The Vees (8-5-0-2) doubled the Centennials 6-3 (11-7) in their first meeting Sept. 28 and are currently tied with two other teams, Wenatchee Wild and Trail Smoke Eaters, for second place in the Interior standings with 18 points.
Short staffed, only dressing nine forwards and five defensemen the last two games, Penticton is coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 shootout loss Wednesday to the visiting Coquitlam Express.
One of the Vees who doing double-duty during the short bench stretch is Ryan Sandelin.
The 1999-born forward has already scored eight goals this season, including the winner in the game against Merritt, already equaling his 55-game total of last year.
“It’s been a good start, things are going pretty well,” said Sandelin, who’s committed to Minnesota State University for 2019/20. “Playing lots of minutes, obviously can’t complain. You like to have these guys (injured players) there but I’m taking the opportunity with the ice time I’m getting.”
He also credited his teammates for their efforts in keeping the Vees in the game during this time.
“I think it’s got the point where we’ve gotten used to it, a lot of guys have been playing heavy minutes for a lot of time now,” said Sandelin. “There are guys that have stepped up and are playing really well in the absence of other guys, players like Jackson Niedermayer and obviously the Harrogate line.
“We’ve done a really good job doing things the right way, being smart with our shifts.”
There is some good news this week with the return of Luke Loheit on Friday. He has missed almost half the games the Vees have played so far due to mononucleosis. Loheit had two goals and one assist in the seven games he played.
Looking ahead to Friday’s match, Sandelin expects the Centennials to be hungry to avenge their earlier home-ice loss.
“It should be a tough game, I mean it’s a tough place to go into, the rink’s not the biggest,” he said. “But we’re getting another big piece of our line up back (Loheit).”
He added there is no secret to the Vees success over league-leading squads, including the short-staffed, hard-fought win over the Chilliwack Chiefs last Saturday at the South Okanagan Events Centre.
“We just seem to lock it down really well against these good teams. We have to be on our best,” said Sandelin. “We know teams are going to bring their best, even though they might be on top and we’re not, cause it seems like everybody in the league wants to take us down.”
The Vees will also be looking for a little revenge of their own when they return home Saturday for a rematch against the West Kelowna Warriors.
Despite outshooting the Warriors 52-29 in West Kelowna on Oct. 19, they came out on the short end of a 3-2 score.
Start time at the South Okanagan Events Centre Saturday is 6 p.m.