Offence is what the Penticton Vees want.
Finding ways to generate goals is on the practice agenda before the Vees travel to Vernon Friday to take on the Vipers, then return Saturday to host the Trail Smoke Eaters at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
It’s hard to blame Vees coach Fred Harbinson for wanting a few more goals as his team has lost by one in its last three games. On Jan. 17, the Merritt Centennials topped them 2-1 in the Nicola Valley Arena. Then Jan 18., in front of 3,375 fans, they lost 3-2 to the Salmon Arm SilverBacks in overtime, after having a 2-0 lead. The winner came shortly after the Vees killed off a five-minute major assessed late in the third period when Cam Amantea levelled former teammate Evan Anderson with a shoulder to the head. After the Vees finished an excellent penalty kill, they were unable to clear the puck deep enough for a line change. The puck eventually ended up on the stick of the wrong guy, Landon Smith, the BCHL’s leading scorer, who roofed a shot past a stretched-out Hunter Miska.
Defensively, the Vees don’t have a lot to complain about, but to get the offence going again, it’s going to come down to line chemistry.
With the additions of Erik Benoit and Shane McColgan, Harbinson is trying to find combinations that work. The former WHLers teamed up to put the Vees ahead 2-0. McColgan got his first point as a Vee when he set up Benoit, who shot the puck off SilverBacks goalie Adam Clark for the goal.
“It’s still a work in progress,” said Harbinson of the lines.
Harbinson added that he needs veterans to step up if they are not scoring, they need to do other things.
“We need a good balance, we can’t rely on one line to solve all our problems,” he said.
Lines were more consistent against the SilverBacks as Harbinson had Ben Dalpe with Nic Pierog and Brad McClure. For stretches, he also had McColgan with Benoit and Steen Cooper, while Cody DePourcq skated alongside Travis Blanleil and Jack Ramsey, leaving Riley Alferd with Matt Serratore and Cam Amantea.
The combinations looked better. In Saturday’s loss, both teams fired 21 shots on net. The Vees fired 10 towards Clark in the first period and showed a lot of jump. Benoit and Alferd scored their third goals of the season. Alferd said it is different playing with the newcomers, but also said at this point in the season, because everyone is good, they should be able to play with anyone.
“I don’t think it really matters a whole lot. Bringing in new guys brings in a bit of a different dynamic,” he said. “Just one or two changes isn’t that big. We’re only going to get better.”
Amantea partly agreed it’s a feeling out process. To him, the team added three super-skilled players that can score.
“They all have good work ethic too, which we need,” he said. “It’s just going to take time to kind of get the lines where the coaches want them to be and get into a routine.”
McColgan said he is still trying to get his legs under him and that he’s not in the best shape.
That is from missing 30 games due to injury. Things can only get better for McColgan, a New York Rangers fifth round draft pick in 2011. Playing McColgan with Benoit is a good move considering the two skated together during the Memorial Cup with the Saskatoon Blades.
Benoit said the chemistry will get better with more practice.
Harbinson is going to have more tinkering to do as it’s expected Amantea will be suspended for at least a couple of games for the hit on Anderson, assessed as a blow to the head.
When asked about Amantea’s hit, Harbinson said it was a fair call because it was a bad hit.
“I’m sure he didn’t intentionally try to do that,” said Harbinson, adding that it’s uncharacteristic of Amantea to make a play like that. “He definitely made contact with the head, which we are trying to get out of our game It was just an unfortunate situation.”
Amantea said everything was going so fast.
“He cut across and we’re going to finish our checks on each other obviously,” said Amantea. “I’m not out there to hurt anyone. It was just kind of an unlucky break.”