- Since last night, I’ve had this thought in the back of my head: Are the Vees struggling that bad or has the Division caught up to them? As you can see above, five of the six teams in the Interior Division have a record above .500; the only division that can say that. After some post-Christmas struggles, the Silverbacks are coming on, as they beat the Vees Saturday and followed up that with a 3-2 overtime win Sunday against Vernon. After losing four in a row, the ‘Backs are now just four back of third and six back of second; not as wide as a gap as you think. Merritt too is right there in the rear-view mirror, winning both of their games this week and that too was against the Vees and Vernon. So the fourth and fifth place teams each beat the first and third place teams this week. I don’t think the other two divisions can say that.
- The Vees haven’t played well enough, that goes without saying. They’ve had good periods this week but the one major thing lacking is consistency. For me, it’s the middle 20 minutes that has caused them quite a bit of trouble this week. They were outscored 4-0 and out shot 25-23 in the second periods of their three games. West Kelowna scored the only goal of the second Wednesday (on the power-play), which put them up 2-0 going into the third. Friday, Merritt scored the only goal in the second and went into the third period leading 1-0, and Saturday, after carrying a 2-0 lead into the second, Salmon Arm scored two goals to wipe the slate clean. The Vees are known to be a team that kicks it into a higher gear in the second and third periods, but this week dare I say they were beat at their own game?
- Post Christmas is always more challenging in the BCHL, as the contenders and pretenders tend to weed themselves out at this point and every game seems to have a significant impact on the standings. With that said and looking at the stats above, the Vees have to find a way to play hard for an entire game; they’re lacking a consistent approach. Look at Saturday against Salmon Arm. The Vees came out like gang-busters, scored twice and out shot the ‘Backs 10-2 in the first, taking a 2-0 lead into the break. But when they came out for the second, they looked flat and didn’t have much jump at all. In the first period they were doing all the little things right, as they were playing with pace, driving the net and winning puck battles in the “dirty areas.” For whatever reason, that didn’t translate into the second and all of a sudden the road team has life and the game is all square. This time of year you can’t give 80, 85 or even 95 percent and expect to be successful. You have to be at your best from start to finish. No, it’s not suppose to be easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be as rewarding.
- Pre-game Saturday, Head Coach Fred Harbinson spoke about how they were looking to play their top-six more, in an effort to squeeze more offense out of the team. Well that plan was put on hold early, as the younger “role players” were some of the Vees best players on Saturday. Matt Serratore, Riley Alferd, Jack Ramsey and Cody DePourcq were finding themselves with more ice time after some strong work in the first period and change. We kept track of the shifts and the Vees top line in regulation has 23 shifts and their second line had 20. But both those lines saw different personnel rotate through, as the coaches were trying to ignite the offense, which went cold after a hot start. If you’re wondering, the top line of Salmon Arm had 25 shifts in regulation; roughly working out to playing a quarter of the game. I suspect we will see this a bit more from the Vees until they start to see some positive changes.
- The Vees have held their opposition to single-digit shots in their last eight periods going back to Wednesday versus West Kelowna, yet have dropped all three. Combined, they out shot West Kelowna, Merritt and Salmon Arm 32-11 in the third period this week but had an even goal differential (1-1). Honestly, besides shutting out the opposition every night, you can’t ask much from the Vees defensively. Saturday was the first time in six games they allowed more than two goals but that took an extra period and basically a five-minute penalty against (Landon Smith scoring as the penalized player was stepping out of the box). In the last three third periods, the Vees have held their opponent to four, five and TWO shots.
- How does the offense get going? As Captain Brad McClure said in our interview Saturday, the team needs to roll up their sleeves and go to the “dirty areas.” They did do that in the first period of that game, as Erik Benoit and Riley Alferd scored either from in or on top of the crease. However in the second and the third they went back to their old habits of not driving the middle and staying on the perimeter. If they are going to get scoring again and winning again, they will need to go in those tough areas, taking their licks in the process but it will be rewarding.
- No need to panic but West Kelowna is right over the Vees shoulder, as they’re four points back with two games in hand. The Vees want to be challenged, they need to be challenged and this is the perfect test. They play Vernon Friday, Trail Saturday then it’s Trail and Salmon Arm after that in their next four games. Good teams, winning teams, embrace challenges. As coaches say, good players are at their best when they face challenges head on. Who likes to have it easy? The playoff won’t be easy (assuming the Vees get in and this year that’s no guarantee), so why would you want the regular season to be a cake walk?