Linden Marshall had no chance.
The Trail Smoke Eaters goalie didn’t react to Grant Cruikshank’s one-timer from the point until it already blew past his glove. The goal was Cruikshank’s 23rd of the season and second on the night as he lifted the Penticton Vees to a 4-3 overtime victory. Nicholas Jones feathered the pass over to set up the winner.
“I know that there was going to be some guys on the goalie’s right side, so my left,” said Cruikshank, who finished with three points and his four straight game-winning goal. “I knew that the right side was going to kind of be open. Part of it is just swinging at it, swing as hard as you can and hoping it goes in. There is a little bit of placement involved. I was just happy to see it go in.
“That was huge. We had a terrible start but we were challenged after the first period by Freddie (Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson),” said Cruikshank. “I think that shows what kind of character we have on this team.”
The Smoke Eaters (16-16-3-0) forced extra time when Kale Howarth swiped at the puck and was able to put it between Mat Robson’s pads before the Vees goalie could trap it with his glove. The goal came with 1:53 remaining in regulation. Robson turned aside 26 shots.
“I thought we played well,” said Smoke Eaters captain Connor Brown-Maloski. “All the guys were going. We’re a little bit short bodied right now. Guys stepped up for us. Getting it to overtime obviously when Pen scores late in the game is a tough thing to do. I think it showed a lot of character from the guys being able to do that to get the one point.”
The Vees took their first lead with 5:02 remaining when Jones deposited a cross-crease pass past a sprawling Marshall, who finished with 30 saves and was named the third star.
In the second period, the Vees outshot the Smoke Eaters 12-7 and generated the better chances.
Chris Klack was fed the puck out front and fired off a shot between his legs that Marshall stopped. Shortly after, Cruikshank wired a shot off the cross bar. On another opportunity, Turner Ripplinger using his backhand, swatted at a puck in the air, but Marshall managed to keep it out.
READ MORE: Trail Smoke Eaters stun league-leading Vees
The Vees got the equalizer, and on the power play. With 30 seconds remaining on the man advantage, Marshall wasn’t able to snag the puck in the air allowing Cruikshank to take a couple of whacks. The second found a hole between Marshall and the post. In the last couple minutes Jones had a chance to put the Vees ahead, but he was robbed by Marshall’s glove.
“We were horrendous in the first period. I thought the second and third we responded and played really well,” said Harbinson. “Unfortunately we’re making a habit of kind of giving up, maybe having sluggish starts or giving up the first goal. This time we gave up two. We dug our heels in and found a way to get back.”
In the opening period, the Smoke Eaters came out with jump forcing Robson to make a couple of big saves in the first two minutes.
At 4:20 the Smoke Eaters were rewarded for their efforts netting the first goal as Braeden Tuck had the puck go off him after Robson made the initial save. Kale Howarth and Mitchell Stapley collected assists.
Midway through the period, the Vees went hard at the Smoke Eaters net applying pressure, but despite their efforts, could not put a shot past Marshall. The Vees had another chance while shorthanded. Breaking in on a 2-on-1 rush, Jones had Duncan Campbell on his left side, went for the shot but was denied by Marshall’s blocker.
The Smoke Eaters doubled their lead at 11:59 on the power play. Troy Ring scored on a shot from the bottom of the circle that looked to change direction as it went through Robson’s pads.
With five minutes remaining, Slater delivered a massive hit on Ripplinger that set off the Vees. They went after Slater and it was Greg Brydon who was able to engage the Smoke Eater in a fight. Slater only got two minutes, while Brydon received two minutes for instigating, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct.
The Vees roster included two affiliate players in Garrett Ewert wearing No. 5 and Jackson Van de Leest, playing his second game with the Vees.
After going 0-for-7 in the preview two meetings against Trail, the Vees power play struck three times on five chances. The Vees surrendered one goal and two Smoke Eaters power plays.
The Vees (27-5-2-0) final home game before the Christmas break is Friday, when they host the Salmon Arm Silverbacks, 14-18-1-1.
Vees at WJAC and WJC
Canada West, featuring Jonny Tychonick and Griffin Mendel, are facing Switzerland Friday in the fifth-place game after losing 4-3 in a shootout to Czech Republic on Wednesday. The game will be played at 2:30 local time. In three games, Tychonick has two points. Mendel has seen action in three games.
Former Vees Tyson Jost (University of North Dakota) and Dante Fabbro (Boston University) have been named to the 22-man roster for Canada in the World Junior Championship being played in Toronto and Montreal starting on Boxing Day.
“We’ve had a great selection camp, and I can see this group of players really beginning to work together and getting better every day,” said Dominique Ducharme, head coach, Canada’s National junior team in a press release. “It’s never easy to make the difficult decisions of releasing players, and that’s a testament to Canada’s depth of talent.”
Harbinson learned that Jost and Fabbro were chosen as he received text messages during the game and messaged them back.
“Obviously really proud of both of them,” said Harbinson. “I know it was something that, you know everybody has different goals in their life and that was high on the list for both boys. It’s great to see them accomplish making the team. I know how they are both wired. They are going to want to do more than just make the team. They are going to want to win gold and help Canada win gold. It will be fun to watch.”
The last time the Vees had players play in the WJC were Mike Reilly and Mario Lucia, who helped lead U.S.A. to gold and Ryan Johansen suited up for Canada, earning silver.
“It’s awesome,” said Harbinson of having players from his program chosen. “It’s great for the kids. It’s great for their families. Outstanding for our orangization.”
Video courtesy of Jayson Moonie.