I’ve finally got around to sitting down and recapping the toughest and last loss of the season for the Vees. To be honest, I had a stunned feeling for the last 48 hours and couldn’t put my thoughts into words yesterday, hence the delay to this write-up.
In the coming days ahead I’ll put together a season recap, where I’ll share my thoughts, milestones and some stats that highlighted the 2013-2014 season. After that, the blog will have more alumni news and features, as the NCAA tournament gets going and playoffs at the professional level as well.
- Big reason for the game seven loss and the Vipers turnaround? Nerves. The Vees started to grip their sticks a bit too tight in the third period, when they started with a 3-1 lead. Remember, a 3-1 lead in this series was like having a 2-0 lead, which in hockey is “the worst lead to have.” I thought the Vees were over thinking it in the third period, nervous knowing they were 20 minutes away from a win but still HAD 20 minutes to bring it home. Those nerves hampered their ability to make plays coming out of their zone and get their speed game established. Vernon, on the other hand, had nothing to lose, as a loss would just mean a six-week break before the RBC Cup. Yes, the Vipers want to win their way through but they had a more care free approach to the third period and it showed. They played more loose and aggressive and that resulted in more sustained pressure in the Vees zone.
- Consider the setting. Game seven, at home, in front of over 31 hundred fans is exciting but also nerve-racking. The Vees came out a bit tentative in the first period, as they struggled to make plays on the boards in their own zone. That resulted in some Vipers pressure, as they got to working the puck down-low. You could argue the Vees were fortunate to be tied 1-1 going into the dressing room. They needed to take a breath and the intermission was gladly welcomed.
- When this team played with pace, they had a lot of success in this series and this game. Just look at their first goal, as Ben Dalpe flew down the middle of the Vipers zone and took a Max Coatta pass and squeezed his shot through Austin Smith. That came off a great transition from inside the Vees zone, as Coatta carried the puck blue-line to blue-line and cut in on the left-wing. That was early in the first and the Vees got away from that in the remaining minutes of that period but regrouped, and got themselves sorted for the second.
- The second period was the Vees best in Game Seven, as they cleaned things up in their own end, in particular they started to get pucks to their forwards at full speed. That resulted in more time in the offensive end, as the Vipers were put on their heels, trying handle the Vees speed and aggression. Penticton spent a significant amount of time in the Vipers end by bringing the puck in wide and with pace and getting the cycle game established below the circles. Their fore-check also created turnovers, as they pressed the Vipers defensemen who struggled to make plays off the board or get away from a Vees fore-checker.
- The speed and aggressiveness resulted in some goals for the Vees too, as the scored early and late to give themselves a 3-1 lead and everyone thought “Here we go!” During a four-on-four sequence, Brad McClure used the extra room to his advantage, as he and Cody DePourcq played give-and-go at centre, before McClure found him with a pass on the right-wing. The transition game manufacturing a go-ahead goal. The place went bonkers when the Vees again scored off the rush, as Erik Benoit willed his way down the right-wing, eluded three checkers and then hooked a great pass back out front to Steen Cooper. A late goal, with just 1:41 left in the second to have some breathing room going into the third. Or so we thought.
- At the time I thought that goal was huge because the Vees struggled all series to get that extra goal in a game to pull away from the Vipers. Remember Game Five, when the Vees were up 2-1 late in the second period but couldn’t pull further ahead after a lengthy five-on-three power-play. The Vipers score late than score again in the third period to win that game 3-2. So, with Cooper scoring late in the second period of game seven, you got the feeling FINALLY! But as it turns out, it was that dreaded 3-1 lead coming back to haunt a team in this series.
- As covered above, the Vees looked nervous up 3-1 in the third, playing maybe not to lose rather than playing to win. Those are two completely different things. When teams get caught “playing not to lose,” they’re often over thinking things and making mistakes because they’re too cautious. When you’re just “playing to win,” you’re attacking it, going hard and not letting your foot off the gas. Again, as I wrote above, the Vees were nervous and the Vipers played with that looseness that the Vees needed.
- The game shifted when The Vipers scored to make it 3-2 on a nice power-play setup by Michael McNicholas (AKA “The Vee Killer”) for Colton Sparrow. The shift that led to the Vipers power-play was the result of some bad luck and tired legs. The Vees couldn’t get a tired line off the ice, as they had a couple of bounces go against them when trying to clear the puck, and tired legs more often than not, lead to penalty trouble. The Vipers power-play, which looked a whole lot better in this series than the regular season, spent a lot of time in the Vees zone before McNicholas made a great pass to Sparrow at the back-post. The Vees PK unit was a bit tired, as they were out there for a while and two players converged on McNicholas thinking he was going to shoot but he bluffed. McNicholas sent the puck over to Sparrow for the tap-in on the blocker-side. Painful because that goal seemed to give the Vipers the shot in the arm that they needed. The Vees PK unit had been so good recently up until that goal, as they were 7-7 in games four through six. Just had to tip your cap to the Vipers for making a nice play.
- The Vees were a bit rattled after that goal and the Vipers might have sensed that, as they continued to press and scored right away again to tie the game. Sparrow made a nice play on the right-wing, to side-step a defender and threw the puck at the net looking to generate a rebound. The puck took an awful bounce off Oliver Mantha and just past Alex Coulombe, an in-between hop to steal a term from baseball, that forced a turnover right to a streaking Brett Mulcahy. The Viper forward swatted the puck in on his way into the net to tie the game. Two goals in 1:13. At first I thought the defenseman has to do a better job of protecting the puck but the more I look back at the video, it’s just a rotten bounce really. Coulombe is standing net-front, which he’s suppose to do but nothing can prepare you for that type of bounce. Essentially Coulombe is in no-man’s land and the puck goes right to a hard-charging Mulcahy. That goal shifted the momentum to the Vipers, as the Vees were a bit on their heels in the latter half of the third.
- Though the Vees actually turned the tables in the final minutes of the third and almost won the game in the dying moments of regulation. Benoit made a great move to go wide around the net and force a puck back across the net to Cooper on the far side. But the pass was just off enough to hand-cuff him and the puck jumped over his stick. Cooper is a left-handed shot so he had to dig his stick back into his body to try to coral the pass. If he was a right-handed shot, he’s going down to a knee and burying that puck into the back of the net. The what if game.
- Before the Coopers chance, the Vees did a good job of minimizing the damage, not allowing a fourth goal and got the game into overtime. That afforded them 17 minutes to take a breath, relax and refocus for overtime. Trevor Miller and I said on the broadcast, that it’s a time to forget what happened in the last 20 minutes, as there’s a fresh 20 minutes ahead or more; wipe the slate clean and start over. It didn’t quite happen like that, as the Vees had a pair of forays into the Vipers zone into overtime early but nothing really resulted from those two rushes. Nic Pierog just missed Cody DePourcq with a tape-to-tape pass on the right-wing, as DePourcq was forced to hold up just enough to allow the Viper defender to close the gap just enough. I thought to myself, what if DePourcq got that pass on his sick in mid-stride? The what if game, again.
- The Vipers came back, had a couple of shifts in the Vees zone before manufacturing the overtime-winner. McNicholas made a nice play to chip the puck across the back of the net to Dexter Dancs. Dancs made a nice play of his own to dig the puck out skates, then fire a backhand pass back through the crease to McNicholas for the one-timer.The Vees season over just like that.
- Running on “E.” When I say the Vees battled nerves, I’m not saying they didn’t empty the tank. They did. It was on E. The coaching staff pressed all the buttons they could in this series and squeezed everything they could out of this line-up. The players gave it their all, it sounds cliche but its true. There’s no shame in how the series ended. A game seven against two great teams. That crappy thing is, one really good team wasn’t moving on after this series was all said and done. The Vees scored 21 goals, the Vipers 22 in the seven games; Vernon just got that one extra goal. Both teams were running on adrenaline towards the end of game seven.
- Close Call. This series was close and in nearly every statistical category. The Vipers just edged the Vees in goals 22-21. The Vees averaged 29 shots the Vipers 25 per game. The Vipers averaged 3.14 goals per-game, the Vees an even three. The Vipers scored four power-play goals to the Vees three. This is the result of two good teams going toe-to-toe over a seven game series. Hey, the Vees went 4-3 against Vernon in the regular season, so you can say the two teams split two seven-game series; yes the playoffs is where it counts. A bounce here, or a bounce there, maybe I’m talking about an epic series win for the Vees. The what if game, coming up again.
- Home sweet home? The road team went 5-2 in this series if you can believe that; both the Vees and Vipers had just one win on home ice. No one could have predicted the Vees losing three of four games on home ice. Why was this a “road series?” I think it has something to do with that mentality of “having your back against the wall.” It seemed like the team that had more adversity, was the better team game-to-game. Vipers win game one on the road and get the split. The Vees return the favour, rallying from a 3-1 deficit in game three, to pull off a stunning 4-3 win. Vernon comes back to Penticton for game five and rallies to win 3-2 after being down 2-1 late in the second. The Vees go to Vernon for game six, with their season on the line, and in front of near capacity Vernon crowd, shutout the home team 2-0. Then it’s Vernon doing the same in game seven in front of a massive crowd of 31 hundred people. The team that was “down and out,” seemed to be the team that was always in a better position to win.
- No Lead Was Safe Three times, yes, three times the team that had a 3-1 lead at any point in a game in this series lost. The Vees came back from 3-1 down in game two to win 5-3. They then did it again in game three on the road, scoring two late ones in the third to stun Vernon 4-3. As I said above, the Vipers had a rally in game five and again in game seven. Adversity was everything in this series. I’ll say it again, the team that had to come from behind, seemed to be in a better position to win. As the series went on, you got the feeling both teams were weary of having more than a one-goal lead. I’ve never seen so many comebacks in one series in my four years covering the BCHL.
- Defense? No. Offense? Yes. It wasn’t run and gun all series but I didn’t expect to see that much offense from both teams. The Vees were stingy all season long, the best team in the BCHL in the regular season when it comes to goals against; Vernon was no slouch neither. But this series had a lot of scoring, as each game had an average of six goals and both teams averaged three goals per-game. The Vees didn’t score a whole lot in the regular season but found their offensive touch in the playoffs and in this series; same with Vernon. Not saying these teams didn’t play well defensively, but the offensives were so good they just kept finding ways to score on one another.
- Veteran Series. This isn’t a surprise but it was a series all about the veterans making impacts. Brad McClure led the Vees in scoring against Vernon, with four goals and 11 points. Riley Alferd and Matt Serratore did have four points in this series but experienced guys like Cody DePourcq and another 20-year-old in Erik Benoit, both had three points. Maybe the difference was the Vipers got just a bit more production from their older players. Colton Sparrow had four goals, McNicholas had three goals and seven points, Mulcahy had four goals, and Brendan Persley had three goals in the series. The Vipers managed to get slightly more production from their older players, than the Vees and that might have been the one thing that separated these two evenly matched teams.
- It’s Not How You Start, but How You Finish: The team that scored first lost five of the seven games. It wasn’t about good starts but rather how the teams played in the second or third periods. Never really seen that before either in a series, where no games was over until the bitter end.
So there you have it, my thoughts on a wild and entertaining game seven and some random thoughts about this series. Not sure if I’ll go into a full series recap but if I do it will be posted right here. In the days ahead I’ll post some exit interviews with graduating players.
Once again, the Vees can’t be hanging their heads after this series. Disappointing to lose a game seven and a series to a close rival. But they can’t be down on themselves on how they played or the effort they put in. They played hard, they played hurt and they gave it their all. This series will be talked about by fans around the Okanagan and BCHL for quite some time.