The Penticton Vees will play in the Western Canada Cup (WCC) final on Saturday following a 3-1 victory over the Melfort Mustangs on Wednesday at the Casman Centre in Fort MacMurray.
Following a disappointing 3-2 loss to Portage Tuesday, the Vees bounced back to finish the round-robin portion of the tournament with three wins and one loss and guarantee a spot in the final and potential berth in the RBC Cup.
“We challenged our guys,” Vees coach Fred Harbinson told a WCC reporter after the game. “We just talked and we weren’t very happy with our performance yesterday (Tuesday), a lot of it had to do with what Portage did, but you can’t take anything away from them, I just thought we were a little off in a few different areas. I thought tonight we were way more structured, had a lot more energy, and just got off to a much better start.”
Patrick Newell netted the winner at 3:43 of the second period and was named player of the game for the Vees. Newell caused a turnover at the Vee blueline and broke in on a 2-on-1 with Demico Hannoun who feathered a perfect pass over the d-man’s stick to Newell, who made no mistake going top corner on Melfort goalie Richard Palmer.
Like their early victories to start the tournament, the Vees came out flying and hit the scoresheet first. Connor Chartier’s stick shattered on an attempted shot from the slot and the puck squirted to Dakota Conroy at the side of the open net, beating the Mustangs goalie 4:41 into the game.
After two periods of play, the Vees outshot the Mustangs 29-15, and if not for the stellar play of Palmer the game could have been out of reach. The Mustangs would then make it interesting when Tristan Frei scored his second goal of the tournament at 13:53 of the third on a tap-in at the crease. But Chartier secured the victory with an empty net goal with 10 seconds remaining. Penticton goalie Hunter Miska turned aside 22 shots, while Palmer stopped 40 in the losing cause for the Mustangs.
On Thursday Melfort, 1-2, played the 2-1 Fort MacMurray Oil Barons. The Oil Barons are tied for second place with the Portage Terriers who took on the Spruce Grove Saints, but scores were unavailable.
The second-place team will play Penticton for top spot at the tournament on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. Pacific, with the winner advancing to the RBC Cup. The loser will then play the third place team on Sunday at 2 p.m., to determine the second RBC Cup qualifier.
“We like the look of that trophy,” said Harbinson. “In Penticton we’re all about trying to win championships, and when we get together in training camp it’s about putting up as many banners in our rink as possible. There’s some great historic teams here, and we feel we’re one of them and we’re going into that game and trying to win it.”