The Vernon Watkin Motors Mustangs’ drive for a three-peat started off well Thursday morning at Civic Arena.
The Mustangs brushed back the Edmonton Knights of Columbus Lancers 6-4 in the opening game of the 47th annual Coca-Cola Classic Invitational Pee Wee Hockey Tournament.
“It’s pretty hard to win three in a row, but I think we can do it,” said a beaming Mustang forward Erik Pastro, who pocketed two goals and three assists.
Deagan McMillan, who plays alongside Pastro and Kyle Wheeler on Vernon’s high-octane line, also bagged a deuce, while Zac Milne and JJ Milne supplied singles.
Ethan Cerone, with a pair, Kaden Bogden and captain Marcus Pacheco countered for Edmonton, who pulled goalie Connor Dunham-Fox for a sixth attacker with 66 seconds remaining. Dunham-Fox returned to the crease for the final few seconds.
The Mustangs, who are undefeated in the Okanagan Mainline Tier 2 league, played a high-tempo style which the Lancers matched five-on-five.
“We were forechecking hard, moving the puck well and getting pucks on net,” said Pastro, a Rep baseball catcher who celebrated his 12th birthday in December.
Pastro and McMillan have both surpassed the 100-point plateau this season, and Pastro says his strengths are “my down-low game and my passes.”
The Grade 7 Silver Star Elementary student cheers for Vancouver Canuck rising stars Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat.
Matthew Kuhnlein went the distance in net for the Mustangs, who have eight returnees from last year’s tournament victory.
It was 2-2 after one period and 3-2 Vernon after 40 minutes. McMillan rang up his goals on powerplays.
Zac Milne recorded the winner at 14:31 of the third stanza when he buried a wrister top shelf while being dragged to the ice by a defender in tight. Hudson Kibblewhite drew the assist. JJ Milne added insurance three minutes later, on a powerplay.
Pacheco, who has major wheels and moves like Jagger, pulled the Lancers within two with 1:50 to play.
“They’re (Vernon) good,” said Pacheco, a big Connor McDavid fan who turns 13 in April. “They all have heavy shots and they can all skate. They’re one of the strongest teams we’ve played all season.”
Tait Humphries produced two goals as the Coquitlam Chiefs clipped the San Diego Saints 6-5 in the second game of the day.
Brenden Kwan, Colin Jang, Blake Van Straten and Brayden Sinclair contributed singles for the Chiefs, who trailed 3-2 after two periods.
Mateo Veduccior pulled the hat trick for San Diego with other snipes coming from Quinn Zegras and Logan Wise.
Anthony Duhamel connected at 1:50 of overtime as the Yellowknife Wolfpack outlasted the South Delta Storm 6-5 Thursday afternoon.
Alex Cordero counted four snipes for the Wolfpack, while Emery Golchert, who set up the winner, also scored. Cadence Stanley, with three tallies, Dylan Heer and Jamison Sluys countered for the Storm.
Vernon – coached by Taylor Wilson, Clint Nyberg and Derek Martin – face San Diego in the tonight (5:30) feature game of the eight-team tournament.
ICE CHIPS: Holland’s sons Ken and Dennis are employed in the NHL…Pacheco says the Lancers are in the middle of the pack in league play…Eddie Johnstone, the first Vernon minor hockey product to make the NHL, is among the guest hosts of visiting teams. Johnstone represented the New York Rangers in the 1981 NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles…Vernon takes on Coquitlam tonight at 5:00….The semifinals go Saturday at 2 and 4:30 p.m. with the Amy Myles Memorial A final Sunday at 4:30 p.m…All teams are treated to a banquet Saturday night with former NHLers Jerred Smithson, Dean McAmmond, Eric Godard and Jason Podollan as the guest speakers.