Not many can say they are more devout Penticton Vees fans than sisters Shaelynn and Jessica MacLean.
The pair, dressed in Vees jerseys, were among the estimated 200 people who gathered at the South Okanagan Events Centre on Monday to welcome home the national champion Penticton Vees from Humboldt, Sask with the RBC Cup.
The MacLeans made the 1,500-kilometre road trip out to Humboldt to watch their favourite team. The pair, along with their mom, drove 17 hours straight to make it back in time to see the Vees pull up to their home rink with the championship trophy.
“We have been going to games since I was about eight years old and became season ticket holders the last five years. We love them because they are such hard workers and good role models for the community,” said Shaelynn.
For Jessica there is only two seasons, “the Vees hockey season and the time in between.” Having followed the Vees out to Brooks, Alta. to watch them take the Doyle Cup, they definitely were not going to miss the national championship tournament. Jessica said tears of joy fell as they watched the Vees defeat the Woodstock Slammers 4-3 in a thrilling championship game.
Chants of “RBC” were bellowed by the fans and cheers erupted as the Vees stepped off the bus hoisting the RBC Cup, even more so when Penticton-born players Cody Depourcq and Logan Johnston took their turn with the trophy.
Vees fan Jean Mitchell showed up to greet the Vees and the RBC Cup dressed in a white T-shirt with the Vees logo on the front and the autographs of all the players on the back. In her hands she grasped her trusty cowbell and a homemade “We love you Vees” sign with pictures she took of the players and fans. Mitchell said she had been following the team for years and decided to get season tickets in Section 108 this year.
“I sit right behind the bench and I love it. I got their backs, so to speak,” Mitchell said proudly.
She watched the championship game from home on the live broadcast on TSN2.
“I knew Joey Benik was going to get it,” she said of the game-winning goal. “I was pulling for him, and sure enough he did it. I was almost in tears. It was so cool.”
Mitchell said it is more than just hockey that draws her to the team and the SOEC, it is about community.
“They are just great guys and they bring community spirit,” said Mitchell of the Vees. “Even the fans that sit in your section: If you don’t know them you get to know all of them during the season, and the games bring together people from all walks of life. Of course, the SOEC staff and volunteers are super too, and you couldn’t find a better bunch.”
Vees coach Fred Harbinson spoke highly of the Penticton fans, some of whom yelled “great job” and “way to go Fred” as he came off the bus on Monday evening.
“They have been unbelievable all the way through. Since Christmas time I don’t think we have had a crowd under 2,000, and in the playoffs, round three and in the last game almost 5,000 fans. They have been a big push for us when we need that push,” said Harbinson. “We had a great group of people that came out and supported us in Humboldt and we hear about all the things going on back home. People like going to the SOEC or just going to the bars and watching the games. This town deserves a lot of credit and they definitely deserve this championship.”
Vees team captain Johnston said the whole experience still seems like a dream to him.
“I don’t even get it right now. When I look back on it, I think I will get a better grip on it,” said Johnston looking over the crowd.
A parade for the Vees will depart from Pen High at 4 p.m. Wednesday, travelling down Main Street and along Lakeshore Drive to Power Street where it wraps up in the SOEC parking lot. The SOEC will then host an RBC Cup Celebration and Awards Night for the Vees at 5:30 p.m. The event is free, but the public is asked to pick up their tickets in advance from the SOEC box office.