- Friday it was the penalty-kill that got the win for the Vees; Saturday it was their power-play. The Vees lit up Merritt for five power-play goals on seven opportunities, as they swept the home-and-home with an 8-4 win. Five for seven, or 71 percent on the night, which is absurd. Not only did they score a ton on the man-advantage but they struck at key times. Two of their five power-play goals came when the game was tied and two more were key “insurance markers,” meaning they padded their lead by two on those two other occasions. They were purposeful in their approach to the man-advantage as well, as it looked like they had the puck on a string at times. You had that feeling every time they went a man up, they were going to score.
- Lost in the 12 goals and power-play onslaught was the play of Anthony Brodeur in that first period. If it wasn’t for him, Merritt likely had a one or even two-goal lead heading into the break. Yes, the Vees spotted him a two-goal lead but he had to make some incredible saves in the back half of the period. Two were eye-popping, including his highway robbery on Ryan Forbes. Brodeur made a pad-save on his blocker-side, before lunging across, full splits, reaching up with the glove on the rebound attempt by Forbes. There was his paddle save on Nick Fidanza too, as dove back across and knocked down his shot out of the air. Merritt had 14 shots in the first and really pressed in the last half. Despite four against, I thought Brodeur was on top of his game.
- The second period was something, as the two teams combined for five goals and 30 shots, 23 to Penticton, in an action-packed 20-minutes. The one-man show, Colin Granny, completed his natural hat-trick 56-seconds into the period that gave Merritt their only lead (3-2) but that goal may have been the kick in the butt Penticton needed. After that, the Vees scored six of the next seven goals and snuffed out any thought of a Merritt comeback. The naked eye test and the analytics would tell you the Vees dominated the second period, despite only leading by a goal going into the third. They fired 23 shots on net in the frame, over doubling their first period total and spent a weekend in the Merritt zone. Yes, helped out by the power-play but there was a reason why they were on the man-advantage; they had the puck the majority of the time. You could see the game shifting as the period wore on and the Vees never looked back.
- Quite the two first games for Nicholas Jones, as the newcomer now has two goals and six points in his first six periods with the Vees; point per period. After the game, scoring corrections had Jones finishing with four assists and no surprise the first unit power-play is red-hot with his addition. The Vees are employing a five-man first unit and its clicking. All four of Jones’ assists last night came on the power-play but he was a threat at even-strength too. The best moment for me was on a play that didn’t even result in a goal. Demico Hannoun threw a saucer pass, blue-line to blue-line, that Jones, in full stride, managed to neatly knock down out of midair and in one fluid motion, brought it down to his stick and broke in on net for a shot; high-end skill at full speed.
- Easton Brodzinski, top 10 scorer in the BCHL. Brodzinski moved into 10th in league scoring with his hat-trick Saturday. He’s one of the best 60-foot players in the league right now. Inside 60-feet, he’s lethal. What’s the difference from last year to this year on the power-play? A few things but one is Brodzinski being the big man in front. He’s got the great ability to find soft spots and get his shot off quickly. All three of his goals last night came from inside the top of the circles. He’s still learning to round out his game and use his size but once he puts it all together, look out.
- Tyson Jost set up or scored the last three goals of the game. Yes, you know quite well how good he is but it still doesn’t make it less special. Even with your high expectations of him, he still wows you. The best moment Saturday? The Vees last power-play goal, and their eighth of the night. Jost had a little give-and-go at center with Jones before taking the puck wide into the Merritt end. He had many thinking he was going to go around the net, but as he crossed the goal-line he dropped it back out front, right on the tape of Brodzinski for the lay-up one-timer. He’s gooooood alright. Jost now leads the league in scoring with 15 goals and 38 points. He’s just seven points back of matching his total output from last year.
- [Insert comment about the Vees defense getting the job done]. Only three even-strength goals against Saturday and that’s not bad considering the venue, the Vees only dressing four regulars and did I say the venue (a bit cramped)?. I was, again, impressed on how the four regulars managed a significant workload and in a tough environment. It will be an ice bath party for Colton Poolman, David Eccles, Seamus Donohue and Sam Jones once the weekend is over.
- One more game, sixty or more minutes, separates the Vees from their 18th straight win and a well-deserved rest. Time to empty the reserve tanks.
It was a late return to Penticton (just after 12:30 am) and an early wake-up call Sunday (bus spot at 8 am), as they face the Trail Smoke Eaters Sunday afternoon in the West Kootenays. The Vees have won 17 straight and are looking to sweep their challenging three-game weekend. Trail is coming off a loss Friday in Vernon but they’ve won two of their last three and have won four of their last five home games.
The Vees will only make one change to their line-up this afternoon and that’s in goal, as Zach Driscoll, coming off a 27-save shutout Friday, will look for his sixth win in as many starts. AP defensemen Ryan Morrell and Daniel Stone made the trip Sunday morning with the team and will play again.
Gabe Bast, Desi Burgart, Dante Fabbro and Griffin Mendel will once again be the Vees scratches.
Penticton is 8-1-0-0 on the road this season and they’ve won two of their three road games within the division; again the only blemish was opening night in Salmon Arm.
The Vees won their season series opener against the Smokies 5-3 back on Wednesday, October 14th, in Penticton. This is the first of three trips to Trail this season for the Vees and they’re right back here in nine days, when they face Trail on Tuesday, November 10th, at Cominco Arena.
The Smokies sit sixth in the six-team Interior Division but are just a point back of Merritt for fifth place; a win and they jump Merritt in the standings. Like Merritt, Trail has a distinct home-ice advantage, or so they should, considering the travel for their opponents and the “character” of Cominco Arena. The Vees are their closest geographically rival and it’s a four-hour bus ride, one way. Cominco Arena isn’t small like Merritt but it’s got some character to it, notably square corners and lively boards; there’s always a strange bounce or eight. Despite this, the Smokies are just 4-4 at home to start the season and with the travel they undertake, they need to make hay at home.
Speaking of making hay at home, five of their next six games, including today’s, are at home. If they want to climb the table and make a round at the fourth and final playoff spot in the Interior, they’re going to need to start grabbing wins in Trail and on the regular.
On paper they’re a team that’s has a blue-collar like mentality and get scoring from everywhere. Nick Halloran leads the team in scoring with 16 points in in 16 games but first and fifth in team scoring is separated by just five points. They have five players who’ve reached double-digits in points and eight who have nine or more on the season.
One sore spot, on paper, has been between the pipes. Baily MacBurnie and Linden Marshall both have sub-900 save-percentages and both have a goals-against average of over three. They can’t shoulder the entire blame but one of the two need to grab the ball and run with it, if this team is going to make the post-season.