A 6-2 thumping of the Merritt Centennials has the Penticton Vees going to the Fred Page Cup for the first time in four years.
The Vees weren’t messing around at the South Okanagan Events Centre with a chance to go for the kill against the Centennials in Game 5 of the Interior Conference final.
Shortly after leaving the penalty box, Bryce Gervais bolted up the right side after taking a pass from Troy Stecher. Upon entering the Centennials zone, the Battlefords, Sask. native cut left and let loose a wrist shot at the top of the circle beating goalie Lino Chimienti stick side.
Three minutes later Wade Murphy finished off a dazzling play started by Mario Lucia. The Minnesota Wild draft pick skated into the zone, snuck past two Centennials defenders on the right side, slid the puck between Reece Willcox’s legs and fired a shot on net. The rebound went to Murphy, who buried it. Two zip Vees and the game wasn’t six minutes old.
“Our guys came out right from the beginning and played well,” said Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson. “We got off on right foot and the crowd was in it, the crowd was great. I had a feeling we weren’t going to lose at home.”
To throw more salt on the wound, Vees captain Logan Johnston pounced of a rebound from a Mike Reilly shot and made it 3-0. One minute later, Joey Benik gave the Vees an even larger cushion. Benik and Gervais made a quick give-and-go play that resulted in Benik cruising down the right side and finding a hole in Chimienti’s pads. Chimienti was pulled after allowing a fifth goal. Centennials forward Silvan Harper scored shortly after, but that was all the offence the Vees needed.
“I think we have been a bit snake bitten for the series,” said Johnston. “We have been getting a lot of chances but tonight we had more go like we did in the regular season so that was good for us.”
Both teams came out with energy, but it was the Vees who generated better chances but most importantly finished.
“They didn’t give up and they kept working, but once it gets up to 4 and 5-1, it’s a little demoralizing,” said Johnston. “They kept it classy and they had a great season. It was a good turnaround for them. It’s good to see.”
Gervais, who scored his second of the game, and Ryan Reilly rounded up the Vees scoring. Willcox scored with three seconds left. However, the atmosphere in the SOEC heightened in the final period for the crowd of 2,579. Vees defenceman Zach Urban gave the fans something to get out of their seats. Midway through the frame, the six-foot-three, 185-pound defenceman hammered six-foot, 180 pound forward Brayden Low. The monster hit, which on the replay showed that Urban left his feet just as he made contact, resulted in Low going after Urban.
“That was a big hit,” said Gervais. “I’m not sure if it was dirty or not. The boys are telling him it’s dirty just to get under his skin a little.”
When told what Gervais said, Urban had a quick response.
“He’s just trying to be funny. Trying to make friends in the room still at this point,” he joked. “I just kind of fumbled the puck at the blueline and was trying to make up for it. He (Low) didn’t really say anything. He obviously wanted to get his revenge on me and try and fight me.”
Vees goalie Chad Katunar had another strong game making 28 saves.
The Vees will now face the Powell River Kings in the Fred Page Cup championship, which begins in Penticton on Friday at 7 p.m.
Ice chips: The 50/50 winner at Game 5 went home with a heavy wallet, leaving with $4522.50. When the BCHL final begins on Friday, Vees defenceman Zach Urban will face his former team. Urban played with the Kings for five games last season. Vees goalie Michael Garteig spent the last two seasons with the Coastal Conference champs before being traded to Penticton. He has yet to play in the post-season.