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Stingy Vees force seventh game
Morning Star Staff
With a season-high 2,500 fans in the building, the Vernon Vipers needed just one goal to shatter the Kal Tire Place noise level Friday night.
The Vipers had some pucks bounce the wrong way and couldn’t solve goalie Olivier Mantha as the Penticton Vees stopped the Snakes 2-0, forcing a Game 7 in the B.C. Hockey League Interior Division playoff series.
That game went Saturday night at the South Okanagan Events Centre. The winner advances to a three-team, round-robin to determine the finalists for the Fred Page Cup.
The Vees got the winner from Jarod Hilderman, who scored from the right point 4:14 into the first period. Captain Brad McLure drew the assist.
A perfect shot from Hilderman soared through a few bodies top shelf for his first of the playoffs
That was all Mantha needed as he turned away 28 Vernon shots.
The Vipers generated scoring chances from all over in the first frame despite being outshot 12-6. They unleashed plenty of shots from the point but they pinballed off bodies and sticks away from the net.
Penticton used both Mantha and Hunter Miska equally throughout the regular season and playoffs.
On whether or no not Mantha thought his performance earned him the right to start Game 7, “We will see, I will be there to support my team either way. Of course I want to start Game 7.”
Fred Harbinson, Vees head coach and GM weighed in on the Game 6 battle.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game from two great teams. We had so many chances to make it 2-0 but Smith made some great saves, then there was a push back by Vernon and our guy made some big saves.”
Smith was no slouch for the Vipers. He locked in all night long, stopping 29 Vees shots. He looked very sharp early with great reaction saves.
The Vees poured it on in the second period and Smith was marvellous.
“I just tried to stay calm and work through it. They’re a good team so you know they’re going to respond. I just have to be calm and react,” said Smith.
A poor clearing attempt from Josh Bryan allowed Travis Blanleil to unleash a point -blank bomb on Smith, who calmly swallowed the puck.
A blind pass from Jared Wilson in his own zone allowed Erik Benoit, the Vees third leading scorer in the playoffs, to walk in alone on Smith. Smith stoned him and covered the puck just as it was about to crawl across the goal line. Benoit, who played for the Kootenay Ice in the 2012 Memorial Cup, certainly reacted as if it went in.
With Vipers’ captain Ryan Renz in the box for hooking, the Vees rang one off the crossbar and somehow through the blue paint behind Smith. It just would not fall for the Vees.
The Vipers pushed back at the 10-minute mark in the second period.
During 4-on-4 action, the puck bounced out of the corner in the Vees’ end right to Demico Hannoun in front of the net. With a little left-to-right action on the joystick, he had Mantha down and out but could not put it away.
Hannoun had a one-timer chance his next shift but his stick betrayed him and exploded mid shot.
The second period was all kinds of crazy. The Vipers outshot the Vees 14-10.
Nic Pierog had the best chance to put the Vipers away early in the third. Pierog was the recipient of a textbook 2-on-1 odd-man rush but drilled the puck wide right.
The third period was packed with wall-to-wall excitement. There was a stretch of eight and a half minutes without a whistle as the Vipers were doing all they could to try and even the score.
Kal Tire Place was ready to blow its top with a Viper goal.
Williamson yanked Smith with 75 seconds left in the game for a sixth attacker. Unfortunately, for the Vipers, the puck squirted out of the Vees’ zone, sending McLure down the ice for an easy empty-netter.
Game 7 would have been the Vipers third game in as many nights after playing six games in nine nights the previous round against West Kelowna. Warriors.
“We have to have the legs, it’s the same scenario for them. You just got to find a way, nothing to save it for; it’s Game 7,” said Vipers’ bench boss Jason Williamson.
As wild as Game 6 was, Game 5 was no snoozefest either.
The Vees opened the scoring 7:17 into the first period on the powerplay.
Benoit kept his eye on the puck that bounced off the shoulder of Smith back to the ice. Smith lost sight of the puck and Benoit tracked it and was able to bang it in.
That lead lasted just 22 seconds as Liam Coughlin set up Michael McNicholas, who finished off a cross-crease pass and tapped it past Vees goalie Miska. The Vees took a 2-1 lead 3:35 into the second period when Steen Cooper pounced on a rebound and blasted it past Smith inside the slot. Christopher Rygus and McLure drew assists.
The Vees were given a two-man advantage leading into the final five minutes of the second, but failed to capitalize. Less than three minutes after killing that advantage, Coughlin scored the 2-2 equalizer with 30 seconds remaining. Dexter Dancs and McNichlolas earned helpers.
Coughlin netted the winner with under four minutes remaining, assisted by Nicholas.
Two other series wrapped up Friday night. The Victoria Grizzlies iced the Powell River Kings to move on to the round-robin with a 4-2 series victory. The No. 1 Langley Rivermen lost 5-3 to the Coquitlam Express, dropping the series in six games.
The three-team round-robin begins next Friday with the victors of the Interior Division, Mainland Division and Island Division.
The top two teams advance to the Fred Page Cup.