Audio Highlights: Vees 6 West-K 3
- Can`t talk about a win, unless we talk about Olivier Mantha. He was brilliant on Tuesday, stopping 37 of 40 shots, including 19 of 21 (though some might argue that third period total might be inflated) in the third period. One of his saves may just be the turning point of the game. Down 1-0, early in the second, Mantha stopped West Kelowna’s Seb Lloyd on a breakaway. Lloyd went backhand and Mantha lunged out with his pad to stuff him at the post. The Vees bring it up ice the other way and score, courtesy of Max Coatta picking the corner. If Mantha doesn’t stop that breakaway, it’s 2-0 for the Warriors, and considering the Vees scoring issues of late, a deficit they may have not come back from. Just a huge save from the Vees goaltender at such a critical time. The stop then goal at the other end swung the momentum in the Vees favour, and they went on to a three-goal period, riding said momentum.
- Mantha also made another important breakaway save early in the third period. With the Vees up 3-1 and on the power-play, Reid Simmonds found himself behind the Vees defense but his wrist-shot was kicked-out by Mantha and up and over the goal. Again, a Warrior on a breakaway and again Mantha answering with another clutch save. Hey, Simmonds scores there, it’s 3-2, a short-handed marker, and who knows what would happen next. Instead, Mantha stops Simmonds with another superb pad save and keeps the game at 3-1. A few minutes later the Vees scored two in 52 seconds and take a commanding 5-1 lead. 3-2 to 5-1 is drastic swing.
- It wasn’t just the breakaway saves and when he made them, but he was very good with his rebound control. Mantha had to deal with a lot of traffic and always seemed to find the puck through a maze of bodies. He was picking out point-shots with his glove or absorbing shots into his chest and not spilling them right in front to waiting Warrior players. Tonight he played in high traffic areas around his crease but had a real calmness about him,which is reassuring to his teammates when they were feeling pressure from the home side.
- I’ll get to a few more standouts in a moment but I want to circle back to the first period. Maybe I wear my blue coloured glasses too much, but I thought the Vees were unlucky to be trailing going into the intermission. In the opening period, the Vees were pressing the Warriors, being aggressive on the fore-check, being physical and spent quite a bit of time in the Tribe end, yet were down a goal going into the break. They happened to make one glaring mistake on their d-zone coverage and give credit to the Warriors for taking advantage. Someone went to a spot where they weren’t suppose to, as Adam Osczevski found a soft spot in coverage and from the slot went post and it past the blocker of Mantha. Outside of that one slip-up, the Vees were very sound in their own end. I don’t think the Vees were shaken by the goal, as they looked confident finishing the period and that said a lot. They were somewhat of a fragile group coming into the game, but didn’t let that goal get them off track. They stuck to their guns, were patient and were rewarded in the second and third.
- Encouraging to see Riley Alferd find his offensive touch, especially this late in the season and with the playoffs around the corner. He showed some great hand-eye coordination by batting a puck out of the air in the Warriors crease to score the Vees third goal and he finished with three points. He and Shane McColgan had a nice exchange that led to Alex Coulombe’s goal in the third, and he also picked up an assist on Nic Pierog’s first goal in the second. Alferd now has three goals and nine points in his last seven games after just picking up two assists in the 12 games before that. Confidence can do wonders and Alferd is as confident as I’ve seen him this year. He’s a Swiss Arm knife, in the sense how versatile he is. He plays, forward, can pull spot duty on defense, mans the point on the power-play but also kills penalties in a forwards role. Guys like that are so valuable come the post-season.
- Nic Pierog wears, 61 and looked awfully like a famous 61 that plays in the NHL. Pierog looked like a man out there tonight, using his 6’2, 200 pound frame to its fullest potential. He moved to the wing tonight and that “freedom,”shedding some of the responsibilities that comes with playing center, gave him a noticeable boost. He was attacking a lot, using his size to create room for himself down-low below the circles and around the net; he was hard to get off the puck. He seemed to thrive on the physicality and hopefully getting a couple go in tonight, will be a s shot in the arm. He scored a beauty in the second on the power-play, tucking a shot up and underneath the cross-bar, and he found a soft spot in the third to fire a one-timer from the right-circle that got past Andy Desautels and inside the post. Kid needs to keep playing with an edge.
- Speaking of playing with an edge, Shane McColgan had one of his best performances as a Vee. On the post-game show, Assistant Coach Steve Cawley said McColgan might have had one of his best periods as a Vee in the first period. He looked hungry, determined in this one tonight. He was going after the puck carrier, when the Vees weren’t in possession of it; a real handful on the fore-check. He had his feet going, which is key, as he wasn’t easy to defend. He was constantly moving, constantly trying to find open ice or a shooting lane. He had one nice end-to-end dash in the first period and also had a great opportunity to tap in a rebound on top of the crease but had the puck trickle off the post. Great to see the fire back in his game.
- One other individual to touch on is defenseman Alex Coulombe. Coulombe was playing his first game since returning from a two-game absence. Coulombe was back home in Quebec last week after the passing of his grandfather; never an easy situation. But he looked like a new player tonight, not one that was battling confidence issues in early February. He was hard to play against, as he had a noticeable bite to his game, just look at his huge hit on Jordan Masters in the second. He took a penalty after a good battle in front of his own net and even scored a goal; his first in 25 games! Alex also was very smart with the puck, he didn’t hang on to it for too long, and that’s a good thing, as he made simple plays, getting the puck out of the Vees zone in a hurry. Coach Cawley took notice, saying post-game, that he had a near mistake free game; maybe it was mistake free.
- What changed from the first to second? I thought the Vees did a great job at slowing the game down but not by the way you think. In the first, the Warriors generated a lot of speed through the middle of the ice but the Vees adjusted well late in the second and third periods. West-K never really was allowed to get going off the rush in the last forty minutes because the neutral ice was taken away by the Vees. The Warriors like getting their speed going by making passes through middle, as part of their transition game. The Vees however, got sticks and bodies in the way and closed down passing lanes, and causing the Warriors attack to be disjointed. They started to pressure better at the offensive blue-line as well, which caused some problems for the Warriors defensemen on their breakout passes. The Warriors can be scary good when they’re flying at warp spee, going end-to-end, but if you can throw a wrench in their wheel, you can have success.
- Also did depth become a factor? The Vees used pretty much everyone one, all four lines and three D pairings from start to finish. They rejigged their lines ahead of the game, and all four lines had a goal. The first line got an empty-net goal from Brad McClure, Nic Pierog scored twice, once at even strength in the third period. Riley Alferd scored late in the second and Max Coatta scored early in the second. I know West Kelowna was missing two key defensemen and Jason Cotton, but the Vees were missing a top-six forward in Erik Benoit and one of their best defensive forwards in Travis Blanleil. The Warriors put heavy minutes on their top-four defensemen and I think the Vees grinding style started to wear on them. Adam Plant and Braden Pears must have been flirting with forty minutes of ice time tonight.
- The Vees are now 30-3 when they score three or more goals in a game. 30-3. When they’re held to two or less goals, they’re 3-12-2-4. It’s not easy to go out and score at least three a game, especially this time of year, but it goes to show what this team can do when they give themselves some run support.
- I wouldn’t get too worked up about the two late power-play goals by West Kelowna. Give them credit, they made a couple of nice plays on both goals; they’re a skilled hockey team remember. The Vees know they can’t get sucked into penalties at that point of any game and chalk it up to a learning lesson.