Penticton made good on Tuesday in a battle for first in the Interior.
The Vees got some favourable bounces and calls, but also outplayed the Warriors for the final 40 minutes or so in a 6-3 decision.
There was an awesome atmosphere as things got underway, with fans from both sides descending on RLP for one of the biggest (if not the biggest) regular season games the BCHL will see this year. The barn was jammed with around 1400 people (roughly the equivalent of 2800 clenched bum-cheeks) for a rubber match between quite possibly the top two teams in the country.
Having won the past three matchups, the Warriors flew out of the gate and poured all kinds of pressure on the Vees early. Shots counted 8-1 at one point, and West Kelowna drew first blood when Carl Hesler outworked three Vees before setting up Adam Osczevski who ripped one post and in.
The Warriors were clearly the better team early on, and dictated a pace of play that was up-tempo and dynamic. Pen had a few great shifts to conclude the opening period, but the hosts were up 1-0 after 20.
I’m not entirely sure what changed in the second, but Penticton suddenly became the better team. The Vees were winning battles in the end zones, and creating more scoring chances. However, in my opinion, this game may well have been won in the neutral zone. From the 20-minute mark onwards, the Warriors had a really tough time transitioning with any speed or threat, while Penticton had a whole bunch of odd-man rushes (3-on-2’s especially) as the game wore on.
Max Coatta got Pen on the board three minutes into the second on a nice give-and-go with Josh Blanchard. The Vees took a lead three minutes later when Nic Pierog walked off the half wall, beat two WK defenders, and snuck one high, short-side on Andy Desautels.
The backbreaker came 13 minutes into the second, when Pierog drove the net and created a lively rebound. It was a weird sequence. The floating puck was batted in by Riley Alferd (nice hand-eye). The goal was immediately waved off by the front ref (Ward Pateman, I believe, who was in great position). However, after a conference among the officials, the decision was reversed, and Penticton led 3-1. I’m not sure how any of the other officials had overwhelming evidence to overrule the original decision, which is super frustrating for Warriors fans (my phone was exploding). And there’s no question they didn’t communicate their decision very well with the WK bench. However, the goal stood, and the Warriors were in a hole from which there would be no escaping.
The 6-3 scoreline isn’t entirely indicative of how this one played out. The Alferd goal made it 3-1 instead of 2-1, and was a big swing in the game. But how about Olivier Mantha? The Vees’ netminder made a whole bunch of unreal saves, including a lovely stop on a Reid Simmonds SH breakaway with Pen still up 3-1. Well played, Olivier.
Penticton would put the Warriors away midway through the third, when Alexandre Coulombe and Pierog struck 52 seconds apart to extend the lead from 3-1 to 5-1. Both goals came on simple passing plays in the West K. end – plays that somehow got the Warriors all turned around.
The Warriors had played an impressive first 10 minutes and they had a great surge in the final ten as well. Carl Hesler banged one in after some lovely rink-wide passing on a WK PP. Seb Lloyd then tallied a second PPG when he tipped in a David Pope blast.
The Warriors suddenly had the burners on high, but the restaurant was clearing out. There was still a two-goal disparity, and the Vees sealed the deal when Brad McClure hit the empty net with 90 seconds remaining.
If there was one guy who truly made a difference in this game, it was Olivier Mantha. The Vees’ netminder had a complete game – making those big saves on breakaways and one-timers, but also somehow snatching every shot that came through traffic. I’m not sure how he did it, but Mantha’s vision (or was it x-ray vision?) was simply outstanding all night, and he also made those timely saves you simply have to have at this time of year.
Penticton also played a strong road game overall, clogging up the neutral zone and scoring on their opportunities. For a team that’s been snakebit of late, the Vees’ offensive outburst was a welcome sight for their coaching staff and a dagger to West Kelowna.
However, while the loss sucks, it’s not the end of the world for the Warriors. The guys were amped-up for this game and bummed out when it got away. That’s to be expected. But it’s still just one game, and (with a little help) the Warriors can still finish first in the Interior. It’s just going to be a little harder now…