As Fred Harbinson put it, it’s a one-game shot now to play for the RBC Cup national junior A hockey championship.
The Vees coach-general manager made the statement shortly after his team beat the Soo Thunderbirds 5-2 in the PCU Centre in Portage la Prairie, Man. Thursday afternoon.
The Vees’ power-play went three-for-six with the man advantage.
“It was definitely clicking tonight. We found the open lanes,” said Harbinson. “We didn’t over handle the puck. We were really crisp with our puck movement.”
A perfect example of that came on Patrick Newell’s winning goal. Newell, named the BCHL’s player of the week for the week ending May 10, put the dagger in the Thunderbirds at 6:23 of the second period. He had an easy tap in after Steen Cooper found Connor Chartier at the side of the net from the high slot. Chartier then spun around a dished a backhand pass cross crease to Newell.
“Coop made a really nice pass to Chartier on the back side,” said Newell, named the BCHL’s POW after scoring twice in a 3-2 loss to the Portage Terriers.
The Vees had tried the exact play earlier, but couldn’t finish. That 3-0 goal also spelled the end of Mario Culina, who made 20 saves at that point and was relieved by Brian Kment.
“We kept it simple. That was our game plan,” said Vees rookie D-man Dante Fabbro. “Get pucks to the net. Cause a bit of havoc in front of their goaltender.”
The Vees opened the scoring at 7:28 in the first period when Cooper stole the puck off the stick of Owen Headrick and raced into the Thunderbirds zone with Headrick and Matt Busby hot on his heels. Cooper went forehand to backhand and beat goalie Culina. The Vees headed into the intermission with a 1-0 lead after outshooting the Thunderbirds 13-7.
In the second frame, Gabe Bast and Demico Hannoun set up Newell for his first goal as he made a move then fired a shot low blocker on Culina to make it 2-0. Trailing 3-0 and with seven minutes remaining in the period, Brett Jeffries got the Thunderbirds on the board beating Hunter Miska as the Vees failed to clear the puck from their zone.
Early in the third period, Jeffries struck for his second goal of the game at 1:28 to make it 3-2. The Vees got back on track following a time out. At 3:55, after taking a pass from Hannoun, Newell found Tyson Jost open in the slot and the young phenom scored top shelf on the power-play. Dakota Conroy then made it 5-2 on the power-play as he took a feed from Hannoun beating Kment, who finished with 17 saves on 19 shots.
“I think we had our ups and downs. You’re playing the top teams,” said Newell, who leads the Vees with four goals and six points in the RBC Cup. “I think we played well and just have to build on it for Saturday’s game.”
On the two goals the Thunderbirds scored, Newell said it was a result of mental mistakes. That is something they want to get rid of if they want to keep moving forward he said.
“Hats off to them, they played hard,” said Fabbro. “They had us on our heels for a bit there. We felt our game was kind of slipping a little bit.”
A pep talk by Harbinson and the dressing room leaders corrected that. Fabbro liked how they got on the forecheck and fired pucks at the net, finishing with a total of 42 compared to the 22 shots Miska faced.
“We’re definitely confident. We have to keep in even keel,” said Fabbro, who has three assists in four games. “We’re all focused on one goal. Everybody is excited.”
With the win, the Vees (3-1-0) finished second in the standings as the Portage Terriers defeated the Melfort Mustangs 3-2 to take first place. The Vees will face the Carleton Place Canadians in the semifinal on Saturday at noon PST. The Terriers and Mustangs will meet in the other semifinal at 5 p.m. PST.