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The Penticton Vees are back home and kick-off a five game stretch at the SOEC, starting tonight against long-time Okanagan rival, the Vernon Vipers; just the second meeting this season between the two.
The Vees went down to the coast for a two-game Mainland Division road trip last weekend, seeing their 23-game win streak end Friday in Langley before rebounding in Coquitlam Saturday. The Vees dropped a 4-2 decision to the Rivermen, before pounding the Express 8-2 24 hours later. Its five straight at the SOEC, starting with the Vipes tonight, Trail Saturday, Merritt next Wednesday, Vernon again December 4th and Alberni Valley comes to town December 5th. The Vees don’t head out on the road again until December 11th.
Vernon plays four of their next five on road, including going to Salmon Arm Friday, to stark a weekend home-and-home with the Silverbacks.
This is the first time these two storied rivals have met since the Vees home opener way back on September 16th, a game in which the home team won 3-2. The rivalry will be reignited over the next six weeks, as these two play each other four more times between now and New Year’s Day.
Scott Conway, who scored two goals against Vernon back in September, is riding a BCHL-best 23-game point streak heading into tonight’s game. Coincidentally enough his streak started September 16th against Vernon. Captain Tyson Jost has points in 14 straight and was recently awarded an Honourable Mention for the BCHL Player of the Week award; he had eight points in three games a week ago.
Penticton will be a bit short on bodies up front for tonight. Ben Brar is serving the second of a two-game automatic suspension he received last week and the Vees will be missing Dixon Bowen again and now Easton Brodzinski, as he’s sidelined with a lingering lower-body injury. Penticton has called up 16-year-old Chase Stevenson from the Okanagan Rockets to help fill the void; he’ll wear number 28.
Brodzinski was playing through the lingering injury but will sit out tonight’s and Saturday’s game against Trail. Also not playing tonight are defensemen Gabe Bast and Seamus Donohue, who are still recovering from longer-term injuries.
No word when I wrote this, on who will start in net for the Vees but they can’t make a bad choice. Anthony Brodeur picked up his 15th win in his 15th start Saturday, stopping 25 of 27 shots against the Express. Zach Driscoll is 8-1-0 on the year but like Brodeur, has great numbers. Brodeur and Driscoll are first and second in nearly every major statistical category in the BCHL. If I were to wager a guess, I would go Brodeur tonight and Driscoll Saturday against Trail, given his success against the Smokies. That’s just a hunch though.
Key to Victory:
The Vees will have to focus in on their start tonight and build off the successful first period against Coquitlam. Leading into that game Saturday the coaching staff was considered about the Vees’ poor starts of late. Despite giving up the first goal to Coquitlam, the Vees scored five in the first 20-minutes and out shot them 19-8; 17-3 in the final 14-minutes. The Vees are 20-0 when they score first and 11-0 when they lead after the first. When they give up the game’s first goal, they’re a very respectable 4-2 but 1-1 when trailing after the first.
Vernon comes into tonight’s game fourth in the Interior Division, 21 points back of the Vees. The Vipes have been hovering around the .500 mark for most of the season. They haven’t posted a winning record in any of the first three months of the season. They went 3-3-0-1 in September, were 6-6-0-0 in October and through nine games in November, they’re 4-4-0-1. In saying that, they’re only three points back of the third place West Kelowna Warriors.
If the Vipers want to put themselves in a better position they’re going to have to do so from within the division. Going into tonight’s game they’re just 6-6 against the Interior Division this season but a combined 0-4 against Penticton, Salmon Arm and West Kelowna; all teams ahead of them in the standings.
The Vipers will have a bit of a new look to them when they roll into town, compared to their last visit in mid-September. Five new faces on the roster are Ben Butcher, Christian Cakebread, Charley Michalowski, Latrell Charleson and Brendan Barry. Butcher came over from Langley for defenseman Austin Cho, Cakebread and Michalowski came from the USHL and Charleson was signed earlier this month; he finished last season in Surrey.
Charleson adds offense to the blue-line that has been supplied predominantly by Bo Pellah. Charleson has had an immediate impact, scoring three goals and putting up six points in his first eight games as a Viper. Pellah is their highest scoring defenseman with 16 points in 27 games and is riding a five-game point streak.
Cakebread has also fit in nicely, as the Arizona product has averaged over a point per-game up front, with 11 points in nine. Butcher had chipped in with three points in eight games and Michalowski just made his Vipers debut on Sunday, in their 5-0 win over Alberni Valley.
Brendan Barry returns to Penticton for the first time since being signed by the Vipers. He’s played in four games with Vernon, putting together a 1-3 record, whilst sporting a 4.54 goals-against average, and owning a .846 save percentage. He’s been backing up 20-year-old Andrew Shortridge who’s been very good in the Vernon crease. The Alaskan native is 11-7 but has a very respectable 2.51 goals-against average and an impressive .928 save percentage; he’s your projected starter tonight.