The Cranbrook Bucks played an almost perfect game Saturday night, Dec. 10, at Western Financial Place. With disciplined, tight defensive coverage and an aggressive forecheck, the Bucks knocked off the league-leading Penticton Vees in front of a raucous crowd of 2,500.
You got to be perfect against the Vees — Niedermayer, Nieuwendyk, Djurasevic, et al. However, the Vees had sustained only their first defeat of the season the night before in Wenatchee, 2-1, and were coming in to Cranbrook to face a Bucks team that was going off a solid win over West Kelowna on Friday.
Cameron Kungle opened the scoring just 3:21 in, with a shot from the point that made it through a flurry in front of Vees goalie Luca Di Pasquo. And then the teddy bears flew through the air (this being Teddy Bear Toss night, where spectators launch the stuffed toys, toques and winter wear to the ice when the home team scores its first goal).
The Bucks gathered up the offerings during the ensuing interlude. All donations are going to the Community Connections Society and Salvation Army. A&W and Cranbrook Dodge sponsored the event.
Play resumed, and Kellan Hjartarson almost immediately made it 2-0 Bucks. Rhys Bentham made it 3-0 in the final minutes of the first period.
The Vees got on the board almost immediately into the second period, with a goal from Bradly Nadeau.
But the Bucks turned it up a notch offensively. They had the Vees on their heels for several long stretches, cycling the puck in the offensive zone, intercepting outlet passes, throwing and receiving hard body checks.
But this is the Vees, after all, and they’re going to turn things around. They were able to get their own offence going, firing 17 shots on the Bucks’ goal in the second. But Nathan Airey made several key saves when the Vees were able to get through. For the most part, the Bucks were able to keep the Vees from getting set up in the Bucks’ end.
Penticton came out desperate in the third, with Hank Levy taking his place between the pipes. The Vees came close to narrowing the score several times, but Airey closed the door when he had to. Left-winger Julian Frias, who had a great game, made it 4-1 at the midway mark, and the Bucks tightened up their defense, keeping the Vees to the outside and not allowing traffic in front of Airey.
At the final buzzer, the Vees had put 37 shots on Nathan Airey. The Bucks had 23 shots on goal.
There weren’t a lot of power play chances, despite the physicality of the game and the intensity of the rivalry. Julian Frias got two minutes in the first period for boarding. Hiroki Gojsic took an interference call in the second, and went back again later after the Vees were called for too many men.
Frank Djurasevic was assessed a minor penalty for a blow to the head late in the third, but was sent to the dressing room with a misconduct after an angry display of frustration heading into the penalty box.
Julian Frias was named third star of the game, Cameron Kungle second, and Nathan Airey first star.
The Bucks’ statement wins of the weekend over the West Kelowna Warriors and the Penticton Vees — putting them onto a five-game winning streak — puts them solidly in second place in the Interior Conference of the BCHL, and in third place overall in the league.
The Bucks will face the fourth place Salmon Arm Silverbacks on Friday at Western Financial Place, and Merritt on Saturday.