The Penticton Vees are starting to feel like their old selves again.
The Vees return home to take on the Trail Smoke Eaters at the South Okanagan Events Centre (7 p.m.) after collecting five of six points on a three-game road trip. The Vees opened that trip with a 4-2 win in Merritt, then a 2-1 win over the Nanaimo Clippers and finished losing 2-1 in double overtime to the Island-Division leading Victoria Grizzlies.
“We got a couple bodies back (Ryley Risling and James Miller) in the lineup which made a big difference energy wise,” said Harbinson. “We were really strong defensively in all three games, only giving up two even-strength goals.
“Playing our third (game) in four (days), I thought we had a lot of jump in our step,” continued Harbinson of their game against the Grizzlies. “It was one of the best hockey games we’ve probably played in the last two years. It was a really fast paced, exciting hockey game. Our guys showed that we can obviously play with anybody in our league. Especially that first game it was critical just to start feeling good about ourselves again.”
Harbinson wants the team to carry that into Wednesday. Even though the Vees lost the last two games against trail, Harbinson said his group dominated the first 40 minutes in both matches. At home, they fell asleep as he put it in the third period, and in Trail they gave up a late goal. Harbinson described Trail as a streaky team that can score, especially the top line (Luke Santerno, Kale Howarth and Josh Laframboise).
“That top line is as good as anybody’s in the league,” said Harbinson. “If you give them momentum, they will take advantage.”
Risling, who returned after serving a four-game suspension, said the big thing they talk about all season is their identity.
“I think we really showed what kind of team we are,” said Risling, who is committed to Robert Morris University for next fall. “Fast paced, hard working. Winning battles. Doing the little things right. That’s what gets us wins.”
The Vees will get another boost to their roster with the return of Gabe Bast. The Red Deer native has recovered from his injury and completed his stint with the junior B Surrey Knights.
“It’s really good to have him back. Great for him and he’s excited to play,” said Harbinson.
“Gabe is a terrific hockey player,” said Risling. “He bring something different than any guy out there. He’s a good skater, moves the puck well. We’re really excited to get him back in the lineup.”
Off the ice, the Vees announced that forward Owen Sillinger has committed to Bemidji State University for the 2018-2019 season.
Sillinger, 19, is in his second season with the Vees registering 16 goals and 35 points in 49 games. Sillinger says the extra seasoning with the Vees will help him make an impact right away at the collegiate level.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to go into the Western Collegiate Hockey Association as an older freshman and be in an important role. I’m excited to join their program in two years and can’t wait to get down there,” said Sillinger in a press release. “I really liked the fact it’s a smaller campus, where the hockey program has such passionate following. I felt really comfortable right away with their veteran coaching staff and you get the sense the program they’re building is ready to win.”