Face-Off: 2:30 pm MT / 1:30 pm PST
Listen: EZ Rock AM 800 (Pre-game show half-hour before puck-drop)
The Crescent Point Energy Western Canada Cup drops the puck this afternoon at the Casman Centre, when the Penticton Vees face the Albert Junior Hockey League (AJHL) champion Spruce Grove Saints, in the tournament opener.
The Vees are making their first ever appearance at the WCC and only Demico Hannoun has played in the tournament before. Spruce Grove is playing in their second consecutive WCC and they’ve returned 13 players from last year’s team that just fell short of advancing to the RBC Cup.
Speaking of Hannoun, Steve Ewen from the Province newspaper in Vancouver caught up with the veteran forward, as they talked about Hannoun’s bid for his third straight RBC Cup appearance. READ HERE
It’s been eight days since the Vees won the Fred Page Cup, winning game six in overtime over the Nanaimo Clippers. Dakota Conroy was the OT hero (listen here), scoring two-minutes into OT, as the Vees captured their 11th BCHL championship.
(The Vees taking their first skate on the ice at the Casman Centre in Fort McMurray)
The Saints have been off since last Sunday, when they too won their league championship in overtime and also in six games. Defenseman Jordan Thomas scored the winner just over a minute and a half into the extra frame; eerily similar finished to both the AJHL and BCHL Final.
Spruce Grove is the only returning team from the five-team field from last year’s WCC in Dauphin Manitoba. The Saints dropped their first two games last year, before winning three straight to get to the 3 vs. 4 playoff game. The Saints came up short in that one, losing to host Dauphin, who clinched the last of two spots for the RBC Cup in Vernon.
The Vees haven’t played this late into the spring since 2012 when they went to the RBC Cup in Humboldt. Hannoun’s has grown accustomed to playing hockey into late April and May but rookies Tyson Jost, Brendan Barry and Gabe Bast aren’t new to this. Jost and Barry went to the Telus Cup last April with the Okanagan Rockets and Bast won that tournament in 2013 with the Red Deer Chiefs. Throw in Pat Newell’s USHL championship last year and the Vees should have their share guys with championship experience.
How does it work?
I’ve had a few fans ask me how the Western Canada Cup format works, especially with RBC Cup host Portage Terriers in the mix. Well, it’s a five-team field, the four western Canadian champions (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) plus the host Fort McMurray Oil Barons.
Every team plays four games and the four-best records move on to next weekend’s playoff round. The top seed plays the second seed in the Western Canada Cup Final, with the winner crowned WCC champion and anointed as “West 1” representative for the RBC Cup. The third and fourth seeds play in an elimination game, to face the loser of the 1-2 game. That game, the winner of 3-4 and the loser of 1-2, determines who slides into the RBC Cup as the “West 2” representative.
How does Portage play into it? Well, if the Terriers win either the 1-2 game or the 3-4 game during the playoff round, three teams go off to the RBC Cup. Portage goes in as the host team, and the other two teams occupy the two West seeds for the national tournament. IF Portage loses the 3-4 game, or doesn’t qualify for the playoff round, then it’s just TWO teams from the WCC going to the RBC Cup. Clear as mud?
These two teams mirror each other in many ways but especially how they play away from the puck. The Vees and Saints were both the best defensive team in their respective leagues. The Vees allowed only 115 goals against in 58 games, and the Saints surrendered just 121. I wouldn’t expect to see a ton of goals on Saturday.
The Saints won their second consecutive Gas Drive Cup AJHL Championship last Sunday, beating the Brooks Bandits in six games. After going up 3-0 in the series, the Bandits won games four and five, before the Saints finished it off, 2-1 in OT in Brooks in game six.
The Saints had a bye in the first round of the North Division playoffs, after clinching top spot in the division and the league with a 48-7-5 record. In the second round the Saints beat the Sherwood Park Crusaders in six and then they bested the Bonnyville Pontiacs in the North Final four games to two.
20-year-old Captain Parker Mackay led the Saints in playoff scoring and was named the AJHL playoff MVP after picking up 12 goals and 22 points in 18 games. Fellow 20-year-old Jarid Hauptman was second in team scoring, with six goals and 16 points in 22. Like Penticton, the Saints have got some significant contributions from some young players, as they have a pair of 98’s that have played key roles in their success this year.
Forward, Brandon Biro, who just turned 17 last month, finished third in playoff scoring with 14 points but was named the AJHL Rookie of the Year, after tallying 21 goals and 54 in 57 regular season games. Goalie Matt Murray, who turned 17 in February, took over the starters role in the playoffs, going 8-4 in 13 games, with a 2.05 goals-against average and a tidy .917 save-percentage. Pretty impressive given his age and in a league where you don’t see goalies at his age getting that type of opportunity.
Regular Season Playoffs
Goals: 25 Jarid Hauptman Goals:12 Parker Mackay
Assists: 51 Jarid Hauptman Assists: 10 Jarid Hauptman, Josh Harris, Parker Mackay
Points: 76 Jarid Hauptman Points: 22 Parker Mackay
PPG: 8 Jordan Thomas PPG: 3 Parker Makay, Carson Samoridny
SHG: 1 Cole Nicholson SHG: —
PIMS: 180 Austin Hunter PIMS: 52 Tyler Busch
For those not familiar with the Vees, or first time readers of the blog, a quick review of the Vees playoff run.
After dropping the series opener against West Kelowna, the Vees rattled off four straight wins to win that opening round series in five. The Vees then took a 2-0 series lead on the Vernon Vipers in the Interior Division Final, but the Vipers stormed back and won three straight to take a 3-2 series lead. The Vees had to go into Vernon for game six to stave off elimination and they did, posting a convincing 5-1 win. They then won a memorable game seven at the SOEC, winning 2-0 in front of over 32 hundred fans.
The Vees then went into the three-ream BCHL Double Round-Robin as the number seed and were joined by Chilliwack and Nanaimo. The Vees got out to a 3-0 record in their first three games and clinched one of the two spots in the Fred Page Cup Final. Nanaimo booked their spot alongside the Vees after a earning their second win at home in the round-robin finale.
Nanaimo surprised Penticton early in the BCHL Final, winning not one but two games at the SOEC, to take a commanding 2-0 series lead. The Vees returned the favour in Nanaimo, winning games three and four to even the series. The Vees picked up a 2-1 overtime win in game three, then scored an 8-5 win in game four. Game five was back in Penticton and the Vees rallied back from 2-1 down in the third, to take a 3-2 win and lead in the series. As mentioned, the Vees closed out the series a night later in game six, as Dakota Conroy played hero in the extra frame.
Hannoun, who’s no stranger to playoff success, led the Vees in scoring in the post-season with 21 points in 22 games. Connor Chartier wasn’t too far behind with 19 points and Conroy finished third in playoff scoring with 18 points. Dante Fabbro was the Vees’ highest-scoring defenseman, with a pair of goals and 15 points.
Hunter Miska started all but one of the Vees playoff games and posted a 15-6 record, with a 2.24 goals-against average and very respectable .925 save-percentage; he had two shutouts.
Regular Season Playoffs
Goals: 23 Demico Hannoun, Tyson Jost Goals: 10 Tyson Jost
Assists: 34 Mike Lee Assists: 13 Demico Hannoun
Points: 47 Pat Newell Points: 21 Demico Hannoun
PPG: 11 Demic Hannoun PPG: 3 Demico Hannoun
SHG: 1 Demico Hannoun, Matt Serratore SHG: 1 Dakota Conroy
PIMS: 54 Demico Hannoun PIMS: 32 Demico Hannoun