Cap­tain steers Vees to vic­tory over red-hot Clip­pers

Penticton Herald - - FRONT PAGE - By DAVID CROMP­TON

Cap­tain Mas­simo Rizzo is heat­ing up af­ter miss­ing the first six weeks of the B.C. Hockey League sea­son with a lower-back in­jury. Rizzo scored twice and added an as­sist as the Pen­tic­ton Vees de­feated the Nanaimo Clip­pers 4-1 in front of 2,964 fans Satur­day at the South Okana­gan Events Cen­tre, halt­ing Nanaimo’s win­ning streak at 10 games.

Vees pres­i­dent, GM and head coach Fred Harbin­son said he had a long chat last week with the gifted 18-year-old for­ward, who is pro­jected to be a high pick in the 2019 NHL En­try Draft in June.

“The men­tal side can be the hard­est thing when you’re com­ing back from a sig­nif­i­cant in­jury,” said Harbin­son. “A lit­tle sore­ness can be nor­mal, es­pe­cially af­ter a lengthy lay­off. We’re see­ing him come into his own and the tim­ing couldn’t be bet­ter.”

Rizzo has logged four goals and three helpers in his last three games and has eight goals and 25 points in 21 games this sea­son.

Jack Barnes and Lukas Sillinger also scored for the Vees (27-12-1-2), who took over sole pos­ses­sion of first place in the In­te­rior Divi­sion, two points ahead of idle Mer­ritt.

De­fence­man James Miller fol­lowed up a four-point game in Fri­day’s 5-3 win over Pow­ell River with an as­sist, putting him in a tie for fourth place in the BCHL scor­ing race with 52 points.

The Vees nursed a 1-0 lead into the third pe­riod be­fore erupt­ing for two goals in 51 sec­onds to blow it open. MacKen­zie Mer­ri­man spoiled Jack La­Fontaine’s shutout bid with a power play goal with 2:16 left for Nanaimo (22-19-0).

La­Fontaine made 20 saves while Jor­dan Nay­lor stopped 36 shots for the Clip­pers.

Pen­tic­ton has now won six of its last seven games.

Harbin­son was “ex­tremely pleased” with all his play­ers in the two week­end wins.

He said the de­fence corps was ter­rific, adding he’s ex­cited to think about how it will look once newly ac­quired Jonathan Smart makes his de­but Jan. 25 at Pow­ell River.

Smart, signed from the Western Hockey League, is in­el­i­gi­ble to play in the Vees first five games, but will prac­tice with the team for the first time to­day.

The two other new­com­ers at the trade dead­line – de­fence­man Evan McIn­tyre and cen­tre Ty Pochip­in­ski – also im­pressed Harbin­son.

“McIn­tyre had two A-plus games,” said the coach, com­par­ing him to Con­ner Hutchin­son, who is out for the sea­son with a knee in­jury. “He skates so well, makes it look ef­fort­less and there is no panic at all to his game.”

Pochip­in­ski’s speed and two-way game caught the eye of the coach­ing staff.

“Ty hadn’t even prac­tised with us and he comes into a sit­u­a­tion where we only had 10 for­wards, so there was no con­ti­nu­ity with line­mates. We had him at cen­tre and at wing and he fit in well wher­ever we used him.” Harbin­son said in­jured for­ward An­dre Ghan­tous (up­per-body) could be back in time for Wed­nes­day’s key game in We­natchee, while for­ward and team goalscor­ing leader Ryan San­delin (up­per-body) is ex­pected back in just over a week.

“Ob­vi­ously we like to play a fast, high-tempo game and hav­ing four full lines will en­able us to consistently play that way,” Harbin­son said.

Harbin­son noted it’s a “huge” week ahead for Pen­tic­ton. Aside from the 6 p.m. visit to We­natchee, the Vees host a strong, vet­eran Prince Ge­orge Spruce Kings squad on Fri­day at 7 p.m., fol­lowed by a key showdown against the Cen­ten­ni­als in Mer­ritt Sun­day at 6 p.m.

“In spite of all the in­juries we’ve had, here we are still in con­tention to not only win our divi­sion, but fin­ish first over­all,” said Harbin­son.

Chilli­wack Chiefs have 59 points af­ter beat­ing Prince Ge­orge 4-3 in a shootout on Sun­day, the Vees and Spruce Kings each have 57, Vic­to­ria 56 and Mer­ritt 55.

ICE CHIPS: Vees F Jack Barnes was the re­cip­i­ent of an ugly knee-on-knee hit from Clip­pers de­fence­man Devon Mus­sio, who was given a five-minute ma­jor and game mis­con­duct. Barnes was able to re­turn to the game, while Mus­sio was later given a two-game sus­pen­sion … A mas­sive scrum broke out in front of the Vees bench with 2:59 to play as three Clip­pers jumped Vees D Peter Muzyka af­ter a clean hit on F Zack Dal­laz­zana, who avoided the brunt of the col­li­sion. The Clip­pers cu­ri­ously ended up on the power play dur­ing which they scored their only goal … Rizzo, La­Fontaine and F Luke Lo­heit were the three stars.


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