The Vees saw their mini two-game win streak halted in Trail on Saturday, as the Smoke Eaters rode a strong first period to a 5-2 win. The loss was the first to Trail, as the two teams have split the first two games of the season series; the home team winning both games.
The first ten minutes of the first was like a bad dream for the Vees. Penticton looked like a team that hadn’t yet gotten off the bus before the ten-minute mark hit. The Smoke Eaters, still feeling it after last night’s eight goal outburst, came out and scored three in the first nine and a half minutes.
Trail kicked things off on the power-play, as Ryan Edwards scored his first BCHL goal (seem like a lot of those against Penticton of late), on a tip in front of the Vees net. Penticton product Tyler Berkholtz had his shot from the point go off the blade of Edwards and past the blocker of Katunar at 3:53. Not the start the Vees wanted, surrendering a goal not even four minutes into the game. It didn’t get any better from there on, as Brent Baltus and Connor Collett scored goals three and a half minutes apart to put the Smokes up 3-0; thee goals before the ten minute mark.
The Vees looked lost in front of their goal in the first and the second and third goals were a reflection of that. Brent Baltus slipped into a soft spot of coverage and put a quick shot through Chad Katunar at 6:07. Two Vees defenders ran into each other moments before the goal; bad news Bears? Collett made it three-rip when he swatted a rebound into an open goal at 9:35. Katunar stopped the point-shot but the puck bounced to an unmarked Collett who quickly put the rebound home.
Nine and a half minutes gone.
Not ideal to say the least.
As Assistant Coach Steve Cawley said in the post-game show, the Vees were still on the bus for the majority of the first period. A handful of players were engaged but the majority didn’t check-in for the first twenty minutes. In a back-to-back situation, playing a very good home team, the Vees could ill-afford to have a performance like they had in the frame. For a team trying to get on a roll and build upon two wins this week, Saturday’s first period effort wasn’t up to snuff.
I don’t find much fault in the first goal, on the Smoke Eaters first power-play. It was a point-shot through traffic that a Smokie forward made a nice redirect on. Now, the point-man maybe had too much time to let go the shot but it was a goal that the Vees could battle back from; the next two drove me crazy.
The second and third goals against were self-inflicted mistakes. Two preventable goals. Brent Baltus was allowed to get right in front of the net, corral a loose puck and put a shot past Katunar on the near side. Why was no Vee there to clear? Box-out? Lay the body? Two forwards were feet away but lost track of the puck and their marker, colliding to make matters worse. Collett was simply left to his own devices, at the side of the goal, without a defender near him. If he didn’t score on that rebound, he should have just packed up his bags and gone home. The Vees didn’t look like the defensively responsible team I’ve come accustomed to seeing in the last season and change. That was a period they would like to forget and soon.
The Vees were given a lifeline late in the first when Trail was handed a penalty; Penticton would start the second with a man-advantage for almost a minute and a half; a chance to cut into the deficit and start taking steps in the right direction.
Post. Penalty. Goal against. 4-0 Smokies.
On the Vees power-play, Troy Stecher had the best chance but was betrayed by the post. After some good puck movement around the zone, Stecher jumped on a rebound in the circle but his shot on the open side rang off the pipe. The power-play fizzled out after that and things went from bad to worse.
Right after the power-play expired for the Vees, they were assessed a tripping call. Down a man, the Vees were burned on a Smokies power-play again, as Luke Sandler scored from the bottom of the right-circle. Sandler spun around to his fore-hand and slid a shot along the ice through the legs of Chad Katunar at 3:02. A Smokies power-play goal minutes after a Vees power-play failed to cash in. Instead of looking at a 3-1 game early in the second, the Vees were down 4-0; a kick in the groin to say the least. Chad Katunar was given the hook, a move intended to spark the team more than anything.
The Vees did respond to the yanking of their starter, as Brad McClure got the Vees on the board with his 14th goal. On a power-play, McClure got his stick to a James De Haas shot from the right hash-mark; the Vees first coming at 8:20. Even though the Vees had time on their side they couldn’t muster a second goal in the middle stanza.
The Vees pressed the Smoke Eaters putting 17 shots on Adam Todd but only had one goal to show for their efforts. As I’ve said before, the BCHL has some quality goaltenders this season and tonight was no different. Adam Todd was sharp and knew the Vees were hunting for a second goal, and he knew he had to be air-tight and not let the Vees seize the momentum. Todd played well the rest of the period, battling in his crease and frustrating shooters with his aggressiveness. At that point, Trail was content out putting the puck high off the glass and sitting back on their heels, trying to nurse the three goal lead. The Vees would come at the Smoke Eaters in waves but had a frustrating time trying to get into scoring areas.
I know the Vees had 17 shots in the second but it could have been a whole heck of a lot more, if it wasn’t for the amount of shots the Smoke Eaters blocked. The Vees were getting frustrated, as they did everything but get puck through on numerous plays. Seeing that effort in the second had me thinking “what if?” when it came to game. What if the Vees had that effort off the start? Would we be talking about a 3-0 lead for the Vees and not the Smoke Eaters in the first ten minutes?
Same story in the third period, the Vees came out pressing and were rewarded with a goal from James De Haas just over four minutes into the frame; the Vees blue-liner with a nice individual effort, as he rushed down the right side and from behind the goal-line flipped the puck up and off the back of Adam Todd and in. The goal cut the deficit in half with 16 minutes left in the third, plenty of time to mount a comeback; easier said than done.
The Vees ramped up the pressure in the Trail zone, attacking time and again, pinching defenseman, being aggressive on the fore-check, anything to get back within striking distance BUT the Smokies just wouldn’t crack. Their D were careless with the puck on numerous occasions, making lazy clearing attempts up the middle but as soon as the Vees would get to the puck, a wall of white jerseys would form in front of the Trail net. From start to finish the Smoke Eaters did a heck of a job blocking shots and collapsing in front of their goal. Even if they made a sloppy play trying to get out of their zone, three, four or all five players would be between the circles facing the Vees shooter. Trail was just content with trying to sit onthe lead in the last ten minutes and hey, why not? They’re up on the first place team late in the third; they wanted the two points badly.
The best chance of the third came with around five minutes left when Sam Mellor caught the Smokies on a change. Troy Stecher started the play from center and Mellor broke in on what looked like a four-on-one. The former Smokie made a nice move around the one defender but couldn’t snap the puck past Todd. If Mellor scores there it’s a one-goal game with a good chunk of time left on the clock, and then all bets are off.
The Vees did yank the ‘tender with about two minutes left trying to manufacture a third and then fourth goal but couldn’t really get anything going with the extra attacker. The Smokies sealed the win with an empty-netter from Ryan Edwards inside the final minute.
A tough one on Saturday, as the Vees were burned by a bad first period and all their efforts in the final forty minutes to make up for it were all for not. Take away the three in the first and the Vees outscored the Smokies 2-1, minus the empty-net goal. However, you can’t just erase a ten minute chunk and the Vees know full well it takes sixty minute efforts to win hockey games in the BCHL. They had a complete effort on Friday but only could muster forty minutes of good hockey on Saturday. Chalk it up to another learning experience and hopefully something they can take forward as the year moves on. The good thing is the Vees get another shot at Trail on Wednesday and a chance to return the favour.