Vees strong defensive play carries them into RBC semifinal round

Vees team effort on defensive play has always been key to success

Fred Harbinson feels the 2017 Royal Bank Cup has not provided entertaining hockey.

Through nine games, not including the final round robin game played Thursday afternoon, officials had handed teams 99 power plays combined. Eight were given in the Vees 3-1 loss to the Cobras de Terrebonne on May 18. The Vees went one-for-five on their power play.

“I’m pretty disappointed the way that the games are being called. It makes for horrible hockey,” said Harbinson, prior to their game against the Cobras. “I think our leagues need to really look at if this is the way it is going to be, if we should really partake in it. All these teams could have left half their team at home and just brought their power play and penalty kill guys. I’m not very happy about that.”

The Vees killed 15 of 18 penalties assessed to them, while striking twice on 24. Forward Duncan Campbell was suspended for Thursday’s game because of a high sticking major. Harbinson said that was a good call and that Ryley Risling replaced him in the lineup.

In the loss to the Cobras, the Vees surrendered a goal on a two-man advantage with Sam Rossini and Gabe Bast in the box in the final two minutes of the opening period. The Cobras took the lead on Pierre-Anthony Martineau’s goal. Gabriel Paguin scored 14 seconds after Bast’s penalty expired to go up 2-0. The Vees nearly doubled the Cobras in shots, 14-8, but Jérémy Bélisle stopped all the shots he faced. The Vees weren’t able to beat him until the 6:48 mark of the third when Owen Sillinger, scored with assists to James Miller and Mitch Meek. At the front of the net, Sillinger was able to swat in a rebound from Miller’s point shot. Vees goalie Mathew Robson made 31 saves in the loss.

Despite the problem with officiating, playing a strong defensive game as a team has pushed the Vees into the RBC Cup semifinal round Saturday. Who they play Saturday will be determined after the result of the Cobourg Cougars-Brooks Bandits game. The Vees have always been about playing a strong defensive game. In the round robin of the RBC, the Vees gave up two goals during five-on-five play.

“We try to play from our goal line out. We think about our defensive zone first and then try to build our offence after that,” said Vees shutdown defenceman Griffin Mendel.

At the start of the season, Harbinson said that his defence group was the strongest part of the team. When it comes to playing a tough defensive game, Mendel said it goes beyond that group. The forwards and goal tending are just as key.

Related: Vees want to play with more intensity in RBC

“Their (forwards) back pressure really helps our defence stand up at the blueline, creating turnovers, which leads into offence,” said Mendel.

Harbinson said if they are not going to be a big power house as far as scoring goals, they need to limit opposition opportunities.

“When we do give up a chance, our goalie is there for us,” said Harbinson. “Robson has been great. It’s the way our forwards play back.”

Over the course of the season, taking away empty net goals, the Vees played 42 one-goal games. Playing in games that close is something the team has talked about all season. The Vees’ opening two games in the RBC Cup were decided by a goal. Being in that situation is something that Harbinson said doesn’t really faze them.

“We don’t get too rattled from it. It was nice to score four goals (in 4-0 win over the Trenton Golden Hawks Wednesday),” said Harbinson.

The Vees will now face the Cougars, who defeated the Bandits 5-2, while the Bandits will play the Cobras in the other semifinal. Puck drop on the Vees game is 11:30 a.m. PST.

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