Penticton Vees defenceman Mitch Meek (10) looks to cut off Vernon Vipers forward Hunter Zandee from reaching his net. Meek and the Vees face the Vipers in the BCHL Interior Division Final best-of-seven series beginning Friday at the South Okanagan Events Centre. Emanuel Sequeira/Western News

Vees, Vipers ready to start new chapter in old rivalry

Another chapter in the Penticton Vees and Vernon Vipers rivalry will begin writing itself tonight.

The BCHL Interior Division teams meet for the 22nd time since 1967, with Games 1 and 2 at the South Okanagan Events Centre at 7 p.m. and April 1 at 6 p.m.

For the fourth straight year the teams will face each other, and for the third straight time to become division champs.

Vees defenceman Mitch Meek will add another layer to his experience in the rivalry. He played for the Vipers in 2014-15.

“It’s unique but I’m looking forward to the challenge,” said Meek, who collected two assists in 11 playoffs games with the Vipers, and has two goals and 13 points in 45 career post-season games. “We’re going to do everything we can to win.

“Everything is kind of amped up in this type of series, this rivalry.”

The Victoria native, who is committed to Michigan Tech University, said they just have to tighten up details and play their game.

Taylor Ward said the players are excited, saying their rivalry may be the biggest in the BCHL. The regular season series resulted in a 3-3-1 record.

“Every game was high intensity, high emotion,” said Ward, a University of Nebraska Omaha commit. “A lot of physical play. I’m not expecting anything else.”

Ward was among the key offensive contributors against the Vipers. The Kelowna native isn’t sure why, but said it is easy to get up to face Vernon.

“You have that little bit of extra motivation. You really want to beat those guys,” said Ward. “Just getting up against Vernon, games against Vernon you always get jacked up to play them. I’ve had some good bounces, good linemates, good plays, you always focus a little more, give a little more, get more emotionally invested into the game against Vernon.”

Vees coach-GM Fred Harbinson said what is fun about old rivalries is that it goes beyond the teams.

“It’s the fans, it’s the entire city, the community,” he said. “Everybody kind of gets into it. Nobody wants to lose to that other town down the street so to speak. That’s what the players get excited about as well.”

Key contributors for the Vipers against the Vees were Jagger Williamson (1-5-6), Niko Karamanis (4-1-5) and Brett Stapley (2-3-5). In goal, it’s the battle of the top goalies in the league. Darion Hanson led in the goals against average and save percentage categories, while Mathew Robson led in games played, minutes played and shutouts.

Games two and four shift to Vernon, and if necessary Game five is April 7 at 7 p.m. in Penticton. Game six, again if necessary, is in Vernon, with Game seven, also if necessary on April 10 in Penticton at 7 p.m.

Vees notes: Assistant coach Jason Becker is part of the coaching staff named by BC Hockey that will guide the Male U16 Team BC at the 2017 Western Canada U16 Challenge Cup in Calgary, Alta. and the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer. Becker is currently in his first season as assistant coach with the Vees after two seasons as a head coach with the Okanagan Hockey Academy. Becker, 42, also spent five seasons on the bench with the Prince George Cougars as an assistant coach from 2009-14. Becker has experience in short-term competition as head coach of Team Pacific at the 2013 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held in Quebec. Penticton and the South Okanagan Events Centre is hosting the under-15 and -16 regional camps from March 28 to 30.

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