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It’s a quick turnaround for the Penticton Vees (26-9-2-3). Fresh off a hard-fought 2-1 win in Vernon Friday, the team jumps on the bus again for a trip to Trail and a date with the Smoke Eaters (8-29-2-2) at Cominco Arena.
Last Time Out
The Vees got goals from Erik Benoit and Nic Pierog, sixty-three seconds apart, in the second period to upend the Vipers at Kal-Tire Place Friday. Penticton trailed by a goal heading into the second period after Mason Blacklock scored for the Vipers late in the opening frame. After some persistent pressure in the second, the Vees broke the seal when Nic Pierog put a back-hand past Danny Todosychukt with five and a half minutes left in the frame. Two shifts later Benoit found a loose puck behind the net and tucked-in a wrap-around at the far-post.
Hunter Miska turned aside 30 of 31 shots to pick up his second straight win. Going back to his last start, Miska has stopped 66 of the last 67 shots he’s faced.
This is the Vees second and final trip to Trail, as they swept a double-opener during the second week of the BCHL season back in early September. The Vees outscored the Smokies 12-1 during that two-game set back on September 13th and 14th. The started the weekend by posting a 5-1 win and followed that up by blanking the Smokies 7-0 one night later.
Of note in that series, Max Coatta registered his first career BCHL hat-trick and Hunter Miska posted his first career shutout.
This is the fourth of seven meetings between these two teams, the last encounter coming last month in Penticton. Back on December 11th, the Vees erased a 2-0 second period deficit, scoring three unanswered goals en route to a 3-2 come-from-behind victory at the SOEC. Ben Dalpe, Jack Ramsey and Matt Serratore scored for the Vees; Ramsey and Serratore in the third period.
Coming into tonight’s contest, the Vees are an impressive 13-5-1-1 against their own Division; 7-4-1-0 on the road against Interior opponents. The Vees have only lost one of their last six road games within their own Division.
The Vees will be looking for their third-straight win tonight and have yet to lose in the New Year; they’re 2-0-1-0 in January.
Olivier Mantha will get the call between the pipes and owns a 13-6-0-0 record, with a 2.30 goals-against average and a .908 save-percentage. Mantha has won his only start against Trail, that on September 13th, when he stopped 29 of 30 shots in the Vees 5-1 victory; he’s also 5-2-0 against the Interior.
Josh Blanchard was officially activated off the IR yesterday, after being sidelined for two months with a lower-body injury. Blanchard will likely make his return to the line-up tonight in Trail, as Max Coatta will sit out with an upper-body injury.
The two new guys are on a roll, Erik Benoit has a goal and four points in his first three games and Nic Pierog has nine goals in his last 10 games. Brett Beauvais has two goals and eight points in his last seven games and Brad McClure has four goals and seven points in his last six.
What’s on Tap?
After tonight, the Vees are off until Wednesday, when they host the second place West Kelowna Warriors at the SOEC; puck drop is 7pm. Its “Wicked Wednesday” at the SOEC, as tickets are just $5, beer is just $2.50 and Penticton Kia will be giving away a mystery car; raffle tickets for the car are just a toonie.
Sizing up the Opposition
Trail is a team that appears to be retooling for next season, as they’ve dealt away a few veteran pieces over the last few days. Braden Pears, Travis Stephens and Jake Kauppila have all been shipped off in the last week. Pears was moved to West Kelowna, Stephens to his hometown team in the Victoria Grizzlies and Kauppila was sent to Alberni Valley.
Newer faces for the Smokies include Braeden Cross, Jackson Elynuik, Zane Schartz and Taylor Armbruster.
The Smokies have gone through a tough stretch since mid-November, as they’ve dropped 14 of their last 15 games, which was highlighted by a 13-game losing streak from November 16th to January 3rd; that’s 47 days between wins. However, this isn’t a layup by any means for the Vees tonight and last week can serve as a cautionary tale. The then second place Vipers were saddled with a 4-1 loss last Saturday in Trail, as the sixth-place Smokies exploded for three third period goals.
Jesse Knowler inherits the team scoring lead with six goals and 23 points, followed by Bryan Basilico (16) and Scott Davidson (15). Scoring hasn’t come easy for Trail, as their current roster only has a combined 51 goals. They’ve been held to three goals or less in eight of their last 10 games and have on the flip side, have surrendered four or more goals in eight of their last 10.
Adam Todd has started five of the Smokies last six games and sports a 4.71 goals-against average and a .875 save-percentage. Despite seeing the bulk of the action of late, Todd has played nine fewer games than Dustin Nikkel, who’s 4-15-2 on the year, with a 4.05 goals-against average and a .889 save-percentage.