The Penticton Vees spoiled what probably should have been a hometown celebration for the Vernon Vipers Friday night at Wesbild Centre.
Trailing by a pair of goals after 40 minutes in Game 5 of the B.C. Hockey League Interior Conference final, Penticton collected three unanswered goals to prolong their season with a hard-fought 3-2 triple overtime win before 2,815 fans at Wesbild Centre.
With his club’s season on the line, Denver Manderson potted the winner at 7:14, picking the top corner on netminder Graeme Gordon, who lost track of the puck behind the net and couldn’t recover in time when Beau Bennett fed the Vees’ captain a sneaky backdoor pass.
“I think I’m almost too tired that I don’t remember (the goal),” joked Manderson. “They had the long change so they had some guys out there still penalty killing. I think they were a little tired and Bennett did his little pretend to go behind the net and throw it back. Luckily I put it in, I almost screwed it up.”
The Vees trailed Vernon 3-2 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 6 Saturday night at South Okanagan Events Centre in Penticton. With the Vees understaffed and battling injuries, Vipers’ head coach Mark Ferner said fatigue might yet play a part in the series.
“Give them credit, they’re not going to go away. They’re a little bit shortstaffed over there, and the one positive is it was a long game so hopefully we can come out with some real good jump (Saturday),” he said.
If necessary, Game 7 would go Sunday (7 p.m.) at Wesbild.
Fans were treated to a lively game featuring stellar goaltending, particularly from Sean Bonar, who kept Penticton alive with a 61-save, second star performance.
Bonar seemed to get better as the game wore on, denying David Robinson on a gorgeous three-way passing play with linemates Bradem Pimm and Mike Collins midway through the third period. He got a little luck in the second OT, as he got just enough of Adam Thompson’s point blast to get a deflection off the crossbar.
Gordon needed to be sharp early in the third OT when Garret Milan cruised in alone after Viper d-man Curtis Gedig blew a wheel at the blueline.
The Vipers got off to a great start as rookie Dylan Walchuk posted his first-ever BCHL playoff goal five minutes into the first period. His linemate, Jonathan Milhouse, used a burst of speed to break up middle, testing Bonar with a hard snapshot. Walchuk was there to corral the rebound, turning and firing far side.
“We’re just battling hard, getting pucks to the net and things are going our way,” said Walchuk, on playing with Milhouse and Bryce Kakoske.
“Every guy worked hard tonight. We did everything to win that game, but Penticton played a solid game too. A couple bad bounces for us and we couldn’t bury our chances, and Penticton made a nice play to score.”
Cole Ikkala made it 2-0 Vernon late in the second period, following up on Robbie Short’s breakaway attempt to chip a loose puck over Bonar. Short burned by defenceman Luke Curadi, who got caught flatfooted at the blueline, to start the play.
Ikkala, a Philadelphia product, had pretty much hit the erase button on Game 5 by the time he left Wesbild that night.
“Not the result we wanted, but as a team we played well. Give them credit, they’ve got a good goalie, a good team. We weren’t expecting it to be easy, and the good thing is we can bounce back.
“It’s not frustrating, it just comes down to bearing down on our chances. If we don’t, that’s obviously the outcome we’ll get. We’ll just learn from it and hopefully put our bounces in tomorrow.”
Vernon dominated the second frame, outshooting Penticton 13-3, but the visitors came alive early in the final period when they created a turnover behind the Vipers’ net. The puck made its way back to Beau Bennett, who unleashed a wrister through a screen to beat Gordon from the high slot.
Penticton’s Joey Holka silenced the Wesbild crowd later in the period as he fired blindly from behind the goaline, banking his shot off Gordon’s leg to force OT.
Said Vees’ head coach Fred harbinson: “I thought it was a really gritty performance… being down 2-0 in Vernon against a great Vernon team and our guys didn’t quit. I thought we got better in the third period and beyond.
“Sean Bonar was outstanding and our best players made some big plays. Our captain finished it off with a great overtime goal.
“The biggest thing we’re excited about is that we get to extend this season for at least another day. We get to come home and give our fans another game at home.”