Photo: Kyle Anderson / West Kelowna Warriors
- It was a night of firsts but ones the Vees won’t recall on fondly. The Vees lost their first regular season game in West Kelowna in nearly two years. They dropped their first game to West Kelowna this season and were shutout for the first time this season. It was the first game for the Warriors Matt Greenfield and his first win and his first shutout. Like I said, a lot of firsts.
- It was a defensive struggle as it took nearly 58-minutes for a goal to be scored and the Warriors and their marketers must have been sweating, as it was their annual Teddy Bear Toss night. I thought we would see overtime for the second time this year in a Teddy Bear Toss game but Jonathan Desbiens had other ideas. The goalies were good, as Greenfield shown, stopping all 41-shots the Vees threw at him; talk about a good first impression. Zach Driscoll was no slouch either, stopping 24 of 25 shots and he had no chance on the game winner. A real hard-fought contest between two rivals which made for good theater.
- Above is the game-winner, the only even-strength goal in regulation, as Desbiens pots the rebound after a broken play in the Vees’ end. Some tough luck for the Vees on the winner, especially at the side of their net but first let’s go back to the beginning of the play. Hindsight is 20/20 but there was a chance for a pass to an open Easton Brodzinski on the right side. He’s alone in the circle but Scott Conway didn’t seem to pick him up right away and elects to shoot, which gets blocked by Nick Rutigliano. Watching the video, you wonder why didn’t he pass? Well, Conway is the team’s points leader, leads the team in goals (30) and just had a 4-point night in Vernon Tuesday. You want your tops guys shooting with the game on the line. So, you live with the blocked shot there and remember, he has 10 game-winners to his name and has been in involved in 18 game-winning goals this year. Easy to play armchair quarterback and say “Pass it to Brodz!”
- The real rotten luck came at the tail end of the play just before the goal. Connor Sodergren comes down the left-wing, wanting to pass it over to Kyle Marino on the far-side. Domenic Masellis makes a great defensive play by coming across and laying down to block the centering feed; good tie-up too by Taylor Ward at the back-post. The puck sticks underneath Masellis though, allowing Sodergren to desperately flick it back out front, where it’s tapped-in by the trailing Desbiens. I thought it was going to be a heck of a defensive play that negated a quality chance but it turns out to be the game-winner. I don’t think the Vees thought the puck was going to come back to Sodergren there for the second chance at passing it; that hesitation cost them. Unfortunate turn of events.
- Really, really liked the effort level from the Vees on Friday night. They only had four regular defensemen in the line-up but held the Warriors to just seven shots in the first and eight in the second; just 15 after 40-minutes. That’s against a full line-up in West Kelowna, who are the fifth-highest scoring team in the BCHL. It was all about the team defense as Assistant Coach Nick Fuher touched on in the post-game show. Not only were the defenseman good at boxing out in front and consistent at getting pucks quickly out, but the forwards did a great job at back-checking and forcing turnovers at their own blue-line. A lot of good timing with sticks, to deflect shots, poke pucks loose and lift Warriors off the puck. The result was disappointing but their wasn’t much sulking going on after the game. The Vees battled hard, competed for 60-minutes and played a strong defensive game; the bounces didn’t go their way Friday.
- Great rush and scoring opportunity for the Vees in the third period by Colton Poolman; maybe it was their best chance to score. I think this play exemplifies the confidence by Poolman, as he’s much more involved offensively and partially because he was forced into that role with all the injuries, but a role he’s really embraced. I don’t think he would have done this in October or even mid November. First, he makes a great pivot at the side of his net to elude one fore-checker, then he powers past another behind the goal, before curling out on the far-side. He then finds Luke Voltin at centre ice before turning it on the jump up into the play. Then, in full stride, he takes a return pass from Voltin, makes a great move at the blue-line to dance around Nick Rutigliano but JUST pushed his forehand attempt wide of the corner.You could tell what he means to the team by the benches reaction to the play. They all were off their butts, holding their breath, and when the shot went wide you could see them fall back into themselves into disbelief; they were cheering the puck into the net. Poolman is great kid and is now becoming a heavy presence at both ends of the ice. Too bad that didn’t go in, would have been a great 20th birthday present.
- OK, lets circle back to the Warriors Matt Greenfield. What a debut. acquired last week from the USHL’s Tri-City Storm, the 20-year-old makes his debut against the BCHL’s best team and shuts them out with a 41-save performance. Got to tip your cap to him. Before the game, Warriors Head Coach Rylan Ferster and I chatted about their goaltending issues and he said “it was no secret” they had some problems between the pipes. They were looking for some stability, as Greenfield was their fifth starter in as many games against the Vees this season. Well, he looked like a veteran as he played with a lot of poise, looked really calm in the net and didn’t seem to be out of position. The Vees kept firing shots but he was there, time and again, squaring up the shooter and not really letting out juicy rebounds. After the game I thought to myself, “Was he THAT good tonight? He didn’t really make any highlight reel saves.” Then I realized maybe he didn’t have anything that jumped out at you because his technical side. He was pretty sound and wasn’t scrambling around so that means he didn’t have to make any real desperate saves. Maybe West-K has finally found their guy.
- Speaking of calm, technically sound goalies, Zach Driscoll was very good throughout the game for the Vees. He made two really eye-popping saves on two different Warriors power-plays. First, in the second period, he darted out his right-pad to stop Kyle Marino right on the goal-line by the post. Then, in the third, he came across nicely to get a shoulder on a Garrett Forster one-timer attempt. Driscoll was up to his old tricks Friday but unfortunately the offense dried up. You almost want to be an asterisk beside his third loss.
- The Vees, if they would lament anything in the loss, would be their power-play. They had five opportunities, two in each of the first two periods and one late in the third but they couldn’t crack the Warriors PK. First, credit West Kelowna for getting in front of quite a few shots, as they filled the shooting lanes well. But I just had this overall feeling that the PP was, just, off; some chemistry issues. Maybe it was some hesitation, some over passing but there wasn’t that killer instinct there which we’ve seen and as most recently as Tuesday; they were 2-3 against Vernon. But the Vees did make a few changes to the power-play units, incorporating more forwards to ease some of the minutes for their defensemen, and that had the two units a bit off. Now, with a game of seasoning under their belts, do I expect a more comfortable looking power-play tomorrow? You bet. They’ll have to simplify their approach a bit too, as they need to move the puck a bit quicker and shoot more. One other big key is to hit the net. The Vees missed one too many nets from scoring areas when on the power-play Friday.
- That was the Vees first loss in West Kelowna, in the regular season, since December 21st, 2013. Almost two years ago to the day and that too, oddly enough, was a shutout loss, as the Tribe blanked the Vees on that night 4-0. What a run that was for the Vees, they had won their last six trips to RLP before Friday. All-time, they’re now 27-7-0-1 in West Kelowna; still a pretty darn good record.
- Conway’s 31-game streak is now over. All good things have to come to an end. He had 68 points, 30 goals, during the run, which stretched all the way back to September 16th. Like I said on Twitter after the game, we’ll likely never see something like that again.
- It was just one of those nights. After the game, I packed up my radio gear and went outside to catch the bus but one problem-it wasn’t there. A slight miscommunication saw the team bus leave without me. Unfortunately for a lot of BCHL message board members, the bus did quickly swing back and pick me up; sorry guys. But I thought that scenario kind of summed up the night for the Vees. Just wasn’t meant to be.