Game Highlights: GM 4 Vees 4 Merritt 3
- I thought it was going to be hard to top game three but all we had to do was wait 24 hours. Game four was arguably the closest contest of the series, as both teams went at each other from start to finish. It felt like a middleweight bout, as the Vees and Cents’ just kept taking swings at each other, but neither was going down. Merritt, to their credit, emptied the tank and threw everything they had at the Vees. They pushed Penticton right to the end in this game and this series, and the Vees trailed three times but never quit and won late. What a game.
- Unlike Friday, where the second was more of a defensive grind, all three periods Saturday had something to offer. There was an incredible pace to the start of game four and it never really died off; both teams going up and down the ice in a hurry. There was long stretches last night without a whistle and it was fantastic for fans and to call; until my voice started to go.
- The atmosphere was something I won’t forget it a long time, as both sides of fans brought the noise. Have to praise Merritt fans for packing that tiny rink, despite their team being down 3-0 in the series. A lot of times in those situations you don’t see the fan support you would if the series was 2-1. Merritt fans brought all sorts of noise makers, drums, buckets, air horns and even pots and pans. The place was never quiet.
- Now, the Vees fans. I just want to say a sincere thank you for your support and how much noise YOU made. Incredible. Even before warm-up started the Fan Bus crew was firing up their cowbells waiting for the Vees to hit the ice. Looking down to the tunnel, the Vees standing there waiting to hit the ice, you could see they were surprised and super jacked to see the turnout. There was more fans that came on their own accord too and if I were to guess, I would say somewhere around 50-60 Vees fans at least were at the game; sounded like 500. That support didn’t go unnoticed by the players, as they were buzzing about the support all night and well after the game too. It was great to see OUR fans get on their feet after Merritt scored to make it 3-2; a sign of encouragement. Again, thank you for the incredible support both at home and on the road.
- What was the key in game four? Well, Assistant Coach Steve Cawley said post-game that the belief within their group helped them to win this game. Not once did the team panic when Merritt took one of their three leads and Cawley said on the bench, no matter what the score was, the group felt they were going to win.
- You could see that belief translate on the ice, as they never let off the gas and kept going at the Cents’. When Merritt scored, the Vees would shake it off and go right back at them and try to get something going. They never got frustrated either which was another big key. In the third, down 3-2, scoring chances were hard to come by at either end but the Vees kept grinding away and out of that sheer determination, got an equalizer from Jack Ramsey. That goal really turned things around for the Vees, not only getting rewarded for their hard work but getting a goal from a depth player who simply worked his butt off to tie it. I think they proved to themselves with that goal, they could win the game if they just stuck to their guns.
- The game-winner. Oh man. Eerily similar to Friday’s go-ahead goal by Paul Stoykewych late in the third period. Again, Brad McClure came across the Merritt blue-line on the right-wing. Again, he stopped on the wall and fired a pass cross-ice to a charging defenseman. This time it was Brett Beauvais, who sold out and dove, head first, tipping the puck past Devin Kero before crashing into the net himself. I know i muffed my goal-call by saying Cooper was the one tipping it in originally, but you try and determined what the heck is going on at the far end, staring up and under a damn heater. Good riddance to that broadcast booth. Two nights in a row a defensemen sees a soft spot in coverage and goes to the net and scores a crucial goal. How about the set of hands on McClure? We all knew what he scored but that’s two nights in a row he’s threaded tape-to-tape passes in high traffic areas and at full speed. Jeez.
- Something that can’t be overlooked about Saturday’s game is WHO scored for the Vees. Steen Cooper, who is as determined as they come, scores his first in 15 games dating back to the regular season. He tied the game late in the first period and that was critical as going to the dressing room tied 1-1 is a whole lot different from going down 1-0 on the road. His drought wasn’t for a lack of effort or chances, as he’s one of the Vees hardest-working forwards and finally was rewarded for his strong play in the series. Great moment for him. Another player who was rewarded for his hard-work and determination was Jack Ramsey. Had four assists in the first four games but was looking for the elusive goal. I bumped into him pre-game in a stairwell and quipped how close he was to scoring the OT winner Friday (just missed a tip). He responded and said he might have one in him tonight; boy was he right. No, it wasn’t the game-winner but it was huge. He simply out-worked Shane Poulsen for the puck at the Merritt blue-line, then drove wide and forced a shot over Kero’s glove, tying the game with just over five-minutes left. Brett Beauvais picked a great time to score his first of the series. He hit the cross-bar in game three and has had his lion share of chances in the series before Saturday’s heroics. I ran into him as well pre-game (all I do is bother players apparently), and he too said he felt like he was close to cashing-in. He showed a lot of guts and smarts on the 4-3 goal. Recognizes he had a lane to the net, charged the goal and then sacrificed his body to lunge out and redirect the McClure pass. I’m sure Beauvais wasn’t feeling great after that play but the adrenaline probably numbed everything. Three of the Vees four goals were scored by players who had not scored in the series prior to game four. Depth.
- How about Mr. McClure? He led all scorers in the series with six goals and nine points (still short one assist from game three) and is riding a nine-game point streak dating back to the regular season. In those nine games he has 11 goals and 18 points. I’ll say it again, I don’t know if I ever seen a player at this level, score as many clutch goals as he does. He’s got ice water running through his veins.
- Things got heated late both on the ice and off of it. Bizarre sequence after the 4-3 goal, where before the puck was even dropped, Merritt’s head coach Luke Pierce took a bench minor penalty for arguing with on of the referees. Merritt’s down just 4-3 with two minutes left but any comeback was nullified with that penalty. I’m still scratching my head over that.
- I can understand Luke being upset with what he perceived as some non-calls but boy did Merritt get away with their fair share too. How about Devin Oakes trying to knock Shane McColgan’s head off with a vicious elbow attempt at the blue-line? Right in front of one referee and yet not call. That was horrendous. What can you do? Can’t suspended a player that’s eliminated but yikes; that was a blatant attempt to injury someone (Video evidence) Also there’s that little thing that happened in the second when Hunter Miska was bulldozed by a Merritt forward from behind in his crease. No call there either. Merritt shouldn’t be arguing too much.
- Things heated up off the ice, when both sets of fans got engaged verbally behind the Vees penalty box. Our Fan Bus crew was sitting there and some Merritt hardcore supporters were just to their right. Things got a bit tense when one Merritt super fan started yelling at one senior female Vees fan. Luckily there were a couple of bystanders on both sides that quickly defused the situation. I know Patrick Sexton and Chris Rygus, who were in the penalty box, were upset that she was being verbally attacked but I’m glad nothing came of it. Hey, respect your elders no? Yes, some beer cans were thrown on the ice, which was unfortunate but that was just from a small group of Merritt “fans.” More just young people who came for the game and were, umm, lets say “over served.” For the most part, both sets of fans behaved themselves and were just getting fired up over their respective teams. Playoff hockey!
- The Vees have now earned themselves some rest, as they won’t play again until Friday when the host either Vernon or West Kelowna in game one of the Interior Division Final. Vernon has a 3-1 series lead and can wrap-up that series tomorrow night in game five in West Kelowna.
- PENTICTON: PACK. THE. SOEC. FRIDAY. AND. SATURDAY.