This Wicked Wednesday’s meeting between the Penticton Vees (35-11-2-3) and visiting Coquitlam Express (14-35-1-3) could be a first round B.C. Hockey League playoff preview.
For that to happen the Vees must first win their seventh consecutive Interior Division title, something head coach, general manager and president Fred Harbinson feels the club can do, in spite of a 5-2 setback at the hands of the visiting Vernon Vipers (35-13-1-4) Saturday.
The Vipers and Vees are tied in the standings with 75 points however Penticton has a pair of games in hand. Saturday’s loss will be critical if the teams finish tied in points at the end of the regular season. The clubs have split their meetings this year each winning a pair and two ties. That stat would mean the decision would be made on goals in their six meetings which would go in Vernon’s favour as they’ve outscored Penticton 16-13.
“There was a lot at stake (Saturday) and we could have put ourselves in a great spot but that didn’t happen, but you know what? You can’t sit and dwell on it,” said Harbinson, whose team is currently 14th in the weekly Canadian Junior Hockey League rankings. “Starting (Wednesday) we have seven games in 12 nights so there’s only one team in the division that has their destiny in their hands and it’s us.
“Everybody else in our division, if they want to win, first they have to rely on somebody else and right now we’re not one of those teams, we can dictate how this plays out.”
Coquitlam all but has a playoff spot locked up with a seven-point lead on the Cowichan Valley Capitals with five games remaining. The team has been struggling as of late however dropping their last five games and being outscored 26-10.
If they are successful in their post season quest in the Mainland Division, the Express will meet the Interior champs.
“That was a big win for them (Vernon),” said Harbinson about Saturday. “Vernon played with a lot of energy and spark to their game and we were probably a step off and that probably had to do with the way Vernon was playing.”
He added the critical point came in the second period when the Vees came within a whisker of tying the game 3-3 with the puck winding up on the goal line before being cleared and Vernon going back down the ice and scoring.
“They (officials) actually reviewed to see if we scored afterwards, that how close it was,” said Harbinson. “We talked about it afterwards and about how in a playoff game, it’s that fine line, so even if you’re not playing your best you might be just one play away from turning the game in the other direction, or vice versa.”
But for now, until the end of the season, he maintained the team’s focus is on each individual game.
The good news for Wednesday’s contest will be the return of two of the Vee’s top guns, defenceman Nicky Leivermann and centre Dakota Boutin, both sidelined earlier this year with upper body injuries.
In the 42 games he played, Boutin had 16 goals and 16 assists while Leivermann had seven goals and 22 helpers.
“Leivermann left five or six weeks ago and at the time was our second leading scorer, same as when Boutin stepped out he was one of our top scorers, so a big, strong right handed centreman and offensive defenceman shouldn’t hurt,” said Harbinson. “It will be huge for us having them back but people have to remember they’ve been out for quite awhile. So conditioning and timing, we’ve really tried to work on that in practices but like I said if we have seven games in 12 nights they’ll have plenty reps.”
After Wednesday and Friday’s home and home series against Coquitlam the Vees will be away in Langley, Surrey and Salmon Arm wrapping up the season with back to back home games Feb. 24 and 25 against Wenatchee and a matinee with Salmon Arm.
Wednesday’s game is the final Boston Pizza Wicked Wednesday of the year at the SOEC featuring $5 admission, but is also the first annual Winning Wicked Wednesday Raffle.
The 5,000, $2 tickets will be good three prizes: a day at the Penticton Speedway including driving a race car, six suite tickets to the Slayer concert at the SOEC May 17 or an all inclusive trip for two to Mexico courtesy of Underwriters Insurance.
Game time is 7 p.m.