Teddy Bear Toss, Wild weekend ahead for Vees
Home-and-home set starts below the border tonight, with Penticton hosting rematch Saturday
The Penticton Vees are hot. The Wenatchee Wild even hotter.
The Interior Division rivals clash in a home-and-home series tonight at 7:05 p.m. at the Town Toyota Center in Wenatchee and Saturday in the annual Teddy Bear Toss Night at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 6 p.m.
Wenatchee (19-10-2) has won six straight and 10 of 11 to edge within three points of the first-place Vees in the Interior.
The Vees (20-8-1-2) have won two in a row since a 4-2 loss in Wenatchee on Nov. 28 and are 11-2-0-1 in their last 14.
But while the Wild come into this weekend almost completely healthy, the Vees are missing eight regulars to injury, suspension and the World Junior A Challenge.
“We can’t worry about it, we’ve just got to play our game,” said Vees GM/head coach Fred Harbinson. “We beat Victoria a few weeks ago basically with only three defencemen and I doubt many people bet on us winning that one.
“These are all experiences that help you at the end of the day,” he added.
Harbinson said the Wenatchee trademark is to play fast.
“They do everything quick, they handle the puck really well and make tape-to-tape passes,” he said. “The puck is moving all the time. They’ve got a lot of skill.”
The Vees advocate that style, too, though the shortage of manpower may require some tweaks to the strategy.
With Cole Shepard returning from the Canada West selection camp and Kelowna Chiefs 18-year-old centre Ryan Stack joining the Vees as an affiliated player, Penticton will have nine players up front.
“We’re just trying to balance three lines the best we can,” said Harbinson.
On the blue line, the Vees are hoping to have 2000-born Kaden Moravek available after the Abbotsford native played three games as an AP for the Vees in November.
Moravek is a big body at 6-foot-4 and 214 pounds with good mobility.
“That would give us six guys back there,” said Harbinson.
Defenceman Mason Snell and forwards Massimo Rizzo and David Silye made the Canada West team and will miss the next four Vees games. Harbinson said Shepard had a terrific camp but is still only 16.
“I was disappointed for Cole, but we talked about it (Thursday) . . . he did all he could,” said Harbinson. “Obviously he is a key player for us and he’s going to be a big part of the Canada West squad next year.”
The Vees will also be without suspended forward Lukas Sillinger for the next four games, while the injury list includes forwards Brendan Harrogate and Drew Elser and defencemen Peter Muzyka and Conner Hutchison — the latter of whom is out for the season with a torn knee ligament.
Harbinson noted the defending BCHL champion Wild are within striking distance of the Vees for first place in the Interior.
“It’s a huge weekend, obviously,” he said. “There will be a lot of excitement on Saturday with the (Teddy Bear Toss) and everything. Our fans have been awesome and we really need them to get behind us for this one.”
Harbinson said both veteran Jack LaFontaine — who has carried the load in recent weeks — and rookie Derek Krall will get starts this weekend.
“We just haven’t decided who will start what game,” said Harbinson. “Krall deserves to play. He works so hard in practice and he’s given us a chance to win every time he’s got a start.”
ICE CHIPS: In a midweek game, the Vernon Vipers (11-11-6-3) continued their uneven play with a 2-1 loss in Prince George. The surprising Spruce Kings lead the league with 47 points — one more than Mainland Division rivals Chilliwack . . . . Another key game tonight has the West Kelowna Warriors hosting the Merritt Centennials, with the Warriors visiting Vernon on Saturday . . . . The WJAC starts Sunday in Bonnyville, Alta., with five teams (Canada East, Canada West, U.S., Russia and Czech Republic) competing in the annual competition that runs until Dec. 16. Canada West plays the U.S. in its first game Sunday night in a rematch of last year’s final in Truro, Nova Scotia, that Canada West won 5-1. Canada West and Canada East meet on Monday night. The gold-medal game goes Dec. 16 at 3 p.m. PT.