by numbers.

“So many times people put value on goals and assists and think that’s the only way for a player to move on the next level,” said Harbinson in a release. “As coaches, we try to teach players that there is more to just scoring, and Bryan is a perfect example. Sinz plays hard on both sides of the puck and his game will be a perfect fit at Clarkson.”

Sinz, 20, is in his final season of junior hockey. During his first and only season with the Vees, the rear-guard has one goal and seven points in 23 games. He is regarded for his intuitive defensive play and regularly plays against the opposition’s top forwards. Prior to Penticton, Sinz played in the United States Hockey League with the Tri-City Storm. In 56 games, he collected 11 points and amassed 50 penalty minutes. Before the 2011/2012 season, the Anchorage, Alaska native played at the renowned Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep School.

Clarkson University is located in Potsdam, New York. Since 1962, the Golden Knights have won 10 ECAC regular season titles, five ECAC championship tournaments and have made 20 NCAA tournament appearances (seven times making it to the Frozen Four). Former Vee Ben Sexton is the captain of this year’s team and is in his junior season.