A hit was key in the Penticton Vees convincing 6-2 Game 7 win over the Merritt Centennials Monday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Already trailing 1-0 after Zachary Zorn beat goalie Mat Robson high glove 1:15 into the game, Taylor Ward made his move.
“Our response was Taylor Ward going behind the net and hitting (Tyrell) Buckley. Really got our bench going,” said Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson, who earned his 100th career BCHL playoff victory in Game 4. “Kind of got our guys feeling, OK, we’re not going to sit back and let this happen. Sanheim goes and scores a goal to tie it up. Everything kind of took off from there.”
“They just scored and we needed some energy there. That was one of the biggest hits we have seen all year,” said Vees captain Nicholas Jones. “That was a solid check. It got us, it got the crowd (3,774) into it. Momentum changed from there.”
Jones added that Sanheim’s goal was huge, especially since it came on the power play.
“Our power play hasn’t scored goals,” said Jones, who struck twice, including the eventual winner. “We had one five-on-three goal all series. We needed one there. If we win the special teams battle (they went two-for-five on the PP, six-for-six on PK), we’re going to win the game. That was the start of the second one we got there too, late. That was a huge goal. It was good for him (Sanheim) to come into the lineup and provide some energy.”
With 9:46 remaining, Jones put the Vees up 2-1 after Chris Klack found him about a few feet from the crease where he placed a nice shot high past Berger’s glove.
“Great pass. He slid it through a little hole there,” said Jones. “I just tried to get a shot on.”
The Vees delivered two body blows to the Centennials in the second period. Jones netted his second of the game on a 2-on-1 with Duncan Campbell. Unable to dish the puck over to Campbell, Jones fired a shot that hit a Centennials player and found its way through Berger’s five-hole. That goal with 2:26 left in the period gave the Vees a 3-1 lead. A minute later, Campbell brought the puck into the Cents zone and passed it to Mitch Meek, who trailed the play. Campbell headed for the net and as Meek shot it, Campbell redirected it by Berger over his glove. The crowd went into a frenzy.
“I’m excited for the guys. We talked before the game about enjoying the moment,” said Harbinson, who earned his 100th career BCHL playoff victory in Game 4.
Also key to the Vees’ win was killing off two five-on-three’s. One was six minutes into the second period and the other midway through the third. Their efforts earned the applause from the crowd and Go Vees Go chants echoed through the SOEC. Ward and Klack cemented the win by scoring in the first half of the final frame, while Rylan Van Unen scored the Centennials’ final goal of the season with 1:50 remaining. Robson finished with 14 saves.
Along with scoring a key goal, Sanheim had a strong return breaking up a couple of Centennial breakouts and being physical. Harbinson said Sanheim made a lot of plays and mentioned they talked to the players about never knowing when their moment is going to be and them having to be ready for it.
“He took full advantage of it tonight,” said Harbinson.
Sanheim last played in Victoria on Feb. 4 and sustained an upper body injury. He said coming back in the lineup was nice.
“You have to get up for Game 7, it’s a big night,” said Sanheim, who replaced Ryley Risling on a line with Turner Ripplinger and Jared Nash. “I felt good. I have been skating for a while now. Just trying to get my legs back. I thought I played pretty well. It wasn’t just about scoring the goal. I thought I threw my body around.”
Asked about his equalizing goal, Sanheim said it was a tough start since he was on the ice for the first goal, but said it didn’t affect the players.
“They just pushed back. Just grabbed the rope, all of us, and pulled harder and harder,” he said.
The Vees will now face the Vernon Vipers in the Interior Division Final. Game 1 takes place at the South Okanagan Events Centre on March 31 at 7 p.m. Game 2 is scheduled for the following night, Saturday, April 1 at 6 p.m.; the remainder of the series schedule will be released this week.