Strong defence play has always been the Penticton Vees mantra.
Like last year, the Vees have allowed the fewest goals in the BCHL with 113. The next closest team to them is the Wenatchee Wild with 134, as of Thursday. The effort they have put in has contributed to them scoring a league high 236 goals, already 20 more than last year.
Tyson Jost, captain of Canada’s top junior A squad, likes the job they have been doing, especially the forwards giving support.
“Our tracking has been really good, just helping out our D,” said Jost. “When you’re getting the puck from the opposing team, you’re going to be in the offensive zone a lot more. That’s kind of one of the things we’re trying to harp on.”
That work has also helped their goalies be among the BCHLs top 10 in wins. Anthony Brodeur leads with 26 in 30 games, while Zachary Driscoll has 19 in 24. They are first and second in goals against average as Brodeur leads with a 1.96 figure and Driscoll not far behind at 2.02. The save percentages are strong at .934 for Brodeur and .929 for Driscoll.
Jost said they are making sure they play smart in both ends, work hard in the defensive zone then have “fun in the fun zone.”
“I’m pretty happy with how we’re implementing that little game plan that we wanted to push for here the last few games,” said Jost, as he and his teammates kept the West Kelowna Warriors and Trail Smoke Eaters to 20 shots a piece last weekend.
The importance of forwards backchecking to help the defencemen is huge, Jost said. The group embraces it.
“There is so many players in the NHL that, every single forward is good in both ends,” said Jost, who has 37 goals and 91 points in 43 games. “It’s something you just got to try and key on.”
The Vees will continue that focus as they visit Salmon Arm Friday to take on the Silverbacks, 29-16-4-4, at the Shaw Centre, then host the Victoria Grizzlies, 22-27-4-0, Saturday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
Vees coach-general manager Fred Harbinson said their focus in practice this week was on all three zones.
“It’s just kind of like you’re studying before your final exams, you’re just kind of going over each aspect of your game,” said Harbinson. “Making sure guys remember and understand and ask questions about different things we are trying to do.”
Harbinson liked their performance defensively last weekend. He said they did a lot of good small details.
“Saturday was not an easy one,” he said. “We’re showing in a lot of our games lately that we have that extra push in the third period. It shows that we’re in good shape and that the guys never give up.”
Having the ability to win in different ways, Harbinson said, is invaluable come playoffs.
Facing Salmon Arm, a team that has beat them three times, the Vees are excited for that matchup. Jost said their final two games against the Silverbacks should be good.
“Salmon Arm is a really good team. It’s fun when you have the little battle,” he said. “They work really hard. They are really good in their end too. They kind of wear you down.”
Vees notes: Mike Reilly, who helped lead the Vees to a 2012 national championship scored his first NHL goal for the Minnesota Wild on Feb. 13 against the Boston Bruins. In 10 games, Reilly has a goal and three points and is plus-one.