Road Record: 16-7-0-3
vs. Vernon: 5-1-0
vs. Interior: 21-9-0-3
Last 10: 5-3-0-2
Last Game: 5-4 win @ Trail March 2nd
Vipers Record: 19-25-1-9
Home Record: 10-11-0-5
vs. Interior: 9-17-1-7
Last 10: 4-3-1-2
Last Game: 2-1 win @ Merritt March 6th
Vees penalty-kill vs. Vernon: 14-15 (2-3 on the road)
Vees scoring vs. Vernon
Murphy 4-4-8 DePourcq 1-1-2 De Haas 0-1-1
Mellor 3-5-8 Flanagan 1-1-2 Gropp 0-1-1
Stecher 0-6-6 Nanne 1-1-2
Rebry 3-0-3 Siemer 0-2-2
Soleway 1-2-3 Blanliel 1-0-1
Amantea 1-1-2 McClure 1-0-1
The Vees head into the final weekend of the regular season with just two games left in their regular season schedule but still have plenty to play for. As of today, the Vees are in a three-way tie with the Surrey Eagles and Victoria Grizzlies for top spot in the BCHL. All three teams sit on 75 points and share of first place and with that the regular season pennant. Remember, after some confusion, the regular season pennant winner DOES get home-ice advantage throughout the Fred Page Cup Playoffs.
There was a memo sent out through the league office saying that home-ice for the league finals flip-flops year-to-year between the two conferences, and with that it was the Coastal Conference with the advantage this season. However, after some investigating that rule was amended a few seasons ago and, like they announced last year it indeed goes to the team with the best record between the two finalists. If the Vees win both of their games this weekend, they would be crowned regular season pennant winners for the second straight season. The first team to win back-to-back pennants since the Nanaimo Clippers in 2007 and 2008.
The Vees also will be wanting to fine-tune their game heading into the playoffs which start one week from today. The Vees snapped a three-game win-less skid last Saturday in Trail and will be looking to build momentum off of that victory. The Vees don’t want to be sputtering heading into the first round, but want to be a confident bunch playing good hockey; no bad habits.
There is also the factor of pride, as hockey players are a prideful bunch. For many of the Vees this is their last game in junior hockey against a longtime rival in the Vernon Vipers. The Vipers won’t be going to the playoffs and are playing their final two games of the season. The likes of Troy Stecher, Chad Katunar, Wade Murphy, Thomas Nitsche, John Siemer and Sam Mellor want nothing more than to beat the Vipers one last time. Hey, the Vees know they’re in for a tough test as the Vipers will be playing for pride and bragging rights as well, and are playing in front of their fans for the final time; the competitive juices will be flowing.
A couple of line-up tweaks heading into tonight’s action, as Cody DePourcq will serve is one-game suspension he received after the dust-up with the West Kelowna Warriors on January 26th. That means Jordan Boultbee will slide into the center position between Travis Blanleil and Cam Amantea. Chad Katunar, despite being pulled last Saturday, will get the call in net. His struggles against Trail are well documented but he’s posted good numbers against Vernon. Katunar is 5-1-0 against the Vipers, while sporting a stingy 1.48 goals-against average and a sparkling .948 save-percentage; he gets up for this rivalry.
When I talk about fine-tuning their game, the Vees will want to shore up their special teams this weekend. Their usual top-rated penalty-kill has taken a bit of a beating the last two weeks and the team has made adjustments. Most importantly, the coaching staff has been stressing the importance of blocking shots, especially from the points. Trail’s two goals Saturday on the power-play were direct results of shots from the blue-line.
The power-play has been up and down all season and the Vees want to find some consistency heading into the playoffs. The man-advantage scored a big power-play goal on Saturday but went cold in the final two periods. The Vees power-play is at its best when there is a some urgency being shown. That means quick, smart passes and little hesitation with the puck. The Vees need to take what’s given to them and not try to force the perfect play. When they have success on the power-play it’s by working the puck around the zone quickly and pumping off a shot in little time. With their talent, they should be able to iron out the wrinkles quickly and get this thing trending in the right direction.
The Vipers are embracing the role of spoiler, as they’ve picked up four wins in their last eight games and have points from three of their five outings. The Vipes have won back-to-back games, including a 2-1 road win against Merritt on Wednesday. Vernon is 2-1-0-2 in their last five games against playoff bound teams, proving they’re not going to just roll over and die.
In Merritt on Wednesday, the Vipers played a pretty good road game, holding the Cents’ to just one goal and that was in the second period. The game was scoreless after the first and the Vipers opened the scoring in the middle stanza. Michael Roberts and Mitch McAllister, depth players, scored ten and a half minutes apart to put the visitors up by a pair. Kevin Lohan did score a late goal in the period but Austin Smith stood tall the rest of the way, stopping 37 of 38 shots, including 23 of 24 in the last two periods. A big win as the Vipers only had 17 skaters due to injuries; missing was Dexter Dancs and Braeden Russell.
Even though the likes of Adam Tambellini, Aaron Hadley and Pearce Eviston aren’t on the Vipers roster any more, they still have an impressive arsenal upfront. Mason Blacklock has been a good addition in the top-six and scored against the Vees when these two teams last met in late January. Also rookie Craig Martin can pack punch offensively and the likes of Colton Sparrow, Andrew Tegeler and TJ Dumonceaux can be a handful. The Vees will also have to keep tabs on Brett Corkey and Ryan Renz on the back-end. Both can skate and aren’t afraid of leading the rush from the Vipers end. Corkey is their captain, a 20 year-old and a dynamic blue-liner who is a pleasure to watch. In a moments notice he can turn up ice and create something out of nothing.
Austin Smith has had his struggles against the Vees this year, posting a 1-4-0-1 record, a 2.82 goals-against and .907 save-percentage. But those are still solid numbers and in the last meeting, a 3-1 loss, he was a big reason why the game was so close in the third period; the Vees scored a late power-play goal. I do not know who will start, as Danny Todosychuk is a very capable option in-goal but has yet to start against the Vees. Smith did play very well on Wednesday in the win against the Cents’ and that might just have earned him a start tonight.