Vees primed for Vipers

The Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers meet in the Interior Division final for the first time since 2010.

PENTICTON VEES general manager and head coach Fred Harbinson watches his players from the ice this week as they prepare for Friday’s first game of the second round of the BCHL playoffs at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Below

The Penticton Vees are excited to face the Vernon Vipers in the BCHL’s second round.

They feel that way while knowing it will be a challenging series.

“It’s going to be a grind. It’s going to be a good series,” said Vees defenceman Paul Stoykewych, who scored three goals and finished with four points in round one. “They’re a big, strong physical team. We compete well against them. They compete well against us. It’s a good rivalry. It should be fun.”

Vees coach Fred Harbinson is excited about a playoff matchup that hasn’t happened since 2010 when the Vipers won the RBC Cup.

“You get to play against the Royal Bank Cup host team. Obviously a great rivarly between the two cities,” he said. “It’s a great challenge getting to play against a team that’s been built over the last two years for this year. It’s exciting to have them here on Friday night.

“It’s two storied franchises in our league, in junior hockey in Canada,” continued Harbinson. “It makes for a great story line.”

A story line that may develop into which club does a better job staying out of the penalty box. That’s an area Harbinson said is huge in the playoffs.

“I think it really paid of for us in the first round. We only gave our opposition 10 power-plays,” said Harbinson. “Vernon probably looks at their first round, when they had success, they stayed out of the box.”

Against the West Kelowna Warriors, the Vipers scored three times on 14 power-plays and killed 21 of 29 penalties, a rate of 72 per cent, which is the third worst in the playoffs. Along with remaining disciplined, Stoykewych said that they have to outwork the Vipers and likes their chances for success.  The Vees defenceman said that they are a confident group. In the regular season, each time they played Vernon they were competitive games.

Vipers head coach Jason Williamson hopes the Snakes build off their opening-series win and expects a tough series.

“That’s a very good team, very well coached. Really high offence and some good goaltending,” Williamson told the Vernon Morning Star. “It’s gonna be a grind, but I think our group’s up to the challenge. The way we’ve played as of late, even going into the playoffs, I thought we’ve got as good a chance as anbody.”

Vees goalie Hunter Miska said he noticed the Vipers like to fire a lot of quick shots, while also setting up good plays. Miska said they bring confidence after sweeping the Merritt Centennials. Miska loved his first junior A playoff experience.

“It was awesome. A little different pace to the game,” said Miska, adding that playing in Merritt’s Nicola Valley Arena kept him on his toes.

Against the Vipers, Miska said they need to come out strong and use their speed, especially to get around the Vipers big players.

Stoykewych said the Vees are playing their best hockey right now. He intends to do what he can to help the Vees have a deep playoff run. Stoykewych said his desire to win is “unbelievable.”

“My last season of junior here. I have struggled my first two years,” said Stoykewych, who joined the Vees from the Winnipeg South Blues. “Haven’t made it very far. With this team I think we have something special.”

What excites Stoykewych about the series is playing in both rinks with great crowds.

“Good atmosphere and just competitive,” said Stoykewych. “I’m just excited to play.”

Games 1 and 2 are at the SOEC at 7 and 6 p.m. Friday and Saturday, respectively.

Vees notes: Miska said it’s an honour for him and Olivier Mantha to win the  Wally Forslund Trophy as the BCHL’s top netminding tandem. “Olivier and I were working really hard this season. Both of us have been playing really well. I know we both want to be starting, but you can’t really pick one goalie when both are playing at the best of their ability.”  Miska on his TSN video: “It was awesome. Pretty sweet to be able to watch myself on TV and couldn’t be doing it without this great group of guys.”