PENTICTON, B.C. – It’s not how you start but how you finish and the Penticton Vees can attest to that. Manitoba native Taylor Sanheim scored the game-winner midway through the third period, as the Vees edged the Portage Terriers 5-3 Thursday, keeping their season alive at the Western Canada Cup.
The Vees now advance to Saturday afternoon’s 3rd versus 4th playoff game against the Battlefords North Stars.
Grant Cruikshank scored twice and finished with a game-high three points. Taylor Ward and Duncan Campbell also scored for Penticton and Massimo Rizzo chipped in with two assists, as the Vees erased a 2-1 deficit after the first period to extend their season into the weekend.
Chase Brakel and Mackenzie Dwyer scored for the Manitoba Junior Hockey League champions but it wasn’t enough, as they are the first team knocked out of this year’s tournament.
Despite a slow start, the Vees broke the game open midway through the first period, as it was Taylor Ward benefiting from a hometown bounce. The Vees forward fired, what appeared to be a pass, towards the net that took a deflection of a defenceman’s skate and snuck underneath Portage’s Kurtis Chapman at 11:14.
The crazy bounces continued, as the Terriers tied the game on their own fortuitous bounce. After winning a neutral zone face-off, Riley Thiessen ripped the puck into the Vees end along the boards. Mat Robson went out behind the goal to play the dump in, but it took a crazy bounce off the stanchion behind the Vees net, jetting back out front to Chase Brakel for the gift at 12:20. Portage then went ahead in a blink of an eye.
36-seconds after Brakel tied it, Mackenzie Dwyer gave the Terriers their first lead. Dwyer finished off a cross-ice pass from Ty Barnstable, sliding his shot underneath Robson’s pads at 12:56.
Penticton tied it up in the opening moments of the second period and on a great solo effort by Cruikshank. The Vees forward darted down the right-wing, got around the defenceman and with one hand on his stick, tucked the puck around Chapman on the far-side at 1:09; Cruikshank burring his first of the tournament. The speedy forward then got the Vees the lead back.
On the power-play, Massimo Rizzo, from just off the goal-line, dished the puck out to Cruikshank at the top of the circle, and he punched a one-timer through Chapman’s legs at 8:50 for his second of the period, to put Penticton back up 3-2.
It felt like no lead was safe in the second period, as a few minutes later it was the Terriers responding. On a quick three-on-two from the neutral zone, Jeremy Leipsic threw a perfectly timed pass across to Brakel on the far side, and he quickly roofed the puck over Robson’s blocker at 11:58; Brakel getting his second of the game and fourth of the tournament.
Portage thought they had taken the lead back midway through the third period but their power-play goal was waved off after the officials convened and determined Robson was unable to make a save attempt after incidental contact in his crease.
The Vees finally broke the 3-3 tie not long after they had a power-play expire. Taylor Sanheim showed great pose, dragging the puck out to the slot and back on his fore-hand, before firing it over the goalie’s glove at 12:29; his first of the tournament and the game-winner.
The Terriers did try to press for the equalizer, pulling their goalie for the extra skater but it was Duncan Campbell sealing the Vees’ win with an empty-netter with just 55-seconds left.
Final: 5-3 Penticton
Penticton, after being outshot 12-6 in the first period, outshot the Terriers 26-6 over the final 40-minutes, including 15-1 in the third period.
Cruikshank was named the Vees’ Player of the Game after his three-point night. Portage’s Chase Brakel was the Terriers Player of the Game after his two-goal performance.
Earlier Thursday it was the Battlefords North Stars shutting out the Chilliwack Chiefs to set up a showdown with the Vees on Saturday afternoon. Chilliwack had already qualified for the WCC Final against Brooks.
The tournament pauses Friday for the Western Canada Awards Gala at the SOEC. Tickets for the dinner are $75 and tickets just for the Awards Ceremony are $10. Fans can purchase them at the Valley First box office.
Tickets for the playoff round are $25 and they too can be bought at available at the Valley First box office.