It was a good win for a whole host reasons.
The Vees put up seven goals on the team directly below them in the standings, as they vanquished the Centennials 7-1 Friday. It was the Vees reasserting their winning ways at home against Merritt after a 3-2 loss at the SOEC on November 4th. The Vees have now won two in a row over Merritt, after the Cents’ took the season-series opener.
Once again the Vees showed just how good they are against their own division, as they now sit at 15-3-0-1 against Interior opponents. 15 wins in 19 games against the other five teams in the Interior, that’s why they have a 10 point lead on second place West Kelowna (Their win over Vernon Friday moved them ahead of Merritt).
Strange is the fact the Vees have now played 19 games within their division where as the Cents’ have played 13th; 6 fewer games against divisional opponents. Tomorrow / tonight the Cents’ play Cowichan Valley at home, another non-divisional opponent.
I titled this recap “Slump Buster” as a few Vees put an end to some long scoring slumps. Lets start with Cody DePourcq who’s first of two on the night snapped a 21 game goalless skid. 21 games. DePourcq was sitting on one goal since he scored against West Kelowna way back on September 22nd. Both goals came from doing the right things. His first was off pure hard-work, as he wrestled the puck away from a Merritt defender behind the net, and put a wrap-around off the leg of Tyler Steel. Then four and a half minutes later he drives the net and finds a rebound to pot his second; two goals in four and a half minutes, after going without a goal in 21 games. Hockey is a weird game.
Another Vee who got a monkey off his back was Brock Baslon, who scored his first as a Vee and first since October 13th in the second period. The play was made by a great pinch by Troy Stecher at the blue-line, who finished with four assists by the way. Stecher stopped a clearing attempt creating a two-on-one down-low and Balson from the circle zipped a short-side wrister past Steel. Balson was sitting on just three assists since coming over to Penticton. Balson wasn’t playing bad before his goal tonight, snake-bitten is the word that comes to mind, but the tally tonight will boost his confidence no doubt.
Louie Nanne likes playing at home and there is nothing wrong with that. Nanne recorded his second hat-trick of the season, both natural hat-tricks too and both coming at the SOEC. He scored the Vees final three goals, with one coming on the power-play. He showed his versatility on all three, scoring in three different ways. His first a nifty lob-shot on a partial breakaway over a poking-checking Tyler Steel. His second on another power-play, a well-placed wrist-shot from the circle, and his third on a good fore-check resulting in a turnover. Nanne, like a lot of scorers, seems to score in bunches. He’s still working on his consistency but looks like he is getting more and more comfortable and that will only do the Vees some good.
Before I go any further, I must talk about the brilliant goaltending performance turned in by Chad Katunar, who was robbed of a shutout late in the third. Katunar was air-tight in the beginning when the Cents’ had the Vees a bit on their heels and was the reason why the Vees took a 1-0 lead into the intermission.
He was making countless saves through traffic, some off challenging redirects with not much room for error, a few eye-popping glove saves and a smart poke-check on breakaway. Don’t forget about the two knuckle-pucks from center ice, as those are a lot harder to stop than you think; just ask Vessa Toskala.
Katunar was so good at battling for pucks, not letting himself get caught out of position and never did give up on a play. There were a few instances where you didn’t think he was going to get to the second, third and fourth chances but he did. Being 6’6 Katunar should be good down-low and was terrific going post-to-post tonight. Countless times the Cents’ were trying to jam at pucks or stuff pucks across the line, but Katunar was there every time laying down his pads and holding his ground.
If it wasn’t for his performance, especially in the first period, I could be writing about a Merritt win, but I’m not and that’s all in thanks to Katunar’s stellar play.
The special teams might not get a lot of spotlight but it was a huge reason why the Vees picked up the win tonight. Merritt had the leagues best power-play coming into tonight and the Vees shut it down, going seven for eight on the PK; the power-play goal for Merritt was of little significance. The PK is now 12/13 against the Merritt Centennials, a power-play that has been hovering around 27 percent all season. Remember the Vees were missing two prominent penalty-killers in Mike Rebry and Brad McClure tonight.
It was a bizarre game on Friday, as the referee handed 15 power-plays between the two teams, eight of which were against the Vees. I rarely see a too many men call let along two, let alone THREE! The Vees had some issues with their line-changes or lack of communication at the bench with one another. Not a major issue but something to keep tabs on for tomorrow night. It comes down to the players being mentally focused at all times and not letting laziness creep into their game.
Still a curious win for the Vees, as if you look back on the home team being out shot 36-21, and taking eight penalties, three for too many men. THREE!! Give credit to the Vees for some clutch goaltending on the part of Chad Katunar and a whole bunch of opportunistic scorers.
It was all about staying the course, sticking to the process and the Vees did that on Friday. It wasn’t textbook at times in this one but the Vees never wavered from the game plan and that was the biggest key.