GM 11 Preview: Vees vs. Grizz

(Bear Mountain Arena / Photo: Scott Campbell)

 The Setup: The Vees kick-off their Vancouver Island road trip tonight when the face the Victoria Grizzlies at Bear Mountain Arena. This is the Vees first and only visit to the provincial capital this season; the Grizzlies make the return leg on October 27th.

Penticton comes in riding a six-game win streak and has won all but one of their five road games this season; coincidentally their last loss came on the road in Prince George on September 15th. Tonight marks the start of three games in two-and-a-half days, with game against Cowichan Valley Saturday and Nanaimo Sunday. This is the first time this season the Vees have played such a compacted schedule and will be a test in its self.

Victoria comes into tonight’s game on the heels of a 6-2 loss in Powell River last Saturday. The Grizzlies scored the opening goal in the first period but subsequently surrendered six-straight goals to the Kings. The Grizz’ have hit a rough patch of sorts, dropping two of their last three games and three of their last five. However, Victoria still sits at the top of the Island Division, tied on points with Alberni Valley with 13.

The Vees Beat: The Vees seem to be rolling right along, as mentioned, they’re enjoying a six-game winning streak, including sweeping their four game home stand.  The Vees offense exploded for seven goals against Trail last Saturday, scoring seven unanswered goals before a late-game marker by Trail’s Mitch Foyle.

The special teams continues to show improvements as well, the power-play climbing back to respectability with eight goals on the year and hovering just under 17 percent; it won’t be long before the man-advantage creeps into the top 10. In fact, the Vees have another six-game streak going, as they’ve scored a power-play goal in each of their last six contests.  The power-play in the last five games is the power-play most are used to seeing, operating just over 22 percent. It’s not just the power-play getting better, as the penalty-kill has climbed into the top five in the BCHL. The Vees have had a clean-sheet on the PK in their last four games, as you have to go back to September 22nd in West Kelowna, when the opposition last converted on the man-advantage.

Wade Murphy and Mike Rebry continue to wield the hot sticks for the Vees, as both have substantial point streaks. Murphy has collected at least one point in every game he has played in (eight) and sits second in the BCHL scoring race with 17; one point behind Alberni Valley’s Evan Tironese. Murphy believe it or not, is averaging 2.1 points-per-game; Beau Bennett like numbers.  Rebry has points in his last six games, with six goals and 10 points during the streak. Before the Trail game, the Western Michigan Commitment had back-to-back two-goal games; five goals in his last three games now.  Don’t forget about Louie Nanne, as he has collected points in four straight; every game since returning to the Vees line-up. Oh yea, Chad Katunar looks for his ninth win in as many starts and will do so in front of family and friends in his hometown.

The Other Guys:  As mentioned off the top, the Grizzlies have had some struggles recently, having lost two of their last three games; both against Island Division opponents. The Grizz are in a tough division as there isn’t much separation from top to bottom; only four points separate first from fourth.

Tonight marks a key stretch for Victoria as well, as only two of their next five games are against divisional opponents. This is a chance to pick up some much needed points from outside their division and conference. These games don’t have the swing factor as divisional games but are valuable to make headway in the standings.

Here’s a rundown of the Grizzlies makeup from my Island Preview:

The Grizzlies have enjoyed a renaissance of sorts, as this season marks new ownership, coaching staff, players and heck, even a new look. BCHL veteran Bill Bestwick is behind the bench and brings a long list of accomplishments with him from his days behind the Clippers bench. Bestwick has quickly brought this team back to respectability, as they have six wins in their first 11 games and sit tied with Alberni Valley for first.

Vees fans will recognize four names on the Grizzlies roster, as Zach Urban, DJ Jones, Mark McLellan and Stefan Nicholishen all wear the black & gold. Urban and Jones were shipped to Victoria in the summer as part of the Wade Murphy trade; McLellan was the original catalyst in the deal in January. Nicholishen has bounced around since starting his 16 year-old season with the Vees. The Penticton native finished last season with the Silverbacks before his rights were traded out to Saskatchewan; soon he found himself in Victoria after a trade delivered his CJHL rights to the provincial capital. Urban wears the captaincy for the Grizzlies and Jones wears a letter as well. Jones is off to a terrific start for the Grizz, sitting third in team scoring with eight points. McLellan and Nicholishen provide some grit and muscle in depth roles and Urban is his usually physical self on the blue-line. I’m happy to see Urban and Jones thrive in their new role with a new team. It was tough to say goodbye to two quality individuals but Jr. Hockey is still a business and both players handled the trade like true professionals. For them it was an opportunity for a leadership role in a fantastic hockey market. By all accounts both have been big contributors and key pieces behind the Grizzlies turnaround.

Speaking of key pieces, I would be remiss not mention the dynamic trio of Gerry, Leo and Myles Fitzgerald, as the triplets are first, second and fourth in team scoring. The Grizzlies nabbed the Port Alberni products from the Prince George Spruce Kings over the summer and they haven’t disappointed. Myles leads the team in scoring with 10 points, closely followed by Leo with eight and Gerry with six. The three are like the Sedin’s, if the Sedin’s weren’t Swedish, smaller and cloned them to make one more. The comparison comes from their innate ability to find one another on the ice throughout the game; they know where each other are without having to look. The Vees will have their hands full trying to contain the three brothers tomorrow night.”

Outside of the Fitzgerald triplets, scoring does drop off, as the three brothers have combined for 13 of the teams 27 goals, or just over 48 percent of the teams offense. The brothers sit first through third in goal-scoring and after them the next highest goal total is two; Nolan De Jong and Myles Powell are tied in that department.

No the Grizzlies aren’t scoring a whack of goals, just under two-and-a-half per game but they’re not giving up a whole lot either. Through 11 games the Grizz have surrendered 28 goals which work out to just over two-and-a-half against per game; tonight might be a low-scoring affair. Victoria has pretty sound top four in Zach Urban, DJ Jones, Nolan De Jong and Blake Thompson.  The four on paper don’t have a huge chunk of BCHL experience, just 213 games between them but Urban and Jones played every playoff for the Vees last season. Don’t forget De Jong is in his second full season and is listed by NHL Central Scouting for this June’s draft (or whenever the NHL holds it).

Their goaltending department looks pretty solid too, with two JR. ‘A’ seasoned goalies in Brady Rouleau and Michael Stiliadis. Rouleau played last year with the Cowichan Valley Capitals and has some solid numbers in limited work. Based on games, Stiliadis seems to be the go-to guy at this point and played two seasons in the OJHL before coming over in a trade. Whoever the Grizz start tonight, it will be a tough test for Vees shooters.








About CBeauchemin

Director of Broadcasting & Communication for the Penticton Vees
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