Garrett Milan came to the rescue for the Penticton Vees, who topped the Westside Warriors 5-4 at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Wednesday.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the second period, the Warriors fought back to outscore the Vees 4-2 and hammered the 4-4 goal over Joel Rumpel’s right shoulder at 19:59. Milan’s 12th goal, likely his biggest of the season considering the standings, came 4:03 into the third period as he fired a shot while getting roughed up past Penticton’s Cole Holowenko giving the crowd of 1,697 something to cheer about.
“That’s a big goal,” said Vees alternate captain Mark Hall, who celebrated the victory by doing a low fist-punch celebration with Mark MacMillan, which the two created during practice. “Garrett works hard and it’s good to see when he gets rewarded with goals like that.”
While there was little to get excited about in terms of play in the opening period, the Vees’ special teams jumped into the spotlight. Brendan O’Donnell deposited his 26th goal on a backhand shot during the power play that Warriors goalie Kevin Boyle didn’t look good on. Then rookie Curtis Loik put the Vees in the driver’s seat, making the Warriors pay for a turnover as he snapped a shot past Boyle’s blocker side. It was the first shorthanded marker for the North Vancouver native, who has caught the attention of St. Lawrence University.
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson liked that his team was able to survive the third period, after having what he described as a “very poor second period.”
“I thought we looked a little tired tonight,” he said. “I guess you have to be happy with finding a way in the third.”
The breakdowns in the second period began early when a blueliner was undressed by Max French before he was able to beat Rumpel on a backhand shot. The second goal came shortly after a faceoff, in which the puck ended up near the front of the crease. Travis Blaniel went to the opening and tucked the puck by Rumpel’s left pad making it 2-2 in under three minutes of play. Kyle Mountain gave the Vees a 3-2 lead, however, nine minutes later, Tom Kroshus, scored after the Warriors blew two chances with gaping holes staring at them.
Harbinson’s only answer for the second period was mental errors made from tiredness.
“We kind of lost focus of the game plan and started doing things on our own,” he said. “When you do things right it becomes contagious and when you do things away from the game plan it becomes contagious. We were lucky we were able to get the last one.”
While the Vees were able to salvage two points, the coaching staff planned to discuss whether they would give the players Thursday off to be fresh for their game Friday against the Prince George Spruce Kings and then Saturday against the Quesnel Millionaires to close out the regular season.
Hall said for the Vees to get those four points, they need to be more consistent and listen to the coaches.
The Spruce Kings are coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the Vees and faced Merritt before heading to Penticton. The Millionaires meanwhile, defeated Westside 4-3 in overtime on Feb. 13 and travel to Westside on Friday before facing the Vees. The win puts the Vees in second in the Interior Conference, three points behind the Vernon Vipers. Both teams have two games remaining. This weekend’s games also marks the final two in which Peter’s Brothers Paving will purchase tickets for youth and children.