Record Vees: 11-2-0-1 23pts Warriors: 8-2-0-3 19 pts
Sept 14th: Vees 4 Warriors 3 2OT Sept 22nd: Vees 5 Warriors 3
The Setup: Bust out the coffee. The Vees make their third visit to Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna to face the Warriors on Tuesday, at 11am. Yes, 11, as the Warriors welcome over 1,000 school kids from around their district for a mid-morning school day game. The start time alone will present an obstacle for both teams, as they have to adjust for a much earlier start than they’re accustomed to.
Both teams are coming of wins over the weekend, both beating the Salmon Arm Silverbacks in their last contests. Friday the Vees went into Salmon Arm, built up a three-goal lead, and held off a late Silverback comeback attempt in a 3-2 win. The following night, the Warriors put up a 5-2 win at the Shaw Centre, which included a chippy second period.
The Vees are looking to build off Friday’s win and start a new winning streak. It was a solid road performance for fifty-seven and a half minutes in Salmon Arm. You could say it was a great road effort minus back-to-back shifts late in the third period. The Vees will want to duplicate Friday’s effort into West Kelowna, as the Warriors are riding high, winners of their last four games.
West Kelowna is coming off a weekend road-sweep, taking down Merritt last Friday, and as mentioned, Salmon Arm on Saturday. The Warriors have won four straight and six of their last ten games but have yet to beat the Vees in two tries this season; they will want to correct that this morning.
The Vees Beat: Winning changes everything. The Vees picked up a well-earned road win on Friday and got to savor the win right through the weekend; now on to the next one. The Vees will need to bring even more to the table against the Tribe this morning. As penned above, West Kelowna arguably is playing their best hockey of late and that’s without their captain Max French, who’s been sidelined for that past four games with an injury. No word if French will be in the lineup today but it doesn’t necessarily mean the Vees will be catching a break if he isn’t more on that later.
In my preview from Friday I stressed a good start was in order from the Vees to get two points out of Salmon Arm. They Vees did just that, scoring the only goal in the first period, en route to the 3-2 triumph. Despite only producing the one goal, I thought the Vees had a very sound road period. Remember; at one point the shots were 16-2 for the Vees in the first. If it wasn’t for some miss-firing on the Vees behalf and solid goaltending from Colin Dzijacky, it might have got away from the ‘Backs early.
Lots of positives can be taken away from the win, Dexter Dancs getting on the scoresheet for the first time since September 22nd. Wade Murphy gave the power-play a shot in the arm as well. Murphy scored two third-period power-play goals in the win. The Vees walked a fine-line and it paid off in the end. Penticton drew five power-plays against the Silverbacks, while only being thumbed for one penalty. Looks like the Vees got their road swagger back and just at the right time.
This team has been, well, road-warriors through 14 games this season. The Vees have played 10 of their first 14 on the road, including tonight, five straight away from the SOEC, dating back to October 12th. It only builds character having this many games on the road in such a short time; one more game can’t hurt.
Wade Murphy continues to be quite the story for the Vees through a quarter of their schedule. Murphy, who celebrated his 19th birthday on Monday, leads the BCHL in scoring with 22 points in 12 games, two up on Alberni Valley’s Evan Tironese. Murphy scored two third-period goals against the ‘Backs which proved to be the difference; the third standing up as the game-winner. Murphy is averaging 1.8 points per-game which is also a league best. The North Dakota recruit also leads the team in assists (14) and power-play goals with four. Everything appears to be going his way.
However, this could be a game where it comes down to secondary scoring being the difference. Friday the coaching staff put Murphy, Mike Rebry and Sam Mellor together and it had some positives results, though they didn’t score five-on-five. If those three stay together, the Warriors will make a conscious effort to shut down the dynamic trio. Hey, the Warriors are the second best defensive team right behind the Vees, with one of the best goaltenders in the league. If the Tribe can keep those three at bay, others will have to pick up the slack. Guys like Travis Blanleil, Brad McClure, Ryan Gropp and even Cam Amantea can be the difference makers.
Things I am following:
- How do both teams respond to the early start? 8am departure from Penticton and on the ice for face-off at 11am. Which team has their legs?
- Face-Offs. Yeah, I said this before but it seems to be so vital. With Max French out, the Vees catch a break in the circle. French is one of the toughest centerman to go up against and gave the Vees fits last go-around. When you’re a puck possession team, you’re as effective when you’re chasing the puck.
- Manufacturing energy. Even though there will be plenty of school kids, doesn’t mean it will be an electric atmosphere. It could be a partisan crowd when you have young kids all grouped together; more worried about who’s “it” than who’s winning the game. The Vees will have to create their own spark.
- Head games. The Vees have had the Warriors number recently. The Vees have rattled off 12 straight wins against the Tribe dating back to December 2010. If the Vees can produce an early goal or string together a few good shifts in the opening moments, they might get the Tribe thinking “Here we go again.”
The Other Guys: The Vees will have their hands full with the hottest team in the BCHL. The Warriors have rattled off four straight wins, three of which came on the road. It wasn’t like the Warriors had a soft schedule either, playing the upstart Langley Rivermen twice, Merritt and a hard-nosed Salmon Arm team. What may be more impressive is the Warriors have done all this without the captain, and arguably their best player in Max French.
French may be their best player now but others are making a strong case for that moniker. Seb Lloyd has been red-hot of late, and well, pretty much all season. Lloyd has points in eight straight games, and in fact has only been held pointless once in 13 games this season. Lloyd has been a thorn in the Vees side this year as well. In two games the Prince George product has two goals and four points, the most of any Warrior against the Vees this season.
Has Marcus Basara put it all together? The talented forward seems to found his game in West Kelowna. Basara was streaky in his time in Vernon and was up and down when he first moved over to the Warriors last season. However, the Port Moody product has eight points in his last four games, and 17 in 13 thus far; second best behind Lloyd in team scoring. The shifty winger looks like the dangerous forward many thought he could be. Basara can be down-right dangerous off the rush and is effective piece on the Warriors power-play; another player the Vees will have to keep tabs on this morning.
Many thought the Warriors defense might be an area that would go through growing pains, just by the turnover on the blue-line season-to-season. Gone is, Peter MacIntosh, Ben Betker, and Curtis Toneff. New to the fold is Penticton native Adam Plant, Brett Zarazun, and Braxton Bilous. Give credit to Rylan Ferster for quickly retooling his back-end. Plant has been one of their key offensive pieces and a threat from the back-end, and Zarazun and Bilous seem to have had a seamless transition into a Warriors jersey. Remember, the Warriors were without veteran blue-liner Josh Monk in their first two encounters with the Vees. Monk logs big minutes and is another weapon the Warriors have from the point.
The first two games have been very close, essentially two one-goal games (minus an empty-net goal) and I don’t expect any different this morning. Many had these two teams pegged as finishing one-two in the Interior Division standings. The order? Depending on whom you talk to. It sounds cliche but the team that minimizes their mistakes this morning will come out on top. When two good teams go head-to-head, It can be one mistake that is all the difference.