Friday, the Penticton Vees best offense came from their defence in their 4-1 win over the Merritt Centennials in Game One of the Interior Division Final.
Defenceman Gabe Bast scored twice and fellow blue-liner Griffin Mendel scored his first career playoff goal, as the Vees’ blue-line chipped in with five points. Captain Nicholas Jones also scored, late in the third, as the Vees took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Interior Division Semi-Final series and did so in front of over 3,000 fans.
Mat Robson turned aside 26 of 27 shots and was named the game’s second star, as his shutout bid was broken up midway through the third period by Penticton native and Centennials defenceman Tyrell Buckley.
Jacob Berger suffered his first loss of the playoffs, stopping 37 of 40 shots in the Merritt crease.
Any doubts of how the Vees would come out after being off for 21 days, were quickly erased as Bast scored 84-seconds into the game. Bast fired a knuckle ball from the blue-line that snuck past Berger’s glove to put Penticton up 1-0; Bast scoring on the Vees’ first shot of the game.
Mendel doubled Penticton’s lead late, firing a rocket from the left-wing that went cross-bar down after buzzing by Berger’s shoulder. Mendel, from just inside the blue-line, let go a screamer that whistled off the pipe and past Berger at 17:49; Mendel scoring his first career BCHL playoff goal.
Penticton had a few good chances in the second to pad their two-goal lead. First Chris Klack dangled his way down to the net from the wing but was stopped in the crease, and Duncan Campbell had his rebound attempt kicked-out. Then it was Jared Nash stopped right in front after a pass out of the corner, which was followed by Ryley Risling’s rebound attempt being knocked down by Berger as well.
Merritt’s best chance to crack the goose-egg came when Michael Regush had a partial breakaway but he missed the net trying to beat Robson on the glove side. Penticton quickly counter-attacked but Berger made an incredible sprawling save, as he slid across to rob Grant Cruikshank on a two-on-one.
The Vees broke through early in the third as they were the beneficiary of some puck luck. Bast scored his second of the game, just over three-minutes in, when his shot from the right-wing went off a Merritt defenceman and past Berger; Bast cashing in for his second at 3:08 putting Penticton up 3-0.
Merritt got on the scoresheet just past the halfway mark of the third. Tyler Ward busted down the middle but couldn’t split the two Vees’ defenceman. The puck popped back to Tyrell Buckley and the Cents’ rear-guard put a wrist-shot over Robson’s glove at 10:32.
Penticton got that one back late, as Jones finished off a pretty passing play on a three-on-one. James Miller skated out of his own end, before feeding a pass across to Duncan Campbell. Campbell alertly waited for the trailer Jones, who took the drop pass before slipping a shot between the wickets of Berger at 17:57.
Final Score: 4-1 Vees
Shots: 40-27 Vees
Power-Plays: Vees 0-5 Merritt 0-5
Three Stars: 1) Gabe Bast 2) Mat Robson 3) Griffin Mendel
Notes: Joe Leahy and Mitch Meek both returned to the line-up Friday after missing time in February due to injury. In all, 11 Vees’ found the scoresheet Friday, including Bast and Jones who each had multi-point games.
Game Two goes tomorrow night, at 6 pm, at the SOEC and tickets are $16 for adults, $14 for seniors, and students (18 and under) and local children are FREE, courtesy of Peter Bros. Construction. Fans can purchase tickets online at www.valleyfirsttix.com