TRAIL, BC-The Penticton Vees will have to make room in the rafters of the SOEC for another banner. The Vees picked up a 2-1 win over the Trail Smoke Eaters Friday night at Cominco Arena, and doing so clinched their six consecutive Interior Division regular season pennant.
It’s a BCHL record, as no other team in the history of the league has won more than four division pennants in a row. The Vees actually clinched the division title midway through the period, after the Wenatchee Wild beat the Vernon Vipers 3-1; Penticton picked up the two points for good measure.
Chris Klack and Matt Gosiewski supplied the offense and Nolan Hildebrand kicked out 31-shots and was named the game’s first star, as the Vees picked up their fourth win against Trail this year, and in doing so winning the season series.
Blain Caton was the only Smoke Eater to beat Hildebrand, as Trail dropped their second straight game against Penticton and are now winless in their last four. Linden Marshall, who had a 45-save performance Wednesday, was sharp again Friday, stopping 35 of 37 in a losing effort.
Chris Klack opened the scoring four and a half minutes into the first period, after winning a race to the puck in the Trail end. Duncan Campbell fired the puck down ice from his own end, and Klack was first to it in the slot, quickly lifting the puck over Linden Marshall’s shoulder for his 12th of the season; Klack’s goal would be the only goal for the next 44-minutes.
Nolan Hildebrand helped carry the 1-0 lead into the intermission, as he stopped 11 first period shots. His best was when he slid across to deny Andre Ghantous on an odd-man rush.
Both goalies came up big in the second, as Hildebrand and Marshall combined to make 30-saves in the middle stanza alone. Highlighting the goaltending exhibition was both goalies putting on a clinic in a back and forth sequence late in the frame. It started in the Trail end, with Marshall making saves on Klack, Nicholas Jones and Duncan Campbell all around the net. Then the play went back down the other end and Hildebrand made a spectacular diving stop after getting crossed up with his defenceman whilst playing the puck behind the net.
After turning it over behind his goal, Hildebrand somehow managed to scramble back in the crease and dive across, lunging out with his glove to knock down the one-timer from the slot.
Marshall was no slouch either, as he kept the Vees off the scoresheet during a 45-second five-on-three. His best stop was off of Klack from the between the circles, as he slid across and squeezed his legs shut on Klack’s one-timer.
Emotions came to a head late in the second, as Ryley Risling dropped the mitts with Trail’s Ryan Warner for a short but spirited bout; Risling earned the takedown.
The Vees were an inch or two away from scoring in the final moments of the stanza, but Ty Amonte’s backhand bid hit the base of the post on the blocker-side. Jonny Tychonick sprung Amonte down the right-wing, and after cutting to the net he couldn’t stuff the puck between the goalie’s pad and post, when he turned it onto his backhand.
Trail finally hit the scoresheet midway through the third period spoiling Hildebrand’s shutout bid. On their third power-play of the night, Andre Ghantous cut across the face of goal and then spun the puck back across to Blaine Caton on the opposite side for the tap-in at 8:45. Ghantous delayed long enough to draw defenders his way before going over to Caton who was alone in the blue paint.
The teams looked like they might be off to overtime for the second time in 48 hours but Matt Gosiewski has something to say late. With just over five-minutes left in the third period, the Vees forced a turnover deep in the Trail end and Gosiewski capitalized.
Jamie Armstrong forced the puck off the defender’s stick near the boards on the left-wing and it jetted across to Gosiewski in the slot. It slid to the middle on a silver platter and “Goose” stepped into a one-timer that he pounded over Marshall’s glove; his fourth coming at 14:40.
The Vees weren’t out of the woods, as Trail was handed another power-play less than a minute after the goal. Trail pressured but the Vees’ penalty-kill stood tall, including Hildebrand holding his ground in the crease. His best save during the PK, was when he laid down his pad to thwart Luke Santerno, who was feverishly trying to jam the puck underneath him.
The game came right down to the bitter end, as Trailed pressured with the goalie pulled, including Jeremy Lucchini firing just wide from the top of the left-wing circle in the final seconds.
Final Score: 2-1 Vees
Shots: 37-32 Vees
Power-Plays: Vees 0-4 Trail 1-4
Three Stars (EZ Rock): 1) Nolan Hildebrand 2) Ryley Risling 3) Linden Marshall
Vees Notes: Klack’s goal in the first was his first against Trail but his fifth point in the season series. Gosiewski’s game-winner in the third was his first goal since January 22nd. The Vees improved their road record to 17-9-0-1 in the win, and are 20-9-1-1 against the Interior Division. Friday was Hildebrand’s sixth win and first since November 18th.
Penticton (36-12-1-2) hosts the BCHL’s top team, the Wenatchee Wild (38-8-0-4
0) back at the SOEC Saturday; face-off is 6 pm. Wenatchee beat Vernon 3-1 Friday to start their three-game Interior road trip.