The Vees return to the SOEC for their final home game of 2013, as they open a home-and-home series with the West Kelowna Warriors at SOEC. It’s the final two games before the five-day Christmas break, as the Vees play their final game of 2013 tomorrow at RLP.
This the fourth of seven meetings this season between these two Okanagan Valley rivals. The Vees are at home one more time on January 15th, that book-ended by two trips to RLP tomorrow (December 21st) and February 18th. The Vees have won the first three meetings with West-K, the most recent a 3-2 win on November 26th at Royal LePage Place.
The Vees are the hottest team in the BCHL right now, winners of eight straight and are a perfect 7-0-0 in the month of December. They swept their weekend schedule last week, beating Chilliwack (6-3), Cowichan Valley (5-1) and Victoria (3-2). They started-off last week on the right foot, coming from behind to edge Trail 3-2 nine days ago.
The Warriors were on a bit of a role, as they had won three straight heading into Wednesday’s encounter with Vernon. The Tribe’s three-game streak was snapped, as the Vipers scored once in the second and twice in the third period (one into an empty-net) for the 3-1 win; Jason Cotton spoiled Austin Smith’s shutout bid. Prior to Wednesday, the Warriors had won their last three, picking wins over Powell River (4-1), Merritt (2-0) and Salmon Arm (4-1). The Tribe have two games in hand ontied on points with the Cents’ for the final playoff spot; West-K has two games in hand on Merritt too.
These two combatants will do it all over again tomorrow at 7 pm at Royal LePage Place in West Kelowna. Then it’s a 13-day break for the Vees, before they resume their season on January 3rd in Merritt.
- Last year these two played in a home-and-home series just after the Christmas break. Both split the two-game set, with the road team winning out. The Vees dropped the first encounter 5-2, before winning 4-3 one night later. The Vees were a bit sluggish; they over did it on the Turkey. This weekend poses a similar challenge but it’s not overindulging on Christmas treats that they’ll have to guard against. The challenge this week is to make sure the team is focused and not letting themselves get caught up in Christmas plans back home; give the team 48 hours and then you’re free.
- The schedule is a nice remedy to have, as these two teams seem to bring out the best in each other. It’s a heated rivalry, between two teams within close proximity of one another and that usually leads to a few fireworks. If this was a non-conference game, against a team they have little history with, then, yeah, the Vees would have to guard against being flat. But its West Kelowna and it’s on a Friday night, AND it’s the last home game of 2013; the Vees should be ready from the start.
- So, what’s the secret behind the Vees run of success of late? Well, it’s not just one thing in particular, but rather several things falling into place. One, they’re getting major contributions from their special teams. The power-play seems to have turned a corner, as it’s humming along at 33 percent during the Vees winning streak. On the weekend, the PP was 6-15 ( 40%) and more importantly, it was WHEN the man-advantage struck; clutch goals. The Penalty-Kill has been pretty solid, clicking at 83 percent in the Vees last eight; clean sheets in 3 of 5. The last two games it looked great, only surrendering one goal on 10 opposition power-plays; the only blemish was a five-on-three goal by Victoria. Two, their top-line has cranked it up,as Steen Cooper, Ben Dalpe and Brad McClure had big weeks. Cooper picked up three goals and six points last week. Dalpe saw his nine-game point streak come to an end Sunday, but still has two goals and five points in four wins. McClure kept it rolling last week with a pair of goals and seven points. In all, the top-line combined for seven goals and 18 points in four games. Third, they were committed to team defense (Oh, a boring cliché I know), as they only coughed up eight goals in four games last week; six on the weekend. Of those six goals on the weekend, three were when the opposition was on the power-play; just three even-strength goals against in nine periods.. No, it’s not rocket science, but those three areas go a long way in determining a team’s success.
- The Vees run of success over West Kelowna has been well-documented. The Vees have only lost once to the Warriors in the last three seasons. Not including playoffs, the Vees are 17-1-0-0 against West Kelowna, dating back to October, 2011. There has been some close games, as the Vees have won twice by one goal; both 3-2 scores. This team can’t and won’t look at the numbers and assume its a slam dunk. Even though they may have had an off-night Wednesday, you can count on the Warriors to be coming at the Vees hard. It’s how it’s always been. The Warriors, no matter what happens in their game prior, or where they are in the standings, always seem to bring their best against the Vees.
- Back to the top-line for a moment, since they’ve been put together, they’ve combined for 14 goals and 36 points in seven games. Cooper’s arrival meant a change for Ben Dalpe, as he moves back to a familiar spot on the wing and has thrived. Being on the left now seems to have really reinvigorated Dalpe, who admits he feels more fresh now, because when you play in the middle, you have a lot of ice to cover. One area of Cooper’s game that may get overlooked is his commitment to defense. He’s usually the first one on the back-check and his attitude seems to be rubbing off on Dalpe and McClure.
- Hunter Miska gets the start in-goal tonight and is 2-0-0 this season against the Warriors, with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .918 save-percentage. Miska has stopped 56 of 61 shots in three games against West-K. He was economical in his last start on Saturday in the Vees 5-1 win in Cowichan Valley. He wasn’t overly tested in that one but made the saves that he needed to; that’s all a team can ask for. Miska is gunning for his fifth straight win between the pipes.
- Circling back to special teams, not only has it been a key to the Vees success in the last two and a half weeks but it’s be paramount in the season series with West Kelowna. The Vees are 5-10, yes, that’s 50 percent, on the power-play in three games. They’re just as good on the other side, as they’ve killed-off all 13 Warriors power-plays. That can be the difference in a season series with two good teams, and so far it has been slanted heavily in the Vees favour.
- Speaking of the power-play, can’t forget about PP Quarterback Brett Beauvais. He scored the game-winner on the man-advantage Sunday in Victoria and has points in eight of his last 10 games. He’s playing some of his best hockey of the season and is another threat the opposition has to deal with. The biggest thing for me is Beauvais is finding ways to get the puck to the net from the blue-line. Doesn’t sound like much but its harder than it appears.
- Another positive trend? The Vees have scored first in their last three games and four of their last five. Scoring first just makes life that much easier, especially in a condensed schedule like the Vees have had in the last month. They’re 17-3-0-2 when the get on the board first and 16-1-0-2 when they lead after the first. When you play catch up, you’re working twice as hard just to get back on even footing. The Vees expect a push from West Kelowna early, as it was the Tribe scoring twice in the first six-minutes in the last encounter.
- The Warriors win streak was halted in Vernon on Wednesday, as they only could muster up one goal, and that was late on a power-play. Despite that loss, the Tribe have been playing some good hockey of late and it starts in their own end.
- They’ve only allowed five goals in their last four games and have a shutout against Merritt during that stretch. Even though they gave up three on Wednesday, one was just at even strength. In their last five, they’re only giving up 1.8 goals against per-game, that’s drastically down from their season average of 2.91 goals against per-game. In their last four, they’ve only allowed two even strength goals-against.
- The Tribe have received strong goaltending from Andy Desautels in the last three weeks. He’s 4-2 in his last six starts, while posting 1.68 goals-against average and a .938 save-percentage; he also has a shutout sandwiched in there. He’s been rock-solid recently but will be looking for his first win in four starts against the Vees. Desautels is 0-3-0, with a 3.79 goals-against average and a .875 save-percentage.
- No Warrior, statistically speaking, seems to be better than Seb Lloyd right now. The Prince George product has points in seven of his last nine games (4-7-11) and goals in four of his last six. He hasn’t been quite the impact player he’s capable of being in the season series, as he only has one assist through three games. But, it looks like centerman is finding his touch again as we head in to the New Year.
- The Warriors have been playing better of late and maybe that’s due to an improved power-play. In their last five games, the PP is 4-20 (20%), which is a marked improvement over their league-worst power-play, that checks-in at 16.46 percent. That’s a real puzzle for me, as they have one of the most talented forward groups in the BCHL, yet the power-play is dead-last overall and at home. Remember, they can roll out the likes of Lloyd, David Pope, Jason Cotton, Carl Hesler and Adam Plant on their two units.
- When you talk about the Warriors, you can’t not mention Jason Cotton and Carl Hesler. The two Texans are dangerous players up front and are 1-2 in team scoring. Cotton is out ahead of the pack with with 16 goals and 34 points. Hesler is closely behind with 12 goals and 32 points. Both have three points against the Vees this season, with Cotton leading the way with two goals. They won’t be playing on a line with each other, at least to start anyways but that could change as the game unfolds.
On the Broadcast: Pre-Game show on EZ Rock AM 800 gets going at 6:40pm with Trevor Miller and myself. Hear from Ben Dalpe in the first intermission, in a segment I taped with him for the BCHL This Week show on the Team 1410. In the second intermission, Matt Serratore chats about his commitment to Air Force and developing into one of the Vees top defensive forwards.