Brad McClure Overtime Winner
- It’s uncanny how many timely goals Brad McClure has scored this season. I’m not sure where the “Captain Clutch” moniker came from but boy is it fitting. Including the regular season, that was McClure’s third overtime goal this season; they have four overtime wins this season. Including the regular season, the Vees are 29-7-0 when McClure scores. Clutch indeed.
- What a see-saw affair on Friday night, especially in the final three minutes of the third period. I don’t know if I’ve seen such a finish at this level. The Vees had a 3-2 lead with under three-minutes left but Merritt ties it on a goal by Payton Schaefer. But 23 second after that, Paul Stoykewych tips-in a pass and restores the Vees lead. BUT, Merritt pulls their goalie in favour of the extra attacker and ties the game with 41 seconds left. It was such a roller coaster of emotions on both sides of the puck in the final minutes of the game; incredible theater.
- Originally I thought the Vees looked a little tense with their two late leads but Assistant Coach Steve Cawley made a good point after the game. He said it wasn’t that they were tense or nervous but more due to the confines of the arena. The Nicola Valley Memorial Arena is so cramped that one bounce game turn a game on its edge. It’s hard to protect a lead in that rink, as the puck is ping-ponging around and taken unpredictable bounces. A team can shoot the puck literally anywhere from inside the red-line and it’s a quality chance. As Coach Cawley said, it’s hard to have a solid defensive structure when the puck is moving all over the place and taken weird hops of the glass and boards. If the Vees were at home, they know where to put pucks to get them out of the zone. In Merritt, you can never be 100 percent positive on what the puck is going to do once you throw it off the glass or boards.
- What really helps the Vees for game four, especially after some overtime in game three, is their bench. They never really did shorten their bench for any length of time on Friday. They were rolling all four lines from beginning to end and all six defensemen had quality minutes. That sets them up nicely for a quick turnover and a chance to end the series in the minimum required games to do so; AKA a sweep. I thought there depth helped them push through to the end. The Cents’ played only five defensemen all night, as I had AP Josh Teves down for one shift in the second period. Will the Vees be the more fresh team going into tonight’s game?
- The game-winner was born out of some great work by the Vees veteran players. Brett Beauvais, he was my OT pick, makes a nice play at center to elude a fore-checker and softly chip the puck behind the Merritt net. Erik Benoit hustles after it, gets to the puck first, gives a peak out front, and snaps a pass to a streaking Brad McClure. Not sure how McClure got that open in the slot, but then again maybe that’s fatigue creeping into Merrit’s game and that can lead to mental mistakes. It’s funny because the scoring play didn’t look like one. Just a simply dump-in play but it’s all about puck retrieval something the Vees coaches have stressed all year; put pucks in areas they can get to.
- How about Paul Stoykewych? He has now got three goals in three games and is averaging over a point per game in this series. To put things into perspective, he only had four goals all season. I spoke with him prior to game three (great interview by the way) and he kept mentioning how badly he wants to win in the playoffs. He spoke about how he hasn’t had much post-season success in his junior career and with him going off to school next year, this is it for him; he’s playing like it. I mentioned to him how much more confident he has looked in the last three weeks, but he smiled and just reiterated he just wants to win. He might not say it but he has been a different player since mid February and playing with a lot of confidence and a noticeable edge.
- Assistant Coach Steve Cawley also said how sound of a performance it was from the Vees. The comment that stuck out to me was the fact he though no one was going above or beyond expectations, but no one was playing below expectations. Everyone was pulling their weight and playing a sound team game. That’s how you’re going to find success in the playoffs, when every is chipping in, some way shape or form.
- Olivier Mantha was terrific in the first period, as I had him down for three “10 bell” saves in a period, to be quite honest, the Cents’ should have had a lead in. If it wasn’t for his goaltending early, the game could have gotten away from the Vees. Again Coach Cawley and myself discussed how he looked a bit unsettled towards the end of the game, but that goes hand in hand with the rink. It’s a tough place for goalies to play in, as your angles are different, shots are coming from everywhere and your constantly moving; fatigue can set it. Bottom line, he kept Merritt off the scoresheet in overtime, got some help from the post but backstopped the Vees to the win. That’s all they can ask for.
- Hockey is a game of inches. James Neil hit the post from the left-circle when he tried to go glove-high on Mantha in overtime. The play continues and the Vees go down the ice and score the game-winner. Hockey: a game of inches. Heartbreak for Merritt, jubilation for the Vees.
- Lastly, I need to commend the Cents’ on a relentless effort in game three. They were missing two defensemen and their top scorer but pushed the Vees right to the end. They gave the Vees everything they had and almost, almost pulled of the comeback. Payton Schaefer I thought was their best player, as he willed his team by the way he played.