The Penticton Vees are putting their perfect 4-0 record at the South Okanagan Events Centre on the line this weekend against the Prince George Spruce Kings and Powell River Kings.
The Spruce Kings handed the Vees their first loss of the season in the Prince George Coliseum Sept. 20. The Vees are looking to return the favour, but so far, the Spruce Kings are better on the road (3-1-0), than at home (3-3-0-1). With the Spruce Kings being a hard working group, Vees assistant captain Travis Blanleil said they need to make the SOEC tough to play in for the visitors. Chris Rygus, the Vees’ other assistant captain, echoed Blanleil’s sentiment, adding they need to take advantage of being at home and use their fans as “extra motivation.”
“They are definitely a respectable opponent,” said Rygus. “They always give you a good game. We have to make sure to use our barn to our strengths. We have to spread the ice and make them work.”
One aspect of the Spruce Kings Rygus talked about are their special teams. He said they are unique because they utilize a different system from other teams in the BCHL. Early on, the Spruce Kings special teams ranked 13th among the 16 teams. The power play has scored seven times on 54 chances, a 12.96 per cent efficiency rate. The penalty kill is in the middle of the pack at 83.6 per cent. The Vees’ power play is No. 1 at home, scoring five times on 16 chances, effective 31 per cent of the time, while their penalty kill is also tops in the league at home allowing one goal on 14 chances, for an efficiency rate of 92.86 per cent.
“We have to match their compete level,” said Rygus. “They like to battle in the corners.”
Spruce Kings coach Dave Dupas told the Prince George Free Press that Penticton is a tough place to win on the road and “very rarely do teams get out of there with a win.”
In the Kings, 8-1-0 on the season and ranked No. 4 in the Canadian Junior Hockey League as of Oct. 7, the Vees face a team that has allowed one fewer goal, 18, than them in one fewer game. Vees coach Fred Harbinson said the Kings have always been known to be stingy in their end.
“They don’t take a lot of chances. They play real hard from the blue line in,” he said. “Guys have to be patient and willing to win battles in offensive end.”
Vees notes: Players will have extra motivation in the stands to play for with their parents watching. It’s Vees’ parents weekend. The team has signed import forward Jake Ahlgren. “Jake attended our 2011 spring camp as an underage player, and we were very impressed with his skill level and overall potential,” said Harbinson in a team statement. Ahlgren appeared in two games with the United States Hockey League’s Sioux Falls Stampede picking up an assist. Ahlgren’s addition has the Vees carrying seven imports and a full 22-man roster. Ahlgren will wear 23 and make his Vees debut this weekend. Following Friday’s morning game skate, Ahlgren said he hopes to bring the Vees some offensive punch and size.The 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward also doesn’t shy away from the physical play.
“It’s pretty cool,” he said of joining the Vees. “There is a lot of history in this organization.”
Find Hunter Miska’s second Behind the Mask article in Vees Central.