Vees, Katunar confident against Centennials

Vees feeling good as Interior Conference final opponent similar to Chiefs

Penticton Vees goalie Chad Katunar and Kyle Beaulieu watch this shot from the point as Spencer Graboski of the Chilliwack Chiefs tries for the deflection during action in last week’s BCHL playoff match at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton won two straight games to take the series 4-2. The Vees opened the Interior Conference final Tuesday against the Merritt Centennials.

Penticton Vees goalie Chad Katunar and Kyle Beaulieu watch this shot from the point as Spencer Graboski of the Chilliwack Chiefs tries for the deflection during action in last week’s BCHL playoff match at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Penticton won two straight games to take the series 4-2. The Vees opened the Interior Conference final Tuesday against the Merritt Centennials.

Confidence is everything.

It’s the difference between a defenceman having the swagger to rush the puck end-to-end, or simply deciding to clear it off the glass to avoid any danger.

After trading wins against the Chilliwack Chiefs in the first round of the BCHL Interior Conference playoffs, the Vees won a tight Game 5, 4-2 and translated it into a 4-0 shutout in Game 6. A pep talk from coach Fred Harbinson helped the Vees step off the ice without the fear of losing. Now in the Interior Conference final, the Vees face a similar beast in the Merritt Centennials. They feel confident after sweeping the Prince George Spruce Kings. Like the Chiefs, the Cents like to play a gritty game. Because of this, Harbinson said  isn’t much need for a different strategy.

“We’re feeling confident and we know we have a good opponent coming in here,” said Harbinson, whose Vees started their head-to-head battle with the Centennials at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Tuesday. “We want to play our game and dictate the flow and tempo of the series.”

Harbinson appears excited to face the Centennials for one key reason.

“They bring probably the best in us because they do work hard,” said Harbinson. “It means that we have to do it as well.  When you have the skill level that we have, you’re pushed to the point where you have no choice but to compete, then good things can happen for us.”

While the Centennials can take that as a flattering comment, you have to wonder if they should be concerned. Wouldn’t you?

Alex Grebenyuk, play-by-play broadcaster for the Centennials, wrote in his blog, Red, White and Black — Cents Central, that a potential factor that could benefit the Centennials is that they are facing Chad Katunar in goal instead of Michael Garteig. The Vees starter is rehabbing a lower body injury. Centennials goalie Lino Chimienti went 4-0 with a 1.47 goals against average and  .949 save percentage in the first round. His numbers are only slightly better than Katunar’s, who finished with a 1.64 goals against average and .936 save percentage.

The good news for Vees fans and the team is that Katunar got better as the Chiefs series went deeper. Katunar feels confident and has been excited to get more games. It’s something he wasn’t expecting. He has learned that the playoffs are a different beast. He’s gaining valuable experience and seeing how tighter things get. He has felt the pressure and what has helped him is his mental approach.

While he has felt nervous, he has channeled that into positive energy. He has also improved from picking Garteig’s brain and the coaching of Roy Schultz, who has worked with both Vees netminders. Wade Murphy, who had a strong first round scoring four goals and collected seven points in six games, grew up with Katunar in Victoria and said he has a calm presence in goal.

“He is something else,” said Murphy, who is ranked 204th among North American skaters for 2012 NHL Entry Draft. “He is a great guy.”

Murphy, now playing on a line with Mario Lucia and Travis St. Denis, is a threat the Centennials will have to deal with. He credits his success against the Chiefs to previous playoffs experience with the Victoria Grizzlies last season. He also loves playoff hockey, which gets a bit physical.

“It gets me going, wakes me up,” said Murphy. “I like how Merritt plays, especially with the big ice. I have always liked hitting.”

Back to Garteig. During the media panel Harbinson was asked to confirm that the goalie’s injury is a high ankle sprain. Both the Centennials blog and Prince George Citizen claim that’s what it is reported as. Harbinson didn’t confirm.

“The first thing I’d say is, I don’t really understand why people think it’s any of their business what his injury is,” Harbinson responded. “I don’t get where people come off with this stuff. We have made it very apparent that he’s injured. He is doing everything he can to get back in the lineup. We’re not lying to people. We’re trying to find ways to get him back in the lineup.”

Ice chips: Vees defenceman DJ Jones has committed to West Point, which represents the United States Military Academy, for the 2013-14 season. Check Friday’s issue of the Western News for more. The BCHL has seven players ranked among the top North American skaters for the 2012 Entry Draft. Spruce Kings forward Jujhar Khaira is No. 80, while Coquitlam’s Alex Kerfoot is at 81, Salmon Arm’s Morgan Zulinick at 104, Merritt Centennials’ Reece Wilcox at 114, Surrey’s Devon Toews at 181, Spruce King Paul DeJersey at 203 and Murphy at 204.