Game Time: 7pm
Season Series: Vees (4-3-0-0) Sep 27th 5-0 L, Oct 8th 4-2 W, Nov 21st 3-2 W (OT), Nov 22nd 5-3 W, Dec 17th 5-1 L, Jan 16th 4-1 L, Jan 23rd 4-1 W, Feb 20th at Penticton
Vees Home Record: 21-3-1-0
Vees Record vs. Interior Division: 23-7-1-1
Vees Leading Scorer: Riley Alferd 18-26-44
Centennials Road Record: 12-13-0-2
Centennials Record vs. Interior Division: 16-15-0-1
Centennials Leading Scorer: John Schiavo 25-30-55
The Penticton Vees kick-off a four-game home stand to end the regular season tonight, when they host the Merritt Centennials at the SOEC. This is the eighth and final meeting between these two Interior rivals, as the Vees hold a slight edge in the season series, winning four of the previous seven encounters.
The Vees have sewn up top spot in the BCHL and home ice advantage throughout the playoffs by clinching the Ron Boileau trophy as regular season pennant winners; their second BCHL pennant in the last four years.
After going winless in three straight, the Vees swept their weekend schedule last week, beating Nanaimo 4-2 at home and then coming back to beat Trail 5-2 on the road. The Vees so far are 3-2-1-0 in the month of February.
Merritt is coming off a successful weekend Island Division road trip, as they took home four out of a possible six points, to keep themselves ahead of Salmon Arm and West Kelowna in the Interior Division playoff race. Merritt won 4-2 in Powell River last Friday and after being shutout 3-0 in Port Alberni Saturday, they bounced back with a 5-3 win Sunday afternoon in Cowichan Valley.
Coming into this weekend, the Centennials have 29 wins and 60 points with five games remaining on their schedule. After tonight Merritt plays three of their final four games at home but their final road game is a critical match up with Salmon Arm on February 27th.
Though it would appear the Vees have nothing to play for, they’ll want to be at their best as they prepare for the BCHL Fred Page Cup playoffs. The Vees are in the unique position of being able to play the role of spoilers. No, they’re not on the outside looking in but with everything clinched, they have an opportunity to impact the Interior Division playoff race. Tonight they play the third place Centennials and on February 28th they play the fourth Salmon Arm Silverbacks. Both outcomes could have a lasting impact on which teams claim the final two playoff spots in the division.
Hunter Miska will be starting both games for the Vees this weekend, as Brendan Barry is down in the US on a school visit. Miska has started the last three games and six of the last seven for the Vees. The North Branch, Minnesota product already has 30 wins on the year and still has a shot at matching a pair of BCHL records. Former Vee Michael Garteig holds the BCHL record for single-season save-percentage (.934) and goals-against average (1.69), which he set in the 2010-2011 season. Miska will need to string together some stellar performances to try and track down those numbers but it’s certainly not out of question. Entering this weekend, Miska has a .929 save-percentage and a 1.92 goals-against average.
Miska’s likely counterpart tonight, Jonah Imoo, has been very good against Penticton. In five starts, Imoo is 3-2-0-0 with a tidy goals-against average of two and a sparkling .944 save-percentage. However, it his only start in Penticton, Imoo allowed four goals on 36 shots in a 4-1 loss on January 23rd. Imoo didn’t play last Sunday, as Anthony Pupplo finished off the road trip for the Cents, so expect the 20-year-old Imoo to get the start in the Merritt net.
The Vees are a relatively healthy group heading into this weekend, as it looks like Cam Amantea will draw back into the line-up in of the two games. The forward just turned 21 on Wednesday and has missed the last four games with a lingering upper-body injury.
We know the Cents’ will be without defenseman Matt Foley and forward Devin Oakes as both suffered season-ending injuries that were announced last month. Rhett Wilcox missed the Cents’ road trip last weekend and according to the Merritt Herald, is listed day-to-day with a lingering upper-body injury.