On March 6, 1955, the Penticton V’s put the city on the hockey map and shocked the Russians by winning the world championship.
Fast-forward 57 years and the Penticton Vees have made national headlines. On March 6, 2012, the Vees drubbed the Trail Smoke Eaters 10-0 for their 41st consecutive win, a Canadian Junior Hockey League record. A crowd of 3,655 was on hand at the South Okanagan Events Centre to watch the Vees break the record held by the Sudbury Cubs in 1989-90 and equaled by the now-defunct Rayside-Balfour Sabrecats in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League 10 years later.
Canada’s No. 1-ranked team opened the scoring less than six minutes into the game as Ryan Reilly drove to the Smoke Eaters’ net from his right side and tucked the puck past Lyndon Stanwood. That was the first of two goals on the night for Reilly, who also added an assist.
Mike Reilly scored short-handed with Joey Benik in the box. Wade Murphy took the puck into the Smoke Eaters’ zone and left it for Reilly, whose snapshot beat Stanwood low stickside. The Vees wrapped up the second period with a solid 4-0 lead on a goal by Travis St. Denis. He was the benefactor of patience shown by Benik, who spun away from a defender and made a cross-ice pass to the former Smoke Eater, who one-timed the puck into the cage.
“Unbelievable,” said St. Denis of the play Benik made. “He’s definitely a special player in this league and I think he’s tied for the league lead now (94 points, and league leader with 65 assists). Hopefully he can take that over this weekend.”
In the third period, the Vees blew the game open by scoring six goals. Mario Lucia scored 56 seconds in. His shot just inside the blueline was stopped by Stanwood, but the puck floated over him and crossed the goal line. Lucia again beat Stanwood less then two minutes later and that ended his night as he was pulled in favour of Bryce D’Andrea.
At the other end, Chad Katunar had a solid game in goal for the Vees. On one of the few chances the Smoke Eaters had on the night, Colton Schell tried tucking the puck around the Katunar, but was denied by his pad. Katunar made 18 saves for the shutout.
Steven Fogarty then finished off a beautiful play set up Benik with less then seven minutes remaining. Fogarty stickhandled his way into the zone, found Benik in the middle of the slot, then received a pass back and one-timed it by a hopeless D’Andrea.
“Gervais went hard to the net,” said Fogarty, replaying the setup. “I knew that Benik was going to be in the slot area. I looked back and he was there. When you get Benny the puck, he’s usually going to put it in the net or he will find you wide open. He made a good play and the goalie wasn’t even in net, so I didn’t have to do too much.”
Gervais and Benik added two more goals. Benik earned first star honours after having a five-point night. Behind Benik was Mike Reilly with a goal and four points, as well as Lucia and Fogarty with three.
Vees forward Curtis Loik said they did a good job of exposing the Smoke Eaters defence, which he described as slow. Loik added that Penticton played a physical game and slowed down the visitors.
“They only had five D,” said Loik, who collected two assists on the night. “The forwards up front don’t have a lot of depth. We took control of the offensive game, too. Getting it low and getting it on net. Chad Katunar had a great game. He really stood in there.”
Katunar, who earned his 12th win and first shutout of the season, said it felt amazing to get a shutout on such a big win.
“It’s absolutely fantastic,” said Katunar. “I have been trying to get a couple (shutouts) earlier in the year and have been robbed with six or seven minutes left. On this night it makes it even more special. All the fans out and this historic record that we broke and it’s just awesome, it’s fantastic.”
Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson liked what he saw from his players following the opening period.
“The only thing I thought was that we didn’t take the body enough in the first,” said Harbinson, who challenged his players to score the first goal. “They were trying to clog up the neutral zone. And they were doing a good job of that, but after a while we found a way to fight through it. Our guys brought their A-game. I’m proud of them for being able to accomplish it (CJHL record).
“It’s ridiculous really,” said Harbinson of the record. “Let’s be honest at any level of any sport.
Harbinson is just glad there’s no more records to be broken. Next up for the Vees are the Prince George Spruce Kings on the road Friday and Saturday.
“We have two games left, we’re going to play a lot of our affiliate players in those games and rest some of our guys,” he said. “It looks like Vernon got knocked out tonight, so it looks like the Chilliwack Chiefs (who the Vees will face to start the playoffs on March 16). Should be a heck of a series.”
The affiliate players helping the Vees are Alex Jewell (Osoyoos Coyotes), Dexter Dancs (Osoyoos Coyotes), Jordan McCallum (Summerland Steam), Kameron Krawford (Osoyoos Coyotes) and Nick Babich (Campbell River Storm).
Ice chips: According to the blog Coming Down the Pipe with Dean Millard and Guy Flaming, Millard wrote that the Vees haven’t yet set a national record. The Flin Flon Bombers of the Norman Junior Hockey League, which folded in 1985, has the record of 42 wins in a row. The NJHL consisted of the Bombers, Snow Lake Spartans, The Pas Lumber Kings and Thompson King Miners started in 1978. It was in 1981 that the Bombers went 42-0 against what Millard described as “sub par competition.” The Bombers lost three straight against Fort Gary in the Turnball Cup.