Venue: Nicola Valley Memorial Arena
Game Time: 7:30pm
Season Series: (3-2 Vees) Sep 27th 5-0 MER, Oct 8th 4-2 PEN, Nov 21st 3-2 (OT) PEN, Nov 22nd 5-3 PEN, Dec 17th 5-0 MER, Jan 16th at MER, Jan 23rd at PEN, Feb 20th at PEN
Vees Road Record: 15-4-1-1
Vees Record vs. Interior Division: 17-5-1-0
Vees Leading Scorer: Riley Alferd 17-22-39
Centennials Home Record: 13-6-0-0
Centennials Record vs. Interior Division: 12-10-0-1
Centennials Leading Scorer: John Schiavo 18-23-41
Last Visit to Merritt: The Penticton Vees make their fourth and final regular season visit to the Nicola Valley Memorial Arena (NVMA) tonight. It may not be their last of the year though, because as it stands right now, the Vees and Merritt Centennials could very well meet in the first round of the BCHL post-season.
The Vees have dropped two of their three games in Merritt, winning 5-3 on November 2nd but losing 5-0 September 27th and 5-1 December 17th. The Vees coaching staff has said they don’t get hung up on those two setbacks because the 5-0 loss was just the fourth game of the year and the most recent loss saw the Vees without a quarter of their line-up.
However, the Vees want to leave Merritt on a high note and will want some revenge after being humbled somewhat in two of three visits to the NVMA. Despite their struggles in Merritt, the Vees lead the seven-game season series three games to two, thanks in part to a 4-1 win at the SOEC on October 8th and a 3-2 overtime win on November 21st.
The Vees own the league’s best road record at 15-4-1-1 and start a stretch of three straight away from home; it wraps up Tuesday in West-K. The Cents’ are tied for the fourth most wins at home in the BCHL, as they sport a 13-6-0-0 record at NVMA.
Merritt were 5-2 winners Wednesday at home against Langley, as they were buoyed by a three-goal first period. They have a challenging schedule ahead, as if you include tonight, they play the Vees twice and Vernon and Nanaimo in their next four games.
Offense Heating Up: Coming into tonight’s game, the Vees have scored 14 goals in their last three games and are getting offense from up and down their line-up.
Five, yes, five Vees are riding three-game point streaks coming into this weekend’s slate of games. Gabe Bast, Dante Fabbro, Tyson Jost, Jack Ramsey and Lewis Zerter-Gossage all have points in the last three. Fabbro leads the pack with seven assists, including back to back three-assist games against Coquitlam and Prince George. Jost has scored four of the Vees last 14 goals and has six points during his run.
The Vees will be missing their third leading point producer, as Patrick Newell (13-24-37) will miss both games this weekend with an upper-body injury. The coaches are optimistic that Newell will be healthy for Tuesday’s contest in West Kelowna. Dakota Conroy, who had three assists Sunday against PG, will slide into Newell’s spot on the left-wing with Jost and Demico Hannoun. Remember, Conroy had two third period goals in the Vees 5-3 win in Merritt back on November 22nd.
Special Teams Turning the Corner: The special teams have come around after a slow boil for most of the season. The Vees power-play is clicking at 35 percent in the last five games and it’s coming off back-to-back multi-goal performances against PG and Coquitlam. The Vees have scored five power-play goals in their last two.
Special teams have been a significant story line when this season series has shifted to Merritt. The Vees PK has taken its lumps in Merritt, as the Cents’ are 5-15 in their three home games. Remember, the Vees have the second-best PK in the BCHL at 83.21 percent, 85.33 on the road but their PK is hanging around 67 percent in Merritt this year; 16 percentage points worse.
Well, one way to turn that around is simply cut down on the penalties in Merritt, as the Vees have averaged five penalties per game when on Merritt ice; their league average is just three. Merritt is unlike most rinks, as the dimensions tend to lead to a more physical brand of hockey and that can lead to more penalties. However, the Vees need to make sure the Cents’ are earning their power-play chances and not get caught up in taking penalties because they’re not moving their meet.
One other key to keeping the Cents’ PP off the board is getting in front of more pucks. It can be a shooting gallery at times in Merritt with the cramped conditions and the Vees PK needs to get in front of more shots; rebounds and deflections are poison at NVMA.
Line-Up News: As mentioned, no Patrick Newell so the Vees will go with 11 up front and what appears to be seven on the blue-line, as Jarod Hilderman will jump back into the line-up after sitting out Sunday.
Hunter Miska wills start his third game in a row and is 22-5-2-1 on the season, with a stingy 1.79 goals-against average and a tidy .932 save-percentage.
Merritt lost defenseman Matt Foley and forward Devin Oakes to separate season ending injuries. At the trade deadline Luke Pierce added defenseman Griffyn Martin from Trail to fill the void left by Foley, and also signed forward Stephan Seeger, who was most recently with Des Moines of the USHL.
No confirmation on who starts for Merritt but 20-year-old Jonah Imoo is 2-1 against the Vees this year and sports an impressive 1.67 goals-against average and owns a sparkling .952 save-percentage in those three contests; he was the winner Wednesday against Langley.
Broadcast Info: Listen on EZ Rock AM 800, starting with the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre pre-game show at 7:10pm. A pay-per-view webcast is available at http://www.fasthockey.com