Two steps forward, one step back.
That’s the feeling you get after the Vees 3-1 loss in Coquitlam on Friday at the Poirier Sports & Leisure Complex. The Vees were coming off of one of their better performances at home on Wednesday against Vernon, and were looking to parlay that into a road win in Coquitlam. That didn’t happen and compounding matters was both Merritt and Vernon winning their games on Friday. Tonight’s results drop the Vees from first to third in the Division, but they can climb right back on top with a win Saturday.
Things looked promising early, as the Vees got the jump on the Express, wait the “Comets,” late in the first period. Brendan Lamont threaded the needle to Cody DePourcq in the crease, who then tapped-in his 10th and after that, you got the feeling the Vees were off and running. The first twenty minutes was more than enough to push this team in the right direction heading into the final two periods. They outshot Coquitlam 10-7 and were only going to face five defensemen the rest of the way, after John Saunders was booted from the game, when he picked up a two and a game when he checked Anthony Conti from behind.
So what happened? Good question. The Vees came out strong out of the blocks but stumbled when they reached the first hurdle. The second period was tight, but the Vees got pulled away from their game plan and started exchanging chances. However, the tying goal from Coquitlam didn’t come off the rush but rather a face-off in the Vees end. Penticton got in trouble, as they iced the puck on back-to-back occasions and had a somewhat tired group on the ice. Right off the face-off, the puck was pulled back to the blue-line; Marc Biega shot the puck across to Zach Hodder who ripped a shot wide. Talk about a hometown bounce though, as the puck missed the near-post, shot off the end-wall and out to Adam Rockwood on the other side; a gimme and a tie hockey game six minutes in. A couple of mistakes were made on the play, as the forward was late getting out to challenge the original shot, then Rockwood was left uncovered at the back-post.
All in all, not the end of the world, as it was a tie game six minutes into the second period; lots of hockey left. However, I didn’t see the Vees kick it up a notch, as they squandered a few good chances to go back ahead. The best chance that comes to mind was the late-breaking odd-man rush between Max Cotta, Anthony Conti and Jack Ramsey. Conti fed Coatta in the slot, the guy on that line that you want to have the puck in that situation but Gordie Defiel made that pad save. Ramsey was right there to follow-up but his bid was pushed just wide of the post. Coatta and Ramsey went crashing into the goal at the end of the play, the puck did not. There wasn’t enough of that in the second for my liking-net presence. In the first the Vees were pressuring the Express and buzzing around their net but that tailed off in the second. They did manage to get 10 pucks on Defiel but he had too many clean looks at Vees shooters.
The Vees had a golden opportunity to go ahead on the power-play early in the third period, after some good work along the boards at the tail end of the second period by Cam Amantea. He was in a puck battle with Matt Berry, who out of frustration, got over zealous and took a cross-checking minor. The Vees started the third period, in a 1-1 tie, with nearly a full two-minute power-play.
Prime opportunity to reclaim the lead, as their power-play was first in the BCHL coming into the night and was humming along at 25 percent in the last five games. But as many will say, starting periods on the power-play isn’t easy, as it’s tough to carry momentum over from the previous period. Power-plays thrive on momentum and it’s hard to generate that when you’ve been sitting around for 17 minutes. The Vees couldn’t muster up a real good look at the net and came up empty, which in the end proved to be costly.
After that, the tables turned and the Vees ran into their own penalty trouble. After Brendan Lamont was tagged with somewhat of a suspect charging penalty, the Express power-play did something the Vees couldn’t-score. Now, with all their talent, the CQ power-play was ranked a pedestrian 10th coming into the night but had manufactured four goals in their last five games. This power-play sequence looked like the man-advantage that was clicking at 19 percent recently not the one ranked 10th. They moved the puck around quickly and Ryan Rosenthal, from the top of the left-circle, slid a one-timer through traffic and past Olivier Mantha; Vees trailing for first time in the game but had 14 minutes to mount a response.
The Vees didn’t look like themselves in the third, yes; they spent the majority of the first 10 minutes on the penalty-kill (which REALLY isn’t like them). I don’t know if all the PK time wore a few of their players out, as they just couldn’t manufacture sustained pressure in the Express end. One thing I noticed was the Vees stopped moving their feet on more than one occasion in the offensive zone, something that you really don’t see from this team. Guys were standing around at times, letting the puck come to them, rather go after it and as a result, they were much easier to defend against.
The Vees just didn’t have enough guys “on” tonight. Brad McClure gets a pass, as he can’t be expected to carry the load every game and tonight he had a couple of chances but came up empty. He has his six game point streak come to an end as a result; seven goals and 12 points during those six games. The issue is, it’s the same guys that are being counted on to make something happen. Guys need to stop looking around and hoping the McClure’s, the DePourcq’s and Blanleil’s come up with big plays. It’s a team of 22 not one or two. This is all part of the process of learning to play the game at this level for a lot of young players; accountability. Other guys are going to have to step up and shoulder some responsibility, if this team is going to continue to have success and compete for top spot in the Division.
There still were some positives from tonight’s setback, as Blake Butzow looked good in his first game of the season. A great story, as he was sidelined with Meningitis since early September but got healthy, worked his way into shape and had an impact on the game. He even some time on the penalty-kill and looked great out there. Crazy to think this guy was hooked up to IV’s and eating awful hospital food just a few weeks ago.
Olivier Mantha, despite being saddled with his second straight loss, looked like his old self in-goal; a big step in the right direction. Can’t fault him on the first goal and I wouldn’t blame him on the second goal either; it was a power-play marker with traffic. His rebound control was excellent and he looked like he was playing with more confidence.
Staying on the defensive side of things, you have to like what the Vees did for the most part against the Express. They held their potent attack to single-digit shots in each of the three periods and only gave up one even-strength goal to the second highest scoring team in the BCHL. Some tough decisions will be made tomorrow on who will dress in the return leg against Coquitlam but a good problem to have.
I’ll leave you with this; the Vees are 6-1-0 after a loss this season and have outscored their opponents 30-16 in those seven games. No, they don’t want to keep bouncing back but that’s now in order against the Express on Saturday.