The Vees swept the defending RBC Cup champion Brooks Bandits out of Penticton – and there’s nothing they’d like more than to see the Alberta league powerhouse again sometime in April.
The Vees dispatched the Bandits 5-2 and 6-3 at the South Okanagan Events Centre, giving Penticton a perfect 6-0 record to end the junior-A hockey pre-season.
“You never know, it would be awesome if we did (play Brooks) because it would mean we won our league,” said Vees president, GM and head coach Fred Harbinson. “But we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and a lot of things have to fall into place. We play in the best division in the best league in the country.”
On Saturday, Lukas Sillinger scored twice to help the Vees complete the two-game sweep. Jackson Niedermayer, Liam Malmquist, Vincent Nardone and Jay O’Brien also scored and Conner Hutchison and Tristan Amonte each had two helpers as the Vees led 2-1 and 5-3 at the period breaks.
Chris Pappas with two and T.J. Hughes scored for the Bandits, who also lost 3-2 in overtime to the Vernon Vipers on Sunday to complete their weekend trip to the B.C. Interior.
Derek Krall made 17 saves for the win while Pierce Charleson made just nine saves for Brooks.
The Vees went 3-for-8 on the power play and Brooks went 2-for-5.
Harbinson said the two games were fast, physical and entertaining as two of the most successful junior-A programs in Canada in the last decade went head-to-head.
“Sometimes there is no emotion in these (pre-season) games, so it’s great for us to get a good feel on the intensity as we start the regular season (on Friday in Trail),” said Harbinson. “There were tons of scouts in the building and we get crowds of more than 2,000 people on a long weekend in August, that’s pretty darned good.”
Harbinson said the Vees played well in all three zones and were terrific on the power play, scoring five goals with the man advantage in the two games.
“The shot totals were pretty low but that’s normal when you get playoff-style hockey,” said Harbinson. “I think we showed that guys don’t need 10 shots to score a goal. They had a few more shots from the outside than we did.”
The Vees have a veteran lineup, but continued to get offence from rookies such as Malmquist, Nardone and Amonte.
“I think we’ve showed we can get offence up and down the lineup, from veteran and younger guys alike,” said Harbinson. “It’s definitely a good sign, and we’ve been getting great goaltending and keeping the puck out of our own net.
“There were a lot of bright spots, but now we start playing for real.”
Harbinson said whoever does win the BCHL title could well be facing Brooks in the Doyle Cup B.C.-Alberta championship series for a berth in the RBC Cup.
“They’ve got eight returnees from their championship team,” said Harbinson. “They’re going to be real good again this year.”
Should the Vees and Brooks not meet this spring, they’ll likely do so again in roughly a calendar year.
“Next year we’ll probably be returning the favour and going to play them in their building in the pre-season,” said Harbinson.
The trip of immediate concern to the Vees is one that takes them to the Cominco Arena to play the Trail Smoke Eaters on Friday and Saturday to start the regular season.
Harbinson said the Smokies have a veteran, experienced team that many believe will challenge the Vees and others in the Interior Division. Penticton, of course, has won an unprecedented eight straight Interior pennants.
“They’ve got (centre) Kent Johnson who is one of the best players in the league,” said Harbinson, of the University of Michigan commit. “It will be a great matchup. We’re an older team, too, with good size, so we’re anticipating a couple of real physical battles.”