The biggest goal of Patrick Sexton’s career gave the Penticton Vees the BCHL’s Interior Division championship (Ryan Hatfield Memorial Trophy) March 22 before 3,203 fans at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Sexton, a bruising defenceman who scored once during the regular season, had his shot hit a stick, flip into the air and beat Vipers goalie Danny Todosychuk glove side at 17:07 for a 1-0 lead. The play started when Tyson Jost won a face-off in the Vipers zone.
“Me and Fabbs (Dante Fabbro) talked before the draw, we just wanted to get the puck to the net,” said Vees co-captain Sexton, named the game’s first star. “I think it bounced off a skate. At this point I don’t really care, they all count. It’s a little sweet revenge for last year ( the Vees lost to the Vipers in overtime of Game 7).
“When I saw it flutter in, I didn’t even know, I just looked across and Fabbro had his hands up in the air,” said Sexton. “I just started yelling. I just started hugging my teammates.”
In the last 10 minutes of the third period with the match still scoreless, Vees fans did their part to give the home team a lift chanting “Go Vees Go.” That support didn’t go unnoticed.
“By far the loudest I have ever heard this building,” said Sexton. “It was awesome. They are unbelievable. Anytime they are making noise, the ‘Go Vees Go’ chant, those cowbells, we hear that stuff. That definitely gives us a boost.”
The Vees withstood pressure by the Vipers for the last 2:30 of the third period. Matthew Serratore put the dagger in the Vipers with an empty net goal at 19:56 in Game 7.
“Their season is on the line. You give them credit, they didn’t roll over and die,” said Sexton. “That’s why we got the best goalie in the league. Miska stood tall. Did a great job fighting through traffic to find pucks. Not giving up rebounds. Guys did a great job of staying in lanes, trying to limit the shots getting through.”
Miska turned aside 27 shots for the shut out and was named the second star, while Todosychuk made 28 saves that earned the third star. Both teams weren’t able to capitalize on the powerplay with the Vees going 0-for-3 and the Vipers 0-for-2.
Former Vee Liam Finlay, who was dealt for Dakota Conroy earlier this season, said it was an intense game. He was hugged by nearly every Vee in the handshake.
“I felt we played a heck of a game and battled all night,” said the teary-eyed Finlay. “We just didn’t get the bounce we wanted. To lose the way we did, it was extremely tough. We have a great group of guys here. It really sucks coming up with the loss.”
The Vees, ranked sixth in the Canadian Junior Hockey League, move on to round three, a round-robin featuring the three conference winners. Penticton, the No. 1 seed, hosts second-ranked Nanaimo Clippers March 25.The Clippers, ranked 16th in the CJHL, shaded the visiting Powell River Kings 3-2 on March 22 to take that series in seven games. The Chilliwack Chiefs are the other conference champion.
“We’re going to treat it like a regional tournament where every game is important, like a game seven,” said Chiefs head coach Jason Tatarnic. “Hopefully we’ve prepared our guys for this. I think nerves and composure will be important as we go forward.”
The teams played twice during the regular season. They tied 1-1 in December and the Vees won 3-2 in overtime in early February.
“When we played in Penticton it was a great game but I don’t think either team was satisfied with the outcome (the 1-1 tie),” Tatarnic said. “And when we lost to them, it was a great game again, but it was overtime and it just didn’t feel like anything was settled.”
On March 29, the Vees will travel to Chilliwack then host the Chiefs on March 31. Both games at the SOEC are at 7 p.m. Tickets are $17 for adults and $15 for seniors and those prices remain if the Vees advance to the Fred Page Cup Final. Written with files from the Chilliwack Progress.
Vees notes: Forward Lewis Zerter-Gossage is sidelined indefinitely with an upper-body injury from Game 7 against the Vernon Vipers. He will be replaced by Mitch Newsome, as reported by Fraser Rodger, the Vees play-by-play announcer, on his Twitter account.