The Vees start a three-game road trip tonight in Chilliwack, as they face the Chiefs for the second and final time this season. It was 13 days ago the Vees thumped the Chiefs 9-4 at the SOEC, which was the beginning of their season-high five-game win streak. The Vees got out to a 3-0 before the Chiefs rally to tie early in the second. The Vees then woke up, scoring six unanswered, en route to the lopsided victory.
The Vees won’t be overlooking the struggling Chiefs tonight, as they can look back to Wednesday for a reminder. Two nights ago the Vees were playing the last place Smoke Eaters at home but found themselves in a two-goal hole midway through the second period. Fortunately they rallied, triggered by Ben Dalpe’s late second period goal that cut the deficit in half. Jack Ramsey tied the game not even two-minutes into the third period, setting the stage of Matt Serratore’s late-game heroics.
Chilliwack, like the Smoke Eaters, come into tonight’s clash with Penticton on a seven-game losing streak. They were swept on their Island Division road trip last weekend, losing in Powell River, Nanaimo and Alberni Valley. The Chiefs were outscored 14-3 on that road swing, including a 7-2 thumping at the hands of the Bulldogs last Sunday afternoon. The Chiefs last win was back on November 22nd in West Kelowna.
- The carrot that dangles in front of the Vees, is an opportunity to bump their season-best win streak to six games but also continue to keep a three-point gap on second place Vernon. The Vipers are at home to the struggling Smoke Eaters, so you would assume they will pick up two points. Right now the Vees have 46 points and a game in hand on the Vipers who sit second with 43 points; the game in hand will be made up on Sunday.
- The Vees can look back to Wednesday and know they can’t take their opponent lightly tonight. Yes, the Chiefs have lost seven straight, yes they sit last in their division but that can be tossed out. They’ve had all week to prepare for the Vees and will likely have a chip on their shoulder after last weekend and the result of the last meeting. Trail played desperate hockey on Wednesday and that’s probably what the Vees are going to see tonight from Chilliwack; Vees have to match the desperation.
- Don’t let the game start without you. That was the message before Wednesday’s tilt and it will be the same tonight. The Vees got into Langley a full day early to prepare for this three-in-three weekend. Crucial to start the opening leg of a road trip on the right foot, because if they don’t, things will only snowball from there. The Vees didn’t exactly come out guns a blazing on Wednesday and didn’t press Trail hard enough. That changed in the third and that’s when they had their run of success. Be ready from the start, get the feet going and pressure your opponent; good things will follow. When they score first, they’re 14-3-0-2. When they don’t they’re 7-4-0-1. Respectable but 14 wins is a whole lot better than seven.
- The Mainland Division, for whatever reason, has played the Vees tough this season. They’re a modest 3-3-1-1 against PG, Langley, Coquitlam, Surrey and Chilliwack. They have tonight’s game and one more in Surrey in February before they’re done playing this division. Furthermore, they’re 0-2-1-0 on the road against the Mainland. Regulation losses in PG (4-3) and Coquitlam (3-1), plus a tie in Langley (1-1). Tonight isn’t a gimme by any means.
- Brad McClure and Brett Beauvais had their six-game point streaks come to an end on Wednesday but Ben Dalpe pushed his to seven (4-5-9). I congratulated Dalpe in the elevator in the team hotel last night about extending the streak, he said he had no idea. He did say sarcastically he hopes to match his personal best from last season. I asked what it was. His response? 25 games, which is Pembroke Lumber Kings record. OK then.
- McClure does have nine goals and 14 points in his last seven games and Beauvais has five goals in his last six games.
- Anthony Conti is playing some of his best hockey to date, as he has seven points in as many games. Cody DePourcq has quietly put together a nice streak of his own, with three goals and five points in five games.
- Just in time? After only collecting two goals and five points in his first 27 games, Matt Serratore has two goals and four points in his last five. Jack Ramsey, he who had just two goals in his first 26 games, has three in his last five. Maybe the younger guys on the team are starting to feel more comfortable and maybe this is a sign of things to come.
- The last two games the Vees have received plenty of secondary scoring and pretty much during this five game run too. A big reason why this team is on a role, is someone is stepping up every night to pitch in offensively. It’s not just Brad McClure and company carrying the offense. In order to be successful you need a balanced offense, one that isn’t top-heavy; the Vees are trending in that direction.
- Speed and constant pressure will be at the forefront tonight. The Chiefs are a bit banged up, as Eric Roberts did go down with an injury in
Alberni ValleyNanaimo on SundaySaturday, so the Chiefs blue-line might be short tonightUpdate: Two AP defensemen in the Chiefs line-up. Regardless, pressuring the Chiefs blue-line is a must, as that’s where they have found a lot of their success; creating turnovers. When the Vees were struggling against Trail, it was due to the fact they weren’t moving their feet quick enough and weren’t pressuring Trail in their own zone. A general rule of thumb at this level: if you take away time and space, you’re going to be successful more times than not.
- The Vees will be a regular forward short up front tonight, as Cam Amantea and Josh Blanchard remain out; Amantea might return as early as tomorrow. In to help plug a hole is 16-year-old Mitch Newsome, who made his Vees debut last Friday in Merritt. Chris Rygus also won’t dress as he his battling the flu but likely will be back tomorrow in Cowichan Valley. With Rygus out, Jarod Hilderman will be back in the line-up and will skate alongside Patrick Sexton.
- Olivier Mantha will start tonight and is coming off a 7-1 win last Saturday against Surrey. Mantha hasn’t faced the Chiefs this season but looks to be rounding back into form with a 10-5-0 record and a .907 save-percentage.
- Chilliwack is looking to snap a seven-game winless skid and get their first win since November 22nd. They’re 1-5-1-1 against the Interior Division but before their loss to Penticton, they won 6-3 in West Kelowna; they know how to play with the best.
- It’s different, as the Vees have to respect the fact they’re playing in Chilliwack’s rink. It’s never easy to go into someone else’s barn and take two points, especially against a team that so desperately wants to get back in the win column.
- Austin Plevy has been incredibly consistent, despite the well documented struggles of his team. He’s put up three goal and seven point in his last five games and has 21 points in his last 13 games. He’ll likely play the most minutes out of any Chiefs player tonight and will be a threat every time he has the puck on his stick. Plevy leads the team in goals (14), tied for the lead in assists (20), has the most short-handed goals (2) and is tied for the lead in power-play goals (5); a complete player.
- When I spoke with Chiefs broadcaster Marc Fitzgerald Wednesday, he said this team is most hampered by mental mistakes. A younger group up front with 10 rookies and he says there seems to be a segment in games, where the Chiefs get off-track and get burned because of it; growing pains I suppose. An example was when these two last met, the Chiefs roared back from a three-goal deficit to tie, but then were tagged with six unanswered by the Vees; consistency has been missing.
- The Chiefs were faced with a tough schedule this weekend, as they were scheduled to go up to PG after tonight for a double-header Saturday and Sunday. Now those two games have been cancelled due to labour strife up in PG. Does that alter their approach tonight? Before they might have watched their energy level, with two divisional games ahead. Now, they can empty the tank with this being the only game for them this weekend. I expect the Vees will notice the Chiefs presence tonight.
On the Broadcast: Both coaches join me in the pre-game show that gets going at 6:40pm on EZ Rock. In the first intermission, I chat with Ben Dalpe on his point streak and playing back on the left-wing, among other things. In the second intermission, Dustin Forbes, the voice of the Cowichan Valley Capitals, tees up tomorrow’s game in Duncan.