Snake Charmers & Bear Tamers

  • This past weekend marked the third time this month the Vees have swept their weekend schedule. Think about this for a moment. In the first three weekends of October, they’ve played on back-to-back nights, all home-road splits, and have won out on all three weekends. That’s impressive.
  • There’s more to these two-game weekends than jut lacing up the skates and playing well for sixty-minutes. When teams are faced with weekend splits, one home game and one road game, it creates a full schedule. Take this past weekend for example, the Vees were in Vernon on Friday then back home Saturday. It’s not the longest trip to Vernon but you’re looking at an hour and forty-five minutes each way and it becomes a long night when you add it all up. Post-game, you pack up, head out to pickup your post-game meal, then drive back to Penticton. Unpack your gear and when you’re done and putting your head on the pillow it’s the early hours of Saturday morning. Compounding matters is the Saturday game is at 6 p.m. not 7 p.m. So everything you do pre-game is pushed up an hour. Players and Training staff have it the worst on these weekends. No, it isn’t an Island Division road trip but these weekends aren’t a cake walk either.
  • Just looking back at Saturday and it had “trap game” written all over it. The Vees were in Vernon the night prior, facing a long-time rival. They win a tight contest and then you’re back home less than twenty-four hours later playing a non-divisional opponent. Credit the Vees for not sagging on Saturday and grinding out another one-goal win.
  • What I liked about this weekend was not only the wins but how the Vees won. Everyone wants to talk about their offense and rightfully so but the Vees have quietly gone about being the best defensive team in the BCHL. They have allowed a league low 22 goals in 11 games. Their goals-against average (2.00) is over a half a goal per-game lower than the next best team (Chilliwack is second at 2.55). During this seven-game win streak the Vees have only surrendered 11 goals; just two in their last nine periods of hockey. TWO. To put that into perspective, West Kelowna allowed seven goals against Vernon Saturday and Cowichan Valley surrendered 15 goals in their two games this weekend.
  • Remember, their stingy play away from the puck has come when they’re minus two of their best defensive players. Patrick Sexton is one of the Vees best defensive defenseman and plays on the Vees first unit penalty-kill. Cody DePourcq, though a forward, is regarded as one of the best two-way forwards in the BCHL. DePourcq usually is matched up against the opposition’s top forwards and also sees significant time on the penalty-kill. Those two have been out of the line-up since October 3rd and October 10th respectively.
  • A big key to the Vees defensive success has been the man tending to the net. Hunter Miska has gone about his business and now leads the BCHL in wins (8), is second in goals-against average (1.81) and save-percentage (.935). To take that a step further, if you use, say 300 minutes as a bench mark for starting goaltenders, Miska has the best goals-against average and save-percentage. He was so sound on Friday night in Vernon and again Saturday against Victoria. You can see how confident he is right now by his demeanor in the crease. He’s one of, if not the most competitive goaltenders I’ve seen in my four years in Penticton. Miska hates, I mean HATES, getting scored on. Even in practice. When the team does flow drills, two-on-one rushes and the like, Miska is hell-bent on stopping every shot. Every shot.
  • The group of six on the blue-line needs some love as well. They’re minus their leader in Sexton but still managing to do more than enough to get the job done. Guys like Mike Lee and Miles Gendron continue to get better in each and every game. I thought Lee had his best game as a Vee on Saturday and I thought Gendron did on Friday. In what the two lack in size, they makeup for in ability and foot speed. Both are great skaters who can close gaps down quickly and turn and chase down forwards in a hurry. I really noticed Lee has this ability to use his stick and reach to disrupt a lot of defensive zone pressure from the opposition. When others maybe didn’t have their best games on Saturday, guys like Lee stepped up and filled the void; he was more than deserving of his third star recognition.
  • I’ve read this weekend how “physical” teams were against the Vees and how they “threw their bodies” at them. Yes, teams try to target the Vees physically to disrupt their game. Has it worked in short stretches? Sure. Has it led to them losing because they were “physically outmatched?” No. Yep, last night the Grizzlies had some success early on with their fore-check pressure and using their size to lean on the Vees. But as the game turned to the second and third period, the Vees, like they’ve done so many times before, adapted and excelled. When you’re throwing your weight around a lot, it usually means you don’t have the puck and you’re chasing. The Vees are a pretty quick group and their conditioning is second to none, and that has led to penalty trouble for the opposition. Now, if the Vees power-play can get on track, then teams will take notice of trying to go after them so much.
  • The Vees have had a power-play goal in their last three games but they haven’t been able to build on that. They were one for four Saturday, one for five Friday and one for six back on October 11th in West Kelowna. I’m still holding out to see them really do damage with the power-play and that will hopefully happen soon. They’ve had their looks, including last night but you also have to get some bounces and luck. That necessarily hasn’t been there for them with the man-advantage. Last night it was great to see them tie the game on the power-play after Victoria opened the scoring on a power-play of their own. Critical timing.
  • A lot of focus has been on the likes of Jost, Lewis Zerter-Gossage and Demico Hannoun and rightfully so. But the Vees have been getting some really significant contributions throughout their line-up. Look at last night, their “fourth-line” manufactured the game-winning goal late in the second period. What stood out for me was the fact the coaches put out their fourth-line inside the final two-minutes of the period. That was the Vees coaches showing faith with their depth players and that trust was rewarded with the game-winner. A big key this year has been the Vees depth and how they seem to wear down opponents by continually rolling their lines. Last night was a perfect example, the Vees kept using all four lines right up until the final moments of the third. Victoria was using their depth players early on but when they fell behind, the bench got shorter and maybe their gas tank too. That was the same story on Friday night, as Vernon heavily taxed their two lines when they fell behind. If the Vees are going to continue to have success, all four lines and three defensive pairings will have to continue to make significant contributions. This is stressed even more with their tough schedule this week, which sees the Vees play three games in four nights, with lots of bus travel. They head up to Prince George for a Thursday game, drive back home through the night and into the early hours of Friday. Then it’s a home game Saturday against Vernon, before jumping right back on the bus Sunday for a matinée in Salmon Arm. They’ll be tested physically and mentally this weekend and they need to be using a full bench. Ice time needs to spread out throughout the line-up this week to keep everyone fresh over this tough stretch.
  • Another big key for the Vees this year, has been their success against their own division. They’ve only not gained maximum points from an Interior Division game once out of eight games. Their only blemish is a 5-0 loss to Merritt back on September 27th; they haven’t lost since. They’re 7-1-0-0 against their own division and that’s a big reason why they have a six-point lead on second place. Every game is important in a 58 game schedule, but you really make hay within your own division and so far, so good for the Vees.

 

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About CBeauchemin

Director of Broadcasting & Communication for the Penticton Vees
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