Something I might just make my regular post-game recap here on the blog, as I will share three things I took away from the Vees 4-1 win against Merritt in their Home Opener Friday. For tonight, I am revisiting my three keys I did prior to the game, as I think they hold some weight when talking about the Vees victory on Friday.
- Don’t get Stage Fright: A big night for the Vees and SOEC, as the building is celebrating it’s fifth birthday. A large crowd is expected for tonight’s clash with the Cents’ and the Vees are going to have to find a way to channel the energy from their fans. Last year, outside of GM 6 versus Surrey, this team struggled in front of large crowds. Healthy to have nerves before your home opener but don’t fall into a trap of trying to put on a show or do too much, to impress your fans. Know what will impress them? Two points.
- Play P***** Off: Pardon my language but that’s the attitude this team will need to bring tonight when they hit the ice. The last two games this team didn’t have the edge we say in their first four games, which saw them fly out to a 4-0 start. Call in tenacity, call it truculence call it whatever you want; the Vees need to bring that tonight.
- GET TO THE @#$%^! NET: There’s no easy goals in this league anymore and the Vees are well aware of that now. Look at how their last two opponents scored against them: hard net drives. PG scored all four of their goals at the top of or near the crease. Vernon scored two of their goals off of one forward going hard to the goal. The perimeter game won’t work against Merritt. Time to roll up the sleeves and get dirty.
1- OK, starting from the top, the Vees certainly didn’t look nervous in front of nearly 37 hundred fans at the SOEC. I imagine it is difficult to go through player introductions, a ceremonial puck drop and then a national anthem, then be expected to be ready from puck drop. The Vees had to deal with a lot of distractions on Friday but the extended pre-game festivities didn’t sidetrack them. I liked the teams start, as they came out with pace and were going at the Centennials. Both teams were moving the puck up and down the ice in the early stages but the Vees moved the puck with purpose and went at the Merritt goal. Devin Kero was absolutely amazing in the opening ten-twelve minutes and was the reason this game didn’t get away from the Cents’ early. Kero made a few eye-popping saves, including a dandy on Ryan Gropp (who had his revenge later). Kero, who is the regular number two behind the injured Russell Sanderson, was doing all sorts of acrobatics in his crease to keep zeros on the scoreboard.
On the flip side, give credit to the Vees for not getting frustrated and straying from their game plan. All these chances and they couldn’t score but they didn’t waver and finally hit pay dirt on their second power-play. Remember, this team was coming off back-to-back losses, and those first ten-twelve minutes could have derailed a vulnerable team. But the Vees sucked it up, didn’t pout or let frustration creep into their game and were rewarded for those efforts late.
I found the Ben Dalpe marker odd because I thought the Vees were far more threatening on their first power-play compared to their second which they actually scored on. They were firing all sorts of rubber at Kero on the games first man-advantage but couldn’t solve the Merritt goaltender. The second power-play, which produced the Vees goal, looked more tentative through the first minute. The Vees were stuck on the perimeter trying to find the shot they wanted. Just seconds before the goal you could hear fans start to grow restless. But, Paul Stoykewych made a nice pass to Brett Beauvais who fired it to the goal-line for Brad McClure, who then threaded the needle to Dalpe between the circles. Some urgency shown by that group inside the final minute of that power-play and it paid off.
Looking back at the opening period, the only thing you could have wanted more was goals, or some breathing room. The Vees owned the possession time and the shots on goal (12-2) and their special teams pulled through to give them a lead heading into the break; huge. Scoring first eased some tensions and relaxed some shoulders on the Vees bench. Not getting more than one was unlucky but the work ethic to earn those goals was there and if that is reproduced tomorrow, the Vees could have a handful of goals in the first.
2- Now, I know my second key was about how the Vees needed to play angry. Now I know it’s not in some players nature to play with a chip on their shoulder, but as a whole, I thought this team showed a lot more bite and grit to their game. Yes, there was that second period that sided-track the Vees but they didn’t play the role of polite hosts and let Merritt dictate this game early; that could have been the worst thing to happen. Instead, it was the Vees moving their feet early and going after the Cents’ in their zone.
When you’re playing “mad” it’s cranking up the energy, not passing up a chance to finish a check and not just being an observer. Anthony Conti is the type that is born to play that way and got shifts with Ben Dalpe and Brad McClure. I think Ryan Gropp not being on that line and watching Conti go after it, rubbed off on him a bit, knowing he needed to play with some more grit. Gropp was great on the second goal and knowing were to be. He contended with traffic, took some punishment, but stood in and willed the loose puck across the goal-line. The Vees will need the same attitude Saturday against Cowichan Valley. Gropp is just 17 years-old and still have to remind myself time to time. He has taken on a lot of responsibility but seems to relish the pressure of being a point-producer.
3- The Vees did take it to the goal. Ryan Gropp’s aforementioned game-winner was him going to the dirty area and forcing a puck in. Travis Blanleil put up an insurance marker with his great speed late in the third. The puck was bouncing back in the Merritt zone and Blanleil out skated the defenseman tracked down the puck and as he did so, he got just enough on the bouncing puck. The clincher was the fourth and final goal, as Cam Amantea had no seconds thoughts about racing after the net when Blanleil worked an odd-man rush from neutral ice. Amantea got on his horse, made a B-line for the goal and buried the dish from Blanleil. The Vees are now seeing why it’s crucial that you always try and take the puck to the net, as the cliche goes: good things happen when you go to the net.
It’s never going to be a picasso when you’re playing the Cents’, there a team that thrives on grinding games out. The Vees did a good job to adapting to that tonight and beating them at their own game. There was slip ups, those are going to happen this early in the season but this team strung to very good periods together and that was enough. Now, the team is well aware they’re going to need to be more consistent going forward but overall, tonight was a big step in the right direction.