Busier weekend for Vees
Penticton well rested, heading to Merritt tonight, hosts Victoria on Saturday
Practice makes perfect and the Penticton Vees have had more time to do so than most teams in the first five weeks of the B.C. Hockey League season.
The Vees (6-0-0-1), the lone unbeaten team in the 17-team league, visit the Merritt Centennials tonight at 7 p.m., and host the Victoria Grizzlies on Saturday at 6 p.m. at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
The Vees have played the fewest game in the league (7), with the Powell River Kings (9) the only other team to play fewer than 10.
It’s given the Vees plenty of time to work on things like systems play and special teams before the schedule starts to heat up.
“We’ve had really good practice habits and pay a lot of attention to details,” said Vees cocaptain Owen Sillinger. “It’s been high-pace and intense . . . we practice the way we want to play.”
One area GM/head coach Fred Harbinson would like to see improvement is cutting down the number of penalties.
In the home-and-home series versus Vernon on the weekend, the Vees were shorthanded 15 times, but surrendered just one goal against one of the league’s top power plays.
Harbinson said with the new rules related to slashing, as well as the continued crackdown on restraining fouls, there have been 100 more power plays than there were through the same first 90 games last season.
“Some teams are adapting, but we haven’t been one of them so far,” said Harbinson. “It’s not costing us right now with our PK being so solid, but we can’t be playing shorthanded seven or eight times a game.”
Harbinson said it’s been hard to get a handle on how the rules will be enforced.
“It can be a slash to the hands, a tap on the pants or knees,” said the coach. “We’re hoping to get a better of understanding of what will be called. We do a pretty good job of defending with our sticks on the ice, so we’ll get better at it.”
The Vees are making their second visit to Merritt after opening the season Sept. 8 with a 4-2 win at the cozy confines of the Nicola Valley Arena. Merritt (3-7-1-0) lost 3-2 in overtime at Prince George Wednesday night and remain in last place in the Interior Division.
“It’s always challenging playing on that small ice surface,” said Harbinson.
The Grizzlies (7-3-0) have won three in a row and five of six after a so-so start for the Island Division’s second-placed squad.
“They’ve got some high-end talent, some real explosive offensive players with electric speed,” said Harbinson.
Two of the top 2001-born players in junior hockey play for the Grizzlies — forward Alex Newhook (committed to Boston College) and defenceman Jacson Alexander (committed to Denver). Newhook leads the Grizzlies with 12 points (11 assists), while Alexander has a goal and an assist.
“It should be a really exciting game with great pace on both sides,” said Harbinson. “They come in after playing in Trail (tonight) and we come in from playing Merritt.”
Harbinson hadn’t decided on his goaltending rotation for the weekend, with rookie Adam Scheel having played the last four games and establishing himself as one of the best in the BCHL. The coach said earlier in the week that both Scheel and Nolan Hildebrand would be playing lots with so many two- and three-game weeks scheduled before Christmas.
On the injury front, the Vees will likely be without defencemen Joe Leahy (head) and Greg Brydon (lower-body), and forward Taylor Ward (upper-body), though all three could be cleared to play in the next few weeks. Defenceman Ryan O’Connell returns after missing the two Vernon games due to personal reasons.
Barring something unforeseen, the Vees will again dress 13 forwards and five defencemen for the weekend games.
WILD 3 VIPERS 2: Sam Hesler scored 2:17 into the third period period as Wenatchee overcame an early 2-0 deficit to edge visiting Vernon on Wednesday.
Daniel Chaldek and Chad Sasaki also scored for the Wild (6-3-0-1), who moved into a tie with the Vees for fourth place in the Interior.
Jason Williamson and Keyvan Mokhtari replied for Vernon (7-3-0-2), who are winless in three games and remain tied for first place with the West Kelowna Warriors. The Wild outshot the Vipers 27-13.
ICE CHIPS: Former Vees netminder Olivier Mantha earned Western Collegiate Hockey Association goalie of the week honours. The native of La Tuque, Que., kicked out 74 of 78 shots for University of Alaska Anchorage as they posted a 1-1 tie and a 3-2 overtime loss versus NCAA powerhouse University of North Dakota on the opening weekend of league play. Mantha and Hunter Miska shared the Wally Forslund Trophy as the BCHL’s top goalie tandem with the Vees in 2013-14. Mantha was 17-8 with a .917 save percentage and 2.15 goals-against average in what was his lone season in the BCHL.
BCHL Player of the Week Adam Scheel has sparkled for the Penticton Vees, posting a 4-00-1 record, 1.45 goals-against average and .952 save percentage.