Warriors battle back

It’s a comeback that we’ll be talking about for a while.

Down 4-1 heading to the third period against the defending champs, with their backs against the wall.  Yet the Warriors found a way to claw back into the game, before winning in overtime to stay alive in the Interior Conference finals.

Against Penticton?  In game four?  From three goals down?  No way.


Photos by John Hebert

Photos by John Hebert

The Warriors headed into the game on an emotional low.  They played “about as well as they can possibly play” on Monday, but lost in double overtime to fall behind 3-0 in the series.

Just 24 hours later, both teams were tired, and I wondered who it would affect more.  As it turned out, the game was actually an outstanding hockey game.  Not as good as game three of course.  That goes without saying.  But for two teams who played 90 minutes the night before, it was a heck of an effort.

I felt like the Warriors were marginally the better team in the first period of game four.  There wasn’t a ton given up either way, and I felt like the marathon from the night before was having an impact (as you might expect).  West Kelowna did create more though, and got paid off when Ambrose Firkus ripped one over Chad Katunar’s shoulder and just under the bar late in the frame.  The Warriors led 1-0 heading to the break, and had their first PPG of the series (a big boost).

Things fell apart in the second, and the Vees surged.  It was a combination of some missed assignments from the Tribe and more crazy skill from the Vees.  Pen got a lucky bounce a minute in when the Warriors broke up a 2-on-1, only to have the puck bounce right to Sam Mellor (the trailer on the play). Mellor would beat Briggs, to get the Vees on the board.

Six minutes in, the Vees killed of a too-many-men penalty and galloped up ice, with John Seimer setting up Brad McClure for nice two-on-one tally.  Two minutes later, Cody DePourcq was left alone in front and tipped one past Tyler Briggs to make it 3-1.  The killer came late in the frame, when Sam Mellor tipped a James De Haas shot off the bar and in.  It was an insane piece of skill from Mellor – one of the nicest deflections you’ll ever see – and an absolute dagger to the Warriors.

Down 4-1 heading to the third, things were looking very bleak.  And I have to admit, I didn’t sense a lot of optimism in the building.  I mean, the Warriors have lots of firepower, but things haven’t really been going their way in this series.  And we are talking about the Vees, a team that plays structured, disciplined hockey at all times.

It happened.  The comeback actually happened.   I’m still in shock.

It started when Marcus Basara finished off a nice passing play between him, Max French, and Seb Lloyd.  Give Brett Zarazun a third assist for starting the play after a wonderful defensive play on a Vees rush.

Then David Pope blasted one home on a Warriors powerplay (West K finished the night at 2/5, with the Vees held to 0/2).

Ambrose Firkus had a chance in there too, but rang it off the bar.

But the Warriors would not be denied.  The tying goal came from Max French (who else?) when the Captain fired a shot that hit a Vee and took a lucky deflection past Katunar.  But it was well earned, as the Warriors had been desperately chasing the puck around the Penticton zone and refusing to let champs clear it.

It was an amazing show of character from a team on the ropes.  Penticton was suspect in the third period for sure.  In fact, I can’t remember seeing the Vees so disorganized in their own zone as they were in the third period of this game.  The Vees got generous, and the Warriors were already coming hungry.  The Tribe would not be denied, and answered every cliché in the book.  They left it all out there, and found a way to dig back into it.  When overtime was starting I felt like even if the Vees won the game, the Warriors had done themselves proud.

The fans for both sides were awesome, and they were in for another dramatic night.

The Vees got an incredible chance 15 seconds into extra time, when Wade Murphy was left all alone in front.  But the sniper rang the post, and the game continued.

The Vees probably had more chances overall in OT, but Briggs was stellar, and the game continued.  Until Shawn Hochhausen pushed the puck towards the net on an offensive-zone faceoff late in the first OT frame and Reid Simmonds buried it.

One of the most unlikely and impressive comebacks was complete, and the home side had staved-off elimination.

Max French wasn't going quietly

Max French wasn’t going quietly

The whole team deserves a bunch of credit for the character they showed to make this comeback happen.  After OT the night before, I noticed that both teams were using their full benches late in the game tonight.  It was a full team effort, and something these guys can carry with them for a while.

But there are a few guys who deserve singling out.  I’ll start with Reid Simmonds, who so quietly makes this team better.  He’s a role guy who doesn’t get a ton of credit, so it’s awesome to see him bang that one in (especially after how snake-bit he was in game three).

The Warriors top line of Max French, Marcus Basara, and Seb Lloyd has also taken some heat this series for a lack of production.  And at a time like this, you need your best guys to be your best.  This third period comeback was engineered by those three guys, and all three had a big part of it.  Basara and French both scored big goals, and also did incredible work keeping pucks in the Vees zone.  Seb Lloyd didn’t score, but played his best game of the series and set up all three third period goals.  Josh Monk did an incredible job of keeping pucks in, among other things.  Danny Gayle was terrific.  Shawn Hochhausen has been quiet this series, but stepped up with some big plays.

And how have I gotten this far without talking about Tyler Briggs?  Briggs wasn’t good enough in games one and two.  He was better in game three.  In game four he was back at his best, and made a bucketload of season-saving stops.  He was at his best in overtime, when one red light would have meant curtains.  It looks like Briggs is back, and that’s trouble for Penticton.

It really was outstanding to see these guys, particularly the key players and the vets, step up and take ownership of a dire situation.  Max French and his teammates refused to go quietly, and thus earned the right to play another day.  It was something special to see.  I’ll remember this show of character for a long time.

Tyler Briggs sparkled.  Big saves in overtime in an elimination game?  Check.

Tyler Briggs was outstanding in game four. Big saves in overtime in an elimination game? Check.

Of course, it’s just one win.  Thanks to their double OT triumph in game three, the Vees still have a 3-1 stranglehold on this series, with game five set for Thursday at the SOEC.

But the Warriors have catapulted the monkey from their backs.  They have already made a statement about this series and about the group they have.  They’ve made their fans proud.

And they have momentum and belief heading back to Pen.

What a night.

Read Wayne Moore’s game story at the WKW website.

Stay tuned for video highlights, and my interview with Rylan Ferster and Reid Simmonds.

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