The Penticton Vees playoff run came to an end on Monday night with a 3-1 loss to the Cowichan Valley Capitals.
A testament to the mouse overcoming a lion, the Capitals came into the playoffs as underdogs with only 17 wins and 35 losses in the 2018-19 BCHL regular season. The Vees were almost the reverse with 37 wins and 16 losses in the regular season, making them third overall in the league and first in their division heading into the playoffs.
“It’s a low point for us, it was a tough series and the fact that, for whatever reason, our scoring started drying up in the last month of the season,” said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson. “We basically played the whole series in the offensive zone. Our season average was about 17 minutes of zone offensive time verus 12 for our opponents. This series we were averaging 22 or 23 minutes of offensive zone time.”
“The boys played hard. They’ve bought into everything we’ve talked since we kind of turned the page into playoff mode,” said Capitals head coach Mike Vandekamp, adding that it’s tough when you have a season where you don’t have a great record and you have to help the players and team believe.
The Vees started game six of the playoffs strong with high energy and the shots read 7-2 halfway through the first period to reflect that. Unfortunately, a penalty against Cassidy Bowes for high sticking worked to the Capitals’ advantage, and they scored the first goal of the game in the last minutes of the first.
Following the goal, scored by David Melaragni with a wrist shot that beat Jack LaFontaine blocker side, the Capitals turned up the pressure with the shots 8-6 in Penticton’s favour going into the second.
Despite multiple power-play opportunities, the Vees couldn’t make any concrete plays happen in the second period. The third period didn’t turn out much better for the Vees, with Cowichan Valley tacking on two more goals before the Vees were even on the board.
“We had two great chances right in front of the net. We hit the crossbar and we had another one go across the goal line but not over it,” said Harbinson. “For whatever reason we just couldn’t finish our chances.”
The Capitals’ second goal came when James Miller lost the puck near the blue line and the Capitals responded with a three-on-two rush. A fluttering shot by Dan McIntyre bested LaFontaine and the score was left 2-0 halfway through the third.
Cowichan Valley’s goalie Pierce Diamond was in the zone during this game, making 36 saves against the Vees; an impressive feat, according to Vandekamp.
“Pierce has been through a lot on a personal level. There’s a lot going on there that motivated the club. He has persevered through more than people even know at this point, so the way he played was very inspirational for the team,” said Vandekamp.
An empty-netter all but sealed the loss for the Vees but a last-ditch effort by Lukas Sillinger ensured the game wasn’t a complete shutout for the Vees. Sillinger jumped into a scramble for a loose puck in front of the Capitals net and managed to score the Vees only point with 37 seconds left in the game.
This game marks the end of junior hockey for Penticton’s Brendan Harrogate, Eric Linell, Ty Pochipinksi, Andre Ghantous, James Miller and Jack LaFontaine. Harbinson said that recruitment for the next season is ongoing but the team will be looking for strong, durable forwards after this season’s long list of injuries.
“Maybe part of it was our forwards kind of ran out of gas. The amount of time we’ve had to play 10 or 11 forwards because of the injuries we had, and some guys never really played that well once they came back from injury,” said Harbinson. “It’s just one of the things that went on, it was kind of a funny year for us.”
Vandekamp said right now he doesn’t want to praise any player individually but highlighted that the win was truly a team effort for the Capitals who will now face the Wenatchee Wild in the next round. Harbinson said the loss is heartbreaking but he doesn’t want it to overshadow the season the team had.
“I’m not going to individualize anybody. I think it’s too difficult to do at this stage; we’ve won one series so far. Maybe when it all wraps up we’ll have some sort of bigger hero, but I think right now Pierce is the guy that went through quite a bit and for him to step up was very inspirational for the rest of the team,” said Vandekamp. “Other than that, it was a true team effort. Everyone participated and we’re pretty proud of our team right now.”
“It’s disappointing for the boys and the organization, in my 14 years as a head coach we’ve never lost in the first round of the playoffs so it’s tough for everybody,” said Harbinson. “It’s not a disastrous year, we did win a banner… as far as the players go they have nothing to be ashamed of. In game one I thought we were a little flat, not because we didn’t care, but the rest of the games we laid it out. We just didn’t win and sometimes that’s a cold, hard fact.”
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With files from Kevin Rothbauer, Cowichan Valley Citizen