The Penticton Vees make their first trip to the West Kootenays, as they go to Trail for two starting tonight at Cominco Arena. Not familiar with the Smoke Eaters or the historic Cominco Area? Click Here.
The Vees are coming off a pair of wins at the BCHL Bauer Showcase in Chilliwack last weekend. The Vees edged the Victoria Grizzlies 2-1 and dispatched the Alberni Valley Bulldogs 3-2; the score wasn’t indicative of the game. As an organization, the Vees haven’t lost a single game at the Showcase, pushing their record to a perfect 4-0, dating back to last seasons inaugural event; read into that however you like. Tonight and Saturday, in my books anyways, marks the start of the BCHL schedule. No more neutral site games, odd start times against non-divisional opponent. Tonight is the Vees first divisional encounter, in a rink that always poses challenges for visitors, playing against a team that embodies the spirit of the city in which they play in; hard-working.
The Smoke Eaters had a strong showing as well at the Showcase, taking three out of a possible four points. There only blemish was an overtime setback Friday at the hands of the Langley Rivermen and that game was decided on a 4-on-3 power-play. Bill Birks’ squad rebounded nicely, thumping the Cowichan Valley Capitals 6-2 Sunday.The Vees coaching staff came away impressed by the Smokies weekend and there is some buzz going around about Trail.
Vees 2-0-0-0 (1st) RECORD Trail 1-0-0-1 (3rd)
Vees (Away) 1-0-0-0* SPLIT Trail (Home) 1-0-0-0*
Sept 13th Vees @ Trail / Sept 14th Vees @ Trail
Dec 11th Trail @ Vees / Jan 11th Vees @ Trail
Jan 25th Trail @ Vees / Feb 5th Trail @ Vees
Feb 21st Trail @ Vees
The Vees like where their game is this early into the season. They have yet to drop a point in two games, have manufactured offense from their power-play in both games and their top scorers are doing just that, scoring. Friday, the first game of the season, looked just like that. The game had an incredible pace to it, as both Victoria and Penticton were flying but there were mistakes as well.
Initially the Vees had a good push-off the start, with Captain Brad McClure scoring the first BCHL goal of the season just a buck oh eight into the first. However, in their own end, the Vees had a hard time dealing with the aggressive fore-check of Victoria which resulted in turnovers. The Grizzlies were sending two men deep on the fore-check and the Vees defenders needed time to adjust. But when it mattered, the team found their grove, scoring a late power-play goal in the second and then shutting things down in the third to prevail 2-1.
The following day, against Alberni Valley, the Vees seemed to pick up where they left from the third period of Friday’s win against the Grizzlies. Ryan Gropp opened the scoring with his second in as many games to grab an early lead. After the ‘Dogs tied the game midway through the second, the Vees poured on the pressure and found a go-ahead marker off the stick of the Captain, as Brad McClure poked in a loose puck; the Vees out shot the ‘Dogs 19-4 in the second. Max Coatta scored his first BCHL goalie early in the third to push the Vees lead to two. Late in the frame the Vees went down two men and Alberni Valley’s Jared Wilson capitalized to bring the “visitors” back within one. However, Hunter Miska made a few key saves late and the Vees held on for the 3-2 win.
Circling back to tonight, the Vees will need to get some secondary scoring if they’re going to have any success against Trail. Brad McClure, Ben Dalpe and Ryan Gropp account for all but one of the teams five goals and 11 of the teams 15 points. Trail will make it a priority to apply pressure on the trio just mentioned and they will likely have less time and space to work with. That means the likes of Cody DePourcq with fellow line-mates Matt Serratore and Jack Ramsey will need to find some finish and the new look “trench line” of Cam Amantea, Riley Alferd and Travis Blanleil will need to eat up minutes in the Trail end. For a successful weekend, there can’t be any passengers upfront.
The back-end has looked solid through two games, as they’ve only surrendered two even strength goals against, and this is without veteran and towering rear-guard Blake Butzow. He is still on the mend recovering from meningitis. Butzow’s illness thrust Jarod Hilderman into regular playing time and the 16 year-old didn’t disappoint. Nerves maybe showed early on Friday and that’s expected, but as the weekend wore on, Hilderman got better; the more ice he saw, the more comfortable he looked. Saturday he looked right at home against the Bulldogs, not hesitating to lead the puck up ice or let a shot go as he crossed into the attacking zone.
Alex Coulombe, another young face on the blue-line also thrived with the increased minutes he got. Likely wasn’t planned to have the pair play the minutes they did, but both showed they’re more than capable of handling the increased ice-time and pressure that comes with it. Coulombe was aggressive in his own end and wasn’t shy about trying to get his heavy point-shot off on the power-play. I’m intrigued how the two young D-man adapt to the “cozy” confines of Cominco Arena.
Give credit to Brett Beauvais, Paul Stoykewych, Chris Rygus and Paddy Sexton. The four veteran defensemen made their adjustments on Friday and excelled into Saturday. Beauvais and Stoykewych look like a real threat, as they can act as both fourth forward at times the way they can rush the puck up ice. Rygus and Sexton looked to find a home as a shutdown pairing that give the opposition fits when they come across the Vees blue-line. Sexton is known for his open ice hitting, as he seems to time those hits perfectly; he’s a bit of a gambler but right now he’s picking his spots well. Rygus hasn’t put it into fifth gear just yet but we saw what his potential is last Saturday. Following Friday’s game, the D-man looked more comfortable Saturday and that’s when he’s leaning on the opposition.
Keys for Tonight
- Like Victoria, Trial is an aggressive team on the fore-check, at least they were last year under Head Coach Bill Birks. At home they won’t hesitate to have two guys go down-low towards the puck carrier. Their D will try to shrink the neutral zone as well and creep up to the oppositions blue-line; much like a full-court press in basketball. However, if the Vees are smart with their breakouts, short bump-and runs, they will have chances the other way. Trail will try to take away ice and try to take the Vees out of their comfort zone. But, if the Vees stick to simple and quick breakouts, using the walls, they will have room to counter-attack.
- Stuff happens in Trail. Lively boards / glass causes unpredictable bounces and it seems like no angle is a bad one to shoot from in the offensive zone. It will be key for the Vees to have pace when attacking the Trail zone and try to get wide on defenders and have a guy going hard to net for the rebound. Scrambles seem to happen often at Cominco, as a sharp-angle shots can lead to two-three secondary chances. The Vees need to get traffic to the goal and get to loose pucks.
- Set the tone for the weekend. Friday is the first of two, and by the middle of Saturday’s game, this two teams won’t be so chummy to one another. It’s important to, one, have a good start Friday and not get behind the eight-ball early,and two establish a physical presence. The Vees can’t let the Smokies try to intimidate them physically. If the Vees get popped, their going to have to pop a Smokie right back. Games at Cominco seem to be won in the trenches. The Vees will have to be hard-nosed from start to finish.
The Smokies have returned 10 players from last year and have added four more with BCHL or junior ‘A’ experience. They’ve lost some firepower upfront, as the Likes of Brent Baltus, Garrett McMullen and Tyler Berkholtz have graduated, and Austin Adduono has elected to go to the USHL.
Despite that, Trail has seen some early returns from returning players and new additions. Bryce Knapp, after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, is out in front in the team scoring race with two goals and three points. Jake Kappila is off to a good start in his rookie season, the Mich Tech commitment is tied on points with Knapp but has one less goal. Familiar names have made early impressions too, as Brendan Lamont, acquired from Merritt, has a pair of goals to start and returnees Scott Davidson Valik Chickin and Braeden Pears, the latter two defensemen, each have two points. Though maybe one player doesn’t jump off the paper at you, this team has a stable of very solid forwards who know how to get the job done.
The Trail back-end looks pretty solid too, with four out of the six playing at the junior ‘A’ level last season. The Smokies returned Braeden Jones, Braden Pears and Valik Chickin. Nathan Browne played junior ‘B’ in the KIJHL and Joel Webb is a graduated of the Alberta Midget circuit. Jones and Pears can move the puck very well and Chichkin is a guy you can’t sleep on. Curtis Toneff, this is second stint in the league, is a steady and dependable veteran. A sound top four, and two younger D-man who’ve shown they’re up to the task so far.
Maybe the biggest strength for the Smoke Eaters is in-goal, where they have two veterans to choose from in Adam Todd and Dustin Nikkel. Todd returns from last year’s squad where he cemented himself as their number one going into this year. But that was before the Smokies went out and signed Nikkel who did have a stint with the Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Todd is a number one in the league but Nikkel will be there to push him for the starters job.