Sunday, May 13, 2012

Penticton Wins RBC Cup

Curtis Loik attempts a typical Curtis Loik goal during the RBC Cup finals against Woodstock. Photo: Dylan Lynch/Hockey Canada Images 

With an incredible 15 NCAA Division I commits, a 54-4-2 regular season record (which included a Canadian Junior A record 42-game winning streak), a 12-3 run through the BCHL playoffs en route to the Fred Page Cup and a tidy five-game Doyle Cup series win over the AJHL champion Brooks Bandits, it's safe to say that the 2011-2012 Penticton Vees had one of the least suspenseful seasons in hockey history.

The Vees, which include 2012 forward Curtis Loik, more than made up for it in the RBC Cup tournament, which determines the Canadian Junior A national champion from a group of five regional champions.

When Penticton began their stay in Humboldt, Saskatchewan rather uncharacteristically - by losing - their dream season was in grave danger of an unseemly end. First, the Soo Thunderbirds stole a round robin opening 2-1 win on the back of 44 John Kleinhans saves (Loik took a charging penalty in that game). The host Humboldt Broncos pushed the Vees down to 0-2 by capitalizing on an end-of-regulation checking from behind major in overtime.

"Going 0 and 2 at the beginning crushed our confidence a bit," Loik told Hockey Canada. But every game we played, we got a bit better and stuck to the game plan coach wanted us to play."

The BCHL kings needed to win both of their final two preliminaries to guarantee a spot in the semifinals. A third-period Joey Benik goal helped get the ball rolling in a 2-1 win over the Woodstock Slammers. Loik stepped to the fore in a semifinal-clinching 3-1 triumph against the Portage Terriers. With the Vees facing a 1-0 deficit in the third period, he grabbed a loose puck in front of the Terrier net and jammed it home to level the game before Logan Johnston and Mike Reilly goals provided the final margin.

"We are getting pucks low," Loik said to Hockey Canada, perhaps with his goal against Portage in mind. "We need to get it past their D, work it down low and drive to the net and that’s what we did the last few games and that’s why we’re winning these games."

Loik followed with three infractions in Penticton's 3-0 semifinal victory over the Thunderbirds (one of which was a pretty cheap slashing call on Kleinhans after he hacked at a non-rebound a little late). Still, he demonstrated his ability to create havoc in front of the net and win battles on the walls, sometimes in the same sequence. Although denied by the Soo goalie on each of his in-tight attempts, Loik got payback with 1:34 left when he pounced on a turnover at the line and put it into an empty cage to seal the affair.

Loik waved goodbye to the Thunderbirds with an empty netter in the semifinals. Photo: Dylan Lynch/Hockey Canada Images

In the final - a rematch with Woodstock - despite Loik's first-period assist, Penticton found itself trailing in the third period for the fourth time in six RBC Cup games. But goals in the final ten minutes from Bryce Gervais and Benik (the latter coming on the power play with just 51 seconds remaining) gave the Vees a well-earned championship from a tournament of champions with a 4-3 win.

The North Vancouver, BC native has something in common with another incoming Penn Stater, big forward Jon Milley. Milley scored both goals in the RBC Cup's 2011 final as his Pembroke Lumber Kings topped the Vees' league rival Vernon Vipers. Loik, however, has now accomplished something that only he and teammates Travis St. Denis and Troy Stecher can claim: an RBC Cup title and a World Junior A Challenge gold medal in the same year. The trio of Vees earned the WJAC honor in November with Team Canada West.

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