The Penticton Vees head back out on the road, as they have a pair of road games this weekend in Surrey tonight and West Kelowna tomorrow. The Vees are in the midst of a busy stretch of three games in four days with a good chunk of time spent on the “iron lung.”
Tonight it’s a trip to South Surrey Arena is the Vees first and only visit tot the Eagles’ Nest, as they don’t see the Eagles again until their final home game of the season on February 24th. This is the Vees first game outside of their division and their first of 12 against the Mainland Division. All be it last year, the Vees had a run of success against the Mainland, going 10-0-1-0 in 11 games. The only left one point on the table and that was a thrilling 1-1 tie with Chilliwack at the SOEC last December. What’s more impressive is the fact they were 6-0-0-0 on the road against the Mainland. Points inside your division are crucial but getting points outside are almost as important. You never know when those points come in handy so the Vees can’t overlook the importance of tonight. Points in September are as valuable as points in February.
When it comes to line-up news, the Vees will dress the same 12 up front as they did on Wednesday against Vernon; they only have 12 forwards on their roster. On the blue-line, I think we might see Sam Jones or Tyler Holz make their season debut. Again, this is me speculating at this point and once I get a confirmed line-up, I’ll post it here. Who would Jones or Holz replace in tonight’s game? Great question, we’ll have to wait and see.
In goal Anthony Brodeur will be making his second straight start and is coming off his first BCHL win Wednesday. Brodeur has played in two games this year, sporting a 1.53 goals-against average, whilst owning a .939 save-percentage. I thought Brodeur looked at bit nervous early against Vernon but he did settle in nicely and was very strong in the second and third periods.
Last year the Vees had their way with the Eagles, there’s just no other way to put it. They went 3-0 against the Eagles and outscored them 32-2. Yep, all three games the Vees hit double-digits, including an 11-0 win in Surrey on Halloween night of last year. Now, that was last year and the Eagles have fresh faces in the line-up and so do the Vees. Penticton can’t go into tonight’s game, against a winless opponent, and think it’s going to be easy. When you start taking shortcuts, is when you start getting into trouble.
- Trap Game: Continuing off of my thought above, the Vees can’t go into tonight’s game thinking its a lay-up. Yes, the Eagles are 0-2 to start but they have new blood in the line-up this year to go along with six returning players. The Eagles will be determined to not let last year’s year nine-win season repeat itself and will want to show the Vees they won’t be a pushover. The Vees can’t get caught looking past this game to tomorrow night’s sexy match up with the West Kelowna Warriors. There’s business to take care of in Surrey.
- Shape & Structure: The South Surrey Arena features Olympic ice, which is 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. Your regulation ice surface is usually 200 feet long by 85 feet wide. So there’s more room east and west and that can be a good and bad thing. Offensively, the Vees skilled players will have more room to be creative but that means there will be more room in the Vees end as well. Defensively, as Assistant Coach Steve Cawley alluded to on our post-game show Wednesday, the Vees’ defense can’t lose their shape. They have to focus on playing “dot to dot,” meaning focusing on playing between the circles. The space between face-off dots doesn’t change, it’s the space from the outside of the circle to the boards. So, the defense can’t be chasing the opposition forwards out wide or else there’s going to be soft spots in coverage. Play with structure between the circles and don’t get caught chasing.
- Special Teams: The Vees power-play has looked threatening but so far, it’s just 1-11 through two games. No, panic isn’t setting in but tonight would be a great night for the man-advantage to start firing. Surrey has taken 12 penalties in two games, so it looks like, on paper anyways, they’re prone to getting into some penalty trouble. With the extra room on the big ice, the man-advantage should be able to create quality looks. It would be great to see the power-play get some confidence heading into a big game against the Warriors tomorrow.
It was a dreadful year last season for the Eagles, as they had a league-worst 9-45-1-3 record, their worst record in their franchise history. Not trying to take shots but that’s just the facts. It was a learning experience to say the least for Head Coach Blaine Neufeld and his staff but it’s a new year and expectations are higher for this club.
Back and newly anointed as Captain is Darius Davidson and so too is his brother, goaltender Daniel Davidson. Also returning is Ty Westgard, Owen Johnson, Lucas Stratford and Jordan Funk. Last year’s team had a heavy emphasis on local players but this year they’ve broaden their rplayer search and brought in some good pieces.
After graduating goaltender Christian Short, the Eagles went out and made a trade to land veteran Justin Laforest. The 20-year-old has played on two RBC Cup teams in back-to-back years. Last year Laforest won the RBC Cup with Portage and the year prior he was the back-up on Carleton Place who were RBC Cup Finalists in Vernon. Laforest was in net when the Vees beat Portage in the Western Canada Cup Final in Fort McMurray, Alberta, in May.
Up front, Darius Davidson and Ty Westgard will be key offensive pieces and helping them out will be Gage Mackie. The Alaska native is the only player on the Eagles roster with an NCAA scholarship. Mackie is going to Arizona State University in two years time and was another player acquired via trade, as he, fellow forward Donovan Ott and defenseman Nathan Deyell were acquired from the Wenatchee Wild for future considerations.
A third player acquired by trade that Vees will need to keep tabs on is defenseman Kodi Schwarz. The 20-year-old was picked up from the Olds Grizzlies in the summer and had 38 points in 56 games last year in the AJHL.
Surrey needs to make hay, as their in the midst of a stretch of four straight home games to start the season. They lost both last week and after tonight they host Prince George Sunday before heading off to the Showcase next week in Chilliwack.