Vees Up North: Battle Royale

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The Penticton Vees board the bus for the eight-hour trek to Prince George, as they tangle with the Spruce Kings for their first of two meetings this season. The Vees have yet to lose or drop a single point in any of their first four games. Tonight is the team’s fifth of six straight road games to start the season before they hit the ice at the SOEC next Friday against Merritt.

This is the Vees third non-divisional game to start the season and their first against the Mainland Division. The Vees played two Island Division opponents at the BCHL Showcase in Chilliwack two weeks ago. The only other meeting between these two teams is on Friday, October 11th, at the SOEC. The only other way Penticton and Prince George can meet would be in the Fred Page Cup Final.

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Vees 4-0-0 (1st Interior)

Record

Spruce Kings 1-2-0-1 (4th Mainland)

Vees 3-0-0-0

Away / Home

Spruce Kings 1-1-0-1

Special Teams

Vees 30 % (1st)

Power-Play

Spruce Kings 22.22% (3rd)

Vees 91.67% (2nd)

Penalty-Kill

Spruce Kings 86.96% (8th)

Scoring

Max Coatta (5)

Goals

Jake LeBrun (3)

Brett Beauvais (4)

Assists

Christian Weidhauer (4)

Max Coatta (8)

Points

Christian Weidhauer (5)

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The start to this season has an eerily similar feel to a year ago. Last September the Vees started off by winning their first three games, two at the Showcase and one in West Kelowna in overtime, before dropping their fourth to Prince George. That game finished 4-2 to for PG as they sealed the win with an empty-net short-handed goal. In fact, the Vees have dropped their last two games in PG and have not won at the Coliseum since March 9th, 2012. That game ended up 8-5, as Mario Lucia led the way with three goals and five points.

How have the Vees got to this point? Well, a lot of their success can be contributed to how well they’ve been playing in their own zone and on special teams. The Vees have just surrendered four goals to this point. To put that into perspective, the Cowichan Valley Capitals just picked up a 5-0 win over the Alberni Valley Bulldogs on Wednesday. It starts with goaltending and both Olivier Mantha and Hunter Miska have been fantastic. Both are averaging just one-goal against through four games and both have save-percentages of .960 or better; they’re 1-2 in BCHL goaltending statistics. Both have shown a lot of poise between the pipes and when you’re playing well you draw attention and both ‘tenders have dealt with a lot of traffic in their crease.

The D-core has been as advertised, as all six have shown well in the first two weeks. Brett Beauvais and Paul Stoykewych have formed a nice first pairing. Beauvais is an active puck carrier with great feet and Stoykewych has been very solid; a well-rounded player. Chris Rygus and Paddy Sexton joined forces to form quite the shutdown pair. Both are physical, in-your-face type defensemen who like to lean on the opposition; the other team has to keep their head up when those two are on the ice. The two “kids” are looking more and more comfortable as the season progresses. Alex Coulombe plays a solid two-way game and has shown he has some bite. The 16 year-old Jarod Hilderman has impressed as well, as he doesn’t hesitate to carry the puck or jump up and join the rush.

After somewhat of a slow start, the power-play has caught fire going into the weekend. Before last Friday the Vees power-play was in the middle of the pack ranked eighth. After Saturday’s 7-0 whitewash of the Smokies, it had climb into the top spot. The man-advantage looked very threatening last weekend, as they Vees were creating scoring chance after scoring chance. Fortunately for them, the Coliseum’s dimensions are very similar to that in Trail, so the team should have no issue running the power-play on a smaller surface.

What I like about the power-play is the urgency both units are showing, as the Vees looked sure of themselves; they didn’t hesitate on a pass or “double-clutch” from a shooting position. That up-tempo style will once again be needed tonight, in a building that doesn’t allow you to hang onto the puck for too long.

Encouraging seeing the team get some secondary scoring last weekend in Trail. The one complaint from the coaches heading into last week was how the scoring was top-heavy. Like in Trail, the smaller confines of Prince George means less time and space and that means the likes of Brad McClure, Ben Dalpe and Ryan Gropp will feel pressured. Take that a step further and rookie dynamo Max Coatta might notice some extra attention when he’s out on the ice. So that means others will have to step to the forefront and pick up any slack in the scoring depart. Not saying those named won’t be able to supply the offense but if they’re being squeezed, the Vee depth will need to produce again.

Key for Tonight

Get through the First: The Vees starts have been a big reason why they’re 4-0, as they’ve scored first in every game thus far. Tonight presents a different challenge, as mentioned it’s an eight-hour trek north. After being on the bus all day, the players will have to work through aches and whatever else arises from riding the iron lung; it’s the “bus legs” factor.  The Vees need to keep things simple early and not get caught up in trying to do too much. Work through the early rust and be patient as their depth and speed will create chances as the game moves into the second and third.

FT_TheOtherGuys-shdwV2 Don’t know much about this Spruce Kings squad and that’s not taking a shot, just a matter of circumstance. They’re a non-divisional opponent who the Vees will only see twice this season. They have turned over some key pieces from last season, as gone is the dynamic duo of Cameron Lawson and Coltyn Hansen, who combined for 42 goals and 91 points last season. Shayne Morrissey, second in goal-scoring from a season ago, graduated but Mitch Eden, who was third in scoring last year, is back to lead the attack from the blue-line.

The Spruce Kings also graduated a workhorse in-goal in Kirk Thompson who played in 50 games last year and logged over 2800 minutes. The S-Kings did bring in another veteran puck-stopper in Alex Murray who comes over from the Ontario Junior Hockey League. Staying on the defensive side of things, Prince George has returned Karan Toor, Skylar Pacheco and the aforementioned Mitch Eden; a good foundation. New to the blue-line corps are Christian Weidauer, Caleb Thompson and Danny Kiraly. Weidauer is one who knows how to make good first impressions, as the rear-guard already has five points and leads the team in assists (4).

Upfront the Spruce Kings are led by a trio with plenty of size in Brent Lashuk, Bryant Christian and Jake LeBrun. Christian and LeBrun are holdovers and Lashuk split time between the West Kelowna Warriors and the Alberta Junior Hockey League last season. Those three are the top-line for Dave Dupas’ club and will be counted on to steer the bus. Another trio to keeps tabs on tonight is a speedy line of Justin Rai, Chad Staley and Jeremiah Luedtke. The three aren’t very big, as all three are under six feet but they can be a handful when they have their feet moving.

The Spruce Kings have a distinct home-ice advantage with the cozy confines of the Coliseum and the travel visiting teams have to undertake to make the trip to PG. This won’t be a cake-walk for the Vees tonight, as there always seems to be drama at this rink when they clash with the Spruce Kings.

 

 

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About frodgers

Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Penticton Vees
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