Call it baptism under fire.
Mike Lenko, pressed into backup duties with the West Kelowna Warriors after starting goaltender Andy Desautels underwent emergency appendectomy surgery last weekend started his first BCHL game Tuesday when normal backup Scott Patton was injured.
Lenko, the number one netminder with the Jr. B Revelstoke Grizzlies, turned aside 27 shots Tuesday earning his first BCHL win in a 5-3 triumph over the Trail Smoke Eaters before more than 700 fans at Royal LePage Place.
"All of those emotions (nerves, excitement)," says Lenko of the emotions he was feeling during his first BCHL start.
"The first few minutes was a bit nerve wracking but the guys helped me through it. It was really fun out here, I really enjoyed it."
The Warriors staked Lenko to a 3-0 first period lead but some sloppy defensive zone coverage and he Warriors re-took the lead on Andrew Johnson's deflection from directly in front of the net.
Then Johnson sealed it with a wrist shot from the high slot on a power-play at 6:54 of the third.
Kyler Hope on a deflection from the corner of the crease, Kristian Blumenschein on a rebound and Josh Bly off a pretty feed from Blumenschein gave the Warriors that 3-0 lead.
The Smokies, mainly on the strength of the number one line of Jake Lucchini, Charlie Zuccarini and Cooper Leitch tied it.
Lucchini had a pair and an assist while Zuccharini had the other along with an assist.
Trail carried the play for long stretches, keeping the Warriors hemmed into their own end for minutes on end.
"I didn't think we were getting the guys down low and I thought they did a good job of pinching their D and we just didn't get pucks out," says Warriors coach Rylan Ferster.
Ferster admits it can be hard to keep players focused this time of year but adds a divisional win is important any time of year.
"We got a win and that's important...obviously I thought they came in and played real good and we let a team back in the game but fortunately we got the win."
One of the key moments came in the second period. With the Warriors up 3-2 and on the power-play Blumenschein lost the handle on the puck allowing Robert Johnson a clean breakaway from his own side of centre.
He deked Lenko and tried to go backhand but the Warriors netminder stayed with him and made a key glove save.
"I knew that was a key play in the game and I just had to make that save," recalls Lenko.
"I stayed with him and let him make the first move and then pulled across. I was fortunate, I got my glove in a good position and I ended up saving it."
Ferster says he was impressed with what he saw from the rookie.
"I don't fault him on any goal at all. I thought he played well and gave us a chance and that's all you can expect," says Ferster.
"To come in and play like that. Full marks to him he played well for us."
Tuesday's win moves the Warriors to within two point of idle Vernon who sit second in the Interior Division. Vernon does hold a game in hand.
The Warriors will close out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule this weekend with a home-and-home set with Penticton Friday at the SOEC then back at Royal LePage Place Saturday.
The Warriors have won the last two meetings between the interior rivals, both in Penticton.
Jordon Masters has found a home for next season.
The West Kelowna Warriors forward has committed to Arizona State University for the 2015-2016 season
Warriors coach/GM, Rylan Ferster figures Masters will fit right in.
“It’s great for him. He’s spent two years in our league and plays hard every night. He never takes a shift off,” says Ferster.
Masters, 20, is enjoying a strong season with Warriors, with eight goals and 15 assists in 22 games, which puts him on pace to reach last year’s totals of 19 goals and 21 assists.
“In talking with Brent Gough (Warriors associate coach/assistant GM), he talked me towards ASU and the fact that I could be part of building up a tradition. It’s pretty cool to be part of the first season of Division 1 hockey at Arizona State, and I look forward to going down there and being part of this program," says Masters.
The Rochester, New York product sees time on the Warriors power-play and possesses a good shot with a quick one-timer release from the half wall. His agitating style makes him tough to play against, and the offensive side of his game is there as well.
Masters is the first BCHLer to commit to attend Arizona State University, as it will compete in Division 1 hockey for the first time, moving their National Champion club program into the NCAA’s highest level over the course of three seasons.
The Sun Devils, who won the American Collegiate Hockey Association championship last season, will play a hybrid schedule next season with games against NCAA and ACHA teams, followed by a complete Division 1 schedule in 2016, then joining either the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (NCHC) or Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) in 2017.
The first recruits to the program were Cody Gylling from the Amarillo Bulls (NAHL), and AIC transfer David Norris, who will sit out next season due to NCAA regulations.
Pucks and teddy bears - both seemingly by the hundreds, were flying at Royal LePage Place Saturday.
On a night when hundreds of stuffed animals were raised for the West Kelowna Food Bank, the Warriors played their most complete game on home ice in weeks in a convincing 5-1 win over the visiting Coquitlam Express.
The final score flattered the visitors as the Warriors buzzed around the Express net from the opening whistle and, if not for the play of netminder Chris Tai, the Warriors may have hit double digits.
Jason Cotton scored twice and added an assist for the Warriors. Liam Blackburn, Andrew Johnson and Jordon Masters added singles.
Brett Mennear chipped in with a pair of assists.
"I felt we played a really good hockey game. I think there was maybe a lapse there in the third period where they kind of brought it to us but that is going to happen sometimes in those kind of games," says Warriors assistant coach Brent Gough.
"It's good to get a good home win here. We're going to have two of the next three at home so we're going to have to be better and this is a step in the right direction."
After Masters, Mennear and Brayden Gelsinger had glorious chances to open the scoring it was Blackburn who finally got the Warriors on the board.
Blackburn snapped a short side wrist shot from the right circle on the Warriors third power-play opportunity of the first.
The teddy bear toss goal was special for Blackburn.
"Yea, everybody before the game was asking who wanted to get the teddy bear toss goal. I was sort of hoping I could get one - not trying to make it too obvious," says Blackburn.
"Getting that goal was pretty special because you only get one opportunity in a year to get that."
Johnson doubled the lead five minutes into the second. Michael Buonincontri did most of the work driving the net with the puck but was unable to get a good shot away.
He stayed with the puck, gathered it up behind the net and fed it in front where Johnson one timed a shot from the low slot.
Coquitlam had a couple of chances to get on the board after Johnson's goal but rang a pair of shots off the goalpost.
Masters gave the Warriors some breathing room eight minutes into the third with his eighth of the season off a faceoff in the Express end.
Coquitlam ended Scott Patton's shutout bid 14 seconds later and gave the Express some jump.
Jason Cotton ended any thought of a Coquitlam comeback with a pair of late goals.
The Warriors, who won the night before in double overtime in Trail, had been challenged by the coaching staff to be more involved physically, especially early in the game.
Gough says the Warriors were able to do that again Saturday.
"With our team I don't think it means you have to run guys into the fifth row but I think guys are getting harder on pucks and not cheating on the offensive side of pucks and being responsible that way," says Gough.
"I thought it was a good effort by all and it's good to get that win."
The coaches also challenged the veteran players to step up and Blackburn says players are starting to follow the lead of veterans like Masters and Cotton who have played really well the past number of games.
The Warriors came into Saturday's game without the services of starting netminder Andy Desautels who will be out a couple of weeks after he underwent an emergency appendectomy Saturday.
Gough says the procedure went well.
"They caught it before it actually got really bad. It looks positive.
He'll probably spend the night in the hospital and hopefully be out tomorrow. I thought Pats (Scott Patton) came in - and he hasn't played in a while because Andy has been playing great hockey for us - and he shuts the door and allows one goal...and made the saves he had to."
The Warriors, winners of two in a row and three of their last four play host to Trail Tuesday before closing out the pre-Christmas portion of the schedule with a home and home set with the Vees Friday in Penticton and Saturday back at Royal LePage Place.
The West Kelowna Warriors needed just 16 seconds of the second overtime period to secure two points in a 4-3 victory over the hometown Trail Smoke Eaters Friday.
Defenceman Kristian Blumenschein played the role of hero scoring his third goal of the season.
Prior to Friday's game the Warriors' coaching staff asked the team to be more physical and get to the dirty areas. The West Kelowna Warriors answered.
The Warriors got out to a more physical start in the opening frame, finishing their checks on the forecheck.
They were rewarded at 9:53 when Jordan Masters put a rebound past Brett Clark after a save off of Nick Rutigliano. Jason Cotton picked up the 2nd assist.
Shots were dead even at 13 after 1 period, but the Warriors seemed to carry the majority of the play.
In the middle period, West Kelowna went with a 5-forward set on the power-play and controlled the puck for 1:45 before strong checking from Charlie Zuccarini sprung Jake Lucchini and he made a nice move around Andy Desautels to tie the score.
Just 32 seconds later, great work from Brett Mennear down low got the puck to the front of the goal, and he poked it free for Kylar Hope to tuck it around Clark to make it 2-1.
The Warriors made it 3-1 as Josh Bly slid one home from Hope and Liam Blackburn.
Trail battled back at 3:22 by grabbing a goal from Zuccharini, then at 8:07 tied it up from Connor Brown-Maloski to send it to overtime tied at 3.
Nothing would be solved in the first overtime as Bly and Andrew Johnson couldn’t bury their breakaway chances.
Just 16 seconds into the second overtime frame, Blumenschein would put the perfect shot past Clark to give Warriors the win, and help keep them on pace with the Vernon Vipers and the Merritt Centennials.
Next action for West Kelowna is on Saturday night when the Coquitlam Express make their only appearance in Royal LePage Place.
Saturday's game is also Teddy Bear Toss night. Fans are asked to bring a stuffed animal and throw it onto the ice when the Warriors score their first goal.
All stuffed animals will be collected by the team and donated to the West Kelowna Food Bank for a Christmas present to families in need within our community.
If you can, please have the stuffed animal in a clear plastic bag before throwing it on the ice.
A game that could have gone either way in the third period Wednesday night in Vernon, went the wrong way for the West Kelowna Warriors.
The Vipers snapped a scoreless tie with three unanswered goals in the final period in a 3-0 win over the visiting Warriors.
A back and forth battle through the first 40 minutes wielded no goals, five posts and 45 shots combined between the two teams, as Jarrod Schamerhorn and Andy Desautels made big saves when asked to.
The Vipers got the only goal they would need on the power-play at 4:24 from Anthony Latina as he ripped a wrister over the glove of Desautels to break the dead-lock.
Vernon doubled their lead with a Luke Shiplo goal from Latina at 10:49, on a play that will be more remembered for the crowd that gathered in front of the Warriors net after the goal, with Desautels buried beneath Latina and a pile of players.
Latina would pick up the extra two minutes after the goal, but the Warriors could not make it click with the man advantage, which was 2nd in the league on the road heading into the game.
Another scrum at 15:14 led to Rylan Yaremko and TJ Dumonceaux trading blows and earning early showers, while Mac Ferner, Latina, and Liam Coughlin all drew misconducts to ensure nothing further would come from it.
Liam Finlay sealed the deal with an Empty Net goal at 18:57 to give the Vipers a 3-0 win, as Schamerhorn made 33 saves in picking up his 11th win and 2nd shutout on the season.
The Warriors will head back to Trail on Friday to meet up with the Smoke Eaters at Cominco Arena, before returning home Saturday to host Coquitlam inr the annual Teddy Bear Toss game.
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