They are the guys sitting in the press box taking notes, the ones cheerleading in the dressing room between periods, the players waiting for just the right moment.
And, for the Penticton Vees depth players that time has come.
“With a lot of our guys we talked to them before the playoffs started and said if we are going to go on a long run, which we are in the middle of one right now, there is going to be certain times when a player is going to have a moment and he needs to step forward and take advantage of that moment and then it might switch to somebody else and we have had that,” said Vees head coach Fred Harbinson.
It started with Taylor Sanheim, a Western Hockey League veteran acquired by the Vees in January. After sitting for six weeks with an injury, Sanheim’s playoff debut included an equalizing goal in the Vees Game 7 win over the Merritt Centennials. He then stepped up again dangling his way around the Vernon Vipers in Game 7 to help lift the Vees to the series win.
A 4-2 loss to the Chilliwack Chiefs in the opening game of the BCHL finals last Friday, set the stage for Cassidy Bowes and Ryley Risling.
Inserted into the Vees lineup for the second game of the Fred Page Cup, Risling (who last played three weeks prior in Game six against Merritt) forced a turnover at the Chiefs blue line and rifled a shot past the goaltender to give the Vees a 1-0 lead.
Then came Cassidy Bowes’ turn. Wingman to Owen Sillinger and Ty Amonte, Bowes was the recipient of a beautiful pass as he broke past the defence, pulled the puck backhand and lifted it over the glove of the sprawling goalie to jump the Vees to a two goal lead enroute to a win to even the series up 1-1.
That puck, which gave him his first-ever BCHL goal ended up in his stall after the game, along with a flood of red light emoji’s and congratulation’s texts from friends and family on his cell phone.
“I don’t know if the goal was highlight reel, but the pass that Sillinger made definitely was,” said Bowes. “Apparently I was celebrating the goal a bit too hard, (team captain Nicholas) Jones said I came by the bench too fast and hurt his shoulder while giving out high-fives.”
Just one of the handy tips the Vees affiliate player is learning from his experienced teammates, who all earned some praise from Harbinson.
“All three of them pressure the puck really well. All three can skate. It gives balance to the lines allowing us to move (Grant) Cruickshank off that line and we don’t really lose any skill off of it because Cassidy has a lot of talent, he can make plays with the puck. We will see how it continues to go the rest of the way,” said Harbinson, not letting out any secrets on what lines the Vees will continue to roll the rest of the way.
It was just one year ago that Bowes watched the Vees lose to the West Kelowna Warriors from the sidelines after finishing his season in the Canadian Sport School Hockey League where he mostly played this season for the Okanagan Hockey Academy.
“Yeah, I remember watching and it was tough because I was an AP, but they were still my team,” said Bowes.
An example that everyone on this Vees squad bleeds blue, dressed for the game or not.
“It is hard to crack our lineup, so you have to respect the guys sitting out. They have to work hard to get in every day, even when they know they might not see any ice time for awhile,” said Amonte. “We all respect that and the work it takes to stay in the lineup — you have to respect that. It’s a credit to our team ethic. We are all really close and have a great leadership group.”
That is echoed by coach Harbinson, who said everyone understands it is about the team right now and those who do get a shot at some ice time are taking full advantage of it. Right down to soaking in the 4,000-plus fans screaming in the stands in the friendly confines of the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“Cassidy has made some great plays and finishes his checks. He has carried his weight on both sides of the puck and brought that into the Chilliwack series,” said Harbinson. “When you put a player in and you have 4,000 fans here and add the magnitude of a Game 7, it can easily swallow up a lot of young kids, but they are embracing it.”
With all the potential disruption and noise that jumping into the lineup could bring, the raucous crowd at home sweet home is welcome. Something that Harbinson said he hopes to see again this week as they host the Chiefs, who have a gleaming 8-0 record on the road this playoffs.
“Oh, it is incredible. We go to Chilliwack and they have half the amount of fans and it is the finals. It just shows how much this city cares about hockey. We can hear them as we are waiting in the hallways to hit the ice for sure and it gives us a boost of adrenaline,” said Bowes.
The Vees faced the Chiefs on Tuesday and will play them again at the SOEC on Wednesday at 7 p.m. For game results visit www.pentictonwesternnews.com.