(Photos: Cherie Morgan Photography)
- The Penticton Vees rode a strong 40-minute performance before fending off a late Vernon push in the home opener Wednesday at the SOEC. The Vees came out like gangbusters in the first two periods but maybe nerves got the better of them in the third, as the Vipers pushed late for the tie but the cross-bar had other ideas. Lots of positives to draw on in the first two periods and the third was a learning experience.
- OK, the start was exactly what this team was searching for. Plenty of jump, as the top-line set the tone scoring just 42-seconds into the game. After a quiet opening night in Salmon Arm, the trio of Scott Conway, Tyson Jost and Chris Gerrie made their presence felt on Wednesday. Conway scored twice, Jost had two helpers and Gerrie had an assist too. The three spent a lot of time in the Vernon end and had their fair share of scoring chances. They showed their potential on Wednesday and they’re just getting started.
- The Vees speed did seem to give the Vipers defense fits through the first two periods. They were forcing turnovers at or inside the Vernon blue-line and two turnovers directly led to Vees goals Wednesday. The Vees second goal came after Gabe Bast knocked down a pass at the red-line, which led to Mitch Brooks eventually scoring the 2-1 goal. Then in the second, with the Vees top-line on the ice, Vernon gave the puck away in their corner and Conway walked in and scored at the near-post. Unlike Friday, the Vees had a lot speed through the neutral zone and that had the Vipers defenders turning and chasing.
- The second period was were a lot happened and could have happened. That period was the Vees best, as they spent the majority of the frame in the Vipers end but only had one goal to show for their efforts. Easton Brodzinski did hit the post and the Vees had a couple power-plays and despite some pressure they couldn’t pull away. Credit goes to Vipers goaltender Andrew Shortridge who kept his team in it with a few timely saves. After the Conway goal that made it 2-1, the way the Vees were attacking, you thought they maybe could have blown the game wide open. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say the Vees left a few goals on the table in the middle stanza.
- Another critical junction was that five-on-three early in the third period. Just three-minutes in and the Vipers went down two skaters and the Vees had a two-man advantage for roughly 46-seconds. They really couldn’t get much going on that sequence, which was unfortunate because an early power-play goal there and it’s 3-1 and maybe Vernon sags a bit. Again, got to throw some credit to Vernon for a clutch penalty-kill but as Assistant Coach Steve Cawley said on the post-game show, it was an opportunity missed. That PK seemed to give Vernon a spark and they rode that momentum to a strong finish.
- I think the third period could be chalked up to some nerves, as the Vees were playing their first home game, in front a good crowd and they were maybe too hung up on not losing rather than continuing to press. Vernon did look more confident and structured and remember, that’s a good team over there, so the puck-back shouldn’t come as a surprise.
- Individually, or looking by lines, the top trio was very good but I thought the line of Mitch Brooks, Jason Lavallee and Owen Sillinger were effective in the offensive end. They forced turnovers, they were hard on the puck carrier and their puck retrieval was very good on contested plays. That could be said for the Vees in general too, as they won a lot of puck battles along the boards and in the corners. On the back-end, Gabe Bast had his best game of the season so for and that’s going back to pre-season, and I thought his partner David Eccles had a solid outing. Eccles first two periods were good, as you didn’t notice him and that’s a compliment for a stay-at-home defenseman. He had a couple of hiccups in the third but that’s part in parcel with fatigue. Remember, he wasn’t able to skate or practice much until he got to Penticton. It was a busy week for him, with the travel, adjusting to a new city and new team. He’ll settle in nicely.
- Vernon’s top-line came as advertised, as Odeen Tufto, Liam Finlay and Steven Jandric were dangerous. Tufto and Finlay in particular are shifty guys and Jandric seems to be the trigger man who’s lurking for soft spots in coverage. Look at that power-play goal, as Tufto and Finlay were making plays down low before a dart was fired out to Jandric, who screamed a one-timer underneath the cross-bar. That line will cause a lot of headaches this season.
- Just another chapter in the Penticton, Vernon rivalry, as these two teams can’t play an uninteresting game. It seems they’re destined to have dramatic finishes. Last night wasn’t any different, as the Vipers were pressing with the net empty and were a cross-bar away from tying. Odd play, as Bo Pellah looked to have coughed the puck up at the blue-line, when he swung and missed but then the Vees defender did the same, setting up a second attempt by Pellah. Remember, this in the dying moments, as Pellah threw a knuckle ball from the blue-line that was redirected by Riley Brandt an inch too high, as it kissed of the pipe with nine seconds left.
- Busy stretch continues for the Vees Friday, as they visit Surrey then return back to the Okanagan to face the Warriors in West Kelowna Saturday. This is the team’s first three games in four night stretch and they’ll be facing rested teams. Surrey hasn’t play since last Sunday and the Warriors don’t play Friday. Surrey is winless and will be hungry to get that first “W” at home and the Warriors are coming off an 8-3 win Tuesday against Trail. Another stiff test awaits.