- They wanted five out of six points but the Vees will only be travelling home with three after another hard-fought loss Sunday against Cowichan Valley. “Hard-fought” isn’t fluff here as if you’re a regular reader or listen to any of my broadcasts I don’t sugar-coat things. The pom-poms aren’t out when I say the Vees suffered back-to-back hard-fought losses to end their trip. They were short-handed all weekend, icing either 11 or 10 forward line-ups and that only compounds matters when your schedule has you playing three in two and a half; four in five days if you go back to Wednesday. Neither the players nor the staff will use their roster situation as an excuse but they know they were low on fuel and hovering around ‘E’ on the fuel gauge Sunday. Though you couldn’t tell by the Vees start they were a tired group.
- I really liked the start from Penticton against the Cowichan Valley Capitals. Just 10 men upfront but they had their legs going early and the game developed a great pace. Remember, when the Vees come to town, ranked number one in the CJHL, every team is going to give them their best, no matter their record. Sunday wasn’t any different as the Capitals looked the polar opposite of the three-win team that has been dragging their feet through the first two months of the schedule. The Caps were up for this one too and they came at the Vees hard in the opening period.
- I don’t think I can hammer that point home enough. Look, the Vees have a big target on their backs, we all know that. Everyone wants a piece of the “top dog” and the target gets bigger when you’re atop of the CJHL rankings heading into this week’s four-game schedule. Even the Capitals, who had just three wins and seven points in 19 games coming into Sunday, looked like a team that was in playoff contention and one that would be near the top of the standings. The Vees bring out the best in every team. EVERY. TEAM. Don’t believe me? Watch back online how the Caps celebrated when the final buzzer went or take to Twitter and see what they’re saying. They’re pumped. They should be. They earned it.
- The Vees did have two great opportunities to open the scoring in the first period. Their best chance came off the stick of Jack Ramsey when the Vees were playing down a man in the penalty-box. Ramsey forced the hand of Skylar Pacheco at the Vees blue-line, powered through the middle and broke in on a partial break as he crossed the Caps line. Now, he was fighting-off a defender at his back and fighting with an unsettled puck as he tried to deke. He did go glove-side on Caps netminder Matt Zentner and it looked like he had him beat but the puck fluttered wide of the post. The other quality chance was late in the first when the Vees were on their second power-play. The puck was moved to Demico Hannoun for the one-timer, a set play on the Vees PP. Hannoun unleashed a rocket from the left-circle but Zentner just got enough of it with his shoulder/stick to keep it out.
- We’ll label the Ramsey breakaway as #RamseyChanceOne. More on that later.
- Hockey is known as a game of inches and this weekend was a perfect example. The theme I kept thinking of was “if only.” If only that shot went in or if only the puck didn’t bounce like it did. The stats back it up. IF the Vees managed to bury on either of those two chances, they might be talking about a win today. How? Well, they’re 8-0-0 this season when leading after the first; 8-2-0-1 when tied after one. But have lost their last three when tied after twenty-minutes. “If only” the Ramsey deke found the back of the net. “If only” the Hannoun blast rippled twine. If only.
- Good on the Vees for not hanging their heads after the first and playing the “woe is me” card. They sucked it up and got an early power-play goal in the second. Hannoun, not to be stopped, made a nice deke before firing a back-hand inside the post seventy-nine seconds into the second. Hannoun moved off the right-wall, toe-dragged around one penalty-killer and then flicked the puck inside the post on Zentner’s blocker-side. Low and hard. 1-0.
- The power-play tally extended the Vees streak of consecutive games with at least one power-play goal to seven. The power-play was excellent on the weekend and it’s really showing signs of improvement. On the weekend the power-play was humming along at 29 percent. During this seven-game run the power-play is clicking at 40 percent. Remember, Tyson Jost and Dante Fabbro return Friday. Oh.
- Big moment after the goal was #RamseyChanceTwo to put the Vees up two. Cowichan Valley coughed it up in the slot. Ramsey rifled it wide on the blocker-side. Close. Here I go saying “If only” again. He buries that and it’s 2-0 and the Capitals, with their all their struggles, probably are broken. “If only.”
- Power-play got going-again. Great. But one trend that popped up again was the Vees surrendering goals right after they score; momentum killers. It was an issue Friday and Saturday and it happened again Sunday. Right after Hannoun scored, the Caps scored, tying the game just 1:33 after the Vees went up 1-0. Hard to sustain momentum on the road when you don’t give yourself any time to build upon it. The Vees were caught leaving a forward alone at the side of the net and it proved costly. Point-shot sailed wide but it bounced back in front and Sean Harrison stuffed it in between Hunter Miska and the post.
- Gun, meet foot. The Vees shot themselves in the foot minutes later in the second on a turnover deep inside their own end; something that happened Friday in Victoria. Kyle Horsman was the beneficiary, as he picked up the biscuit and from the right-circle, he fired inside the far-post. The Vees fumbled the D-to-D pass and before you knew it, the red light was on. The one silver lining to these types of goals is that they’re correctable mistakes. The red flag would go up if you’re continually just getting beat on play after play. The Vees know they can be a whole lot more tidy with the puck in their own end. Plus you got to think all the hockey these guys have played leads to some mental fatigue as well.
- The Vees flipped the script. They were the ones to score right after an opposition goal. Pat Newell spotted Mitch Newsome sliding into the high-slot from the bench and he wired a wrist-shot top corner glove side seventy-one seconds after the Horsman goal. That was clutch. A big goal for Newsome as it was his first in 18 games. His last goal came on opening night back on September 19th.
- #RamseyChanceThree also took place in the second. This time when the game was tied at two, Riley Alferd forced the turnover behind the Caps net. He quickly dished to Ramsey on the front porch but his one-timer was knocked down by Zentner. An excellent point-blank chance. Poor Jack Ramsey. Kid couldn’t catch a break Sunday.
- The Vees had two other chances in the second to get the lead. Cody DePourcq had a near miss on a three-on-one rush. Josh Laframboise dropped for DePourcq but he whistled it over the net. Same story for Alferd who darted into the right-circle but snapped his shot over the glove-side of Zentner. The Vees were buzzing in the second; arguably their best period of the game but left the ice tied at two. Why was that important? Well, they’re now 2-1-0-1 when tied after 40. 15-1 when leading after two. “If only” one of those chances went in.
- Hockey can be cruel sometimes. After the several chances the Vees had to take the lead, the Caps took the lead again early in the third, the assist to a piece of Lexan on the boards behind the Vees net. The Lexan was covering the rinkboard advertisement on the board behind the net. The edge of the Lexan sticks out just slightly but that’s where the puck hit on a dump-in, causing the puck to bounce away from Hunter Miska and right to Kyle Horsman. Hometown bounce. 3-2. Punch to the gut. Apparently that odd bounce wasn’t the first time it’s happened in Duncan. Smart on the Caps for knowing where to put the puck.
- Can’t fault the Vees for sagging a bit after that goal. They busted their ass for most of the game and couldn’t pull away from the Caps (largely due to the play of Zentner). Then the pesky Caps get a bounce and took off from there. That must have been very deflating for a team that that was looking for a break.
- Credit the Caps for sensing the Vees being on their heels after the 3-2 goal and going for the jugular. Five-minutes later Skylar Pacheco delivered the standing eight count after he potted the puck into an open net after a crazy scramble in front of the Vees goal. It started with Keegan Milligan missing a WIDE OPEN net on a back-door feed. The puck came back out front where Miska dove on his side and stopped two jam attempts. It then went high to low in the zone, where Pacheco flipped it upstairs as Miska laid on the ice helplessly watching. Curtains.
- A few random thoughts to wrap up this novel of a post:
- I really liked how the top-line of Hannoun, Newell and Zerter-Gossage played. I thought they weren’t firing on all cylinders Saturday but the three came to play Sunday. They combined for a goal and four points in the loss. Now that they have a break, more bodies back in the line-up this week; a fresher trio can do serious damage.
- I pumped the power-play a lot but the penalty-kill deserves love. No goals allowed by the Vees PK this weekend on 11 opposition chances. Air-tight. In the Vees last five games the PK is clicking at 87.5 percent.
- Sooner or later the law of averages is going to balance things out. The Vees had 42, 42 and 31 shots on net this weekend but just eight goals to show for it. They ran into three hot goaltenders that probably all had their best performances of the season when they played the Vees. That’s an average of 38 shots per-game for the Vees this weekend but just an average of 2.5 goals in the three games. They’ll light the lamp soon enough.
- Spoke plenty about forwards but Gabe Bast, Mike Lee and Jarod Hilderman logged heavy-minutes. Bast and Lee played a ton on Sunday and both handled the extra minutes very well. Both are looking more and more confident by each passing game. Patrick Sexton handled himself extremely well under difficult personal circumstances. He’s a leader for a reason.
- The Vees were hurt by the two-minute blow to the head penalty and subsequent 10 minute misconduct that Riley Alferd took in the third. Goes to show what he means to the team this year. His absence was noticeable in the face-off circle and in the offensive end. A year ago missing Alferd for that long wouldn’t mean as much as this year and that’s a compliment to how well he’s playing. Now you can anoint him as one of the Vees “go-to guys.”
Everyone will be talking about the Vees struggles this week and let them have at’er. The Vees should be flattered that losing a game(s) is a big deal. Hey, they’re still 17-3-0-1.
Last I checked, banners and trophies aren’t handed out in November. As the great Aaron Rodgers said “Relax.”