Vees Captain Brad McClure on the Christmas break and looking forward to the stretch drive.
Well, its good to be back. Both players and staff have reunited in Penticton, as the team prepares for its post-Christmas schedule, which kicks-off in Merritt on Friday. The team had eight days off over the break, as players went back home, where ever that may have been, to spend time with family and friends.
The break was much-needed, the team had played a lot of hockey up until Dec 21st; three-game weeks from November 20th onward. The Vees played nine games over 18 days in December, which is a game every other day. Doesn’t sound like a whole lot at the professional level, but in junior that’s quite a bit of hockey to undertake for 16-20 year-olds. Remember, it’s not just games that take up time, it’s practice as well and in December, A LOT of volunteer work in the community; the guys were pros. The Vees also had a tough road trip, which they swept, but it took a mental and physical toll grinding out three wins in two and a half days. Christmas and time at home was like pushing one giant reset button.
Lots to look ahead to, the Vees first and for most, kicking-off their post-Christmas schedule with a home-and-home of sorts against the Merritt Centennials. It’s a home-and-home for the Vees, as they play Friday and Sunday this week. Merritt though has a game with Salmon Arm sandwiched between the two against the Vees; they’re playing three in two and a half days. The Vees swept the last two-game series against Merritt, winning 4-1 on December 4th and 5-4 on December 6th. Both were entertaining match ups, especially the return leg in Merritt on the 6th. There was plenty of fireworks in that game, including a see-saw third period, which was highlighted by Brad McClure scoring the game-winner with 40 seconds left in regulation. There always seems to be something in the air when Merritt and Penticton get together, as they seem to bring out the best in one another and the dramatics as well.
January is not only the second to last month in the regular season (I KNOW RIGHT?!) but it’s the only month on the Vees schedule that they DON’T play outside of their Division. Every game, all 10, are against the Interior Division. Yes. The Vees play Merritt three times, Salmon Arm, Trail and Vernon two times each and West Kelowna once. That’s 10 games and 20 points up for grabs in the Interior Division. How the Vees do in January can go a long way in where they finish in the standings. I don’t know if I’ve seen a more challenging schedule in my almost three seasons with the Vees. The Vees face the other five teams in the division at least once and with the exception of Trail, they’re all legitimate contenders. Not a slight to the Smokies, but they’re a team that is going through some growing pains but, as they showed earlier this month, will be a tough opponent for Penticton. You hear the phrase a lot in close and compelling games but the majority of the games this month will “feel like playoff hockey.” 10 games that carry a lot of weight in determining the outcome of the Interior Division. The other five Interior teams will be scratching and clawing their way to the playoffs; the Vees will need to match that desperation.
Other Quick Thoughts
- At the break, Brad McClure is on pace for a 45 goal season. The last time a Vee scored more than 40 was in 2012, when both Mario Lucia and Bryce Gervais had 42; shared the BCHL scoring title. If McClure stays on this pace, his 45 goals would be the highest total by a player in the BCHL since 2010, when Mitch MacMillan had 61 for the Alberni Valley Bulldogs.
- McClure led the Vees with 27 goals last season. As mentioned, Lucia and Gervais had 42 in 2011-2012. Joey Benik has 30 in 2010-2011 and Beau Bennett had 41 in 2009-2010; Bennett did have an eye-popping 120 points that year. Looking at the last five seasons, what McClure is right now is on pace to join some elite company.
- Someone else who is quietly going about a special season is defenseman Brett Beauvais. He’s averaging 1.3 points per-game from the blue-line and up until this weekend, led the BCHL in assists. If he can sustain that 1.3 average, Beauvais would also be joining a special group of defensemen. Troy Stecher averaged 0.9 points per-game last season but was like a plus 158 or something. Mike Reilly in 2011-2012 averaged 1.6 points per-game, en route to an 83 point season. The year before that, Joey Laleggia averaged 1.4 points per-game and also hit the 80 point plateau. Beauvais isn’t on pace to join the 80 point club, as he is looking right now, to finish somewhere in the 70-75 point range; still pretty impressive. Remember, the Vees have won the last three Top Defenseman awards for the Interior Conference/ Division. Stecher was the winner last year, Reilly the year before that and Laleggia the year before that. Now, there is a lot of quality blue-liners this year in the Interior but just being in that conversation with those three former Vees, is a feat in itself for Beauvs’.
- The Vees are starting to develop a balanced attack, as eight players have 24 or more points and four have 30 or more. McClure and Beauvais have created some separation but Max Coatta, Ben Dalpe and Cody DePourcq keep chipping away. Hey, Steen Coopers has piled on the points since moving over from Cowichan Valley and he looks to be poised for a big run. Vees teams have always had fire power but this year’s squad has a real steady and balanced approach. Yes, teams have to keep tabs on the McClure’s, Cooper’s, Dalpe’s and so on, but they can’t sleep on the Vees secondary scorers. DePourcq and Travis Blanleil have significantly stepped up their offensive contributions this season and if Cam Amantea wasn’t injured for a large chunk, he would have been right there too. As I’ve written in recent weeks, newcomers in Jack Ramsey and Matt Serratore have also found a way to chip in offensively and at key times. This team has found a way to score and score a lot recently and it’s not like they just flipped on a switch and are snipers now. I asked the coaching staff what has changed and they say nothing. It’s a process with this group, a younger team that needed time to hone their skills in practice. As Steve Cawley has said on recent post-game shows, the skill has always been there, now we’re starting to see the polished product; practice makes perfect.
- Goaltending controversy? What controversy? When you’re coaching staff has confidence in both ‘tenders, and the team has believes both are number 1’s, then there’s no issue. I think every coach in this league would give their left arm to have two guys who can back-stop their team on any given night. Both Olivier Mantha and Hunter Miska have 12 wins and near identical numbers. The rotation has gone on for most of the season, yes there has been times when one has started consecutive games, but for the most part it has been 50-50. At this level, when goaltending can be the biggest difference between a win and loss, why do some think it’s detrimental to have TWO guys who can win you games? What would you rather have? Two number one caliber goaltenders, or just one with an inexperienced or spotty backup? The Vees are spoiled in-goal and they’re more than happy with that.