The Penticton Vees are a very, very good team. With their full lineup intact, the defending RBC Cup champions are probably the best in the BCHL.
But they aren’t as good as they were when they steamrolled everyone last year, and when you take away five of their best players, they are just as beatable as anyone else. Twice in the last week the Chilliwack Chiefs have been able to face a depleted Vees team, with the World Junior A Challenge taking a heavy toll on Penticton’s roster.
Twice in the last week, the Chiefs have been able to beat the Vees.
Last weekend the score was 4-1. Saturday night’s rematch was closer, but Chilliwack came away victors again by a 5-4 score.
The teams traded goals in the first period of this one.
The Chiefs opened the scoring 4:41 on a beautiful shorthanded goal by Josh Hansen. Not beautiful in the aesthetic sense so much as in the work that went into it. Hansen spent 10 seconds leading up to the goal behind the Penticton net, killing off a David Thompson delay-of-game minor. Vees defenceman Robert Mann finally got away from him, but only for a second.
Hansen picked his pocket in the slot, turned and fired the puck past Penticton keeper Nic Renyard for his team and league-leading 16th of the year.
Less than four minutes later the Chiefs were up 2-0 on a goal by Jaret Babych.
Tanner Cochrane did the heavy lifting on this one, crashing the net with a couple shots. Renyard let a rebound slip out to Babych, who buried the biscuit for his sixth of the year and fourth in the last four games.
At the other end, Chilliwack goalie Mitch Gillam was a bit of an adventure.
The Vees got on the board at 9:41 when the netminder wandered out of his net to play the puck on a would-be icing.
Gillam gave the puck to Ryan Gropp, then watched helplessly as the 16-year-old BCHL rookie hit the unguarded net for his fourth of the year.
Brad McClure tied things up at 15:10, beating Gillam with a top shelf wrist shot from the right faceoff dot.
Though Chilliwack out-shot Penticton 15-7 through 20 minutes, the teams were even heading to period two.
The teams traded goals again in the middle frame.
Trevor Hills gave the Chiefs a short-lived lead at 14:42, banking his shot off the skate of Brayden Park and into the Vees net for his fourth of the year.
But Penticton answered back three minutes later. On their third power play of the period, McClure crashed the crease and caused all sorts of havoc in front of the Chilliwack net. The puck squirted out to the right, and with Gillam knocked on his butt, Gropp hit the net with a sharp-angle shot for his second of the game.
Tied 3-3 heading to the third, the Chiefs appeared to put the Vees away on goals by Luke Esposito and Hills.
Esposito scored his on the power play. An Alex Perron-Fontaine point shot pinballed into the crease where Esposito was able to knock it home for his seventh of the year.
Five minutes later, Hills scored off a Ryan Donohoe faceoff win to put Chilliwack up 5-3.
But the Vees weren’t going to make it that easy.
At 13:33, Chiefs D-man Ben Israel coughed up the puck at his own blueline. Jordan McCallum came back with a shot on net, creating a rebound for McClure, who had a yawning cage for his second of the game and 11th of the season.
The Vees pulled Renyard with 1:12 remaining, and McClure had one dangerous shot off a faceoff win. But the Chiefs made it safely to the finish line, pushing their Mainland division leading record to 14-5-1-1.
The three stars were Hills (first), Babych (second) and Gropp (third).
The Fortis BC Energy Player of the Game was Mitch Skapski.
Announced attendance was 2,689