Black Press Sports
The Ford Road to the Fred Page Cup resumed with double round-robin play Tuesday night.
There are three teams battling for a berth in the B.C. Hockey League championship series and the highly favoured Penticton Vees are not one of them.
The Vees, ranked No. 2 in Canada and only the fifth club in league history to post 50 wins, were eliminated by the West Kelowna Warriors in a six-game Interior Division final series.
Penticton lost in the Royal Bank Cup national semifinal last year in Portage la Prairie and were expected to contend for the 2016 title in Lloydminster.
Jonathan Desbiens scored his 9th and 10th goals of the playoffs as the Warrios held off the Vees 4-3 before 1,546 boisterous fans Saturday night at Royal LePage Place.
Bryan Basilico and Garrett Forster added singles for the second-place Warriors, while Nicholas Jones supplied his eighth and ninth playoff snipes and Tyson Jost pocketed his sixth for the Vees. Jones has been appointed captain for next year.
“I have an empty feeling in my stomach right now and probably will for a long time,” said Jost, the Penticton captain who will play college hockey for North Dakota Fighting Hawks next year. “I came back to win a national championship and to not have that is hard.”
Jost was part of a core group of five players who experienced heartbreak at the nationals last year. He, along with d-men Dante Fabbro, Colton Poolman, Gabe Bast and F Demico Hannoun – a former Vernon Viper – expected another chance at the RBC this year.
“It is hard looking back on how close we came last year and this year I thought would be the year,” said Jost, like Fabbro, a projected NHL amateur draft first rounder come June. “We fell short and the Warriors played good. We went out swinging in a tough series,” said Jost.
Jost had trouble gripping his stick after fracturing a finger from taking a slash in the first-round series against the Vernon Vipers.
“You need health and luck in the playoffs and we didn’t get much of either,” said Vees coach Fred Harbinson.
“Do we want to win every year? Absolutely. Does it feel like it is a missed opportunity this year? Absolutely,” said Harbinson. “This hurts. It hurts a lot for our players, our staff, our fans, everybody. But, there is a lot of things in life that don’t go exactly to plan and this is one of them.”
However, he added, a 23-game winning streak and having 15 players committed to college teams were major positives.
The Warriors held Jost and 50-goal king Scott Conway to just two points combined over the last three games.
“We played a lot of players in that series to do anything to light a spark, but the bottom line is we were playing against a team that on paper looked like this was an upset – but they are a team that had only one less win than us since Dec. 12,” said Harbinson.
The Warriors, who opened the round-robin Tuesday night in Chilliwack, officially celebrated the club’s first Interior Division championship since putting down stakes in West Kelowna 10 seasons ago after a transfer from Williams Lake
Warriors owner Mark Cheyne said every person connected to the team had a hand in the historic and groundbreaking win.
“It was good to see this happen for everyone that’s involved with the team,” said Cheyne, who took over the club prior to the 2007-08 season. “To see the energy in our building over the course of the series, to see our fans and our volunteers be rewarded, that really meant a lot to me. We had never been this close, never even been to a deciding game, so to have a winning opportunity and make it happen, is great.”
Only Penticton, Vernon and Salmon Arm Silverbacks (2004) have won the Interior in the last 12 years.
Acquired in December from the USHL Tri-City Storm, Matthew Greenfield made a diving glove stop off Jones in the final minute of Game 6, the Vees’ fourth straight loss.
“He made the biggest save of the organization’s history, so real kudos to our goalie, he did a great job,” said Cheyne. “The whole team played unbelievable, blocking shots and killing penalties. You need breaks but you’ve got to earn them. Our guys did that, I thought they outworked (Penticton).”
West Kelowna entertains the Nanaimo Clippers Thursday night, while Chilliwack visits Nanaimo Saturday night. The top two teams from the round-robin meet in the best-of-seven final.