Game one of the Interior Final was a weird affair. The contest featured crazy momentum swings and a wild start and finish. But there were also some flat moments and sloppy play, weird goals, and unexpected misses.
At the end of the day, I felt like it was a very close game (over the whole 60). However, the Vees executed a little better and got better goaltending, and I’d say they deserved to squeak it out.
It was all Warriors in the first five minutes or so – I’d say a combination of hunger from the Warriors and rust from the Vees. Danny Gayle opened the scoring just two minutes in when he walked out of the corner and outwaited Chad Katunar before slipping home a backhander. A minute later, Max French sped untouched up the middle and beat Katunar, making it 2-0 WK just 3:32 in.
The Vees would get two massive goals before the end of the period (both of which could end up being game or even series changers). Wade Murphy pounded one home on Penticton’s first powerplay midway through the frame. Late in the period, Louie Nanne managed to poke a loose puck underneath Briggs just before the goalie smothered it, allowing the Vees to escape the first period on an even footing.
I’m not going to say the Warriors were bad in the second period – but Penticton was definitely the better team. West Kelowna’s passing was a little off-the-mark for a while, and the Tribe got in some trouble clearing the defensive zone. More obviously, Tyler Briggs had his first bad period in months and allowed the first three shots he faced past him. The first one came from Wade Murphy point-blank (on a nice Travis Blanleil feed). The second came from Jedd Soloway in the high slot. The third came from Ryan Gropp on the left half-wall. The second two both went blocker side, and were both shots that Briggs usually saves. It’s tough to hang a game on a goalie, and Briggs would recover to make some incredible saves later in the game. But a deep hole had been dug.
Amazingly, the Warriors almost climbed out. I thought West Kelowna played very strong hockey in the third period, despite the fact that the Vees were managing the clock smartly. The Warriors also played more physically in the third, and while they took a couple of late penalties, they also got some benefits.
Eight minutes into the third, Shawn Hochhausen stole the puck behind the net and fed it to David Pope. Pope would uncork one of his patented releases, and the puck went off the back bar and out. 5-3.
With two minutes left, Max French emerged from the penalty box and was sent in all alone on a fabulous feed from Braxton Bilous. French would go backhand 5-hole, making it a one-goal game with 1:56 left.
West Kelowna would get a couple more chances. Chad Katunar looked like he used his noggin to stop Pope, and he also made a wonderful glove stop on Marcus Basara. But the Vees got a couple of lucky bounces at their blue line and also won a couple of battles on the wall. Brad McClure would then ice it with an empty-net breakaway with 30 seconds left.
At the end of the day, it’s not a perfect or terrible way to start the series for either team. The Vees were sloppy early, but quickly found their game and held serve. The Warriors didn’t have their best second but maybe also got let down by Tyler Briggs a little.
Having said that, Briggs has been so good for the past few months, it really shouldn’t be a big concern. West Kelowna’s prize goalie has stolen a bunch of games down the stretch, and on this night had one bad period. But the Warriors still almost managed to come back and force overtime.
And when the dust settles, it’s only game one, it’s a respectable scoreline, and everyone knows that Briggs and his teammates will be better tomorrow night.
The Vees take game one, and the Warriors get another chance to steal home ice on Tuesday evening.
We’re just getting going…
Click here to listen to a post-game interview I did with Braxton Bilous.