This was posted in the Penticton Herald Newspaper:
Vees-Vipers in annual rite of spring
Tuesday, March 28, 2017
David Crompton/Penticton Herald
After needing seven games to dispatch the scrappy Merritt Centennials, Fred Harbinson said the Vees will be ready to rock against the Vernon Vipers on Friday.
Games 1 and 2 of the best-of-7 Interior Division final for the Ryan Hatfield Memorial Trophy are set for Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“We’ll be fine, we’re in great physical shape as a group and we will not be tired on Friday,” said the Vees president, GM and head coach. “If the atmosphere in our building is anything like it was in Game 7 (on Monday), we’ll get another shot of adrenaline. Hopefully we’ll see a couple more huge crowds this weekend.”
It’s the fourth straight year the bitter Okanagan rivals have met in the post-season, with the Vees having won the last two, including an easy 4-1 triumph in the first round last season.
“Obviously there is a lot of history between the two franchises,” said Harbinson. “This is going to be another great installment of the Penticton-Vernon rivalry.”
Vernon dispatched the Trail Smoke Eaters in five games, giving them a few days more rest and the opportunity to scout the Vees last two games against Merritt.
The Vees and Vipers split the season series right down the middle, with each team winning three games along with a rare 3-3 tie back on Jan. 23 at the SOEC.
Penticton (41-13-3-1) finished 17 points ahead of the second-place Vipers (30-19-5-4) in the Interior Division, though the teams had almost identical records after Christmas. Both teams won twice in the other team’s rink.
The Vipers are led by the high-octane line of Jimmy Lambert, Steven Jandric and Brett Stapley, who ran wild against a depleted Trail team. Darion Hanson was named the BCHL’s top goalie, though Vees’ Mat Robson led the league in most of the significant categories.
“(Vernon) has one of the top lines in the league, a strong defence and solid goaltending,” said Harbinson. “That’s why they’re here. They’re obviously a real good team.”
Harbinson is plenty pleased with how his own team responded in Game 7 against Merritt with a convincing 6-2 victory.
The special teams played a vital role in the win, with the power play scoring twice after going 1-for-22 in the prior six games, and the penalty kill was 6-for-6 including a lengthy 5-on-3 and a four-minute 5-on-4 situation with the game still on the line.
“We were really active and limited their shots on the power play,” said Harbinson, noting the Vees practised defending the 5-on-3 extensively prior to the playoffs.
Heart-and-soul captain Nicholas Jones tallied two goals and an assist to spark the offence, and finished with five goals and 11 points in the series.
“Jones just had that look in his eye… that this (losing Game 7) wasn’t going to happen on his watch,” said Harbinson. “I don’t know where he gets the energy but he had a second tank of gas strapped on his back on Monday. He was incredible.”
Forward Taylor Sanheim returned after a 51-day absence due to a facial injury and scored the power play goal that tied the game at 1-1 after Merritt scored just 75 seconds into the game to temporarily subdue a huge gathering at the SOEC.
“Sanheim is a goalscorer, a guy with a great release as we saw again on that tying goal,” said Harbinson. “We’ve missed the offence he brings to the table.”
The coach credited Ryley Risling for being the “ultimate team guy” in graciously stepping aside to make room for Sanheim.
“He’s going to get another opportunity at some point,” said Harbinson. “We keep reminding the guys to always be ready for the moment. We’ve got a long way to go here.”
The coach pinpointed two other key moments in the game, the first being a huge hit by Taylor Ward on Merritt’s Game 6 hero Tyrell Buckley behind the net shortly after the Cents took the 1-0 lead. Ward later scored the fifth Penticton goal.
“It sent a message to them that we’re not just going to roll over and die,” said Harbinson. “I think that rattled them, then we got on the power play, tied it up and never looked back.”
Harbinson also alluded to the two goals in a 56-second span in the late stages of the second period that put Penticton command at 4-1 after 40 minutes.
“We double-shifted the Jones, Campbell and Klack line there and they force some turnovers, make two big plays and suddenly it’s 4-1 instead of 2-1,” said Harbinson. “That was huge. We kill off another penalty early in the third and then score two more quick ones to finish it off.”
Harbinson said the Vees were able to roll and get contributions from all four forward lines, something they will need against a deep Vernon lineup.
“We’ve got balance there, but a big part of it comes from our back end,” he said. “The six guys back there are all really strong puck-movers and they only played three games together as a group all season with injuries and things.
“That’s why I throw some of those games the last few months of the regular season out the window. Last two times we played Vernon we only had three of those guys. We haven’t played Vernon in a while now and it looks like both teams are pretty healthy. To me, the past is the past. All that matters is what happens starting on Friday night.”
ICE CHIPS: The series shifts to Kal Tire Place in Vernon for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Tuesday (April 3-4). If necessary, Game 5 is Friday, April 7 at the SOEC, Game 6, Sat., April 8 in Vernon and Game 7 Monday, April 10 at the SOEC. All games except for this Saturday’s matchup are 7 p.m. puck-drops… Vees F Grant Cruikshank scored six goals in the seven games against Vernon this season… Victoria Grizzlies and Chilliwack Chiefs open the Coastal Conference final Friday at Prospera Centre in Chilliwack.