The Vees snapped their four game losing streak, with a hard-fought 3-2 road win against the Merritt Centennials. The Nicola Valley Arena always presents challenges to visitors and the Vees were in tough Wednesday.
The Vees went down in the first 1-0 after Sean Maktaak scored short-handed at 13:32. The Vees turned a one-goal deficit into a one-goal lead in the second period after Louie Nanne and Brad McClure scored in 6:54 span.
Sebastien Pare pounced on a Vees turnover at their blue-line to tie the game just shy of the 14 minute-mark in the third. However, Sam Mellor put the Vees up for good on a late power-play goal with a 1:44 left.
The victory was well-earned win for the Vees who needed a break to get out of their funk and got a few in the game against the Centennials. Sometimes when teams are in a losing-streak, it seems like nothing, including the bounces goes their way. It looked like it wasn’t going to be the Vees night when the Centennials, against the run of play, opened the scoring short-handed. However, the Vees didn’t waiver and persevered and were rewarded with two in the second period, which proved to be the difference.
My recaps of Wednesday’s win:
The Vees were the better of the two teams off the start, pressuring the Cents’ right from the opening shift. The newly minted line of Sam Mellor, Brock Balson and Wade Murphy generated a couple of scoring chances in the opening moments of the game; Murphy being stopped twice by Tyler Steel. That strong start trickled down the line-up as the Vees strung together a stretch of 5-7 minutes in the first where they had the Cents’ a bit on their heels.
The start earned the Vees the opening power-play, midway through the first when Brandon Bruce was fingered for Tripping. However, the penalty did more harm than good, as the Vees were caught being careless with the puck more than once on the power-play. The Vees survived a scare when a blue-line turnover allowed Silvan Harper a grade ‘A’ scoring chance but Chad Katunar was up for the challenging making a nice blocker save. However, as mentioned earlier, the Vees had their issues on the power-play and it caught up to them. On a dump-in, Tyler Steel ventured out of his net, clearing the puck from his goal-line, over the heads of Sean Flanagan and James de Haas. Both rear-guards were caught flat-footed at the Cents’ blue-line as Sean Maktaak raced down a loose puck at center. The Penticton native held off the back-check and put a shot off the right-post and past Katunar at 13:32. It was the second straight game the Vees surrendered the first goal, a short-handed marker, on the road.
Up until their power-play the Vees had the momentum and looked to the power-play to get them off on the right foot. However it wasn’t the desired result midway through the period but the Vees didn’t fold and find themselves in another early hole.The Cents’ could have run away with the game at that point if the Vees buckled under the goal. The Vees power-play wasn’t accustomed to the tight confines and lack of space and time in Merritt. The Cents’ can be aggressive on the penalty-kill because there is less ice to cover than your average barn in the BCHL.
The Vees to their credit didn’t get rattled after the goal and played out the period with falling into a bigger deficit. Some teams might collapse after what can be a deflating goal. Consider the Vees situation, a team that’s lost four in a row and looking to get back on the track, only to have the opening goal go against them and short-handed too. Some teams would start thinking “here we go again” but the Vees stayed with it and kept it a manageable deficit.
Into the second and the Vees once again had a good start to the period but weren’t able to find the score-sheet. The game settled into a good rhythm in the first nine-10 minutes but neither side was really making a significant push in each other’s end; both teams keeping one another in check. The breakthrough for the Vees came off a quick counter into the Cents’ zone. The Vees quickly transitioned after a turnover at their blue-line. Louie Nanne found a rebound to tie the game at 10:26 after a Vees odd-man rush.Brad McClure made a smart play in creating the rebound, as he purposefully put his shot off the far pad of Tyler Steel knowing the rebound would kick in the slot. Ryan Gropp drove down the middle sucking the defenders towards him, allowing the trailer in Nanne to pounce on the rebound between the circles. That goal was the start of a big period between the three forwards.
After the Nanne goal the ice started to tilt towards the Cents’ end. The Vees were given a shot in the arm and it showed in the middle frame. It seemed like every shift after the Nanne goal, the Vees were moving into the Cents’ end cycling the puck and eating up time. his team since last year, even with the turnover they have had seem to have this extra gear than many teams can’t match.It was no different on Wednesday, as the Vees started to wear down the Cents’ with their puck pursuit. It was that persistence and determination that produced the Vees first lead of the game.
While on the fore-check, Ryan Gropp worked a puck free to Louie Nanne behind the net, who in turn, quickly fired a pass out front to the waiting Brad McClure. Between the circles, with the time he had and with his release it was almost a certainty that McClure was going to score. McClure didn’t leave any doubt in anyone’s mind, roofing a shot glove side on Steel at 17:20. The Vees were rewarded with two goals in the latter half of the second, both coming from the line of McClure, Nanne and Gropp; six points between the three in the second.
Chad Katunar was front and center during a key point in the period when he thwarted the Cents’ on a goal-mouth scrabble during a power-play. The Vees took a penalty seconds after going ahead by one and the Cents’ were inches away from tying the game. Katunar in a flurry in front of the Vees net made several saves on the goal-line, with his outstretched arm, while lying on his back; the crowd stunned that the Cents’ didn’t capitalize. Those saves, right after the Vees went ahead was so critical. If the Cents’ score there, right after a Vees goal, that could have been a punch in the gut the Vees weren’t recovering from. However, Katunar battled and somehow kept the puck out and the Cents’ off the scoreboard.
Merritt was dangerous at times in the second, especially on the aforementioned power-play but couldn’t manufacture a tying goal. The shot on goal had the Cents’ out-shooting the Vees 10-9 but by what I say saw, it would off been the other way around. Merritt’s game plan wasn’t overly complicated, as they were chipping pucks into the Vees zone trying to use the lively end-boards to their advantage. The Cents’ rarely tried to carry the puck over the Vees blue-line as they tried using the deflections and dump-ins to force the Vees defense to turn and chase; they did but the Vees were good at quickly getting pucks out.
In the third the Vees were applying your typical road tactics, by not giving up much through the middle and deployed a passive 1-3-1 fore-check. There were a few sequences in the third where the Vees kept their fore-checker at the Cents’ blue-line, and the Cents’ made no real attempt to breakout quickly. Some showmanship as there was moments of little to no movement from either side.
The Vees power-play wasn’t doing them any favours early in the third, as the Vees failed to get much going when Merritt took a slashing penalty five-minutes in. It looked like the Vees were going to have to nurse a one-goal lead on the road in not the easiest of environments. As in the second, the majority of the third was tight-checking as both teams tried to work below the circles in the offensive end. There isn’t much room or time to carry the puck in Merritt so teams are forced to chip and chase as soon as they hit the blue-line. Both teams did that, using the body to win puck battles but that didn’t make much in the way of scoring chances. It looked like the Vees were playing the perfect road period until a turnover at their blue-line.
Just before the 14 minute mark, the Vees up by one goal, with their top-line on the ice, couldn’t get the puck outside their zone. The biscuit eventually came across to a streaking Sebastien Pare, who walked down the middle of the ice and beat Katunar with a well-placed wrist-shot at 13:46. The Vees were just over six minutes away from their first win in five games, now they were looking at the possibility of overtime. It wasn’t a good play as the Vees had two chances to get the puck out along the boards, inches from the neutral zone but coughed it up and it was in the back of their net before they knew it. The way this game was playing out, either side not making many mistakes and not giving up much, overtime was a real possibility; something the Vees could do without with their upcoming schedule.
However the Vees were dealt a break later in the third after a Merritt Penalty behind the play. Dylan Chanter was involved with Cam Amantea back in the Cents’ zone as the play headed up ice; Chanter charged with roughing with just 3:10 remaining in the third. The Vees sensing a real opportunity called a timeout during the power-play, and their adjustments seemed to pay off. After some quick puck movement around the perimeter, Sam Mellor teed-up a one-timer from the top of the slot and wired it underneath the arm of Steel with just 1:44 left. A sense of relief for both the Vees and Mellor, as the veteran scored his first goal in 12 games and looked to snuff out the idea of having to play overtime. Glad to see Mellor FINALLY be rewarded for his hard work over the last two weeks.
The goal, seemed to frustrate the Cents’ has they ran into penalty trouble, taking two penalties at the end of the game, 56 seconds apart to nullify any chance at a comeback attempt. The Vees grinding out a 3-2 win in Merritt and bumping their lead atop of the Interior Division to four points