A tight checking game to start became a goal explosion as the Penticton Vees wiped aside the Merritt Centennials 6-1.
Vees rookie Mario Lucia opened the scoring on the power play when he freely raced up the right wing, cut left and fired a wrist shot high blocker on Centennials goalie Lino Chimienti. That gave crowd of 1,327 in the South Okanagan Events Centre on Wednesday something to cheer about.
The Centennials got their own power play tally on a bad giveaway that resulted in crease chaos for Michael Garteig. The Vees goalie shortly after battled a bouncing puck that landed behind him. Ten minutes later, Vees forward Travis St. Denis broke his way through a gap the Centennials couldn’t shut. St. Denis lifted a backhand past Chimienti as he fell to his knees. It was efforts such as those which impressed Centennials coach Luke Pierce.
“I give the Vees and (coach) Fred (Harbinson) the job he has done full credit,” said Pierce. “That’s obviously a very, very talented team, but the difference that I see in them now is they are willing to compete in the tough areas and work.”
Fighting through clogged play was required for a team to collect two points.
Connor Reilly made it 3-1 in the second period on the power play, which finished two-for-five. Mike Reilly’s goal for the Vees was the start of the dagger ripping through the Centennials. Taking a cross-ice pass from captain Joey Benik, Reilly hammered a slap shot high on Chimienti. Then Ryan Reilly went to work cutting left in the slot and beating Chimienti with a low shot glove side. Chimienti appeared to be screened. Reilly went to work again shorthanded.
“I said ‘Let’s try to get it deep,’” he explained. “I just kept turning around and no one was on me and I went to the net and luckily I got my own rebound and scored.”
The Centennials gave the Vees a challenge in the first half of the game, but they couldn’t maintain it after the second period goal. They also struggled to finish their chances. Shots at the end of the game favoured the Vees 25-23.
“I liked parts of our game,” said Pierce. “As a whole, I still think our work ethic isn’t even close to where it needs to be. It’s puzzling because the team we had last year, that was the least of our problems.”
Harbinson liked that his players didn’t get frustrated.
“We just kept pushing ahead and then we buried our chances in the end.”
Harbinson saw that it was a game where both teams didn’t give each other much ice. Harbinson said the special teams, especially the power play, was key to the Vees collecting two points. He said an effective man advantage will stop teams from being able to play physical against them.
As for Ryan Reilly’s play, Harbinson felt he had a good third after his line struggled a little bit in the first two.
“I thought he really dug down deep in the third and made some great plays and obviously capped it off with a great shorthanded goal,” he said.
Now the Vees prepare for the Prince George Spruce Kings. They head north Friday morning for back-to-back games in the Prince George Coliseum. After crushing the Spruce Kings 9-2, Harbinson expects a war.
“They are not going to forget what happened to them here,” he said. “Now we’re going into their building for two games. It’s never easy beating a team twice in a row on their home ice.”
Vees assistant captain Troy Stecher also expects it to be a battle.
“Their barn is a little smaller and every time we get the puck they are going to be on us,” said Stecher, who added they will need to key on Jujhar Khaira, the Fitzgerald triplets (Leo, Gerry and Myles) and Ben Woodley.
ICE Chips: A numbers game hit Vees rookie Brady Shaw, who was recently released to get the roster down to 21. With Johnston suspended, the Vees have 20 players. “I think we have bumped a lot of kids out of our league this year that are good hockey players.” While the Vees travel north, among the activities the players will do is “rookie idol.” Each rookie will have to sing a song. Last year defenceman Chad Bannor made quite the impression.
“Unbelievable country singer,” said Stecher. “No one can top him.”