The Penticton Vees are on their way to the RBC Cup after winning the Western Canada Cup (WC) title with a 4-3 overtime final victory over the Portage Terriers on Saturday night.
Penticton becomes the second BCHL team to win the title, joining the Surrey Eagles who won it in 2013, its inaugural year.
“Our goal at the beginning of the year was always to win a National Championship and obviously we’ve done a lot of great things getting through our league, and now not getting through the backdoor is exciting, but we have one more task at hand, and we’re going in with the full intention of winning it (the RBC Cup),” Vees coach Fred Harbinson told a WCC reporter after the game.
Connor Chartier scored the cup-winning overtime goal just under three minutes into the overtime period. Dakota Conroy’s acute-angle shot squeezed through Laforest’s arm and lay naked in front of the goal line until Connor Chartier chipped in the loose puck to send the Vees flying off their bench to celebrate their first-ever Western Canada Cup.
On a similar play earlier in the match, a quick whistle denied the Vees a sure goal, but this time it counted.
“Dakota Conroy shot the puck, and I was going to stop and turn around, but I saw the puck and banged it home,” said Chartier.
The former Spokane Chief forward was second in team scoring at the tournament with five goals and two assists, and seminal in the final two Vees’ victories including a two-point effort in the 3-1 semifinal win over Saskatchewan’s Melfort Mustangs.
“I think it’s all confidence, I had an alright season, but coming into the playoffs I thought I could step my game up and I think I have,” added Chartier.
Just over seven minutes into the game, Penticton opened the scoring when a Jack Ramsey shot from the right faceoff circle was stopped by Laforest, but Riley Alferd stuffed home the rebound to make it 1-0 Vees.
Portage would tie it six minutes later, when Taylor Friesen jammed a loose puck by Vees netminder Hunter Miska.
But the Vees came out flying in the middle frame. Dante Fabbro’s point shot beat Laforest through a screen at 5:17, and just over 10 minutes later, Steen Cooper capitalized on a Laforest rebound to put the Vees up 3-1.
The Terriers would not go quietly, however, and bit back 25 seconds later, as Tyler Jeanson was able to tap another shot in from close range to pull Portage back within one. The Vees outshot the Terriers 17-13 in the period.
The Vees held the lead for over 19 minutes, yet with 57 seconds remaining in regulation, Zack Waldvogel won a battle at the front of the Vees net and knocked another point blank shot in past Miska to tie the game and send the final to overtime.
“I thought we stuck with it here and got the late goal at least to get to overtime,” said Portage coach Blaine Spiller. “As the game got on I thought we started to play our game especially in the third. We had a couple of chances but couldn’t seem to bury them, or Miska made a big save. It was one of those games that was unfortunate the way it shook out in the end, but I’m happy with the way our guys played this week.”
The two teams already held berths into the national championship, yet to win it outright and capture another championship was motivation enough for the Vees.
“Whatever you go to you always want to be the winner, you want to be number one, and having this win we kind of feel that we’ve earned our way,” said Chartier. “It feels nice to come out as number one going into the RBC.”
Miska was brilliant in net for the Vees stopping 34 shots in the winning cause, while Laforest blocked 32.
The 19-year old Miska, a University of Minnesota-Duluth commit, was named Top Goaltender and Most Valuable Player of the tournament, after compiling a 3-1 record and tournament-leading 1.76 goals against average and .937 save percentage. The Minnesota native recorded a 23-save shutout in his second game of the tournament against Fort McMurray, and was named Player of the Game.
Vees 17 year old rookie Tyson Jost received Top Scorer with five goals and one assist during round-robin play, and Top Forward in the tournament at the awards night Friday. The Top Defenceman went to Landon Peel of the Portage Terriers who scored a goal and added four assists.
Portage beat the Melfort Mustangs 4-2 in an essentially meaningless WCC runner-up game on Sunday afternoon. With Portage as host, Melfort will also advance to the RBC Cup after beating the Fort MacMurray Oil Barons 4-2 on Saturday.
The Vees will open the 2015 RBC Cup in Portage, Manitoba this coming Saturday at 3 p.m. against the same Terriers.
With files from the WCC.