The Penticton Vees are going to the RBC Cup.
Grant Cruikshank netted the winner and captain Nicholas Jones was named player of the game for his two goal, three point performance in a 3-2 win over the Chilliwack Chiefs in the Western Canada Cup, presented by Sun Life Financial, on Sunday.
The Vees managed to survive a last minute pressure cooker by the Chiefs who kept the puck in the Vees zone.
“There’s no such thing with this team,” said Harbinson of being able to make things easier on them. “It’s always exciting.”
“They didn’t really get many shots on goal (the Chiefs had two in the period), but it felt like everything was just missing,” said Jones. “They had a bunch of guys in front. Some of the most nerve-wracking times for sure, especially when some of their top guys had the puck.”
The Vees looked to be headed into the second intermission down a goal despite a few good chances. Then Jones stepped up and snapped a wrist shot near the hash marks to beat Mark Sinclair high glove.
“Our captain scoring the big goal at the end of the second period was huge,” said Harbinson. “I thought we had a lot of heavy shifts in the second period. We just kept saying stick with it so we would wear them down. I thought it was big because we get that goal so we felt really good about ourselves going into the third period instead of sitting with a deficit. You could see our room got a good lift from that goal. I thought we had a great third.”
The Vees dominated the final period, including 11-2 in shots, and Cruikshank had given the Vees a two-goal cushion at 9:14 when he backhanded a loose puck through Sinclair’s five-hole. Sinclair finished with 26 saves while playing with an injured hand.
The Vees opened the period watching affiliate player Massimo Rizzo get stoned by Sinclair’s pad. Rizzo was staring at an open side. Taylor Ward created a great chance entering the zone when he split the defence, faked going forehand and tried beating Sinclair with a one-handed backhand shot that slid inches wide of the goal.
The Vees outshot the Chiefs 10-6 in the frame. The Chiefs best chance of the period came when Olischefski put a shot just wide of the net.
The Chiefs opened the scoring with 2:23 remaining when Mat Robson kicked out a rebound that captain Jordan Kawaguchi tapped in on his backhand. No Vees were near to be able to prevent Kawaguchi from scoring.
“They went out there and gave everything they had,” said Tatarnic. “We had opportunities, we could have won that hockey game. Give Penticton credit, they are a good hockey team. They got the job done tonight.”
The Chiefs had one final great chance near the end of the period down a goal when Kawaguchi broke in on Robson firing a shot that the goalie got his blocker on. Robson finished with 16 saves.
Tatarnic also praised Sinclair who was beat up in the tournament and called him one of the best goalies in the league and country.
“I thought he did a good job for us,” said Tatarnic.
In the final half of the game, the Vees got a lift from the crowd of 3,011 as they secured their spot on the national championship.
Harbinson said the support they received from the crowd was huge. This season, the Vees attracted 136,000 fans. Their previous high was 93,000 in 2011-12.
“It’s crazy what this town did for us this year,” said Harbinson, adding now it’s their job to bring back a national championship.
The Vees will now move onto the RBC Cup in Couborg, Ont., which starts May 13. The Vees will play their first game on May 14.